Think veterinarians can't negotiate? Think again


If you're sick of paying more and getting less, its time to put your fear aside and ask for what you want.

Did you know banks will often let you negotiate lower fees and free services to get your business? You have nothing to lose by asking. I was born in Panama and lived there for 18 years. In that culture, negotiation was the norm. I watched my parents and other people negotiate for everything, not just with street vendors, but in stores. I observed and I learned.

When we moved to the United States, my father bought me my first car. I watched him walk away from the salesman at the dealership, only to be called back to receive the price he wanted. I stored all of these observations for future use.

Like my father, I have become an excellent car negotiator-and I enjoy doing it. I too have walked out of the dealership. In fact, my husband sends me in to negotiate for him because he doesn't like doing it. I've taught my sons to negotiate. I even helped an associate buy a new car. Because I'm a good negotiator, I usually get what I want.

What are we afraid of?

Most of us are not taught the art of negotiation. It's typically viewed as impolite, and many of us fear it and the consequences. But big businesses negotiate all the time-it's an accepted practice. So why are we afraid of the process? Why do we avoid it? Are we afraid of confrontation? Are we afraid to lose?

I stumbled into my first big negotiating experience before I opened my practice, when I was seeking financing. As I went from bank to bank, I found out that each one offered different services for free. So I played the banks against each other. As soon as I learned that they would negotiate fees and services, a world of possibilities opened. Suddenly, opening a new practice became a big negotiation party. I finally selected a bank that offered the most in free services at the lowest cost.

So what can you negotiate for?

Rental space is negotiable. You can negotiate the number of months you receive free rent while you build out the facility-up to six months. Rents that start lower and slowly increase each year during the first three to five years are also negotiable. Ask for any kind of deal and see what the lessor will agree to do. The worst that can happen is you'll get a “no.”

Veterinary equipment, drugs and supplies are almost always negotiable. Play distributors against each other-they'll play along. The sales rep will either reduce the price to make the sale or take it out of their commission. Everything is fair in business, so expect cooperation, not resistance. I've never had a vendor get mad at me for negotiating, nor were any of them surprised. I do suspect some wished I hadn't asked for better pricing, but it's my right to do so.

If you're buying laboratory equipment, ask for free supplies and test product. Ask for additional warranties and repair services. Ask for a loaner at no charge if the equipment breaks. When I converted to digital radiography, I asked for a credit for my old processor. I got $100. When I bought a new autoclave, I got a $400 deduction from the manufacturer and a $200 discount for donating the old autoclave to charity-and the distributor set all this up.

Computer hardware and software plus services are also negotiable. Property is always negotiable. Construction companies will negotiate. Loan interest rates and insurance may be negotiable. The list goes on. Everything is negotiable.

Ask and you shall receive

All you have to do is ask. More often than you think you'll be rewarded with lower prices and free or discounted products and services. But if you never ask, you'll never receive a better deal. I have never seen a downside when I've opened a negotiation. Plus, you'll gain respect and a reputation as a good negotiator-and that reputation will serve you well. Often a vendor will start negotiating once they understand how you operate. Or a vendor will look for discounts for you.

So develop an attitude and an ability to negotiate. Lose your fear. Never apologize for asking for a better deal-no one will expect you to do so. Be friendly. Be firm. Be assertive. Look the salesperson directly in the eyes. I can assure you that the worst that will happen is someone may say “no” and you'll have to pay the asking price. But most of the time you'll get a “yes.” And soon you'll find that negotiations are really easy-and rewarding.

Dr. Joan Freesh owns St. Louis Cat Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. Send comments to

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