Veterinary/retail rumble: Punching back against retail misinformation

March 31, 2019
Michael Nappier, DVM, DABVP
Michael Nappier, DVM, DABVP

Michael Nappier is assistant professor of community practice in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Playing defense is a common fall back veterinary practices employ when pet care advice is administered to their clients in a shopping aisle. But this is one case where its worth stepping in the ring and having a good offense ready.

The boxer was named for this confrontation. Go fight on his behalf! Editor's note: Click here to get a little perspective about the advice from retail stores that your colleagues reported they heard from their clients. Then ...

Let's get ready to rumble! Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to tonight's main event! Introducing first, in the red corner, the reigning heavyweight corporation of the world with a bank account weighing in at $5 billion-Big Box “The Retailer” Pet Supplies! And in the blue corner, we have the scrappy underdog challenger-Doc “The Vet” Medicine! This will be a no-holds-barred match for the trust of the pet-owning public and health of their pets! Now touch gloves and begin!

Does this feel like your day-to-day routine? Feel like you're spending more and more of your time defending your medical recommendations backed by years of schooling and experience from the sales clerk at a pet supplies store? Tired of being the underdog challenging a billion-dollar enterprise? Let's explore some things we can do to fight back against the heavyweight corporation.

Set your training regimen

Like any good fighter, before stepping into the ring we need to train right so we are in the best shape to fight back. Although we don't have the advantage of billions of dollars, flashy advertising and fancy packages, what we do have is trust. Veterinarians and veterinary professionals consistently rank among the most trusted professions in the U.S. and across the world. But we can't rely on pure goodwill alone; we need to train that trust to best make use of one of our biggest strengths.

So what form should this training take? Training our veterinary practice team to give consistent advice and making sure that they are delivering it consistently is key in gearing up to fight back. While this sounds like easy, simple advice, this training is much more difficult than it initially sounds. Writing standard talking points so that everyone is on the same page is a key and relatively easy starting point.

The hard part of the training is making sure everyone is using the talking points routinely and consistently. It's so easy to skip some of these basic conversations because it starts to feel like Groundhog Day every day. After all, who really feels like doing the “grain free diet” or “parasite preventatives are not poison” speech time after time? Left only to individuals, putting out a consistent message falters, leaving room for outside misinformation to creep in. Make it a team approach, involve the whole practice, and change up roles so no one gets too bored.

Find your sparring buddies

Training on your own is great, but all truly great fighters need a training partner! So who can we find as a partner? The easiest partner is someone with the same goals. Find another local practice that is struggling with the same training regime and partner up. Even “the competition” can be a training partner sometimes. It's amazing how just adding a fresh set of eyes, a new perspective or a different approach can spice up the same old talk.

Don't just stop in the profession though! Finding a boutique or small independent pet supply store can create a valuable partner in the ring. Setting up a mutually beneficial relationship can bring large returns for both your practice and their business. Have periodic training classes with them so that they can give out accurate information. In return, feel confident sending your clients there for pet supplies as you know that they are going to hear the same thing from the employees there as they are hearing from you. You might even gain some clients in people who have gone to the store seeing products and came out with good advice and a referral to your practice. 

Ready for Round 1?

All the best training and great partners are just the warm up. Now that you have done the training and set the odds better in your favor, it's now time to throw some punches. Our heavyweight retail opponents have billions of dollars and are not shy in using them to “guide” their shoppers to the products they want to sell. Flashy advertisements, shiny packaging, “trained pet food consultants” and misleading branding are all there to give them the maximum profit, and they aren't shy about using these resources to their maximum benefit.

That means you can't pull your punches either. Standing on the pillar of quiet, dignified medical professionalism doesn't cut it anymore. Constantly being on the defensive, having to block and counter continuously, isn't a great way to win the bout. Be aggressive in putting your message out, take it to your clients and don't wait for them to come to you. Use your website, social media, email and other contacts to put out your message before they get to hear something different from a restocking boy with a paper certificate or a cashier with a badge. Be purposeful and don't be shy about shouting it out loud. If your clients don't hear it from you, they will get misinformation from someone else. 

Now, go out and claim the championship belt for yourself!

Dr. Michael Nappier is an assistant professor of community practice in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia.