Well-Managed Practice owners share their tips for tough times


Two owners of top-notch practices share their list of financial and personnel management strategies in this recession.

Dr. David Durham of Woodland Hospital for Animals, Kentwood, Mich.

To fight back against this economy, many Well-Managed Practices turn to revenue-boosting ideas. But I'm focused on cutting expenses in these ways:

1. Cut inventory. We cut our inventory by 30 percent in this downturn. We don't order rarely-used products, and our inventory manager attended a seminar to learn better turnover techniques.

2. Delay raises. We also eliminated our bonus program based on product and gross revenue increases. It was too expensive.

3. Skip out-of-town CE. My co-owner and I still attend distance CE, but we've replaced costly travel for team members with in-house education.

4. Reduce hours of team members and associate. Most of the team members appreciated a lighter schedule. Unfortunately, with the cutback in associate hours, my co-owner and I are working harder than ever and have less time for practice management.

5. Lay off team members who are low producers or challenging to work with. Some team members were bad-mouthing and undermining management decisions behind our backs. A new practice manager brought this to light, and some of those employees are gone. We are more open than ever to opinions and suggestions-we don't have all the answers-and we address employee complaints quickly and fairly. But our new motto is “We pay your salaries. Treat us nicely!”

6. Watch expenses. Economics are tough in Michigan, with roughly 15 percent unemployment. We're watching what we spend. Expenses of more than $50 need management approval. Recently, a middle manager bought a $400 camera with permission to replace one that was lost. We sent her back to the store to return it, and we're making do with our two older cameras.

7. Listen to phone calls. We're using a service to record and listen to our incoming calls. It's amazing how poor our customer service is sometimes. Receptionists were overwhelming customers with too much information over the phone and not asking them to make appointments to see the doctors. Sometimes they'd even help out customers by giving them competitors' phone numbers while they were shopping for veterinary services. Now our receptionists are getting client and pet names and using them, being more friendly and empathetic, and working harder to “seal the deal” on the phone by making appointments and filling or refilling prescriptions. This all reminded us that Mark Opperman is right when he says you can only expect what you regularly inspect.

8. Eliminate yellow pages advertising. This saved us $6,000 a year. Most clients are using the Internet these days, and number of yellow pages referrals has been falling for years.


Dr. Kirk Smith, Amesbury Animal Hospital in Amesbury, Mass.

Our overall revenue is down year-over-year, but we made a significant push in the past six months and turned a profit.

We did the usual thing to control expenses-controlling inventory and staffing costs-but we also made an effort to spend more time on the phone and in exam rooms with our A and B clients.

As far as improving compliance, a simple but effective tip one partner brought back from a meeting is using calendars. We put a small calendar up in every exam room. Instead of saying "let's recheck in 10 days" and leaving it up to the client or the front-desk staff, we look for a good day on the exam-room calendar and schedule the next appointment right then.

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