What ifa new practice opens down the street from your animal hospital?


Bring them back by investing some time and money in your marketing, building and team morale.

The Situation

Best Care Animal Hospital is a seven-doctor companion practice serving a Northeast metropolitan area. The hospital's team learns that a new practice is opening up a mile down the road in four months. The new competitor's application with the city states it will stay open until 10 pm seven days a week. Best Care closes at 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, 1 p.m. on Saturdays and isn't open on Sundays.

Best Care's management also worries about losing team members as much as losing clients. It's not unusual for veterinary staff to rotate through practices, and word travels fast about any practice that's managed well and offers equal or better compensation and benefits than others in the area-especially if it's also new.

The Solution

First, Best Care plans to emphasize its preventive-care plans-they've been offering them for a year, and 18 percent of clients now have them with an 80 percent renewal rate.

But the team knows there are other ways to ensure the new competition doesn't hurt their business. The veterinarians come up with a list of positive steps they can take over the next four months. For their full list of strategies, visit dvm360.com/BCAHplan. 

Client and patient action items:

1. Review other loyalty programs that would be complementary to their wellness plans, such as in-house financing, a reward program for clients who refer other pet owners, a loyalty rewards card or a practice-branded credit card.

2. Revitalize Best Care's website and work with a professional to improve search engine results.

3. Implement an outreach campaign to clients with pets that haven't been in for 14 months or more. There is a good chance the new practice will offer some type of incentive to encourage new clients, so Best Care can preempt this by offering a similar incentive to attract these “missing in action” clients

4. Move forward with long-delayed plans to spruce up the facility. A new sign, a newly repaved parking lot, fresh landscaping and new paint and artwork won't cost much but can really make a difference against a shiny new practice down the road.

5. Talk to the associate veterinarians to find out areas of interest they'd like to pursue and discuss contract terms in which the practice sponsors the education required for certification, in return for the associate's guarantee of remaining with the practice for a certain amount of time following completion of that training. The key is that this would result in the practice offering unique services that will set them apart from competitors.

6. Consider longer opening hours as a way of attracting new clients and survey current clients about these options to determine their interest. See page (Data Center)

7. Review and update current external marketing programs and consider new marketing initiatives. (See the checklist at dvm360.com/XXX for some ideas.)

Personnel management action items 

1. Conduct performance reviews-especially if they've gotten lost in the shuffle lately. These include 90 day reviews post-hire, as well as a six month check-in and a more comprehensive annual evaluation that includes input from peers and supervisors.

2. Ensure that pay rates are based on employee value and are not biased unfairly towards longevity. As a part of the performance review process, the management team should give each employee a rating (for example 3.6 out of 5) on their skills, attitudes, and value to the practice. These ratings should be compared to current rates of pay and discrepancies identified. It is very common to see that some of the most valued employees are getting paid far less than their less productive and less skilled co-workers. The skewed pay scale often favors longevity over quality performance. (Visit dvm360.com/staffanalysis to download a spreadsheet to conduct this analysis in your practice.)  The next step is to bring pay levels into alignment with performance and commit to implementing a merit-based system for pay increases. Expectations will be clearly communicated to employees through updated job descriptions, team meetings, and individual meetings. These expectations will be clearly correlated with the performance appraisals used in the hospital.

Second, consider making an investment in people by raising team wages slightly higher than other practices in the area, not as a form of “bribery,” but as a way to take money out of the equation so that no one chooses to resign solely for a bigger paycheck.   Community pay data can be obtained from colleagues in the area, online resources such as www.careeronestop.org and from local veterinary technician schools. Set work expectations commensurate with the higher pay and create training programs that include videos, online training, skills demonstration and testing so that an employee can achieve the higher levels of expertise in their position.

3. Get back into the habit of regularly scheduled team meetings where ideas are encouraged and concerns are openly managed. Set aside a specific day and time and let your clients know that you are closed for staff education.

4. Appreciate, appreciate, appreciate. Be specific by recognizing team members for going “above and beyond” in the presence of their peers.  Set a goal for doing this a certain number of times per day until it becomes a habit. Appreciation can be as simple as a “Thank you-you are did a great job” to gift cards or other rewards. 

When the new practice opens

1. Welcome the new practice owners and team to the neighborhood and develop a mutually respectful relationship. Always remain positive and never say anything negative about competitors. Best Care's management team should discuss the desired behavior with all doctors and staff members and model this behavior as well.

The Best Care managers and team should remember that clients-even happy and loyal ones-will try the new practice. The hope is that in Best Care "upping its game" and investing in the facility, the team and better client service, that those visits to the new practice down the road will be a one-time deal. Pet owners will return with greater appreciation and loyalty for the experience and care they receive from the veteran neighborhood veterinary practice.

Dr. Karen Felsted is president of PantheraT Veterinary Management Consulting. Jessica Goodman Lee is a practice management consultant for Pinnacle Integrated Veterinary Solutions.


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