Healthy pets and healthy business
By MWI Animal Health
Why it makes smart business sense for veterinary practices to sell parasiticides
Veterinary practices can lose a lot of revenue every time they approve a script for an outside vendor. Keeping sales of flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives in-house can not only help their business, but the health of their clients' pets too. But how can practices convince their clients to keep their prescriptions in-house?
We sat down with Jeff Hicks, an industry leader in veterinary sales, to get insight into why it makes good business sense to keep parasiticide sales in-house, and how veterinarians can make this goal a reality.
Q: What is the business case for product sales to stay in-house?
Jeff Hicks: Flea, tick, and heartworm products alone represent about 11 to 15 percent of a veterinary practice's revenue, according to an American Animal Hospital Associations survey of about 500 practices across the U.S . That's a material amount of their gross revenue.
Practices also run a set of diagnostics ahead of prescribing these items, particularly the heartworm products. So if you think about pre-dispensing diagnostics, that's another material part of the practice revenue that you'll lose if the products don't stay in-house.
But it goes even beyond all that. If one product leaks out, others will probably follow. The consumer's not going to just say, "Well, I'm only going to buy this at an online retailer.” Non-steroidal products are a significant amount of revenue and total pharmacy purchases represents approximately 30 percent of a veterinary practice’s annual revenue. So think about losing flea, tick, and heartworm products as opening a gate to losing one-third of the practice's total revenue.
Q: How can veterinarians communicate to pet owners that the practice is the smart place to buy preventatives? Is there an argument that cheaper vendors aren't always better?
Jeff Hicks: First, many products are contraindicated in certain patients based on other medical conditions, species, and the like. Those mistakes can be very expensive ones, if not fatal. So by ordering from the veterinarian, the client has peace of mind that they're being prescribed a product that fits their pet.
Veterinary practices know not only the patient, but also the environment where the pet lives. So veterinarians can make medication choices that optimize for both the environment and the patient, which means the customer gets the best efficacy based on where they live. The veterinarian is optimizing based on the challenges the pet faces.
A good example is if you're in a whipworm endemic area, then you definitely want to be using a product like Interceptor® Plus as opposed to an Ivermectin-based product. Veterinarians live their days knowing that, but the average pet owner doesn't.
Q: How can veterinarians communicate what they offer more effectively to pet owners, in a way that better competes with larger, outside vendors?
Jeff Hicks: First is making sure they effectively communicate that their patients should be using these products and that the practice sells them. But how do to best do that?
Practices that utilize marketing technology are absolutely communicating competitively. They're leveraging the power of their data to communicate with their client base. And they do it in different ways. Sometimes it's merely a compliance message like, "You bought six doses, and I see you should have used five by now. It's time to get another six doses." Or there could be a new product on the market that they believe is a better medical solution for the client, and they'll recommend the client comes in. Or maybe they'll have an incentive associated with coming in.
Tools like this let them leverage their own data to do exactly what online pet product retailers and other outside vendors have done for years. What used to require a floor of people in marketing and massive investments in advertising now just requires a veterinarian to leverage a communication platform.
Q: How does selling products improve client "stickiness" and loyalty?
Jeff Hicks: Veterinarians know their pet patients, the more stickiness there is in the veterinarian-patient relationship. First, they'll get a baseline set of diagnostics on a pet before prescribing the parasiticides. As the patient is getting the flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives, the veterinarian may recommend other preventative procedures as well. The greatest example would be a prophylactic dental procedure, which is highly recommended throughout the industry.
I think that tying the knowledge and medical history of that patient to a product sale just makes it more likely that the veterinarians will have a relationship with that patient that includes other preventative measures and best-in-class medical procedures.
Q: Are parasiticides from larger vendors really less expensive? Or can veterinarians make their medications more competitive and affordable?
Jeff Hicks: The manufacturers of all these parasiticides understand that the veterinarian's recommendation is paramount. They know their client base, their medical history, and what works best in their region. So the manufacturer absolutely needs and wants the veterinarian's recommendation, and often adds promotions to help incentivize this.
Many times, these products actually have medical guarantees. If your dog turns up heartworm positive while they're on this product — if they're under a veterinarian's care — then the manufacturer will often pay for the treatments, which can be very expensive. But the pet owner needs a valid veterinarian-patient relationship to make that work.
The manufacturers may also ensure that if a purchase happens through a veterinary practice, there are redeemable incentives for the clients. That makes the veterinary practice a competitive place to purchase the product.
And again, if you consider the average resale price for a product at an outside vendor, compared with the price a veterinarian can get based on consumer offers that vendors give them, you'll find a very level playing field. So in other words, right now if I go to my veterinarian and I want to buy six doses of Bravecto® for six months, I'll buy at exactly the same price that I would at an online retailer.
Q: Are their other impacts to selling parasiticides direct to pet parents?
Jeff Hicks: I don't think a client choosing to buy a parasiticide in a veterinary practice necessarily creates a big differentiator for compliance. But veterinarians who are leveraging technology like communication engines or home delivery are driving not only compliance but adherence as well. Clients from practices that are leveraging those tools are absolutely more likely to be compliant than somebody buying a product from anywhere else and not experiencing those tools. We all do better with a reminder system, whether it's digital or physical.
Q: How does home delivery fit into the equation? Should it be leveraged as a business tool?
Jeff Hicks: One of the biggest competitive factors we face is simply in the area of convenience. So make sure your practice is set up to have a convenient way for a transaction to happen. Is it really hard and complicated for somebody to walk into your practice and grab medicine? Can you meet the consumer where they are with a home delivery solution?
Home delivery is absolutely a critical component for any veterinary practice, both in terms of convenience and affordability, like as part of a preventive care program.
Think about how customers are going to be paying. Typically somebody walking into your practice is going to buy six doses at a time, and maybe they have other fees to go with it. If you have a home delivery model for preventive care, you can move to a monthly payment instead. So now you offer both convenience and affordability, which makes your practice more competitive.
1. Financial and Productivity Pulsepoints, Tenth Edition. AAHA. 2019.
Harness the convenience of subscriptions to raise compliance
Consider how subscriptions play a part in you daily life. You watch TV and movies on Hulu, listen to music and podcasts on Spotify®, order groceries through Instacart®, and all your household good come to your door courtesy of Amazon®.
Chances are that your veterinary clients also already engage with at least one subscription service. They understand the attraction of such packages to both their budgets and schedules. What if the convenience of the subscription model could be harnessed for the health of pets?
If your practice offered a customized, preventive care plan, it could go a long way in raising preventive care compliance rates. With the MWI Easy Care Program, veterinary practices lower barriers to patient care by spreading out cost of preventive care in subscription model. This leads to boost in compliance and better patient outcomes.
In fact, after signing up for the program, 66 percent of clients bought their first flea and tick dose, and 72 percent of clients bought their first heartworm dose.1
Imagine less frustration over clients not taking your care recommendations. Imagine offering them a more financially feasible way to get their pets necessary preventive care. They’ll walk out of the clinic confident they’ve done what’s best for their pet. And you’ll feel confident knowing you brought in additional revenue.
1. Data on file with MWI Animal Health