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The Veterinary Industry Is Set to Explode … Or Implode

Vets have been painfully slow to come to the marketing table.

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WITH THE ANNOUNCEMENT that Walmart will add veterinary clinics to six of its stores in the Dallas area, what will happen to your friendly neighborhood vet clinic?

It appears the big box giant – like specialty big-boxer Petco and the vet practice chains – has come to the same conclusion I reached years ago: that the vet business is where the legal, cosmetic surgery, eye surgery dental and now other medical industries were not long ago. That is, on the verge of explosive growth, for those smart enough to seize the day.

I have argued that a handful of veterinary practices will strike it rich, making millions of dollars when they come out of the marketing dark ages and begin to aggressively promote their practices using the same tactics that attorneys, doctors and dentists began using a few decades ago.

Back then, advertising among those so-called professionals was viewed as an unethical taboo by the “old guard.” That was until a few practices started doing it anyway and saw their billings fly off the charts.

Others soon followed, and the marketing bug hit other professional practices. Now all kinds of medical practices are jumping on the bandwagon, including specialists in modalities like stem cells, which are either just beginning to garner acceptance by insurance companies.

But vets have been painfully slow to come to the marketing table – far slower than their human practitioner counterparts. As a result, most veterinary practices are stuck at a level of mediocrity and financial stagnation that frustrates the owners.

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Walmart – of all companies – has seen the light of exceptional opportunity and is piloting a program that, if successful, will undoubtedly spread to many of its stores all over the country.

If successful and expanded, the Walmart experiment could prove disastrous for the neighborhood veterinarian. Some will go out of business. Others will find it difficult to hire associate vets as Walmart brings its attractive pay and benefits package to the table.

Downward pressure on pricing will also hurt practices that do survive in the face of this new competition.

Of course, many will argue the Walmarts, Petcos and chains will never be able to provide the level of comprehensive, experienced and expert care to pets that “a real veterinarian” can.

And they’ll be right. But what difference will that make as the big boxes rake in the big dollars and “the real vets” starve?

On the upside, perhaps the entrance of Walmart into the vet market will serve as a wake-up call to smart veterinarians who finally see the dormant potential in their own industry and their own practices.

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Forward looking vets who see both the pros and cons of this near-future reality and take steps to exploit the opportunity will be able to insulate themselves against the big box invasion, while gaining substantial competitive advantages in the short term. And again, the smart, aggressive vets will literally get rich.

Right now, neither Walmart nor Petco nor the vet chains fully exploit the opportunities inherent in the pet marketplace. Veterinary clinics who decide to aggressively market their practices may see those practices explode, while those who don’t may see theirs implode.

Jim Ackerman is a renowned marketing speaker and author. Contact him at (800) 584-7585 or mail@ascendmarketing.com.

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