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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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Editor's Note

What I Learned at the Wellness Summit

The first PETS+ trade event sent us all home armed with shared information and a sense of community.

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IN OCTOBER, PETS+ hosted its first trade event — the PETS+ Wellness Summit — in which we tried an experiment: We wanted to bring the spirit of the magazine to life, complete with retailers and service providers sharing real-world knowledge and experience, alongside experts from manufacturers whose products those businesses stock, sell and use.

During those two days just outside Chicago, I know from the responses of those who attended, folks soaked in that sharing of information and went back home reinvigorated and better prepared to meet the needs — and address the concerns — of their customers.

I too left armed with new knowledge that I hope we’ll soon be pouring into upcoming issues of PETS+.

Specifically, I learned of a growing consensus to refer to raw food as “fresh.” Coming from the perspective of a consumer as much as a pet industry insider, that’s a shift I can appreciate. Deep down, there’s a squeamish factor in “raw” that I realize is irrational, but “fresh” is a term we can all embrace — and already gladly pay more for when shopping for human groceries.

I learned also that pet pros face many of the same challenges, even if their businesses are located thousands of miles apart. But when they sit down at a table together and share those challenges, their peers gladly offer up suggestions based on their own experiences. That’s heartening, and I hope PETS+, our website, Facebook community and Brain Squad will stand in for that dinner table when you aren’t able to meet face to face.

Mostly, though, I confirmed what I suspected: that PETS+ readers are every bit as cool in person as they are when hearing from them via phone and email. I, for one, hope I’ll be seeing you face to face at many more events PETS+ will host in the future. Stay tuned!

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Ralf Kircher
Editor-in-Chief, Pets+
ralf@petsplusmag.com

Five Great Tips From This Issue That You Can Do Today

1. This year, launch a new holiday tradition, such as everyone wearing red and green bowties. (Manager’s To-Do List, page 12)
2. Eliminate clutter and distractions in your business’s “decompression zone” to allow customers to acclimate. (Manager’s To-Do List, page 12)
3. To sell more of an item, try bundling at a set price. (Hot Sellers, page 16)
4. If you sell treat holders, run a buy-one-get-the-treat-free promotion. (Hot Sellers, page 16)
5. Prepare a flu kit for your business, complete with EmergenC, cough drops, vitamin C drops, pain medicine, alcohol wipes, Lysol and more. (Tip Sheet, page 38)

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Candace D'Agnolo

Boost Staff Morale with These 3 Holiday Sales Games

It’s important to first identify what your goal is.

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WHEN I WAS running my own pet retail boutique, I found that as the busy days of December rolled on, our team would become more and more run down. Every day gets longer and longer. It becomes harder and harder to keep the team motivated. I needed to find a solution, and I discovered that one of the best ways to perk up everyone was to play games.

Using “gamification” in your business is a really hot trend right now because it creates engagement, connection and results.

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When it comes to using games as a tool in business, it’s important to first identify what your goal is. Perhaps it’s to move out your holiday-specific merchandise. Maybe it’s to ensure that all the new customers coming in are being added to your database. Or you want to get the team to add on one more item over $10 to each sale. Whatever it is, make sure you pick a specific purpose for your game. Play the game only for up to one week. Games that last longer tend to lose their magic. You can play multiple games throughout the month, too. At my store, we had a different four-day game that would run every Thursday through Sunday. Each game’s tactics were different, and each game’s purpose was different.

Here are a few of my favorite games to play to help you sell more stuff, motivate the team and keep that register ringing to make the most of December.

The Dollar Tree

Tape fake dollar bills on a wall in the shape of a Christmas tree. Encourage your team to ask each customer: “Does your pet have a present under the tree this year?” If the customer says, “No” (or even yes) and that question leads them to purchase a toy, then that team member gets to pull a fake dollar from the tree. At the end of your game, they get to turn their fake dollars into you for real dollars.

Staff Santa Sack

Every time you beat your daily sales goal, each person who worked the floor gets to pull a card from the Staff Santa Sack. The sack can be filled with notecards or something similar, each with a reward, gift or surprise written on it. They can turn their cards into you whenever they want during the months of January or February. The rewards could have ideas like, “Skip my turn to clean the bathroom,” “Go to Lunch with the Boss,” “Pick one item from the store under $20,” “Get a 30-minute paid break.”

Staff Bingo

Play Bingo! Make your own bingo board by filling in the boxes with product names, tasks or questions instead of the typical bingo number. Keep them all the same or make a variety of boards. Hand them out to your team and have them try to get bingo in order to move toward your objective. When they have a completed board, they get a prize.

These are just a few examples of games you could play with your team to keep things interesting and to increase your sales at the same time. If you give one a try, make sure to share your results with PETS+.

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5 KPIs to Transform Your Social Media

See few simple targets that even those who dread data will learn to love.

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RECENTLY, I DOVE into the top five key performance indicators (KPIs) that will transform how you market your pet business (petsplusmag.com/11191). Today, we’re going to carry those through to a few top marketing channels to turn your business’s metrics from scary and something you avoid to something you’ll be asking for! The following are a few simple targets that even those who dread data will learn to love.

Competitor Reporting

Set up Facebook competitor reporting to see your top competitors’ top-performing posts. If you haven’t already done this, this is one to set up right now. Buried within Facebook insights is something called “Pages you watch.” Add your top competitors here, and Facebook will automatically deliver you a fresh serving of those pages’ top-performing posts each week — for free! You’ll be able to see what they’re posting in one place and which of those posts got their customers’ attention. (Pro tip: Chances are, if you are competitors, it will get your customers’ attention too.) This is a great way to see instantly how you’re measuring up and get ideas for what will work well for you. It can also give you an idea of how your competitors’ sales posts perform in relation to your own.

All Posts Published

Review Facebook’s All Posts Published report to see which topics are performing best on your page. Facebook makes this super simple and shows you in list form which of your posts received the highest engagement rates in the last 30 days. While some may be obvious — cute or controversial topics tend to have high engagement — some things may surprise you and let you know to talk more about them. For example, we have a pet business that kept trying to talk about topics unrelated to what they sold. However, a quick look at this report proved that posts dealing directly with the products and services they provided had the highest response from people who followed their page. Suddenly, the other kinds of posts were a lot less important to their strategy.

Audience Reports

Take a peek at Facebook and Instagram’s audience reports to see when your audience is online (and when to post). Both Instagram and Facebook pages provide businesses with a roundup of what time of day your audience is using the platforms. Consider posting shortly before the morning rush and evening rush for maximum exposure. Likewise, some email platforms will suggest times of day for emails based on where the people in your list are located.

1,000 Followers

Get past 1,000 followers on each important social channel, then reevaluate whether you need more. We’ve often noticed that 1,000 followers seems to be a sort of magic threshold for pet businesses: Suddenly potential customers are able to see that other people like and trust you, and are therefore more likely to do so as well. Yet, our experience shows that struggling to hit 10,000-plus seems to make little difference for local pet-industry brands. While some additional functionality is opened up at 10,000 followers on Instagram and it’s helpful for national entities, keep a close eye on whether it’s worth the time and money to get there. You may get more bang for the buck on building out recent stellar online reviews, or placing your products on Pinterest once you pass the magic 1,000-follower number as a local business.

Traffic Drivers

Take a quarterly peek at which channels are driving the most traffic to your website and to your store. Typically, these will be very different and not include Instagram at all. Many pet brands that have well-optimized websites find that Pinterest, email and Google drive the most clicks to the website while Facebook’s still a strong performer for foot-traffic (along with Google and email). Knowing which channels will lend themselves to driving specific actions will help you streamline your communications and prioritize your budget based on the sales goals you’ve set.

Give the above five KPIs a quick scan every few months to see what stands out and surprises you — that’s usually a good indicator of an opportunity!

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