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Companion 2012 September/October Vol: 4 Issue: 5Winning the Pharmacy Wars
Your customers face fierce competition from the big-box stores, but they enjoy many advantages too. And reps can help tap into those.
Product selection too.
And don’t forget convenience.
Veterinarians face more competition than ever for pharmacy business. PetMed Express, the largest Internet pharmacy, continues to grow. For the year ended March 2012, net sales were $238.3 million, compared to $231.6 million for the year before, an increase of 3 percent. But it’s not just PetMed Express that’s encroaching on the veterinarian’s turf. Consider:
Going up against the likes of Walmart, Winn-Dixie and Kmart is daunting, but veterinarians enjoy advantages of their own. They just have to be wise in when and how to use them.
Loyalty only goes so far
It’s true that pet owners may prefer to support their local veterinarian by buying prescription products from the practice rather than a big-box store, says Felsted. But veterinarians should be careful about relying too much on loyalty. “Convenience matters. If you [that is, the pet owner] have to go to the grocery store twice a week anyway, and it’s closer to you than the veterinarian, it may be easier to buy your [pet products] there,” she says.
Shout it from the rooftops
Though the practice might charge a little bit more for comparable products, it has to stay competitive, she says. Today’s pet owners, more informed than ever, are looking at price. “Yes, I think they will pay a little bit more to buy [a prescription product] at the clinic. But what is a ‘little bit more?’”
Sidney Alvarez, director of marketing and public relations, PCI Animal Health, recommends that clinics emulate the big-box stores on some of their pricing practices, such as matching competitors’ prices. “Why should it be any different with the doctor?” he asks. If the client confronts the doctor with a big-box price, “the answer should be ‘Yes, we will match that price,’ because once they get the client into the office, they can win [him or her] over with the services and knowledge they offer.”
How to wage the war
While veterinarians can overestimate how much extra pet owners are willing to pay for prescriptions at the practice, they need to continually reinforce their value to the pet owner, according to those with whom Vet-Advantage spoke.
Online ordering options, such as Vetstreet, MyVetDirect, Proxy Rx, Midwest Veterinary Supply’s JAT Pharmacy, and others, can level the playing field for the veterinary practice by allowing clients to purchase products conveniently, 24 hours a day. “The doctor has an entire pharmacy at their disposal,” says Goeckner, speaking of JAT Pharmacy. “If it’s a product they don’t stock, they still have access to it.”
Hand in hand with good communication is outstanding customer service, says Alvarez. Together, they add up to increased sales. “It boils down to, ‘Why do you go to one veterinarian vs. another? Is price a deciding factor? Possibly. But the savvy customer knows, ‘I get better service when I go to Doctor A vs. Doctor B, vs. [one of the big box companies].’”
Introducing new products
Doctors in successful practices also let pet owners know exactly what they believe is best for the pet, adds Felsted. Before prescribing a new product, the doctors need to spend time understanding how it will fit into the practice, and how it will benefit pets. The manufacturers and distributors selling that product need to make sure they’ve communicated all of that clearly. Once the doctors have concluded that the product is beneficial, they need to communicate that to everyone in the office. This way, the pet owners get a consistent message, regardless of who is delivering it.
Distributor rep’s role
Distributor reps can help their customers improve compliance as well as in-office sales, according to those with whom Veterinary Advantage spoke.
Feds to examine pet prescription business
October workshop to examine the role of veterinarians, retail outlets and online sellers, and their impact on the consumer.
Vet-Advantage readers and their customers aren’t the only ones interested in who’s selling pet medications. The federal government is too.
$7 billion a year
In its Federal Register notice, the FTC estimates that Americans spend nearly $7 billion a year on prescription and OTC pet medications.
Questions to explore
The key questions the FTC intends to explore in the coming months include:
Who should dispense?
The FTC also intends to explore prescription portability for pet medications. “When a veterinarian writes a prescription for a medication to be dispensed and subsequently administered by a pet’s owner, the prescription must be filled with the correct medication and dosage, and the owner must have access to relevant information about the medication and proper administration techniques,” says the FTC.
Portability will be discussed
In the workshop, the Commission intended to “examine issues related to the portability of pet medication prescriptions from practical, economic, and legal perspectives.” Some questions the FTC posed were:
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