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Adapting Successful Business Models to Your Practice

Cyndie Courtney, DVM

May / June 2013|Peer Reviewed

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Adapting Successful Business Models to Your Practice

3 Ways to "Think Different" Like Apple

How can you do the impossible to help your practice bear fruit?

Apple has always been single-minded.

1. Keep it Simple

Them: In 2011, Dell sold 18 different types of computers; HP sold 23; Apple sold 5.1 Apple’s fewer choices made it easier for customers to choose. Apple’s advertisements focus on one product or idea at a time and make it easier for customers to remember Apple’s messages.

Less is more. Give clients 3, not 12, wellness plans to choose from. If possible and appropriate, address just one issue (eg, dental care, weight loss, obedience training) during a client visit and schedule others for a follow-up visit. Have just one educational poster in the examination room. Give clients short handouts, which they are more likely to read than long ones.

2. Connect on an Emotional, Not Technical, Level

Them: The iPod demonstrated that people would rather have “1,000 songs in their pocket” than a 125MB MP3 player.2 The popularity of the Siri feature suggested people had more fun asking their phone to marry them than using a Blackberry.3 Apple connects to customers’ emotions; other companies focus on technical details.

You: Connect with clients on a human level and avoid technical language they do not understand. Clients agree to a dental treatment because their pet is in pain, not to prevent deepening periodontal pockets. Clients do not worry about the prevalence of leptospirosis; they worry their kids will get sick. Make science-based decisions but emotion-focused recommendations.

3. Impossible...or just really hard?

Them: Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs was infamous for making ridiculous requests of contractors and staff, but by urging them to think creatively, he often showed they could make the impossible possible.

You: Imagine your own “impossible.” Could one-hourlong appointments be profitable? Could you get 100% of clients to agree to senior blood panels?

Bottom Line
Apple believes the only people who change the world are those who believe they can. Think differently and make a difference in your practice.

4 Ways To Soar Like Southwest

How can you put your practice on this successful airline’s flight path?

Southwest is the only airline that has been consistently profitable for 40 years,4,5 thanks to its quirky company culture.

1. Focus on Success

Them: Fare wars and lawsuits hounded Southwest in its early years. Team members made astounding sacrifices to keep the company alive, and that entrepreneurial, rallying spirit survives today.4

You: Move your focus to creating excellence and improving medical care in your own practice, rather than looking at what other practices are doing. Drs. Ernie Ward and Robin Downing have both developed independent campaigns against pet obesity and pain that contributed to their practices' success.

2. Empower Employees

Them: Southwest believes if leaders in the corporate office disappeared, their team members would not know for weeks.6 Believing that bureaucracy wastes time and money, the company empowers every team member to find new opportunities, solve problems, and handle customer complaints.7

You: Recognize that your team members can (and do) generate ideas and solve problems. Hire carefully, train well, and banish the phrase “I have to ask a manager.” Then, recognize initiative and forgive the occasional misstep.

3. Love

Them: Southwest’s stock ticker LUV is an homage to its central value: Well-treated employees will treat customers well. Southwest has charity funds for team members facing hard times. A shadowing program helps coworkers understand others’ daily challenges. The company knows that even the best employees occasionally make mistakes and supports employee development through evaluation and constructive feedback.

You: Do not be afraid to show your team members that you care. Show compassion, patience, and forgiveness.

4. Have Fun

Them: Southwest team members are known for wearing costumes and making jokes while reading flight safety information. “Something unusual is going on at Southwest Airlines. Everyone is happy,” a CBS reporter once said.8 Southwest believes you can take your job seriously without taking yourself too seriously.

You: A veterinary practice is an emotionally charged environment. The sad moments in the veterinary profession make celebrating happy moments essential.

Bottom Line
Southwest is a company with a family soul and an uplifting culture. Learn from it and watch your practice soar.

3 Steps to a Starbucks Transformation

How can you copy a coffee king and brew success?

In early 2008, Starbucks’ sales were down 10%.9 Yet, within 2 years, amid an extended recession, its rising earnings crushed Wall Street projections.10

1. Know Your Strengths

Them: Starbucks bills itself not only as the coffee authority but also as an employee-centric employer, so even during difficult times it pursued risky opportunities like developing a revolutionary new instant coffee and refusing to eliminate employee health benefits.

You: What makes your practice unique? Pursue opportunities that match your vision and your practice's strengths. Know what not to change.

2. Know What To Cut

Them: Starbucks eliminated counterproductive strategies; for example, store locations were closed because explosive growth was cannibalizing sales. The company also downscaled its investment in music and movies, because this distracted from the core competency of coffee.

You: What can your practice eliminate to redirect resources toward its strengths? Is the hospital expanding too quickly? Does your inventory match your goals?

3. “Lean Manufacturing”

Them: The average Starbucks store serves 450 customers daily,11 so using the “Lean Manufacturing” process maximizes efficiency.12 This involves empowering team members to discover and fix efficiency problems and maximizing time employees spend creating value for customers. After an employee heard baristas say, “Sorry, we don’t have that coffee” 30 times, his store instituted a rotating carafe system. Observant baristas noted that if they worked on more than 2 drinks simultaneously, they ignored customers and made more mistakes, so they began working on no more than 2 drinks at once. In some stores, the satisfaction of identifying and solving their own problems decreased employee turnover by 60%.13

You: Implement a program in which team members shadow others outside of their own areas of responsibilities (eg, in reception, kennel areas, treatment rooms) to pick up on both efficiencies and inefficiencies and appreciate each team member's responsibilities and roles in the workflow.

Bottom Line
The strategy turned Starbucks around during a deep recession in just 2 years. Invigorate your practice with similar, innovative ideas.

3 Steps to Mayo Clinic Medicine

How can you practice like the most recognizable brand in medicine?

1. Build a Super Team

Them: Mayo Clinic makes the most of every team member, training them all thoroughly14 and paying for benefits such as advanced degrees,15,16 which decreases turnover and improves the applicant pool.

Seasoned and well-trained Mayo nurses fill many roles conventionally filled by doctors, leading client education in everything from pregnancy wellness17 to smoking cessation.18 A nurse-run hotline even provides guidance and treatment protocols for simple, non-urgent cases.19

Mayo attributes its low voluntary turnover and excellent applicant pool to happy nurses who build careers at the clinic and recommend it to their colleagues.20

You: Can your technicians accept additional key responsibilities? Do they effectively perform skin scrapings, have the “weight loss” conversation, and triage emergency patients? Invest in developing your team’s skills.

2. Ask, "What Do You Think?"

Them: Teamwork helps Mayo Clinic live its credo: The needs of the patient come first.

  • Fast Company Magazine described a typical day at Mayo:21 An oncologist reviews a case with 2 other oncologists, a nurse, and a resident in a “collegial but direct point-counterpoint.” Together they decide if the patient makes a good surgical candidate.
  • A hip surgery patient is delighted to have not 1, but 3, hip specialists on his team.22
  • An audiology patient is shocked by how quickly her specialists reach each other to discuss her case.23

Mayo incorporates patient input, too. Prioritizing patient needs simply means asking patients to articulate their needs. One patient refused to be admitted to the emergency room until an employee, upon discovering that the patient's dog was trapped in her truck, volunteered to care for the dog.24

You: Actively listen to your technician’s gut feelings. Discuss a suspicious radiograph with colleagues. Ask clients if a treatment plan works for the family. Your clients will appreciate having a whole team helping their pets.

3. Ask, "How Can I Help?"

Them: Everyone is expected to pitch in at Mayo Clinic. One nurse making patient calls was confused by a case; a doctor stopped what he was doing to help, simply because “the patient’s needs come first.”25 Actor Dennis Quaid, an advocate for patient safety and medical mistake prevention since his twins were among 3 newborns given 1,000 times the recommended concentration of heparin, applauded Mayo’s cleaning teams for independently developing protocols that significantly decreased hospitalborne infections.26

You: A veterinarian can clean a litter box or wipe up urine if other team members are swamped. Kennel teams may provide insightful suggestions for preventing diarrhea. Medicine is a team sport. Make taking care of patients everyone’s job.

Bottom Line
Mayo Clinic trusts that by putting patients first, financial success will follow. Train your team thoroughly and collaborate on patient care to assure success.

Best Practices


1. Insanely Simple. Segall K—New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2012, p 52.
2. Insanely Simple. Segall K—New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2012, p 149.
3. Insanely Simple. Segall K—New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2012, p 139.
4. Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success. Freiberg K, Freiberg J—New York: Broadway Books, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1997, p 45.
5. Southwest corporate fact sheet. Southwest Airlines;; accessed April 2013.
6. Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success. Freiberg K, Freiberg J—New York: Broadway Books, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1997, p 232.
7. Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success. Freiberg K, Freiberg J—New York: Broadway Books, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1997, pp 74-107.
8. Something special about Southwest Airlines (online video). CBS News (2009);; accessed April 2013.
9. Onward. Schultz H—Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale, 2011, p 49.
10. Onward. Schultz H—Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale, 2011, p 297.
11. Higher daily customer visits at Starbucks expected (online review). Trefis (2010);; accessed April 2013.
12. Onward. Schultz H—Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale, 2011, pp 280-284.
13. Onward. Schultz H—Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale, 2011, p 283.
14. Nursing in Minnesota (Mayo Clinic online video). Mayo Clinic; (0:55); accessed April 2013.
15. Professional growth and development. Mayo Clinic;; accessed April 2013.
16. Nursing in Minnesota (online video). Mayo Clinic; (3:48); accessed April 2013.
17. CTA health information and well baby program. California Teachers Association;; accessed April 2013.
18. Diabetes educators play key role (Mayo Clinic blog entry). Davidson NK, Moreland P. Mayo Clinic;; accessed April 2013.
19. The changing role of nurses. Howell WLJ. Hospitals and Health Networks; accessed April 2013.
20. Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic. Berry LL, Seltman KD— McGraw Hill, 2008, pp 142-145.
21. The agenda—Total teamwork. Roberts P. Fast Company April:31, 1999;; accessed April 2013.
22. Jim Mahan, telephone interview, Wilmington, NC, January 14, 2013.
23. Cathy Johnson, email communication, Farmington, NC, January 7, 2013.
24. Management Lessons From Mayo Clinic. Berry LL, Seltman KD— Columbus, Ohio: McGraw Hill, 2008, p 33.
25. Nurse manager Jessica Charles on what attracted her to Mayo Clinic (Mayo Clinic online video). Charles J; (4:38); accessed April 2013.
26. The Mayo Clinic has great culture (Mayo Clinic online video). Quaid D; ; accessed April 2013.

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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