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Polling Place: The Sale of Products to Client

Mary Ann Vande Linde, DVM

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This column provides a means of exchanging ideas. To pose a new question or to share your opinion on the next topic, visit www.cliniciansbrief.com and click on the Polling Place icon. Each issue, we will publish a representative sample of reader responses as well as an expert's view.

You have asked ...

What would you recommend as first steps in a practice interested in beginning to offer the sale of products to its clients? We have not yet actively marketed any products.

Our Readers Say ...

What They Can't Get Elsewhere
When we first started offering products to our clients, we tried to sell things not available at Petco or PetsMart. At the time, that included products like Frontline and Advantage. We have since added Reflex leashes, harnesses, and collars. Our hospital also carries many shampoos and dental care products, such as C.E.T. chews, toothpaste/
brushes, and oral gels, which also are available only from veterinarians.
Lisa Rio
Hospital Manager
Lake Jackson, Texas

Focus on Medicine
We don't market products in our practice, so we don't sell anything in our waiting room. We are primarily a veterinary hospital that focuses on animal medical care.

We hope that in the future veterinarians will be able to write prescriptions for pets' special diets that clients can fill at pet supply stores.
Martha Farkas, DVM
Cleveland, Ohio

Know What You Sell
First, I'd recommend that the veterinarians and other staff become knowledgeable about the products that the practice wants to sell. If they understand them well, they will be able to explain their usefulness to clients.

Another suggestion I'd make is to incorporate product information into newsletters and make marketing literature available in waiting and exam rooms. The practice could also display merchandising posters in the waiting room or introduce the product in client communications that go out to most of its clientele.
Leigh Stevens, DVM
Sunnyvale, California

Display and Announce
I think having a display in the lobby would be a good start. If the practice sends out a newsletter, outlining the products that it carries and why clients should purchase them is a good idea.
Jean Jarvis, DVM
Eden Prairie, Minnesota

Sell What You Believe In
I would start out by marketing food and diet products you believe in. You should have products that are available exclusively at a veterinary practice. For example, we sell Hill's special line of pet foods that has a different formulation than what you can buy at a retail store. We also have a good brand of collars with lifetime guarantees as well as products for flea prevention. Whatever you sell in your practice needs to be a great product. Ask yourself, "Why are these products superior?"; then sell them. I try to sell brands that have good research and testing behind them.
William Kerley, DVM
Fort Wayne, Indiana

WHAT THE EXPERT SAYS . . .

Basic Merchandising: Offering Products for Sale

What products do my clients and their pets need to be healthy, happy, and grow old together? This is the question to ask yourself when starting veterinary merchandising. Merchandising, as defined by Webster, means to promote and organize the sale of a particular product. Why start today when you have never walked this path before? Because to your clients, you are the expert in this area and they want your recommendations.

The second reason for merchandising is to trigger clients to ask questions. Clients' questions about products, programs, and services can aid the veterinarian in understanding how they view their pets' health and care. With this new understanding, the veterinarian can promote additional service and medical plans.

A third reason to merchandise is to fill a need. Clients will purchase products from somewhere to address their pet's problems or their own concerns-why not assist them in their choice for their pet's health and save them time and energy? A fourth reason is convenience for the client. They are already in your hospital asking questions. Why send them on another errand? Finally, selling products contributes to the bottom line of your hospital.

Visible & Touchable
So, you are convinced. Where do you start? Look around your hospital and examine your traffic flow. In order for merchandising to be effective, it must be visible, touchable, and available to the client. You may have a spare wall that is perfect for a display; however, it is 10 feet away from where the clients walk and your health care team's workspace. Merchandising will not be effective unless the client is directed into or through this area.

There are three types of effective merchandising for veterinary hospitals. These are passive marketing shelves in the examination room, point-of-purchase displays at the discharge desk, and a generalized merchandising area.

Passive marketing shelves in the exam room are used for products recommended daily for well pet and general medical care. During the physical exam and education, the veterinarian or member of the health care team selects a product off the shelf in the exam room. The product's use is then reviewed with the client. Next, the product is placed on the exam table for the client to look at and decide whether to purchase. Products to consider for this type of marketing include ear cleaners, brushes, combs, flea control agents, shampoos, food samples, dental products, and nail clippers.

Point-of-purchase displays are at the discharge or reception area and should be no more than an arm's length away from your client and health care team. These products-consisting of things all clients would use such as bones, treats, flea-control products, food, ear cleaners, and hair and lint brushes-are usually an impulse purchase.

In-Practice Store
Merchandising areas are those that clients are attracted to or have to walk through. These areas could be arranged as a small store for pets and their people. The most popular products are placed in the back or middle to attract people into the area. The displays must be well-labeled, and a plan for stocking and rotating products must be in place. A client must be able to locate and choose products without much assistance. However, the health care team must be prepared to answer any questions clients may have about a product or help them. It is important to remember people read from left to right, so your most popular items should be placed in the middle or to the right. This causes the eye to view the entire display.

All of these areas must call the client to them and keep the client's interest. They must be attractive and clean. Dust on a product or shelf is unappealing. Also, the shelf must be fully stocked. Have you ever been to a grocery store and wanted a product, such as oatmeal, and the shelf has a hole with the last oatmeal box pushed back into the dark? Clients do not want the last item, nor do they want to dig for it. All products need to be labeled with the clinic's name, address, and telephone number. I prefer foil stickers that stand out with a hospital logo and information. Research has shown that products with labels act as a billboard to other potential clients. They pick up the shampoo at a friend's house and say, "I've driven by this hospital-are they good to work with?"

Price & Inventory Control
The product also needs a small label that carries the retail cost plus the computer product code for ease at checkout. The receptionist can glance at the label and enter the code to complete the transaction and update the inventory-if you have such a system. Clients will purchase priced items more readily than items left unpriced. It is also helpful to have a plan-o-gram (or display map) of what products, how many, as well as the arrangement on the shelf to be merchandised. This allows quick product placement and rotation and a consistent professional eye appeal.

For merchandising to be consistent, you and your health care team must train, train, and re-train. What products do we recommend, and are they the best? Which companies make these products, and do they stand behind their products? Are the products guaranteed? The client and the pet need consistency. A solid recommendation of products, programs, and services from the front desk to the back door of your hospital is a must. If we carry a product on any of our displays, the entire health care team needs to know why we have it and what it is used for. They also need to know which questions concerning a product need an appointment with the doctor to review the pet's medical condition. This education gives the client peace of mind. It gives the health care team the ability to recommend a product with confidence, conviction, and consistency.

Merchandising is an excellent addition to your hospital to solidify its relationship with clients for their pets' well-being and healthy aging. Posters that ask clients questions or explain dentals, boarding, geriatrics, and wellness add to any display, reception area, or exam room. These "talking" or questioning posters can be very professional and educational for clients. An example would be, "Which teeth look like your pet's?" with photos. Another would be, "How old is your pet in people years?" with a chart, or "Does your pet have dry flakes on his skin?" These questions help clients see their pet's medical condition and well-being from another angle, increasing the opportunity to think of questions on medical conditions and thus the opportunity to add medical and professional services.

Merchandising adds to a hospital and enhances its value to the client. Start small with your displays and keep them simple. Train your health care team and set goals for your hospital display areas. Clients will enjoy the convenience, caring attitude, peace of mind, and healthy pet they attain. You will enjoy the healthy pet, the happy health care team, the increased medicine and services provided, as well as the healthy income.

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

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