Are vets selling out by selling stuff?
Ever wonder at all the "stuff" your veterinarian carries in his or her hospital?
Sometimes it seems like the products and foods are literally dripping from the well-stocked walls, the melamine shelving teeming with pet-themed goods — sometimes even the exam rooms are overflowing with products. You’d never expect to see so much stuff for sale at your human doc’s place, right?
After a couple of client interactions on the price of products I got to thinking about this topic.
You could say that we veterinarians didn’t go to to school to become retailers, and many veterinarians would agree. To me, the proliferation of products in our workplaces is demeaning to veterinary medicine — somewhat akin to what’s happened to the pharmacy profession.
Let me explain. It hurts me to see licensed pharmacists scanning toilet paper at the pharmacy counter. So much so that I feel the need to apologize every time I ask my Target pharmacist to scan cookies or hair ties along with my meds.
I definitely don’t want my profession reduced to such a status. Sure, I squeeze anal glands and clip toenails, not the most glamorous details, but I can tell myself that’s still a whole world away from selling collars, leashes and kitty litter alongside the more defensible veterinary products like Frontline and Heartgard. Nonetheless, many veterinary hospitals defend a ginormous range of product sales as a "full-service" approach.
Perhaps my problem is more that I’ve always been such a horrible salesperson. During one horrible summer between college and vet school, when the veterinary assistant jobs were few and far between, I once sank so low as to take a job selling Rainbow vacuum cleaners. I lasted two days, so unfit was I for such a detail.
There’s always been one exception to this rule for me. If I’m selling something I truly believe in and would buy myself with no reservations, I excel at sales. Hence, my top-salesperson’s status at the Joan and David store while in high school. Despite my youth, I could sell shoes I adored with perfect aplomb, surprising everyone with my hefty bonuses and pre-college savings (which I spent almost immediately on my Wellesley winter wardrobe).
Excelling at this narrow brand of salesmanship is why I’m convinced that I can handle the retail aspects of veterinary medicine — granted I maintain the narrow scope. After all, I can breezily recommend products and services I’d happily purchase for my own pets.
It’s second nature for many of us, really. Veterinarians usually love playing the well-versed informant, the one who tells you which great restaurants to try and where to get the best prices online for X, Y or Z. This personality-type drives our veterinary "salesmanship," whether we’re selling you on something we can provide or not.
But is this drive ultimately what’s best for our industry as a whole? Sometimes I think it is ... and sometimes I believe it goes too far, as when we’re willing to stock far more goods than we could ever credibly believe in.
Whether we like it or not, every profession sells. The question is: by doing so with increasing reliance on food, product and drug sales, are we ultimately selling our services short?
What do you think? Is it distasteful to see products cramming every nook and cranny of your vet's clinic? Or are you relieved that you don’t have to go elsewhere to get your pet stuff?
Dr. Patty Khuly