How To Compete as an Independent Animal Hospital in a Veterinary Conglomerate World of MARS
An increasing amount of smaller independent animal hospitals and veterinary clinics are being acquired by large private equity-funded corporations, with VCA/MARS being one of the most significant players. This article addresses ways the smaller veterinary practices can maintain their independence while competing aggressively against the corporate conglomerates.
Industry consolidation is nothing new, this happens in all industries especially when a business vertical is highly profitable and presents financial rewards for investors. And let’s face it, the veterinary industry is booming, staffing issues aside, it’s never been better from a profitability standpoint. According to the ASPCA, the pandemic has resulted in thousands of new pet adoptions and a surge in new veterinary business and bottom-line revenue for its owners.
According to the AVMA’s national data on 4,000-plus veterinary practices from analytics company VetSuccess, the average number of appointments booked increased 4.5% from 2019 to 2020. Appointments increased 6.5% between January and June 2021, compared with the same period in 2020.
You Can Compete Against the Conglamorates in a Way that Is Not Only Successful but Also Sustainable.
As conglomerates continue to invest heavily into their brands, technology solutions, and customer loyalty programs, it has become increasingly difficult for small independent veterinarian practices to compete. We believe this is a myth and the good news is that you can keep your independence while still competing effectively and expanding your practice.
The Myth of the Conglamorate Brand Value Proposition.
Consider that, unlike other national businesses that can leverage their size and brand to capture customers who visit multiple geographical business locations, your veterinary practice is a “local business” with customers typically within a (max) 10-mile driving radius of your practice. As an analogy, think of Marriott Hotels (VCA) having multiple locations across the country, versus a bed and breakfast operator on the New Jersey Shore (Your Veterinary Practice). The bed and breakfast operator is probably not going to get a lot of business originating from Seattle or Los Angeles, and neither will your veterinary practice.
So how does your animal hospital benefit from being rolled up into a conglomerate brand?
For veterinary practice owners who want to remain independent, it’s hard to see how they will benefit from being rolled up into a conglomerate brand. Perhaps there are operational benefits such as volume purchasing discounts, HR management, and accounting services all of which can also be obtained through various associations while allowing you to remain an independent operator.
Only the Conglomerates have the Veterinary Technology Stack (wrong).
The technology stack includes various platforms a veterinary practice may utilize to manage its operations, such as Practice Management Systems (PMS), payment processing systems, etc. For the purpose of this article, we’ll concentrate on consumer-facing online, web-based e-commerce, and marketing platforms.
The technology stack has evolved into a bit of a commodity, and your veterinary practice now has numerous alternatives. Consider the following possibilities as examples.
Your Veterinary Practice Website.
Your website is your online storefront and it’s how new customers will find your animal hospital and is how they will (most likely) make an appointment. Your website must render properly on any device, desktop, tablet, and mobile. Your website should also clearly communicate your unique business proposition and competitive advantages over other animal hospitals in your area. Your practice website is a way to effectively tell your story and build trust with your existing customers and future customers.
The conglomerates are good at providing “cookie-cutter” website experiences that won’t afford you the ability to differentiate your veterinary practice; see for yourself. The two websites below are competing for new customers in the same geographical area. It’s clear these websites are taking a ‘yellow pages, directory listing approach’, not providing either animal hospital with any meaningful points of differentiation.
VCA Eagle Rock Animal Hospital:
VCA Little Falls Animal Hospital:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Website Cloud Based Hosting.
As you know, having the world’s most beautiful veterinary practice website won’t get you far in Google search results if your veterinary website isn’t properly SEO’d and isn’t hosted on fast cloud-based servers. However, when your veterinary practice has a new mobile-enabled website that has been fully search engine optimized, your website can rank higher on Google than any conglomerate website.
By working with a professional veterinary marketing agency partner to develop a highly targeted SEO program and hosting your website through cloud-based hosting companies such as Amazon Web Services, Rack Space, or Pressable, your independent veterinary practice can be best positioned to dominate the conglomerates.
Customer Support for Your Animal Practice.
While I cannot speak to how well a corporate conglomerate will support your small business, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that your satisfaction is probably super important to any agency partner who risks losing your business should it not support you well. As a family-owned business, the VET Marketing Agency is fully vested in our customers’ success.
When you partner with a professional veterinary marketing agency they will have to be committed to your success ensuring business goals are achieved in order to keep you as a customer. For example, if your phones lines are down due to a regional storm it becomes critical for a pop-up customer notification message to appear on your veterinary practice website. When it comes to your agency partner, calling your account manager to deploy the pop-up message is fast and easy. However, conglomerates may require you to take additional steps like creating a support ticket which then has to be assigned to a website technician to deploy, resulting in delays when informing your local customers.
Partnering with a professional veterinary marketing agency provides your independent animal hospital flexibility to remain nibble when support is needed in your business and digital technology stack.
Social Media Marketing Offers a Huge Competitive Advantage to Independent Veterinary Practices.
Thanks to Facebook and Instagram your veterinary practice has the same social media marketing tools available to use as the conglomerates. In fact, you have the “local business” advantage to proactively post items that are geotargeting your customer and prospect locations. Your partner agency can also boost and promote posts to gain maximum reach on social media. Having a localized approach to your social media provides your animal hospital with a competitive advantage over the conglomerates.
Make sure your agency partner is well versed in the latest social media trends and capabilities. It is their responsibility to remain on top of their game in order to provide ongoing value and support to your veterinary practice. Having the ability to easily brainstorm with your agency account manager to develop creative content and discuss campaign targeting, provides a huge competitive advantage over the conglomerates.
From a social media technology stack perspective, there are numerous inexpensive social media marketing tools available to enable your staff to find relevant content ideas and hashtags. The VET Marketing Agency can also provide fully managed services to manage the entire process for you, providing a veterinary social media program designed to outshine your local competitors.
Customer Engagement and Loyalty Building.
What’s the best way to build customer loyalty for your animal hospital? Simply humanize your animal practice by engaging with your customers online and showing them you care about them. This means responding to all social media wall posts and customer reviews on Google Business, Yelp, and Facebook. Think about the last time a company acknowledged your comment on a Facebook post or a like on Instagram. Customer engagement is a very powerful tactic that builds long-term business by simply taking the time to show you care.
Engaging with customers requires constant monitoring of your social media accounts and enthusiastic staff to write responses. Realistically, in today’s environment, you may NOT have the human bandwidth to handle this internally. In fact, even the conglomerates have challenges in keeping up with their own social media engagement (see recent VCA Facebook post with over 50 customer comments and no VCA response.)
Once again, partnering with a veterinary marketing agency can provide you with a tremendous competitive edge over the conglomerates. For example, at the VET Marketing Agency, we have licensed ‘best-of-breed’ systems and can monitor your social media accounts 24/7. Our US-based engagement team provides customer response drafts that you approve prior to posting live. This means you can check social media marketing and engagement off your to-do list, while still having complete control over the messaging as we will not post replies until you approve them.
Your Veterinary Practice CAN COMPETE with the Conglomerates.
Your veterinary practice can effectively compete with the veterinary conglomerates! In fact, while partnering with a full-service veterinary marketing agency, like the VET Marketing Agency, you can offer a great online website experience for your customers, highly effective ROI-driven online marketing, and develop creative ways to grow your customer loyalty and business.
About the VET Marketing Agency (VMA)
The VET Marketing Agency (VMA) is a premier provider of digital marketing and social media engagement services to the veterinary animal hospital industry. We offer veterinarians ways to grow their businesses through strategic consultation and a suite of a-la-carte digital marketing services.
VMA services include veterinary custom website design, veterinary search engine optimization, veterinary paid advertising programs, social media marketing, engagement services for animal hospitals, and 24/7 reputation management services for veterinarians.
We are a family-owned business located in New Jersey and unlike our competitors, we exclusively support the veterinary industry. The VMA is a certified Google Partner and a member of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association (VHMA) and also a member of the Independent Veterinary Practitioners Association (IVPA).