How to implement a cat marketing plan – Part 2
2/ How to structure a cat specific offer
If you want to be seen, and more importantly spoken about as a practice that has a special interest in cats, it is insufficient to have that as a team aspiration, although that is an excellent starting point; you must demonstrate it through what you portray in words, pictures and above all in what you have to offer.
In this section we will look at services and products that will be of interest to your cat owning clients; products and services that you should be providing but which some owners may not be aware they need and others that we know they may well be sourcing from elsewhere.
As veterinarians, you and the members of your teams will naturally feel more comfortable if you adhere to the core value of having the good of your clients and the welfare of their pets as central to everything you do. You should also approach this from the attitude of ‘solving the problem’ as opposed to merely ‘selling the product or service’, and seek to address needs as opposed to wants. By educating your clients and thereby highlighting the needs, you differentiate yourselves from your non-veterinary competitors and create clients who will buy from you, as opposed to the team having to resort to the hard sell, which nobody likes.
When deciding on what services and/or products you should promote as something special for cat owners, a good starting point is to consider the healthy cat and preventative medicine. And although recommendations may differ from region to region in terms of what should be done to keep cats healthy during their various life-stages that information is readily available, and can act as a template for devising Healthcare Packages.
Why is it that when it comes to offering services and products for dogs and cats most practices have more in place for canine owners? Could it be that you regard the cat as less important; that you perceive the cat owner as being less interested in their pet than the dog owner; that cats are inherently healthier than dogs; that good husbandry skills is something cat owners have whereas dog owners do not? The answer to all is probably no.
A good starting point in improving what you provide for cat owners would be to mirror what you probably already do for dog owners! This is something which should be relatively easy to introduce. Take neutering for example. You may see this as a routine, straightforward procedure, but what about the owner? It may be the only time they have had a pet undergo an anaesthetic and a surgical procedure. We mustn’t allow familiarity to breed complacency!
But let’s go back a step! Often, the first point of contact is over the phone from that new kitten owner, requesting details of vaccination prices. It could be a client phoning around, comparing prices. You need to engage that client in a dialogue, providing them with more information than merely the price of the vaccination course. In that conversation your receptionist should be asking about the kitten; in particular its name, and how he/she is settling into their new home. Obtaining the client’s and the kitten’s details allows you to send a personalised letter or email to that client (or even the kitten!) providing them with details of your practice and what you can offer them and their new family member. That action, plus the receptionist’s genuine interest in the kitten provides that client with more than price upon which to decide what practice to use.
One of the real or perceived stresses owners and their cats have is that journey to the vet! The new kitten owner may well have experienced this when they first brought their kitten home. So what better question to ask that enquiring client on the phone than, “How will you be bringing your kitten to us?” This opens up the whole conversation about the best carrier to use, the use of pheromones to help with not only transportation, but with settling the kitten into his/her new surroundings.
A suggestion could be made that the client may like to call into the practice, ahead of their appointment to purchase a carrier and other useful, ‘cat practice/ approved’ products and information. Other questions regarding the kitten’s feeding and toileting arrangements open up the conversation about the best food, litter box and litter to use. Why force a client to go to a pet store or the internet to be confronted with a wide, confusing selection of products when you can be their only port of call for expert, interested advice and help.
Cat carriers, food, litter boxes, litter etc. can be offered for sale as individual items or alternatively bundled together as a ‘Kitten Starter Pack’ at a reduced, special offer price. More about bundling later.
At the time of writing this edition of Focus there is an excellent on-line video on the CATalyst Council website (www.catalystcouncil.org) providing advice on transporting cats along with the best type of carriers. This is a good source of information for the practice team and the client.
Returning to the neutering, as an example of how you can improve and add value to your offering. Is it conceivable that in your practice a kitten could come in for neutering and that throughout the whole process, its owner would never see a vet? As already has been mentioned it may be the only time that owner has left a pet for an anaesthetic and an operation. What kind of message does that portray to an owner? How much does that devalue the procedure? Surely it is much better to arrange a pre-puberty check for that kitten before the operation, an appointment with the vet when the kitten’s development can be checked. It also provides an ideal opportunity to recap on other important areas such as diet, microchipping, insurance, behaviour etc. When it comes to pet insurance, practices need to be aware that legal restrictions are in place in some countries restricting the level of advice that can be provided.
Should that pet require additional medication, accompanying advice should be provided on its administration. We can all find it difficult to administer oral medications to cats, so some useful advice and demonstrations from nurses will be well received by clients. In addition, where possible, palatable medications should be offered. Written advice with diagrams or videos on your website demonstrate you have not only thought about the challenge, but are providing solutions.
A) Healthcare programmes
The fact that almost all adult cats (except such breeds as Ragdolls and Maine Coons) are the same size, in terms of average weight (3.6kg – 4.8kg) makes the pricing of Healthcare Programmes at a fixed price a great deal easier. One of the problems in attempting to design similar schemes for canine patients is the enormous difference between breed sizes and the knock on effect that has in providing a simplistic fee structure that clients and team members can understand.
Where cats are concerned you could for example offer a ‘Healthcare Programme’ to include the following, for a fixed annual fee:
• Annual vaccinations
• 6 monthly Health Check (with ‘written report’*)
• Annual external parasite control
• Regular worming treatment for roundworms and tapeworms (incl. preventative medication for heartworms if appropriate)
*A ‘written report’, which need not be a lengthy document, but a simple list detailing all the health aspects that have been checked along with any recommendations, serves a number of purposes. Most importantly it adds value to the procedure, as it is not always obvious to the client just how much is involved in a thorough Health Check. The recommended remedial actions and associated costs can be documented for the client to consider and if necessary, discussed with other family members before making a decision to proceed. It is best kept as simple as possible, with additional information being added, as and where necessary, in the form of relevant commercially and/or in-house produced literature.
The list above could be considered a basic Healthcare Programme for a 1-7 year old cat. It could be added to or adapted according to the marketplace and/or the target audience. For example it could be modified for cats of differing age groups as suggested in Table 1.
One of the advantages of a Healthcare Package to the client is that it provides them with a roadmap for their cat’s care. It lays out when they need to come to the clinic and for what. The practice can help the process by sending out text or email messages to remind the client of their next appointment. The other advantages, to both the client and the practice can be in the pricing.
Take a new kitten for example; that initial visit can be an expensive one for the client if they purchase all that the practice advises, vaccinations, food, microchipping, cat carrier, litter box, litter tray, etc. As such many may not make those purchases and could easily go on to buy them elsewhere. In order to help clients to budget, the overall cost of the package could be spread equally over a given period, e.g. 12 months. It could even be offered at a discounted price for a given period as a Special Offer.
There are advantages for all when it comes to offering schemes along the lines of those described above; offers that bring the client and the patient back into the practice on a regular basis. From the patient’s point of view it should mean a healthier life in that problems will be picked up much earlier than would otherwise happen. From the client’s perspective, they can be assured that their feline family member is in the best hands when it comes to healthcare, not just for when there is a problem. And from the practice’s perspective, it ensures regular contact with patients and their caring owners, allowing you to practise good medicine. And from a business perspective, the regular payments help with cash flow. In addition, the fact that clients will perceive they are paying for the services and products ‘up-front’, makes them more likely to utilise them. If the practice does decide to discount the overall price, the profits will come from larger sales and the spin-off work which results from the increased contact with patients.
Other services and products that can be added to make up a bundle include:
• Pet food
B) Pet food
Irrespective of what an individual owner may decide to do in terms of caring for their cat, they will hopefully remember to feed it on a daily basis! Bringing clients into the practice is going to be an ever increasing challenge and the one thing that will bring clients, with healthy cats, back into your clinic more frequently than any other service or product is if they purchase their cat food from you.
Assuming the practice selects a premium brand as its preferred option, how can you add value to what may be perceived as an expensive product and one that may be obtained from elsewhere? Firstly, to add intrinsic value we need to break the price down into something the owner can understand. And whereas the face price of a premium bag of dry cat food may appear expensive, if the cost per day is clearly displayed beside the product, this allows the client to relate to other alternatives on the market. Any differences will then appear less significant and easier for a practice team member to explain. Another plus may be to indicate how long the bag will last, potentially an important issue for some if home storage is at a premium. Another plus could be to offer regular weight checks; something you may well have been doing for your canine patients for some time, but where you may have been neglecting your feline friends.
These weight checks can be carried out by nursing staff at times when the practice is quiet and offered at a reduced price or even free as long as the client purchases their food from you.
It could be regarded as a precursor to creating dissatisfied clients to include, in an annual ‘Healthcare Programme’, enough food for their cat for a twelve month period; better to calculate the average amount a cat will consume and to include that amount in the bundle. Any obvious discrepancies regarding the amount of food being consumed can be discussed with the owner at the time of the regular health and weight checks.
A practice may consider offering other products for sale; items that could be classified as waiting-room merchandise. There is obviously a wide spectrum of such items out there, of variable quality and a service we can offer our clients is to focus on a narrow range of quality and useful products. Adhering to core principles, it is vitally important that all such items fit with the practice’s ethos of being of high quality and addressing a genuine need. As such our team should be comfortable in recommending these products to solve issues and/or to improve the quality of cats’ lives. They should not be asked to sell products that have doubtful efficacy!
When it comes to clients making their decisions as to whether to purchase a service, a product, money is going to be a factor they will consider. When it comes to financial decisions, many cat owners will be financially savvy and will be more concerned about value for money than they will be about the pure cost. But unless we demonstrate that value for money by illustrating the savings that can be made by taking up the offer, how is the client to judge? For example, with a ‘bundle offer’ we need to show the normal aggregate price along with the discounted price. We also need to highlight any additional value such as ‘free regular weight checks’ or ‘unlimited telephone advice’.
C) Coping with competition in the marketplace
In an era when the consumer is king, customers are encouraged to ‘shop around’ and we are all bombarded by adverts and special offers, you may find yourself faced with clients querying your prices. How can you respond to such challenges?
Taking the approach of competing on price can prove to be a very slippery, and sometimes steep slope and one that cannot be recommended as a first resort. You should always seek to compete on quality and the whole team should be prepared to defend that stance if faced by a client who says they can buy ‘similar’ products elsewhere for less. You need to have the ammunition to be able to explain that, although it may look similar, your products are superior because....
You do however need to be conscious of the marketplace and if you do stock exactly the same products that are available elsewhere you must be aware of your competitors’ pricing. You may be able to justify a higher price for the same product by adding value, e.g. “free weight checks and nutritional advice when you buy your pet food from us’’. Nonetheless you cannot expect to enjoy high volume sales if your prices are seen to be much higher than others.
When it comes to competing on the open market you may well be up against competitors whose buying power is much greater than yours. Having said that, if you do find yourself in a position to have to reduce your price to compete, you may have more margin to play with than you think. Your true margin is not the difference between your selling and invoice price; it is the difference between what you sell the product for and your nett price; in other words you need to take into account any manufacturer’s and wholesaler’s discounts you receive.
But a word of caution! If you do decide to take this route of discounting, you need to be conscious of the effect of a price reduction on your net profit. Take for example an item on which you have a 20% margin; you decide to decrease the sale price by 10%; you have to increase your sales by 100% to make the same amount of profit! And remember, the lower the Gross Margin, the more dramatic the effect a price reduction will have on the net profit.
Come back soon for the final part of this article.
Missed Part 1? Click HERE to read it now