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Is selling pet stuff selling out veterinary medicine?

Posted Mar 03 2009 2:48pm 1 Comment

Ever wonder at all the “stuff” your veterinarian carries in his/her hospital? Sometimes it seems the products and foods are literally dripping from the well-stocked walls, the melamine shelving teeming with pet-themed goods––sometimes even in the exam rooms. You’d never expect to see so much for sale at your human doc’s place, right? 

After yesterday’s post on euthanasia costs––and 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 kind of demeaning to veterinary medicine––somewhat akin to what’s happened to the pharmacy profession. 

Explanation: 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 tampons or hair ties along with my meds.

I definitely don’t want my profession downgraded to such a status. Sure, I squeeze anal glands and clip toenails, too, but I can tell myself that’s still a whole world away from selling collars, leashes and kitty litter along with 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 even 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 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. 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? Or are you relieved to know you don’t have to go elsewhere to stalk your pet stuff?

Comments (1)
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Thanks a lot for sharing such an interesting article with your readers. I am sure this message will be an eyeopener for many who try to use their professional skills in the wrong direction.
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