Bettering their business: the rep-veterinarian relationship


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Today’s challenges have only strengthened the rep-veterinarian relationship, says Matt Malenfant, president for Covetrus’ North American distribution business. 

Settling into a new role is a major transition unto itself, but when Matt Malenfant took the role of president, North America Customer Operations (CONA), Covetrus, he had to do it amid the shelter-in-place orders brought about by COVID-19.

“Yeah, I’m a COVID hire,” he said. “It was surreal, to be candid. I interviewed over Zoom, and I started over Zoom. I worked four months before I really met anybody live. So, it provided some challenges.”

Malenfant spoke with Veterinary Advantage about those challenges, marketplace trends affecting veterinarians, the relationship between reps and veterinary practices, and expectations as we head into 2021.

Veterinary-Advantage: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Matt Malenfant: I have over 30 years of experience in distribution and supply chain businesses, with particular expertise in life science, health care, and packaging. I worked for a number of different companies as I progressed through different acquisitions. I started with American Hospital Supply, which was acquired by Baxter Healthcare, which ended up selling my division to VWR International, which was a life science company. I was there for many years. And then I left that company to be the CEO of Saxco International, which is a packaging distribution company.

Veterinary-Advantage: In what ways do you see the distribution business in animal health as unique when compared to other sectors?

Malenfant: The passion that people have for animal health is palpable. People really care about this industry, about the professionals in this industry, and ultimately about the patients in this industry. So that’s a really wonderful thing about animal health that’s very visible.

I think some of the differences are just a function of change right now, where we’re very focused on the veterinarian and improving their business. That goes to providing more than just products, but also solutions, whether it’s our software solutions, our prescription management platform, our compounding pharmacy services, etc. We bring a total portfolio of solutions to our customers that’s a very different thing than what’s considered “normal distribution,” where you market, sell, and deliver products. The second piece of that is the ability to have that platform and do at-home delivery for our clients’ patients.

Veterinary-Advantage: You came aboard earlier this year. What has it been like getting up and running with the different workplace dynamic caused by the pandemic?

Malenfant: Yeah, I’m a COVID hire. It was surreal, to be candid. I interviewed over Zoom, and I started over Zoom. I worked four months before I really met anybody live. So, it provided some challenges.

But I discovered two things. The first is you can be incredibly productive over Zoom. There is just so much that you can do, and you can be very focused and productive. The challenge is, when you’re building a team, and/or connecting with customers, you can only build the relationship to a certain point. There has to be human interaction. And you feel that after a while. As far as building teams, it’s very difficult to establish that esprit de corps virtually.

We eventually created some in-person meeting protocols that are very extensive. We test before we meet. We test when we get there. We take everybody’s temperature every day. And we test when we return. So, we’re able to trace, track and quarantine should we need to. Beyond that, it’s trying to stay involved and visible, and available to both your customer as well as your employees.

When it’s time to go back to the office, I think it becomes maybe more of a hub than a second home. People don’t have to be there every day. But we have to bring them together for that creativity and bonding to the company that you just can’t produce through a screen.

Veterinary-Advantage: How are your reps interacting with customers at this point?

Malenfant: Our reps and managers are super creative. We actually launched a “Back to the Field” campaign from mid-May to early June, focusing on how to get back out there, how to meet curbside, how to bring value, and still stay connected. Now, they’ve done a super job connecting over the internet and over Zoom and those types of discussions. Additionally, continuing education has been a great way to increase contact. Reps found ways to safely call on customers and continue to bring solutions to them live where it makes sense, but it’s the same type of scenario where we follow all of the protocols and COVID-19 requirements that we need to ensure safety because safety is the priority.

Veterinary-Advantage: How have reps’ relationships with veterinary clinics faired amid the pandemic?

Malenfant: Relationships have actually strengthened. In difficult times, people turn to those they trust. Covetrus territory managers and the company as a whole have long-term, deep relationships with our customers. We have a passion for bettering their businesses, helping them bring better client services and better client outcomes. Our customers feel it, and they trust us. So, we were able to bounce back from an initial dip in business, and that combined with what we’ve built as a total portfolio of solutions, a one-stop-shop for their products, to increase the connectivity. It helps veterinarians reduce the vendor traffic within their practices because they can go to one company, Covetrus, and get what they need.

Veterinary-Advantage: How do you maintain that position going forward?

Malenfant: It’s always going to involve hard work. We have to stay focused on our mission, which is to focus on the veterinarian and help them deliver better outcomes. As the industry changed, as home delivery took off for us with our prescription management platform, we’ve shown them that’s how they can compete with those big-box retailers and e-commerce companies.

Veterinary-Advantage: Training programs, national sales meetings – what do those look like going forward?

Malenfant: It’s difficult to project. We have continued delivering our continued education programs. We’ve actually done a really good job with that. There seems to be a high demand, it is a connectivity opportunity, both for us and our customers.

We usually do a meeting in the first part of the calendar year, and we’re probably going virtual for that. We just don’t think that’s going to happen in-person.

Our global technology solutions team just came off a successful virtual Vet Summit. PSIvet, one of our sister GPO companies, did their Symposium virtually recently. So, we’re learning from those events, and we’ll continue to try to improve and do the best we can in the virtual environment.

Veterinary-Advantage: With PSIvet and now VSG (see sidebar), you’ve made strategic acquisitions among purchasing groups. What does that mean long-term to the business?

Malenfant: We are a veterinary centric company. Our mission is to empower veterinarians and help them grow their businesses so partnering with companies that share our values is very important. We have GPOs in Europe as well, so it’s not just the United States. We have a method and a charter that guides how we work with our GPO companies, and we’ve seen active membership growth and an increasing number of member benefits in all cases. We’re convinced that will continue with VSG because we share that passion for their members as well.

Veterinary-Advantage: What are your expectations and hopes as we near the end of 2020 and move forward into 2021?

Malenfant: The industry is very healthy, and I think it will continue to grow. We have the tailwinds of increased pet ownership and the humanization of pets. Those tailwinds really helped the industry as a whole. I hope that as we develop as a company and as an industry, that we can bring better solutions more effectively and efficiently to veterinarians, and that they, in turn, can deliver better patient care and grow their businesses profitably.

I’d love to be able to get in front of people live and share that camaraderie and passion for veterinary health. We’ll get there. But it’s still a challenge, as we’re seeing with COVID-19 cases rising this fall. Regardless, we’ll continue to help our customers overcome the challenges that they face, both from a time perspective as well as a profit perspective.

Covetrus invests in Veterinary Study Groups

Covetrus announced that it made a strategic investment in Veterinary Study Groups, a provider of peer-to-peer learning experiences for veterinary practice leaders. VSG manages more than 50 Veterinary Management Groups in North America. The groups comprise more than 1,100 members who together own more than 1,500 practices. VSG will operate as a standalone company within Covetrus, with the entire team joining Covetrus.

The expanded partnership will bring Covetrus’ scale and portfolio to VSG’s members, as well as help identify potential new members. VSG brings Covetrus the opportunity to accelerate its strategy to drive increased customer alignment, according to the announcement.

“We have long admired VSG, as it is an iconic veterinary organization that shares our mission around enabling veterinarians in the pursuit of clinical, operational, and financial success,” said Ben Wolin, Covetrus’ president and CEO. “The VSG leadership team is critical to continuing the success of VMG members, and we look forward to collaborating as colleagues while driving increased value for veterinary practices and advancing our industry.”

“VSG and Covetrus share a common vision and set of values, all in support of helping veterinary practices in their pursuit of extraordinary success and advocating for the veterinary profession,” said Link Welborn, board chair, president, and CEO of VSG. “We are excited about moving forward with this expanded strategic relationship, as we look to help current and future VMG members further improve their clinical outcomes and achieve greater success in their practices.”

About Matthew

Matthew Malenfant oversees the Covetrus North America distribution business. Matt is a proven leader in the life science, healthcare, and packaging industries, and an expert in distribution and supply chain businesses. The majority of his career has been spent in the healthcare sector, including American Hospital Supply, Baxter Healthcare, and VWR International, where he held roles of increasing responsibility in sales, marketing, and operations, culminating as president of the Americas. Prior to joining Covetrus, Matt was CEO of Saxco International, a leader in the packaging sector for beverage products. Matt holds a BA in broadcast communication and a BS in marketing management from Arizona State University.

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Image caption: The passion that people have for animal health is palpable, said Matt Malenfant.