Midwest Veterinary Supply Is Celebrating 60
Midwest Veterinary Supply has invested in veterinary practices, and its own team, through six decades of success.
In 1960, Robert G. Flickinger, a North Dakota-based veterinarian known as “Doc” to his friends and colleagues, started Fargo Vet Supply, a small veterinary products distributor in West Fargo, N.D. Soon afterward, in August 1961, together with five partners, Doc incorporated his company as Midwest Veterinary Supply.
“There was no sales team or marketing of the company,” recounted Guy Flickinger, Doc’s son and Midwest’s president, in a recent letter to Midwest employees and customers. “It was through listening to veterinarians and providing personalized service that Midwest evolved. The cornerstone of our success was built on old-fashioned hard work and values. In the beginning, we didn’t have a sales staff knocking on doors, it was word of mouth from those we served that fueled our growth. My father’s customers knew they could depend on Midwest and with a handshake he began to develop business relationships that supported the success of veterinary clinics.”
Midwest has continued this philosophy throughout the years, Flickinger said. The company is celebrating its 60th anniversary at the beginning of 2021, with no plans of slowing down. “We are here to listen to what clinics need and will do our best to help them carve out a path of success in their communities. We are now a full-service resource to the veterinary community, with a wide portfolio of products. And, we have eight warehouses, a committed sales team from coast to coast, provide online stores and a pharmacy.”
From the start
Jeff Burkhamer’s professional career started with a summer job. He worked for Midwest Veterinary Supply in its warehouse a couple of summers before college. When he finished college, he returned to a job in the warehouse and even helped answer the phones. “Everybody did all the jobs at that time.”
That was almost 38 years ago. Between then and now, Burkhamer has worked in purchasing, then as a territory rep in Central Illinois, where he called on customers for nearly 16 years. When Midwest created a sales management team, Burkhamer took the role of regional manager while still working in a territory. He would eventually take over as sales manager. Today, Burkhamer is Midwest’s general manager and vice president.
What kept him with one company for a nearly four-decade career track? “The overall culture of Midwest and the way they treated people,” he said.
He’s not alone. Midwest’s culture and focus on people is woven into the company’s history and DNA, and has led not only to success but also a large number of long-term team members.
A belief in people
Dean Harris started working for Midwest in 1983. At the time, there was only one other inside sales representative in the Des Moines, Iowa, office, and four outside sales reps. “When I came to Midwest, it was still a small company, with Des Moines being the third location that had opened a couple of years before I was hired,” said Harris, the company’s national inside sales manager. “Midwest provided me with an opportunity to grow, both personally and professionally, and it was exciting to be a part of something that was growing so rapidly. And the family atmosphere was, and still is, very appealing.”
Harris said Midwest truly cares about its employees and their families. Midwest’s ability to offer the potential for growth was also important to Harris. “I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to fill a number of positions within Midwest, and that has been extremely rewarding. It proves that we are invested in our employees, in their growth potential and long-term employment with Midwest.”
Burkhamer had an opportunity to experience that investment firsthand. When Midwest moved into its Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, location, he helped Guy Flickinger configure the building they would use. During the weeks they worked together to get the building ready, Burkhamer said he got to know Flickinger on a more personal level. “He believes in people,” Burkhamer said. “He didn’t say it so much in words, but in his actions. He taught me that if you believe in people, they will believe in themselves and set personal goals – certainly much higher than you would set for them. He always allowed us to execute on our God-given talents. He believed in us and that we could accomplish things.”
Indeed, when Midwest starts a new branch, it’s not surprising to see Guy and company leadership helping to get things up and running, whether it involves racking, stocking, etc. “That’s the kind of person we work for,” said Cheryl Peterson, outside sales rep. “Guy is not afraid to get right out there and work with us.” Flickinger also attends all the national sales meetings and even sits in on all the training and presentations with the sales force.
Another leadership lesson Burkhamer said he took to heart – if you take care of your employees, they will in turn take care of your business partners. Midwest strives to be known for working well with vendors. Midwest’s philosophy is that its sales team is an extension of its vendor partners and not the other way around. “We respect the fact that vendors have to make decisions,” said Burkhamer. “Sometimes they’re favorable, and sometimes they’re not. We’ll negotiate through that to the best of our ability, but then at some point, it’s their decision. Our job is to find ourselves in that equation and continue to help them hit their goals. If you do that consistently, and they reward you favorably, the relationships continue, and good things happen. We’ve seen that through the years. We weren’t always the size we are now. And we never felt like we were getting treated like a little one. Because again, I think they were rooting for us to win and continue to grow.”
Ron Riddle has worked for Midwest since 1980. He started as a puller in the warehouse, moved to answering the phones, then was an assistant branch manager for a period of time. He’s currently in the field as an outside sales rep.
Midwest has provided a career, but also a sense of family in a professional setting. For instance, when Riddle’s mother was in hospice for six weeks, he asked to have time off to be with his mom. When his vacation time was about to run out, he called the office and said he needed to stay longer. Midwest didn’t hesitate to say yes. “They said to take as long as you need. Just be with your parents. That’s something I don’t think you’d normally hear from most businesses.”
Peterson, who began working for MVS in 1987, said it’s not unheard of to get a weekend phone call from Guy Flickinger just to check in on how a team member is doing or ask about their family. He’s been known to roll up his sleeves and help when needed. In one example, a Midwest employee’s home was in danger of being flooded by the rising waters of a lake. Flickinger and other team members were soon at her doorstep, helping to pack sandbags to keep the waters from getting to the house. When a neighbor asked who Flickinger was, he simply replied, “I work with her.”
What’s changed, and what hasn’t
Peterson was the first woman inside sales rep for the company. She would transition to an outside sales rep (the second woman hired for that role), moving into a regional manager position for 15 years, and is currently back in a territory in Indiana working as an outside sales rep. Peterson is also a Midwest board member.
In her early days with the company while working at the Minnesota branch, many times after work she would spend time talking with Doc Flickinger. “His love for us and pride in us just made you strive to want to give your all,” she said.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Peterson primarily called on mixed animal and large animal practices, selling products such as Heartgard to clinics. In outside sales, she knew where every pay phone was in her territory so she could call in orders after making stops at her veterinary clinics. Nights were spent on the phone with manufacturer partners because the only way they could get in touch with outside reps was via their home phones.
Now, everything is done over cellphones. “It was a weird moment when you weren’t getting calls at night anymore because you could take those calls during the day with your cellphone,” she said.
The customer demographics have changed over the years, she said. She used to have a lot of mixed animal practices, but many of those now focus on small animal. “I still call on all the different types of clinics, but the mixed animal practices really switched gears as the industry changed.” In turn, reps have become more business savvy and more of a business partner for customers to rely on.
More so than at any time in the industry’s history, today’s customers have choices – lots of them. Dial it back 30 years ago, and the choices were limited to one or two regional distributors. Now the choices have grown exponentially.
Communication has also changed. Veterinarians can get information in so many ways. Reps may call on accounts in their territory and tell them about a new product update, and within 24 hours it’s old news. “So, then you have to bring more value,” said Burkhamer. “How is that [new product] going to fit your practice? What am I hearing in the field about it? Running a veterinary clinic is more of a business now. You have all these corporate entities that are run like a business in the market. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a fact. So, these clinics must run more like a business. And that’s one of the areas we find ourselves working in, helping them run a more successful practice.
Midwest has positioned itself to better help its customers with a portfolio of solutions, including:
Good technology. “We have a very solid IT staff and e-commerce platform,” Burkhamer said.
- Good technology. “We have a very solid IT staff and e-commerce platform,” Burkhamer said.
- A home delivery platform that’s easy to set up and use.
- Excellent business intelligence. “We have many data points to operate and utilize.”
- mClub, a marketing club built as a response to buying groups.
Midwest has a very progressive pharmacy, home delivery platform, website, and marketing department, said Harris. “It’s all in place to keep our clinics current in the marketplace, competitive, and continuing to show the value of a veterinarian. Along with these offerings, our purchasing department has effectively navigated the current demand for PPE products, as well as finding hard-to-source items. In addition, our expansion to becoming a nationwide distributor, with eight locations across the country, and an increase in our sales staff, has helped us be available to assist all our customers’ needs.”
Veterinarians are very hardworking people, said Burkhamer. And they will reward hard, honest work. “We’ve seen that many times over. I think they appreciate the fact that we expect a lot of ourselves and we’re approachable. If we’re not hitting the mark and they see something wrong, they can call and talk to Guy or me. That’s important.”
In his letter to employees and customers, Flickinger said that Midwest continues to take pride in doing business with a personal approach and developing long-term partnerships with clinics that go beyond just selling products. “I want to thank the animal care facilities that have entrusted Midwest to be their partner for success, the manufacturers that we proudly represent, and the employees who have been the backbone of Midwest Veterinary Supply. Together we have made a difference in the field of veterinary medicine.”
Then and now
When Midwest Veterinary Supply began, veterinary medicine was mainly focused on large animals. But through the years, that business has transitioned more and more into companion animals.
Ron Riddle, outside sales rep, said more products have been introduced into the market with a specific companion animal focus. That wasn’t always the case. When Riddle worked in the warehouse in the 1980s, there was a fair number of human products being used for companion animals. “It’s changed a lot.”
“It started to transition in the mid-’90s, with the introduction of monthly flea/tick/heartworm products,” said Dean Harris, national inside sales manager. “By the early to mid-2000s, there were more generics coming on the market, which continued this growth toward more companion animal sales.”
Along with product availability due to supply-and-demand challenges caused by the pandemic, today’s veterinary practice customers need guidance, options, and for someone to listen, said Harris. “I believe our veterinarians are most concerned about the competition coming into the veterinary marketplace, from big box stores to online websites, as well as continuing to navigate the pandemic and how to keep their business open, fully staffed, safe, and profitable.”
To our valued customers, friends, and organizations that we represent,
I am humbled to have the opportunity for Midwest Veterinary Supply to celebrate the milestone of 60 years in the animal health industry in 2021, and I want to thank you for being a part of our success.
My father, Robert Flickinger DVM, started Fargo Vet Supply in 1960 and I don’t think he realized how busy he was going to get. He began by providing products for veterinarians in his local area and quickly started getting calls from all over the midwest. In 1961 he renamed his company Midwest Veterinary Supply.
There was no sales team or marketing of the company, it was through listening to veterinarians and providing personalized service that Midwest evolved. The cornerstone of our success was built on old-fashioned hard work and values. In the beginning, we didn’t have a sales staff knocking on doors, it was word of mouth from those we served that fueled our growth. My father’s customers knew they could depend on Midwest and with a handshake he began to develop business relationships that supported the success of veterinary clinics.
Midwest has continued this philosophy throughout the years. We are here to listen to what clinics need and will do our best to help them carve out a path of success in their communities. We are now a full-service resource to the veterinary community, with a wide portfolio of products. And, we have eight warehouses, a committed sales team from coast-to-coast, provide on-line stores, and a pharmacy.
The animal health industry has changed tremendously over the decades. There are many more products available now to help quickly diagnose and successfully treat animals. We can now offer multiple treatments and cures for diseases that years ago would not have been possible.
The best thing about my job is people. I have met a lot of great people over the years and I have truly enjoyed that opportunity. From the outstanding employees of Midwest who have a passion for animal health and serving customers, to the innovators, entrepreneurs, and the staffs at veterinary clinics, please know that I sincerely enjoy talking with you. I get excited when I see the new diagnostic technologies that are being introduced, many of which we had not even dreamed about back in the old days. And, it brings hope every time we hear about a new cancer treatment that can cure and bring quality and longevity to the lives of our pets.
Midwest continues to take pride in doing business with a personal approach and developing long-term partnerships with clinics that go beyond just selling products. I want to thank the animal care facilities that have entrusted Midwest to be their partner for success, the manufacturers that we proudly represent, and the employees who have been the backbone of Midwest Veterinary Supply. Together we have made a difference in the field of veterinary medicine.
Please join us as we celebrate our 60th anniversary this year and step into the next decade with Midwest Veterinary Supply.
Guy Flickinger, President