Topics of Conversation for Veterinary Clinics and their Partners
MWI Animal Health’s Steve Shell and Julia Loew share the talking points that veterinary clinics want to talk about with their business partners.
The discussions between distributor reps and veterinary clinics are changing. Gone are the days when interactions consisted of reorder checklists and new product brochures. Instead, the focus has become more nuanced and more solution-oriented.
“According to direct feedback from our customers, having a better understanding of the technology and product solutions that enable them to run their businesses is paramount,” said Steve Shell, president of MWI Animal Health. “More and more, they are expecting us to take a more consultative, broader view of their options across the landscape and help them choose a product, technology, or service that fits their practice best.”
Vet-Advantage asked Shell and Julia Loew, who was recently named senior vice president of commercialization services MWI Animal Health, about what veterinary clinics are saying their most significant pain points are and how the company is positioning itself to meet those needs.
Vet-Advantage: Inflation has been in the headlines for most of the year. How has it affected MWI and its customers?
Steve Shell: Inflation – particularly wage inflation, has been a challenge for MWI, just as it has been for our veterinary customers and many companies and individuals across the country – it is affecting everyone. We’re also experiencing the same tight labor market as our customers. Currently, there is a great deal of competition across the board for MWI and companies like us – from sales to marketing to distribution. So we’ve made adjustments to account for these challenges and ensure our continued ability to attract and retain top talent.
When looking at inflation from an operational standpoint, the costs of serving our customers have increased dramatically. For instance, the costs of corrugated cardboard, packaging infill, and coolers have increased. To manage these significant headwinds, we’re encouraging our customers, to the extent that they can, to consolidate their orders to order fewer times per week. This allows us to pack orders more densely, use fewer boxes and coolers, and coordinate fewer UPS shipments. This change is not only positive from an economic standpoint but also from a sustainability perspective for vet practice employees. Consolidating orders means fewer boxes to unpack, fewer orders to reconcile, and fewer invoices to process, which are critical given the current staffing and resource challenges.
Stepping back from the companion animal side of our business, our producer customers are also dealing with similar inflationary pressures. Producers who are dependent on the price of fuel to truck commodities in and out of facilities are feeling the impact too. The cost of basic foodstuffs, such as hay, silage, and grain, has increased. Each of these factors impact the production capabilities of our food animal-producing customers.
Vet-Advantage: Besides inflation, what challenges do you see as top of mind for most veterinary clinics?
Julia Loew: From the practice perspective, veterinary practices are experiencing challenges from multiple sides. They are grappling with rising costs of animal health products due to supply chain woes that manufacturers are facing.
That said, labor is the biggest challenge at the moment – and practices are confronted with two concerns. Wages are increasing, which is a positive for the veterinary professional while driving additional costs for the practice. However, even with the wage increases, recruiting and retaining staff is still tricky; therefore, some vet practices are finding it necessary to reduce the number of patients they could potentially see.
These staffing shortages then have implications for well-being. There may be fewer professional and support staff team members to see patients – or the need for practices to spend additional time and resources (when they’re already stretched thin) to train new staff because of such high attrition rates. Everything has a compounding effect, and it creates a tough cycle. As a result, many practices are putting an even greater focus on well-being.
Vet-Advantage: How has MWI aligned its services to solve those challenges?
Steve Shell: The MWI team is keenly focused on providing support and solutions to enhance practice efficiency, help practices manage their workload, and lessen some of the pressure they’re experiencing. Our Easy Care Program is a solution that has enabled veterinary practices to offer a broader suite of services to their customers without taking on the additional administrative burdens. For example, as part of the Easy Care offering, we’re launching an autofill option with home delivery capabilities, which drives increased medication compliance among pet owners. And for the practice owner, this is an added service that benefits them from a revenue standpoint while reducing the workload of their pharmacy and front-office staff.
AllyDVM is another solution we offer – it’s a client engagement platform for veterinary clinics. Pet owners view their veterinarian as the No. 1 source to receive information related to their pets. So despite Google and other ways to search for that information, they want to hear it from their veterinarian, and they desire more touchpoints from their vet, whether virtually or in person. This trend is mainly driven by demographic changes. A lot of new pet owners are millennials, and they are expecting a high-touch experience that is somewhat similar to the personal healthcare experiences they have. The traditional vet practice model simply doesn’t meet this need, so we developed AllyDVM as a communication platform where practices can send emails to their customers and educate them on the services and script refills their pet needs. It looks like another touch point from their veterinarian, but MWI can enable and manage it on the practice’s behalf.
Vet-Advantage: Technology is playing a more critical part in what distributors can offer customers. For territory managers, how has it shifted the day-to-day conversations with clients?
Steve Shell: In addition to our core distribution services, we are having discussions around inventory management and hospital planning, as well as expansion planning. We are also spending more time in consultative sales conversations with our customers around some of these technologies and capabilities, like the Easy Care Program.
According to direct feedback from our customers, having a better understanding of the technology and product solutions that enable them to run their businesses is paramount. More and more, they are expecting us to take a more consultative, broader view of their options across the landscape and help them choose a product, technology, or service that fits their practice best.
Vet-Advantage: How are MWI’s territory managers being called on today, and what roles are they supporting now that they hadn’t in the past?
Steve Shell: As previously mentioned, the adoption of technologies has accelerated in recent years. To support these changes, we hired more than a dozen technology solutions specialists, who are experts in their business and support customers directly with any technology-related needs.
On a higher level, MWI’s role is becoming more consultative from a solutions perspective – and the added layer of technology is influencing this. For instance, on the production animal side, our Micro Technologies business – if the name doesn’t already give it away – is a technology-driven business. We’re bringing new technologies to producers that didn’t exist 10 or 15 years ago: animal monitoring systems and advanced software to support feed mills, dairy production, and dairy sanitation. Our customers are calling on us for support beyond our core wholesale distribution services.
More than ever, the MWI team is involved in the holistic nature of our customers’ operations, whether that be a dairy producer, stocker operation, feed yard, animal shelter, or veterinary practice. And we’re well-positioned to bring these solutions to our customers to help their businesses thrive.
Vet-Advantage: Julia, congratulations on the new appointment as senior vice president of commercialization solutions. What interested you in taking on this new challenge?
Julia Loew: I’ve been working alongside this organization for 25 years from a manufacturer lens, and MWI’s people and culture is extraordinary. I was also drawn to the shared purpose of this organization. We all see the challenges practices are facing. We see the stress on vets’ faces. I wanted to be a part of an organization that is building solutions that help practice owners advance their businesses. I see what is currently in the market and what future solutions are in the pipeline, and it’s exciting to be a part of the team that will shape what those future solutions will entail and how they will help vets meet the needs of their customers.
Vet-Advantage: Is the customer changing in pet health? Have you seen market stakeholders blend together?
Julia Loew: The millennial pet owner is changing how we consult our customers and driving the evolution and implementation of solutions. As Steve mentioned, millennials have different expectations for pet care – they almost want it to mirror their healthcare experiences. And we can see the influence this new generation of pet owners has had on the pet care market – pet wearables or cameras that dispense treats and allow you to check in on your pet are great examples that wouldn’t have existed a decade ago. There is a whole new realm of services and products that pet owners are expecting for their pets now.
On the other hand, veterinarians have had a very traditional mindset and model for a very long time. Technology will be critical for vets; it will enable them to have additional touchpoints with pet owners – this is what they experience on the human healthcare side, after all. In addition, digital engagement tools and similar technologies will enable the level of access and simplicity that pet owners are desiring from their vet practice.
Vet-Advantage: What do you think this will mean for MWI moving forward?
Julia Loew: There are definitely some exciting times ahead for us. There is so much opportunity to advance the animal care space, and MWI is uniquely poised to offer and deliver technology solutions that will enable a more digital world for the veterinary industry.