What’s Next for the Veterinary Industry with COVID-19?


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Examining the ways COVID-19 will change our industry for the foreseeable future.

While preparing for this issue’s article, I told myself that I wanted to write about something other than COVID-19. Yet here I am. The reality is that the virus is here, and it has affected many aspects of our lives. Many of the long-term effects have not even surfaced yet.

As we are adjusting to new social norms and rules for interacting, the reality is that many of us now know, or know of, someone who has contracted the virus in some form. The reduction in work and restrictions for travel have had negative impacts on individuals, companies, and processes.

What about the long-term effects? How is this going to change our industry for the foreseeable future? I think this is worth talking about so we can determine what we want our path to be as we move forward into these unprecedented events and times.

Facing reality

By now, we’ve all heard about “flattening the curve” and the debates surrounding what level of lockdown and social distancing is necessary. We’ve seen statistics and listened to those from the “stay-at-home” and “get-back-to-work” perspectives. Perhaps we’ve even participated in sharing opinions on social media or otherwise. In addition, there are the political angles, with each side using the pandemic to highlight the perceived shortcomings of the opposing party’s actions. Enough already! Let’s focus on the long-term effects of this worldwide pandemic.

The elephant in the room seems to be the question of what the economic impact of all the life-saving measures we’ve taken so far will be, both from personal and worldwide perspectives. There are projections that many small businesses will not be able to weather a lengthy shutdown. Supply chains have been severely impacted, slowing the commerce capabilities of many of the companies that are still operating. Family incomes have been seriously reduced or eliminated, and not everyone is eligible for the federal stimulus offerings. I feel these effects will be felt for the long term.

It is my expectation that the economy will not just come roaring back as we continue to slowly get through this pandemic. I think we are all looking forward to the time when a vaccine becomes available. However, I don’t believe the world will immediately return to exactly where it was prior to COVID-19. The reduction in household incomes alone will not allow people to immediately hit the stores, the malls, the restaurants, and bars. Many Americans will have to be more conscientious of what they are spending and where they are spending it.

Impact on the veterinary community

What does all of this mean for the veterinary community and your relationships with your customers? Veterinary customers have all been exposed to life with a big emphasis on e-commerce over the last few months. Some of these folks are new to e-commerce, while others have expanded their usage of e-commerce. Either way, there is an e-commerce boom going on that will stick for the foreseeable future. Veterinary practices have been contending with big-box retailers and e-commerce for many years. Most, if not all, veterinary practices have been living through the obvious decline in retail product sales, specifically non-prescription medications, diets, and supplements.

This trend has just been amplified by the recommended responses to COVID-19 in all areas of our country. Pet owners are being forced to buy things online and have them delivered to their homes in order to provide adequate care for the furry loved ones. This trend may slow a bit as the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Still, the number of people that have now experienced the convenience of having pet products and medications delivered to their doors is unprecedented. Many of the online retailers for pet and veterinary products are also pushing hard to become the veterinary prescription outlet of choice. Most of the prominent online retailers have some sort of prescription fulfillment option. This pressure to have the veterinary prescriptions fulfilled by these digital retailers will not subside anytime soon.

But hang on! This does not spell doom and gloom for the veterinary profession. This is yet another evolutionary point in our careers that we will have to navigate. It is particularly important that we work together with our veterinary customers to help them navigate as well. The veterinary recommendations for pet health care are still regarded as the No. 1 source of reliable information and expertise when it comes to pet health. The integrity of the veterinary profession is not being challenged. The role of the veterinarian is being challenged a bit in that the retailing of diets, supplements, non-prescription products, and now even prescription products, is going to feel a continued squeeze.

However, the services and the knowledge that the veterinary clinic and staff provide are invaluable to their communities. The emphasis from the veterinarian to their clients should be to highlight the expertise and the compassion that the pet owner and their pets cannot experience through online interaction.

Many of the products that we sell to veterinarians are used and/or destroyed in the practice. Those sales will rebound and begin to increase as the millennials and their pets age.  Veterinarians should focus on being the expert that recommends the proper medications, products, and diets for the pets they serve. Vet practices may even have the goal of providing the initial sales of the recommended product.

It is our job to assist our veterinary customers in navigating these difficult times. We need to help them emphasize their value that cannot be repeated through online interaction or transactions. By doing this, their business will grow. The number of households with pets continues to grow. Those pets are going to need veterinary care. Let’s help our customers stay relevant and top of mind with their customers.

Now more than ever, home delivery methods for veterinarians, social media campaigns, mailers, reminders, and any other tools that you may have knowledge of or access to, should become conversation focal points for the veterinarians that you serve. We’ll get through this together!

Photo cutline: istockphoto.com/matejmo