Strategic options to increase your cat business
1/ Five possible scenarios
Given the difficulties faced by vets in maximising the full potential of the feline population in the majority of developed markets and certain developing markets, it is important to approach the problem from a strategic point of view to minimise the gap between the demands of this clientele and the services offered by the clinic.
Several possibilities are available. Schematically we will concentrate on five, from the most radical to the most simple: turn an existing clinic into a specialist cat-only clinic; open a new clinic dedicated to cats; propose a home-visit service notably for cats; organise a “feline unit” within an existing clinic; and lastly improve the services destined for cats within an existing clinic.
A) Scenario 1
The transformation of an existing clinic into a feline-only practice is possible; several examples can be found in different countries.
The main advantage of such a transformation is to offer cats and their owners a completely dedicated site, team, and range of services and products. This makes it possible to provide this clientele with the two key elements they are particularly concerned about:
• A calm, comfortable, and “cat-friendly” atmosphere, mainly characterised by the absence of sudden noises, odours, and bustle, i.e. no dogs!
• A perfectly well tuned team in their approach to cats, the way they are handled, examined, and by offering a range of services, products, and advice that are perfectly adapted to these pets and their owners.
However, the conversion of the clinic presents a large number of difficulties. Here are the main concerns:
• Exclusion of a significant portion of the current clientele;
• Sudden loss of a significant share of the activity and revenue;
• The need to train the team with a significant risk of not being able to retain certain individuals with the associated problems;
• The need to adapt and update the premises and equipment.
In short, this first option can only be advised in structures that are already primarily geared towards cats, notably in urban centres in countries where the feline population is very dominant.
B) Scenario 2
The second strategic option – opening a new clinic exclusively designed for cats – makes it possible to maintain the advantages of scenario one whilst minimising the disadvantages. This either involves creating something from nothing where one suffers the disadvantages of any new veterinary business venture (slow to develop, difficulties in sizing the clinic from the start to the right level, managing initial recruitment, managing growth, etc.).
Alternatively, the creation of an additional site adjacent to an existing clinic; here one is hoping that the additional business, brought about by the increased attractiveness to feline clientele will compensate for the extra cost of opening the new site (increased costs of personnel, renting the premises and equipment). In the latter case, it is possible to only provide general services on the feline site, whilst maintaining all emergency work (out of hours, Sundays, Bank Holidays) on the existing site.
In summary, this option should be considered by all practices that already have a “group” of three or more clinics within the same catchment area and that are considering their potential for growth. The larger the catchment area and the higher the percentage of cat ownership, the more attractive this option becomes. Considering the hypothesis that a cat-only clinic could attract 10% of the feline clientele in its catchment area, and that one needs 2,000 patients to make this type of clinic work (with two full-time equivalent veterinarians), such a strategy is theoretically possible when the population within 20 minutes of the site is greater than 120,000 inhabitants in France (cat ownership rate of 16.9%), more than 100,000 in Switzerland (cat ownership at 19.4%), and more than 200,000 inhabitants in Germany (ownership 10%), or more than 280,000 in Spain (ownership 7.4%).
C) Scenario 3
The creation of a home-visit service provides a good solution to a specific concern of cat owners and cats: their particular aversion to visiting the clinic. By conducting the veterinary consultation at the owner’s home, in a familiar environment for the pet, one can hope to overcome this problem. The fact remains that there are very few such models in the world and when they do exist, they are rarely financially rewarding. This can be explained by two major disadvantages:
• The standard technical difficulty of any at-home service: it is difficult to produce a quality service in the absence of a standardised consulting-room and utilising only means that can be employed at the client’s home.
• An economic difficulty: the previous point results in low productivity due to significant time being lost; this is compounded by the problem of travel, which is very expensive due to wasted time and to a lesser extent to the direct costs (car, petrol, etc.). See Box belox.
D) Scenario 4
The fourth possibility, the creation of a “feline unit” within an existing clinic, makes it possible to meet the specific needs of the feline clientele within the context of an existing site, by maximising the synergies with the rest of the clinic (surgery, imagery, laboratory, etc.). This involves the creation of at least a dedicated reception room, consultation-room and hospitalisation area.
It is also important to have a team (veterinarian and support staff) that, if not completely dedicated, are at least trained in the requirements of the feline clientele. Many clinics have already partially implemented this strategy, notably with a specific reception area and/or a dedicated hospitalisation area, but very few have taken the approach to its optimum level. The main difficulties that explain this shortfall are as follows:
• Physical constraints in terms of the premises;
• Organisational constraints in terms of the personnel;
• The running of the clinic becomes less flexible, which eventually leads to numerous deviations from the original plan (the dedicated consultation-room for cats is sometimes used for dogs, the same for the reception area, or more rarely the hospitalisation area).
Overall, we believe that this approach needs to be systematically studied by the largest clinics in terms of floor space and in terms of the number of staff, particularly in the zones or countries in which the canine clientele is dominant, but also where cats are becoming more numerous and where their owners have increasing expectations. Keep in mind that the floor space requirement for a feline unit is less because of the possibility of smaller rooms.
E) Scenario 5
Sometimes however, it is not possible to organise a true “feline section” within the clinic due to the restricted size of the clinic or constrictive layout and/or a team that is too small in number. In this case, all is not lost and it is still possible to “re-think” medical protocols by engineering a partial separation of the key areas, whenever feasible. This approach can be applied throughout. It may seem simpler as there are far fewer constraints involved than in all other options. Far from it!
This approach necessitates full commitment from the management and the whole team at the clinic to effectively modify the service rendered, such that it is effectively felt by the clients. Therefore, this option is probably one of the most demanding in terms of organisation and management.
Table 1 summarises the main items to consider before choosing one of the five strategic options we described.
Please come back soon for part 2...