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An Interview with Ben Shaw of Vets First Choice

By Pam Foster
June, 2018

In late April of this year, the veterinary industry was rocked with big news: “Henry Schein Will Spin Off Its Animal Health Business, Which Will Merge with Vets First Choice Forming an Independent Public Company

As a Distributor Sales Representative (DSR), this may affect you as Vets First Choice (VFC) becomes a major force in the veterinary market.  

Vets First Choice

Before this was announced — back at the VMX 2018 in February — we had a chance to sitwith Ben Shaw, VFC Founder and CEO. He talked about his vision for the company in a discussion joined by Vets First Choice customer, Stephanie Foster, Practice Manager at Kings Vet Hospital, a 4-veterinarian practice in Loveland, Ohio.

We thought you might enjoy seeing what they had to say as you learn more about this company that is shaking up the industry.

“The competition is fierce and client demands are changing — what are the options for practices?  

Ben: “This was the question we asked ourselves when we founded the company back in 2010.  More specifically, we asked how can we be smart about using technology to help?

“Our first focus back then was on a particularly tough area of the practice under attack: the pharmacy and product sales — in a sense the business and marketing side of things.”    

Stephanie Foster. “Vets don’t learn business in vet school. There’s no marketing learning either. [But to run a practice,] we have to understand business and get better at listening to consumers and providing what they need.” 

“We knew our clients wanted more choices and better service, and our practice was falling short, especially on diets.

“Our staff really hated managing diets, especially ‘special orders.’ Plus, even though we made our clients do it, they didn’t always appreciate having to make a special trip to our practice to pick up their diets. Add the labor costs into the equation — we needed a new plan.” 

Ben Shaw, VFC Founder and CEO

Ben: “She gave us a challenge, and we took it on.”

Stephanie.  “We started with Vets First Choice in 2015 and soon after, worked with our rep to come up with a plan. By my calculation, we were actually paying our clients to inventory and sell diets to them! 

“Our first move was to eliminate more than half our in-house diets inventory and move the rest to the Vets First Choice platform. We informed our clients and created a prescription for them to purchase online.

“By the next year, our total diet sales nearly doubled to $135,000, and grew again last year to $160,000. The new approach works, and everyone — our staff, clients, me, our owner Dr. LeCompte — is happier.”

Overcoming a real worry about losing the client relationship.

Stephanie. “One of our biggest worries was losing our relationship with our clients — losing that face-to-face interaction would somehow hurt us. We learned that the platform helps us build our relationship… because one, we’re meeting clients where they’re spending a lot of time (online), and two, we’re interacting with them WAY more — in some cases monthly — than we were before. 

“Think about it: who doesn’t love the convenience of receiving your pet’s diet at your doorstep?”

Ben: “What Stephanie and her staff did was to be ‘proactive’ with their prescription management. Our platform allows you to be proactive for all prescriptions, not just diets. It works for preventives, supplements, compounded medications — especially for chronic diseases.”

“A great insight for any practice is to ask: ‘How do you manage prescriptions today?’ I think it’s fair to say that for most practices, they make a recommendation and HOPE the client makes the purchase. For refills, they rely on the client to call. This platform changes all of that.”

Stephanie Foster, Practice Manager at Kings Vet Hospital, a 4-veterinarian practice in Loveland, Ohio.

Stephanie: “Here’s an example from our practice. Through the platform, my clients automatically get notification that it’s time for a refill, say for their cat’s thyroid medication. At the same time, because our platform is integrated with our practice management system, all prescription history is at our doctors’ fingertips, right in the Rx tab of the medical record. 

“If the client has not made a purchase, we know that Vets First Choice is reaching out, however we can act on that too, as part of our regular workflow. And, when a purchase is made, that automatically goes right in the patient medical record. The automation saves us time and allows us to maintain compliance — it’s a win win.”  

Ben: “Another way to look at it is this: You stay focused on the medicine. We’ll help you by using the best technology to ensure compliance with that recommendation.”

Better insights into gaps in care.

Ben. “Yes, we’ve completely changed how practices manage prescriptions by allowing practices easy access to data on: 

  • Who’s lapsed on their medication in your practice?
  • Who walked out without a product you recommended?
  • How can you make compliance automated, easy?
  • How can you move the needle on days in therapy?

“The platform and technology have all had a tremendous impact on both compliance rates and revenues and profits for practices across the country.”

Vet Advantage: “What about the costs?”

Ben:  “Our service is pay-for-performance, so the veterinarian only wins when our platform results in a filled (purchased) prescription or recommendation.”

Vet Advantage: “How do you know it works?”

Ben: “We have the data. In 2017 we did a controlled study of 52 practices using Vets First Choice compared with practices not using the platform. We wanted to answer, ‘What is the macro-economic impact of adopting this platform?’ When comparing practices with the same demographic profile, those using the platform showed dramatic improvements." 

Stephanie: “I showed the study to my staff and also showed them that our own practice revenues were up after we started using the platform. It wasn’t just product revenues. Our lab services, for example, were up over 20% because we were bringing clients back in for their pet’s exams. Other revenues were from selling more diets, and more clients getting their refills.  When they saw the numbers, I had a potential coup on my hands (ha ha) because the staff wanted a piece of that. The truth was that with our increased service revenues, the staff were already getting a piece of that.”

Ben: “We get paid to drive outcome, and Kings is no exception. We are highly motivated from our success to keep getting better, faster and more effective.”

Stephanie: “We came from a previous platform — a distributor-run home delivery service. It wasn’t working for us, and when my owner came with a wish list to a trade show to find a better solution. Vets First Choice told us, ‘We can do all of that and then some.’ We went live with Vets First Choice in May 2015.

Ben: “When you start questioning the status quo, like Stephanie and Kings did, you find there’s a lot of opportunity to improve. That’s why we’re taking a very holistic approach to look at all aspects of the practice to see where we can help improve. The core of our service is our platform, which we believe is the future for practitioners. 

“Our approach is consultative to learn what the practices need, then to take challenges back to our teams: more than 200 software engineers, 100 pharmacists, 100 account management and service reps. Our acquisition and complete integration of Roadrunner pharmacy last year is another example of how we took a holistic approach to prescription management — there are huge opportunities to bring quality, consistency and integration to compounded medications.

“We’re doing the same thing in the equine market with our platform. For instance, with equine remote practices, trainers are driving the demand — so, we have programs that bring together trainers and equine veterinarians so everyone benefits. Especially the horse owner. One equine customer of ours paid all his debt with monthly deposits from our platform. This year, this same all-equine, 2-vet practice is on track to bring in north of $500,000 in incremental revenues.

“We are proving that together we can use technology and data to drive better health and financial outcomes for practices across the board.”

For information on the controlled study or the way Vets First Choice can help practices in your sales territory, contact Vets First Choice.

Topics: Distribution, DSR Facing Blog, Interview