A Veterinary Services Eco System

By Graham Garrison
April, 2018

A local approach, with a national reach. That may best describe Petco’s recent announcements to expand its offering of veterinary services to its customers.

Within the last year, Petco has made several announcements of incorporating in-store veterinary services at its locations. In May 2017, Petco announced a joint venture with Thrive Affordable Vet Care to incorporate full-service Thrive clinics in select Petco stores. Petco began 2018 with an expansion of its in-store veterinary services with two more veterinary hospitals openings in January. This includes one veterinary hospital operated by THRIVE Affordable Vet Care and one veterinary hospital operated by The Pet Vet.

But the in-store clinics are just part of the company’s strategy. Vet-Advantagespokewith Whitney Miller, MBA, DVM, Director of Veterinary Medicine at Petco, regarding the company’s expansion of in-store veterinary services.

Veterinary Advantage: Petco has announced several partnerships to provide in-store veterinary services to customers. Can you talk about the vision behind these moves, and overall strategy?

Whitney Miller: If you look at our history, there has been some level of veterinary services for several years through our mobile vaccination clinics and preventative services. Recently, the company took a hard look at where Petco wants to be in the future. Veterinary services were highlighted as a good opportunity, not only for growth, but to provide that best, higher level of service for our customers.

At this point there is a lot of accumulation of different pieces. We call it our veterinary services eco system. We are an umbrella to all these different, moving parts. Not only the long-standing mobile preventative care, but also in-store, full service hospitals, and online telehealth advice. By acquiring pet insurance with, pet parents will have that opportunity to select the appropriate pet insurance policy for their pet. With all our partners, we are creating that high level of accessibility for pet parents, so they can take advantage and seek appropriate veterinary care for their pets. That’s the goal, to make sure that all pet parents have access to veterinary care, because we know that a large portion of the pet owning population currently does not seek basic preventative care for their pet.

Veterinary Advantage: Are pet owners that may not have taken advantage of veterinary services in the past a big target for these in-store clinics?

Miller: That’s always been a big question for our profession. Why is there this underserved population that currently is not seeking regular care for their pet? I don’t think there is one answer, because obviously it’s a big group of pet parents that have no relationship with a veterinarian unless it’s an emergency or dire need situation. Not only from the Petco side, but as a veterinarian in this profession, I want to make sure that we are serving that segment of the population and not letting those pets go without care.

Veterinary Advantage
: Why has it made sense for Petco to do multiple partnerships in different markets?

Miller: We’re still honing our strategy, accumulating some of the pieces and then seeing how they are going to work out, market by market. We wanted to be innovative and not have a one-size-fits-all strategy as far as veterinary services go. We want to do what makes sense for pet parents in specific markets. Living in Texas, I can tell you pet parents are definitely a different population than Denver pet parents, or where I grew up on the East Coast. We want to have partners in our stores providing those veterinary services that really help meet the needs of the local pets in the best way.

It’s more work, and it can be confusing by shaking out how this is all going to work, but it is worth that extra due diligence with our partners to make sure market by market we are meeting the needs of pets and pet owners in that area.

Veterinary Advantage: What has the response been like from customers? What are they looking for in a veterinary service provider?

Miller: This gets back to our overall strategy. Currently, at almost all our stores, we offer some level of preventative care access with vaccinations, heartworm tests, etc. Now we’ve taken it to the next step with our partnerships in more full-service hospitals, but still the core focus is preventive care. That’s where our draw and what services customers are taking the most advantage of – access to affordable, preventative care. Getting the vaccinations their pet needs. Heartworm tests. If they need dental care, our new in-service hospitals can offer the dental prophylaxis that they need.

Then, we can also help with the common things we see pets walk in the door for at any veterinary clinic – skin issues, ear issues, vomiting and diarrhea. Some of the things pet parents struggle with if they’re chronic, like skin or ear issues, and if they’re coming to one of our mobile vaccination clinics and they need that next level, they can go to an in-store hospital, or we can refer them to a local veterinarian. Our core resides with the preventative care that we’re offering.

Veterinary Advantage: When would there be a referral to a local veterinarian or emergency hospital?

Miller: As we grow, some may be different market by market, but when you look overall, we definitely have limitations with our in-store clinics that would require referral. For example, being in a retail space, we are not going to be hospitalizing animals overnight for any reason, so obviously that’s going to be referred out to local specialty or emergency hospitals, and potentially a general practitioner if they offer that service.

When you talk about other referrals, it’s the same decision that happens in any general practice around the country. Getting pet parents the proper education and explaining what our level of service is and what we can do. If the disease treatment would be best served at a specialist, we will tell them this is an opportunity for a referral. If it’s an emergency situation, critical care or some other reason that they need to be referred, that’s what we’re going to do so we are properly educating that pet parent and working with local practitioners so that the referral process is smooth.

Veterinary Advantage: How is today’s pet owner/customer different than maybe even 5-10 years ago?

Miller: The industry trends are not isolated to products, foods. It’s across the space, including veterinary services. We see that every day in our stores across the country, the increased, strong human-animal bond. Folks want to take the best care of their pets that they can, and also spoil their pets in a certain way. What we’re seeing with generational shifts is that emphasis on easy access. Customers want that accessibility, whether it’s through technology, or ease of access in physical spaces to the services that they need – not only for their pets, but for themselves. That’s something that we as a company, moving towards the future, are meeting those changing needs of pet parents. When you look at the areas we are investing in and growing, that’s what we wanted to best serve the pet parents out there to enhance their relationship with their pet.

Veterinary Advantage: How will your online component grow in the coming years?

Miller: We’re committed to telehealth, having acquired PetCoach that is now part of the Petco brand. PetCoach offers 24/7 access for pet parents to ask questions of veterinary experts. They have whenever/wherever access to get that general advice for their pets. A lot of times those questions end up with a recommendation to visit a veterinarian, and that’s going to be typical. But it gets back to accessibility. Online and telehealth is key to make sure we are showing pet parents the value of seeking veterinary care for their pets.

Veterinary Advantage: With regards to veterinarians who may staff these clinics, how is the profession changing? What’s it like to be a veterinarian today?

Miller: One of the really exciting things about the Petco opportunities is the different options that can fit almost veterinarian’s desire for their current career path. We have mobile vaccination clinics that you can do on the weekend. We have full-service in-store hospitals where you can have that typical, full-time in-clinic veterinary role. You can be a PetCoach expert and answer questions on demand, online, whether you are at your kid’s soccer game and have a couple minutes to answer some pet parents questions or you’re at another event. That’s what exciting about our model, for new veterinarians and that generational shift of professionals who are looking for different opportunities with their career – we offer a wide range of options. It may change with an individual veterinarian. Maybe right now I am just looking for a little extra income and want to do some mobile vaccination clinics on the weekend. Three years down the line, I may be looking to transition to a different practice role full-time. These are the things we hope are attractive about the model we are building with the wide array of veterinary services, for the career path of veterinarians, as well as technicians.

I know this kind of growth by nature can make practitioners out there very nervous and not sure about what the future holds. I say it with everybody I talk to: yes, we are growing, but we still want to be a partner in the local veterinary communities. That’s our goal. We’re going to have hiccups along the way, but we want to grow in the right way for the profession, so we always welcome feedback from those out there as well as somebody who is interested in opportunities with Petco. We are here to discuss that with anyone who is interested.

Petco’s eco system
Recent additions to Petco’s veterinary services include:

In-store veterinary services
Petco’s first veterinary hospital, operated by THRIVE Affordable Vet Care, opened inside a brand new store in Aldine, Texas in October 2017. Specializing in thorough, routine and high-quality care, Thrive hospitals offer $10 exams, making veterinary care accessible to more pet parents. Petco partner Pet Vet offers full-service medical and urgent care seven days a week, spay and neuter, full in-house diagnostic laboratory equipment, advanced ultrasounds, dentistry and more. The Pet Vet also offers pet parents and their pets a comprehensive wellness plan for every stage of a pet’s life.
Petco acquired pet insurance marketplace, providing pet parents with an efficient way to obtain instant pet insurance quotes and compare coverage options, all while reading reviews and testimonials from major pet insurance companies. To help pet parents navigate the often confusing world of pet healthcare, the site provides detailed insurance plan descriptions and comparisons for both dogs and cats, as well as fast facts on how the pet insurance industry operates. To help pet parents seamlessly identify a plan that best meets their needs, the platform brings most major pet insurance companies to the customer, easily organized in one place, including Trupanion, Healthy Paws, Petplan, Pets Best, Embrace, Pethealth and Nationwide.

PetCoach is a digital services company that connects pet parents with experienced veterinary professionals for personalized answers to improve the overall health and well-being of their pets by providing convenience, data and easy access to expert advice.

Topics: Cover Story


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