Practicing beyond the chute

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Geni Wren Is your beef cattle practice poised to change with the times and the ever-changing beef industry? That’s what Dan Goehl, DVM, Canton Veterinary Clinic LLC, Canton, Mo., asked attendees at the 2011 American Association of Bovine Practitioners meeting in St. Louis. “Right now we’re at a real turning point in the beef industry,” Goehl said. “What can I do in my practice if the beef industry changes like the pork industry did?”

Goehl offers these tips for positioning your practice for the future:

  • Brand your practice. It’s important to brand your practice and consciously make that decision of what type of business you want to have. “Have a business plan with SOPs and a marketing plan that this is where you want to go and what you want to be, and how you’ll work toward that goal.”
  • Be involved in the beef industry if you can. Goehl owns his own cattle and says his clients know that he feels the same pain in a bad market and is dealing with the same issues they are. Also, make sure to be involved in your local cattlemen’s association, county fair, 4-H, etc. “This helps get in front of producers. I tell the veterinarians in my practice that they have to market themselves and be visible,” Goehl explained.
  • Offer client education. Goehl’s practice holds paid producer meetings where certain producers are targeted. “We target a specific group that are either top-notch in our clinic or ones who we want to be in our clinic.” Goehl says these go beyond the “steak dinner” and often outside experts are invited to provide the education. Sometimes I think there is a reluctance to bring in an outside expert, but if you are the one bringing them in it doesn’t diminish you in the eyes of your clients. The producers see you as someone who can go get better information and bring it to them. There is real value in bringing in those outside sources.
  • Stay progressive. Goehl encourages veterinarians in his practice to keep up their CE hours and network with clients, other veterinarians and producers who are prospective clients. “There are clients we want to work with and we don’t let geographical boundaries get in the way. We travel a long way to see some of those clients, but today with iPhones, laptops and digital photos, we can stay in contact with them.” Goehl noted he often gets text messages from clients and may be giving some of his services away, but that’s an unintended consequence of the technology. “It’s hard to charge for answering a text message.”
  • Use marketing alliances. Goehl has gone beyond just working with cattle marketing alliances with his clients; his practice also works on feed procurement in large quantities for clients, and buying facilities such as portable corrals, alleys, chutes, etc. to offer clients at a discounted price. “It’s amazing how much more cattle work clients will do now,” he said. “The driving factor with clients not wanting to work cattle is facilities. If you don’t have facilities you don’t want to work cattle.”
  • New client consultation. With new cattle producer clients Goehl sits down with them and draws up a herd plan. He has a standardized one that he can make subtle changes to depending on the client. “We look at where they want their herd to go and what level they want to be at, what level of biosecurity and biocontainment they are after, depending on what segment they are in,” he said. “It’s fair to do it that way, charge for it hourly and require it up front. The client realizes then that the quality of work or the relationship you are going to have is maybe more than they have had in the past.”
  • Support your staff. Goehl likes to have scheduled staff meetings. “We don’t just want to schedule staff meetings because we’re not happy,” he said. “We want to have interaction with the staff.” Goehl also makes sure his staff has training to make sure clients are treated the way they need to be. “We’ll have them trained on flea preventive, deworming, large animal vaccines, etc., whatever is up-to-date and current.” He also will send support staff to seminars on customer service, handling clients or managing stress. “We want them to feel like they are part of the team.”

“Numbers and knowledge are only useful if they are implemented,” Goehl said. “Don’t expect what you don’t inspect. Teach your clients (and staff) and then go back and inspect how they are doing.”

And above all else, Goehl said, “Don’t price yourself out of business by undervaluing your services.”

For more information on the AABP conference, visit the Bovine Veterinarian AABP page. For more information about AABP, click here.

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