Why strategic discounting makes sense for veterinary practices

Here’s a word that’s sure to kick up some strong emotions in the veterinary profession:

Discounts.

We all offer them, let’s be honest. This article by Dr. Gerald Snyder for DVM360.com points out that when you don’t price a product or service to reflect the cost of delivering it, you’re discounting. And that’s even before a veterinarian intentionally doesn’t bill for something delivered as part of larger bundle of services, such as while trying to help out a longtime client save her pet. Or maybe a break for a rescue group. Probably most practices have the more formalized discounts, such as percentage drops from the “retail” bill for employees.

Conflicting opinions

While some recommend never discounting, others suggest that discounts of bundled services can help build business overall, or during traditional slow periods. Dr. Marsha Heinke explains this strategy well in this article, again from DVM360.com:

There’s room for discounts within a good practice strategy, but management must have logical reasons for them. If the discount strategy is to entice more client acceptance of various services, then you need to know your baseline service usage and measure the gains attributed to discounts.

If discounts are part of an advertising program to attract clients, the discount may be a promotional cost rather than a provision-of-service cost. Managers should discourage discounts as part of a marketing regimen unless there is a specific goal or logic to them.

So true! But are we going far enough in leveraging the power of the discount? I was recently talking to someone who owns a small group of practices, and his take on the subject is that veterinary practices need to up their games when it comes to discounts. The retail sector has long perfected the profitable use of discounts to strategically build the bottom line, he noted, which is why Black Friday’s crazy price-cutting doesn’t keep companies from being profitable. “You should always think of discounts as a strategic business tool,” he said.

How low can you go?

I agree with that point of view, for the most part. Our profession has a well-known tendency toward soft-heartedness – something I hope we never lose – but it makes sense to have policies on discounts that help your business overall. After all, a profitable practice has more leeway when it comes to the discounts that have no business benefit whatsoever. You can’t give away income you haven’t earned, after all, or offer care at any price if you can’t keep the door open.

Because there are so many ways to look at discounting, and so many kinds of discounts, we took a long time finding out about them when developing out VPI P&WS wellness program. It accommodates the no-discount view some hold, along with the ability to discount on the bundled services a practice owner or manager decides to put in a customized package for clients. We recognize that some will use discounts in competitive environments – too many practices competing in the same area – while others look at them as part of a longer-term strategy of building client trust and bonding clients to the practice.

There is no one perfect answer, but maybe that’s a good thing. Like the P&WS wellness plans themselves, discounts can be the powerful tools you want them to be, attracting and keeping the clients you want and allowing you to be the best veterinarian you can be.