Buy With Confidence

Veterinary trade shows are like shopping malls. Making a purchase based on desire alone is easy when every gadget and high-tech device seems to shout, “Buy me!”


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Veterinary trade shows are like shopping malls. Making a purchase based on desire alone is easy when every gadget and high-tech device seems to shout, “Buy me!”

But those in the know advise making a list and checking it twice. A lot of planning needs to go into a major purchase long before a contract is signed or a credit card is run.

Big Spender

Robin Downing, DVM, estimates that she has spent about $1 million on equipment since 1992, shortly after buying her Windsor, Colo., practice. Among her purchases:

• Two anesthesia machines with isoflurane vaporizers
• Sevoflurane vaporizers to upgrade from isoflurane
• Doppler blood pressure machines
• Electric, stainless steel lift table on wheels (doubles as gurney)
• Medium-capacity autoclave
• Three single recessed X-ray viewboxes
• Double recessed X-ray viewbox
• CO2 surgical laser plus evacuation vacuum
• Complete in-house lab (1994)
• Upgraded in-house lab (2000)
• Class 3B therapeutic laser
• Class 4 therapeutic laser
• Three multiple-lead electroacupuncture units
• Physical therapy suite, including Cavaletti poles, weaving obstacles, Thera-Roll and oversized balance board
• Hydrocollator for moist heat application
• Two self-contained air-driven portable dental stations
• Veterinary practice management software and associated computer equipment (1992; upgraded in 2004)
• Underwater treadmill system
• Automatic processor for X-ray development (1996)
• Upgrade to 300ma X-ray unit (1996)
• Dental X-ray unit
• Multipurpose copier, scanner and printer for in-house publishing
• Ceiling-mounted movable surgical lamps
• Housing for critical care patients

“I would advise against making purchases the day of the conference,” says Robin Downing, DVM, of Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Windsor, Colo. “Any company worthy of your business will give you a post-conference grace period to receive any offered incentives and not pressure you into a purchase.

“On the same note, I am a very visual learner and have a heavy kinesthetic influence. For people who need to see, feel and touch to best understand something, exhibit halls are exceptionally beneficial and allow you to get the most bang for your conference buck.”

The thought of investing copious amounts of time researching every product may seem ludicrous to a busy veterinarian, but the task is of utmost importance.

Research is key to maximizing purchase profitability and long-term happiness. Don’t have the time? Assign the duty to a staffer.

“Ask a trusted, knowledgeable staff member to list the companies offering the product you want to purchase, the various model specifications, the cost and perceived obstacles, with solutions, to staff use,” Dr. Downing says. “As the practice owner, you will have to do some personal footwork, but this step provides invaluable information and saves time.”

Priming for Purchase

Whether you plan on examining products at a conference or contacting a vendor another way, creating a list of your wants and needs can lead to an informed decision.

“If you know you want to buy something before going to the conference, have a list of questions to ask the various manufacturers of that product,” Downing says.

In addition, ask yourself: Will the item be well received by clients, and will they pay for it?

“Veterinarians know their clients better than anyone else,” says Cathy Hebert, marketing director at Vet Imaging, an ultrasound and radiography equipment distributor in Irvine, Calif. “One way to avoid buyer’s remorse is to make sure the company you do business with also has your best interest in mind. A manufacturer should provide suggestions for ways to market the product and your new services to clients.”

Is the time right for your practice?

“Economics plays a role in making wise purchase decisions,” says Carl Bennett, director of sales and marketing at Aesculight, a surgical laser company in Seattle. “Your finances may be in order, but your clients must also be able and willing to pay for the new service or service upgrade.”

Can you afford the item?

“At the end of a year, veterinarians tend to make larger purchases,” Hebert notes. “Tax write-offs are helpful, but you should be basing any purchase on how it will increase practice revenue, save time or draw new clients, not only a tax deduction.”

Determine how quickly a return on the investment is needed.

Adding a new modality calls for a return on investment estimation. You need to know how much new revenue will be generated. If a return is needed within 12 months, be honest regarding the feasibility of making that deadline.

“Think about your client base, who has asked for this new modality or who will use whatever the new purchase provides,” says John Walczuk, vice president of sales at Shor-Line, a veterinary product supplier in Kansas City, Kan. “Although how well the product serves you will be remembered more than the cost down the line, you have to be sure it will provide a return.”

Examine the product and the vendor.

“Don’t rely solely on what the company website or salesperson tells you,” Downing says. “Make sure you have an evidence-based way to support the claims.”

Be straightforward with the vendor.

“Ask the manufacturer you intend to buy from how they stack up against the competition,” says Jeff King, national sales manager for Tristar Metals Inc., a Boyd, Texas, manufacturer of custom-made veterinary products. “In the past couple of years, it seems like veterinarians are being bolder with their line of questioning, and that helps to ensure they are making a purchase they’ll be happy with.”

What are the ancillary costs?

“If you are buying something that will need more space, water storage or greater electricity supply, know what those costs will be and factor that into the total start-up cost to the practice,” Downing says.

Ask the vendor for references.

“All companies should be able to provide you with a satisfied-customer list,” Downing says. “These should be veterinarians who are not getting money from the company. However, kickback or no kickback, when I get a colleague on the phone and ask him or her about the good, bad and ugly of a product, I have never felt deceived.”

Anticipate problems.

A company should provide a telephone number and other contact information in case questions or problems arise after the purchase. Will the manufacturer or an outside firm service the product?

Where are the replacement parts?

“Know where replacement parts are coming from and whether importing parts [from another country] will cause a delay in getting back to business,” Aesculight’s Bennett says. It’s essential to know the turn-around time on repairs and whether loaner equipment will be provided when something goes wrong, experts say.

Is a warranty included or does it cost extra?

Any purchase should come with some sort of warranty. “Veterinarians want to know about the durability of products and how long they will last,” says Dale Bush, president of LGL Animal Care Products Inc., an animal cage manufacturer in College Station, Texas.

“If a product is durable, it should have a warranty in writing. For purchases that will be heavily exposed to animals, the material used in construction is critical. No warranty could be a sign that the product will not last.”

Check on local or state installation and disposal regulations before the purchase.

Make sure the law is followed when radiography equipment is purchased. The veterinarian is responsible for paying for the proper installation and covering any fines levied if the work is done outside the law.

Perform all training before the purchase.

“Ask the company you are buying from if it offers training,” Bennett says. “If it does, is it offered onsite or off, and are the times flexible?”

Staff members should know how to market the service.

“Staffers should have the knowledge and approval to make recommendations,” Downing says. “Veterinarians usually ask clients if they have additional questions before completing an exam. Once the client says no, the doctor feels he or she has done a good job.

“Then you hear the same client ask the receptionist two or three more questions before checkout. Sometimes clients just feel more comfortable asking someone they view as less intimidating questions they feel may sound silly.”

This article first appeared in the April 2010 issue of Veterinary Practice News.

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