I’m one of those people whose hatchback is decorated with pet-themed bumper stickers—everything from Malinois silhouettes and silly cat faces to a cheeky “pugs not drugs” decal. To wit, my collage has never elicited anything but positive commentary in parking lots and driveways. It was only when I added one simple “equal” sign (you know the one, yellow on blue) that my cute and cuddly spread attracted any negativity.
It happened in a Target parking lot during the holidays. The guy put his pickup in park behind my vehicle, exited his car and brachiated his disapproval––up close.
“Learn how to drive, you f-ing liberal!” (For the record, he used the whole uncensored expletive along with a degree of hostility I hardly deserved.)
Now, I may or may not have taken the parking space he was hoping I’d overlook, but that kind of thing only happens when you’ve touched more than just the “girl-got-your-spot” nerve. This guy probably does not like gay people––or anyone who likes gay people, for that matter.
Which got me to thinking about my practice. At each of our two glass-doored entrances, I’ve affixed a similar gold-on-blue sticker next to our Yelp decal and the one from Independent Veterinary Practitioners Association (IVPA) that says we’re proud of our ownership status (clearly, I like stickers).
While I’ve received nothing but positive remarks on how our signage and marketing feels welcoming and inclusive, could it be I’ve repelled some haters along the way? People actually go out of their way to express they were attracted to our practice because our website, marketing materials, and signage is “gay-friendly.” But they wouldn’t exactly say much if it offended them, would they? Probably not.
While there will always be angry outliers (like the red-faced guy who felt extra-manly physically intimidating a woman in a big box store parking lot), there are many more reasons why all veterinary enterprises should strive to make LGBTQ clientele feel like they’re part of the family, too. Here are mine:
1) LGBTQ community comprises a huge segment of the pet health consuming market. How big? Hard to say. But more than average? We suspect so. Some studies show pet ownership is higher in LGBTQ households by as much as 10 percent over all households. A 2018 survey of LGBTQ women confirmed this, and added women in this group seem to own more cats than any other demographic. (Or maybe queer cat ladies just like surveys.) In any case, ignoring this segment makes no sense. Especially since it seems…
2) LGBTQ clients spend more. According to the Nielsen 2015 Consumer Report on LGBT demographics, this segment makes 10 percent more shopping trips and spends more overall than the average consumer. Good to know. Then there’s this zinger…
3) LGBTQ clients are more devoted. If you’re actively trying to attract clients who perceive their pets as part of the family, you’ll want to make a special push for the LGBTQ crowd. Because LGBTQ families tend to be short on human kids relative to their straight brethren, pets often achieve higher status in the family hierarchy. Add that to the total population and consumer spending data and you’ll have identified a segment of the population you can’t afford to ignore.
4) LGBTQ is you. Well, probably. It seems statistically unlikely that you or one of your employees wouldn’t identify as one of the acronym’s components. And given the apparent (but as yet statistically uncorroborated) attraction of this profession to gay women, in particular, it becomes even more likely that you’d count at least one LGBTQ individual among your own.
5) If appealing to LGBTQ means repelling haters, what are you waiting for? Haters gonna hate, right? Well, they can go off and do it somewhere else. I don’t need that kind of clientele. In fact, if I could find other ways to winnow out those people, I’d do it.
How to market to the LGBTQ crowd
The good news is you don’t have to spend much to attract an LGBTQ clientele. Most of us do so already by practicing medicine in a way that does not discriminate, with staff that’s not discriminated against, in an environment that does not tolerate discrimination. But if you ever wanted to go the extra mile, here’s what I’d do:
Consider advertising in print or online media
In Miami, where I live, it’s not hard to find easy targets for print advertising. We have some hometown newspapers here geared to the huge arts crowd. But in every community there’s always an online equivalent where LGBTQ congregate. Ask a friend.
Tweak your marketing materials
Attracting a wider audience with more inclusive language and imagery on your website is an easy way to attract those who want to be sure they won’t receive a less-than-enthusiastic reception. A statement explaining you “don’t discriminate on the basis of color, creed, gender, sexual orientation…” can be extremely helpful when you include it somewhere obvious on your site.
Same goes for social media posts. Adding a heartfelt Facebook post on Pride Day, for example, is always a good idea. Little signs of love and inclusivity can make a big difference.
Add some finishing touches to your facility
You’d be surprised at how far one of those gold-on-blue window decals goes. Add one to your entryway. For my part, I’ve also added gender-neutral bathroom signage to my place. Sure, we technically have to designate one men’s and one women’s, but I’ve yet to meet an inspector who really cares one way or the other.
Actively recruit gay staff
Loyalty is a hard thing to come by. But I know for sure that when I added domestic partner benefits on my staff’s insurance, I went a long way toward securing it. Plus, it’s the only humane way to handle insurance benefits. I also add a note on all my ads stating I do not discriminate, which means those who apply can rely on the benefit of a safe, non-judgy environment, regardless of their orientation. Watch how quickly the responses roll in!
See? You don’t have to do much—a few words here, others there. The key is to make these words come from the heart. If they’re not honest, they won’t mean much. After all, in cases like these, karma’s only doled out to those who possess purity of intent.
Oh no, wait… I think the yoga’s sinking into my brain!
Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA, owns a small-animal practice in Miami and is a passionate blogger at drpattykhuly.com. Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.