ICYMI Key takeaways from the VHMA 2020 Annual Meeting & Conference



We’ve all had to pivot this year due to COVID-19 and the VHMA 2020 Annual Meeting & Conference is no exception. This year’s conference seamlessly shifted from your typical in-person event to an online, virtual experience spanning nearly the full month of September. Attendees had around 18 sessions to choose from and, from what we hear, the speakers did not disappoint. 

VetSuccess had the pleasure of sponsoring four sessions and hosting one session. Topics were diverse and included pricing, competition, strategy, loyalty, and, our personal favorite, benchmarks. 

While VHMA members have the ability to rewatch all sessions for one month, here we’d like to highlight some key takeaways from the five VetSuccess-sponsored presentations. 

Key takeaways from 5 VHMA Conference presentations

An icon of dollar signs moving into a funnel1. The Truth About Pricing (It’s Not About the Cookie)
by Melina Palmer

In this session, we learned about how the brain makes decisions about pricing (spoiler alert: not rationally), why the order things are presented in matters more than the items themselves, and how to go about getting premium prices. Melina made behavioral economics and the human brain fun, engaging, and certainly actionable. 


Here are a few key takeaways:

  1. Actual human behavior does not follow traditional economic models.
  2. 99% of the brain’s processing is subconscious.
  3. COVID-19 has impacted and overwhelmed brain function. Decision overload.
  4. Everything that happens before the client hears the price is what’s most important. Prime your clients to see the value of services before seeing the price but don’t add unnecessary friction to the buying process for your clients.
  5. A loyalty program is one way to take advantage of the behavioral concepts of reciprocity, loss aversion, and scarcity.

An icon of a graph comparing 2 lines of information2. The Economics of Competition in Veterinary Services
by Roger Haston, Ph.D

Dr. Haston certainly piqued our math-loving minds in this session, with a focus on stochastic modeling to demonstrate the economic impact of competition within the veterinary market. Low and high-cost clinic competition is explored, along with access to care issues and implications for veterinary practices. 


Here are a few key takeaways:

  1. Pet ownership, veterinary visits, and spendings are on the rise and will continue to rise.
  2. An increase in price will cause a decline in demand for that product or service, with the severity of decline based upon the price sensitivity within each market segment. Price sensitive clients tend to respond more to price changes.
  3. The best price offering for profitability does not equate to the most clients or revenue.
  4. In most cases, the presence of a low-cost competitor does not negatively affect a higher price clinic. The more a client is willing to pay, the less they are willing to wait.
  5. Increasing the likelihood of a veterinary visit is far more important than controlling price.

An icon of 3 people with checkmarks above them3. Envision, Execute, and Experience – Creative Strategy for the 21st Century
by Ed Goodman

Here we explored the emerging “experience economy” and its potential to engage clients and staff in personal and memorable ways. We learned the principles of creating experiences that benefit practices and business, including experience staging and spiral thinking. 


Here are a few key takeaways:

  1. Humans are great at thinking about the past and the present, but not so great at planning for the future.
  2. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for innovation in veterinary practices.
  3. Your clients want to receive information instantly and conveniently. Does your practice have an app?
  4. Within the “experience economy” your customer experience needs to be personal and memorable.
  5. Challenge yourself to reimagine the experience and the architecture of your physical facilities to better create an exceptional experience for your clients, patients, and staff.

An icon of a graph trending upwards4. Let’s Talk Benchmarks…during Happy Hour!
by Sheri Gilmartin, CVT and Esther Fraser

VetSuccess hosted this session which was aptly labeled as the most fun you can have with math. Sheri and Esther walked us through how to evaluate which metrics are most important for supporting goals, showed us how to take action with metrics that have the biggest impact on revenue and patient care, and also reviewed the national and VHMA member Practice Performance Benchmarks. 


Here are a few key takeaways:

  1. Benchmarks and trendlines help you evaluate whether your current month’s numbers are good, bad, or flat.
  2. Monitor your net change in active patients, not just new patients, to get a fuller picture of the overall health of your business.
  3. Raising either ACT or the number of visits per year will increase overall revenue, but raising the number of visits will increase revenue more. And perhaps most importantly, you can’t raise both at once.
  4. Space out services and purchases over the year with the help of home delivery and auto-ship of parasiticides and diets, bi-annual visits with well care in the Spring and bloodwork and dental in the Fall, wellness plans, and loyalty programs.
  5. There is a massive opportunity for increasing dental compliance and parasiticide compliance, especially among older pets.

An icon of a person standing beside a building5. Customer Loyalty Does Not Mean Exclusivity
by Kimberly Ness

In this session, we learned where exactly pet owners are going for pet care, what motivates them, and how to keep them coming back to a specific hospital. As data nerds, we were pleased to see data presented from surveys of 1,000-1,500 pet owners. 


Here are a few key takeaways:

  1. Nearly 25% of all pet owners and one-third of millennial pet owners use more than one source for veterinary care, so they may not be visiting less overall, just less with one specific practice.
  2. There is a growing demand for Walmart clinics, with 45% of pet owners who are willing to split their pet’s health care between Walmart and their primary clinic.
  3. To retain clients, ask them how you can best accommodate their needs, and then actually do it. Consider expanding your hours, offering in-home services and home delivery, and making payment options easier.
  4. A veterinarian’s accessibility is critically important to clients.
  5. 63% of pet owners want their veterinarian to offer an online store and even though their veterinarian may already have one, they may not know about it.

VHMA 2020 Annual Meeting & Conference Recap

With so many amazing speakers and topics, the VHMA 2020 Annual Meeting & Conference was certainly a must-see for veterinary practice managers. COVID-19 may have kept us apart physically but it couldn’t stop the connection, growth, and learning that occurred over this past month. 

We look forward to hearing about your favorite session from this year and hope to see you back in person next year. 



Josephine Wynn, the author


Josephine is passionate about partnering with practices to help improve efficiency and profitability which is what brought her to VetSuccess and exactly why she thrives here. When she’s not working, she is kept on her toes by her husband, three kiddos, and 7 fur-kids.