This is the third of a 9-part series of articles intended to walk you through all the ins-and-outs of purchasing capital equipment for a veterinary practice. Far too often important steps/factors are glossed over during the sales process, items that may not be clearly defined on product literature. Missed information can lead to confusion prior to purchase, other information gaps can lead to more serious issues down the line, when there is no turning back.
In this series, we cover the details and importance of:
- Analyzing Your Practice
- Assessing Your Needs
- Evaluating the Market
- Pre-Demo Homework
- Scheduling a Demo
- Post Demo
- Pulling the Trigger
- The Waiting Game
- Post-Install Support
The veterinary equipment market is often confusing, even for experienced practitioners who have been through numerous economic climates. Capital equipment is a sizable (often the principal) investment for a clinic, so understanding the landscape is of utmost importance. This article is geared to help you navigate the relationship between a company brand and the solutions that they represent to give you the tools needed to create a good, long-term partnership with your vendor.
- Manufacturer vs Solutions Providers vs Distributor
- Sales and/or Education and/or Support
- Modality-Specific Cost and Feature Evaluation
Who makes what and who sells what?
Since the veterinary market is much smaller than the human equipment market, very few of the big manufactures have a direct veterinary sales team. As a result, very seldomly will a customer deal directly with the manufacturer during the sales process.
So who are you actually negotiating with on your purchase? First let’s make the distinction between the parties at play.
Manufacturers are companies that design and build the systems (or at least the principle components) themselves. They either do their own R&D or have acquired/merged with other companies to put their brand on the actual machine/component. The top manufacturers of imaging and therapeutic equipment are (in no order, and this list is not comprehensive):
These companies have enormous booths at conferences like RSNA (Radiological Society of North America: https://www.rsna.org/annual-meeting) and MEDICA (https://www.medica-tradefair.com/). If not familiar with these conferences, they are truly amazing. For some perspective, some of these manufactures have exhibit booths with footprints larger than a football field.
Equipment Companies or Solutions Providers are companies that deal directly with manufacturers. They typically have their own market-specific (veterinary, for example) sales team that represent that product or line of products. Examples of these companies are:
These companies have varying levels of involvement in the design/development process. Some take the components and wrap them in their own custom software interfaces and packaging, creating a truly co-branded product line. Other companies provide market-specific recommendations that the manufacturers use to incorporate into their product lines. And finally, some companies take exactly what the manufacturer makes and sells that directly to the veterinary market.
The companies with the longest, proven relationships with manufacturers often have exclusive contracts to represent their product lines. For example, SOUND has had exclusive North American veterinary rights to GE Ultrasound systems for over 19 years. If an exclusivity contract does not exist, multiple companies can have access to sell products from the same manufacturer. An example of this is with Canon Digital Radiography detectors, which are authorized to be sold by several veterinary companies.
In any case, make sure to look for the manufacturer approved logos and “authorized distributor” language on the products or company websites. When in doubt you can always contact the manufacturer to be sure that their equipment is being sold through legitimate channels.
Distributors are companies that have entire catalogs of product lines, which can include daily disposables, clinic furniture, pharmaceuticals, and equipment. These companies have large sales forces made up of account/territory managers who service all the clinics in their region. Distributors often have very good relationships with clinics and make regular visits to keep up with the needs and growth of the practices. The major players in this category are:
- Patterson (formerly Webster)
- Covetrus (formerly Henry Schein Animal Health)
- Midwest Vet Supply
- Miller Vet Supply
The equipment companies partner with distributors to expand their salesforce reach and for assistance in the sales process due to their relationships at the clinic level. While often equipment is purchased through the distribution organization, it is important to involve the assistance/attention of the equipment company representative. This is simply based on product knowledge. It is unreasonable to expect anyone to be an expert on an entire distribution catalog of products.
High-Level Evaluation Checklist
- What product model are you actually looking at (i.e. what logo is on the DR plate or Ultrasound console or therapy laser)?
- Who are you buying from or through?
- How long has that company had a relationship with the vendor/manufacturer?
- How many people work for the veterinary-specific portion of the company?
Looking further down the line…after you buy, who do you contact for what?
We will cover a lot of these points in future articles in this series, but when evaluating the market, the sale process is only the first factor.
There are varying levels of training and service packages that are available, some directly through the manufacturers, and others can be through the equipment companies who sell their products. Very seldom would post-sale training or service be carried out by the distribution company.
For your initial product installation and onsite applications training, the more successful companies use a dedicated installation/applications specialist teams that train you and your staff. This is the first critical step in a successful implementation and who is performing your training should be evaluated critically.
Some also have their own training academies where you can go for further education or accreditation to help you grow the implementation of their equipment in your clinic. These companies understand the impact of equipment in a veterinary practice and the necessity of continual education.
Technical support and service bring about a whole different conversation. Even the highest quality equipment has issues sometimes. And daily-use equipment like DR and Ultrasound and Lasers will cost hundreds to thousands of dollars in lost revenue if there is downtime due to equipment (or service) failures. And that doesn’t include the price of repair.
The most established equipment companies have their own phone-in technical support and equipment service departments. Some offer loaners, others will advance replace failing systems. Odds are you will find several “tiers” of warranty or extended service contracts as well as “ala carte” service from these companies.
This is very useful to you as the consumer, but only if the equipment company has a lasting relationship or contract with the manufacturer. If the equipment company and manufacturer relationship changes, this can leave you in a very sticky situation (see last section below from some scary examples).
In some cases, however, the equipment company does not offer technical support. They simply forward your name (and serial number of the equipment) to the manufacturer after the sale. In this situation, it is important to ensure that the manufacturer has local service and support if needed and that you can trust your equipment company to be there to help facilitate that relationship when appropriate.
What to look for in the system itself…and what should it cost you?
These questions are very much modality specific. So rather than inundate you with loads of info, we separately built out the “how to evaluate” and “how much should it cost” topics for each modality.
In the next article in this series we will dive deeper into scheduling an equipment demonstration and some of the topics/questions you should be armed with prior to that visit. Until then, here are some articles on the individual modalities to paint the landscape for you.
Basic Cost Breakdown: https://soundvet.com/how-much-do-todays-veterinary-dr-systems-cost/
How to Evaluate a DR System: https://soundvet.com/what-to-look-for-in-a-veterinary-dr-system-the-top-8-questions-to-ask/
More Advanced Topics on Plate Architecture/Materials:
Basic Cost Breakdown: https://soundvet.com/much-veterinary-ultrasound-system-cost/
Portable vs Console Evaluation: https://soundvet.com/portable-vs-console-ultrasound-systems-best-veterinary-practice/
Feature Evaluation: https://soundvet.com/6-features-to-look-for-in-veterinary-ultrasound-equipment/
Basic Cost Breakdown: https://soundvet.com/much-veterinary-therapy-laser-cost/
Feature Evaluation: https://soundvet.com/5-features-look-class-iv-laser-therapy-system/
Download The Buyers Journey: A Guide to Intelligent Veterinary Equipment Purchases (Phase 1)
This program is designed to be your guide ensuring you make the most intelligent, clear and confident buying decision. This document will cover how to get that process started with the first three sections of your buying journey.