50 and Fine
After 50 years, providing value-added service is still a priority for Midwest Veterinary Supply.
By Laura Thill
The year was 1961 and the sky was the limit. The country awaited the unfolding of President Kennedy's New Frontier. Alan Shepard became the first American astronaut in space. And, for Robert G. Flickinger, a North Dakota-based veterinarian known as "Doc" to his friends and colleagues, the animal health industry was ready to take off.
Technology was changing rapidly and new veterinary products were coming into view. Yet, for many veterinarians, obtaining these products could be challenging
50 years ago. The solution was simple, Doc noted, and in 1960 he started Fargo Vet Supply, a small veterinary products distributor in West Fargo, N.D. Soon afterward, in August 1961, together with five partners, Doc incorporated his company as Midwest Veterinary Supply.
"As a veterinarian, my dad knew there were new products available that would be in high demand," says his son and current president of Midwest Veterinary Supply, Guy Flickinger. "He recognized the need to efficiently get the products to veterinary practices. The animal health industry was truly in its infancy. For instance, there were fewer than 100 drugs compared with over 20,000 available today. My dad recognized a turning point."
Fifty years later, Midwest Veterinary Supply has grown substantially from its beginnings, when Doc hired his brother to pass out advertising flyers to local veterinary practices. "Today we have over 100 field and inside sales reps, and we service 35 states," says Flickinger. Now headquartered in Lakeville, MN, the company boasts six additional facilities in Norristown, PA; Sun Prairie, WI; Owings Mills, MD; Des Moines, IA; Dallas, TX; and Fort Wayne, IN.
And yet, Midwest Veterinary Supply's original mission – to help veterinarians build more successful practices – remains unchanged. "Our tagline is, Making a Difference in Your Practice," says Flickinger. "Unlike some companies, our organization is purposefully very flat, which allows us to quickly respond to customers' needs without having to go through a lot of layers of red tape. We take pride in that."
For Midwest Veterinary Supply, the main focus has always been its customers. Today, that holds truer than ever before. The dogged economy has presented challenges for veterinarians, Flickinger points out. "As pet owners struggle financially to take care of their pets, this of course affects our veterinary customers," he says. Additionally, per the company's recent customer survey feedback, many veterinarians feel that the animal health industry has become "more specialized, more complicated and more technical" than ever before. Given that, "we work to provide competitive pricing and value-added service to our customers, such as educational seminars, in-clinic staff training and product demonstrations to help customers address these challenges," he points out.
Indeed, at Midwest Veterinary Supply, the customers always have – and always will – come first, notes Flick inger. "Our customers are our main focus," he says.
"Our customer research has shown us that they regard us as non-corporate and value our focus on customer service over profitability." It is precisely this customer-first approach that has fueled the company's growth, he adds.
The very best
Even as the Internet and e-mail have led to new ways of reaching out to customers, Flickinger has not lost sight of the value of face-to-face sales calls. "Most veterinary clinics still want a salesperson to call on them," he says. "Veterinarians and their staff still value the personal touch and having someone they can rely on to take care of problems." At the same time, "they want to be able to call an inside sales rep to get immediate attention," he points out. "Customers have individual preferences, so we are flexible and make certain we offer choices that allow them to do business with us however they prefer."
This could not be possible, though, without a talented sales team. "We start by hiring the best people – people who are friendly, hardworking and enjoy helping others," Flickinger explains. "Then, we provide extensive training, such as hands-on product training, web-based learning and webinars. We have our junior reps ride along with senior and manufacturer reps. And we require our reps to participate in manufacturer-sponsored training seminars, dinner meetings and conference calls. In fact, when it comes to manufacturer-sponsored training, we strive for 100 percent participation from our sales team. Further, we try to foster open communication among everyone so that when challenges occur, they can be quickly addressed and solved."
"Our customer research has shown us that they regard us as non-corporate and value our focus on customer service over profitability."
– Guy Flickinger, President
IN THE PINK. Guy Flickinger and his Minnesota team pose in front of the company's previous headquarters in Burnsville in a day dedicated to breast cancer awareness and support. The "thumbs up" gestures symbolize the company's can-do attitude and team spirit that have contributed to the company's 50 years of success in the animal health industry.
50 and fine
In a sense, Midwest Veterinary Supply has been celebrating its 50th for some time. "Last year, we developed new branding, which includes a fresh new company logo and tagline," says Flickinger. "We are running a new ad campaign in veterinary journals and we have even created a custom cartoon to be used on T-shirts, mugs, posters and other items to celebrate our anniversary.
"Each month this year, our company magazine has featured a special article related to our 50th anniversary, or to significant events that have happened in the veterinary industry or globally," he continues. "And, we have planned a number of customer appreciation activities at the territory level. Finally, we are planning an official celebration at our national sales meeting, which will include a lot of fun activities, as well as reminiscing. We should never forget our humble roots."
Once the festivities have ended, though, there will be no slowing down for the folks at Midwest Veterinary Supply. "Growth definitely is in our future," says Flickinger. At the same time, he is "determined that Midwest Veterinary Supply will never become an impersonal corporate giant whose only motive is profit.
"I am excited about the future of this industry and proud to be a part of it," he continues. "Veterinarians and their staff are some of the hardest working and smartest people I have ever met. It never ceases to amaze me that some of the innovations in human health have come from the animal health industry. I am certain we will continue to see advancements at every level in this industry, and at Midwest Veterinary Supply we are proud to partner with the majority of animal health manufacturers that are bringing these innovations to market."