Walk-in veterinary care is propagating in Walmart Supercenters, continuing with the opening this summer of nine clinics in Texas and growing to a total of 100 locations by year’s end.
The world’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer already is home to 21 clinics owned by one of two veterinary practice vendors: Essentials PetCare and VetIQ Petcare, which as separate entities, have no relationship. Both market a limited list of “affordable” services for dogs and cats that include vaccinations, grooming, diagnostics, preventive care and minor medical treatments.
Licensed veterinarians and paraprofessionals staff the locations.
Walmart’s partnership with the veterinary clinic chains reflects the changing landscape of a profession that traditionally has been comprised of small, independently owned and operated full-service veterinary practices. Hoping to draw from the retail giant’s foot traffic, the practice chains rent space at the front of Walmart stores alongside businesses such as nail salons, coffee shops and optometrists.
Essentials PetCare, operator of the nine clinics in Texas, introduced veterinary care to Walmart in 2016, with the opening of a 2,100-square-foot practice in a store in Port Richey, Florida.
That location was the sole site for Essentials PetCare until the company founders, Dr. Doug Spiker and his business partner/wife Christine Battista, announced expansion plans this year.
VetIQ, part of a national network of veterinary practices owned by PetIQ Inc., opened 18 months after Essentials Petcare and rapidly expanded to 20 locations. VetIQ leases space in Walmart Supercenters in Arkansas, North Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Oklahoma. The company also opened last month in a Meijer Supercenter in Fremont, Michigan, and announced intentions to occupy more stores owned by Meijer, a privately-owned retailer based in the Midwest. PetIQ also sells pet parasiticides, supplements and treats for companion animals.
Walmart officials did not specify the locations of planned VetIQ in-store clinics.
The VIN News Service was unable to reach PetIQ President Susan Sholtis for comment. Officials with VetIQ did not respond to a VIN News Service query.
Essentials PetCare's founder Spiker spoke with VIN News by email and phone. He recalled dreaming up how a veterinary practice chain might one day serve the needs of low-income owners. He and his wife approached Walmart in 2015, at the corporation's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.
"It was daunting as we had never made a pitch or done anything on that scale, but everyone at Walmart was extremely nice, and very accommodating," he said. "They were very intrigued by our mission and model."
At the time, Spiker was working in private practice near Clearwater Beach, Florida. Now 40, he’s left the job to focus on growing Essentials PetCare, which he says is intended to complement rather than compete with general practices.
The Texas Walmarts are ideal for low-cost veterinary clinics because they're near populations in need of affordable care, he said. In a question-and-answer session by email, Spiker expanded:
Do you believe the opening of clinics inside Walmart has answered the call to provide pet owners with access to affordable veterinary care? If so, how?
We have been very pleased that our model has reached out to the underserved pet-owning demographic. Our client surveys show that we are reaching a low-income demographic that otherwise may not be able to provide care for their pets. Within our pilot clinic in Port Richey, Florida, we have treated thousands of pets. While practicing in the pilot clinic, I have personally heard innumerable personal stories of pet owners who are extremely grateful for our clinic, mission, and model. Our focus has always been and will continue to be a clinic model that reduces the barriers of affordability and accessibility for the underserved pet owning demographic.
Do you hope to see a veterinary clinic in every Walmart? Is that the goal? If not, what is?
Our goal is to place Essentials PetCare clinics in as many communities that need access to affordable, high-quality care as possible.
How have your colleagues responded to Essentials PetCare?
At first the feedback was mixed. As we have driven the model forward, we now receive very supportive comments from the vast majority of veterinary and industry professionals.
Describe your relationship with Walmart. Does Walmart have any input on the type of medicine practiced by Essentials PetCare?
We are a tenant of Walmart only; they have no input into our model or ownership structure. … All clinics have separate exterior entrances and pet owners are not able to enter the store from our spaces.
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