Eating Your Inventory

 D. E. Larsen, DVM

Sandy hung up the phone and looked at me with concern in her eyes.

“That was another appointment for a health certificate,” Sandy said. “These days, it seems like half our clients are moving to Alaska.”

“People have little choice,” I said. “They seem to close a mill every couple of weeks, and they have mostly stopped all the timber sales on federal lands.”

“If this continues, we will have trouble making a living,” Sandy said.

We moved to Sweet Home in 1976 and were instantly busy. Our practice actually grew too fast. That growth allowed us to make an easy living while investing in the practice with new equipment and an increased inventory. 

One of the problems with that growth was we really had no need to manage the practice for efficiency. It didn’t matter what we did. More people came through the door than we could handle.

Then in the early 1980s, interest rates soared, new construction ground to a crawl, and the environmentalist demanded restraints on Oregon’s timber harvest. This all added up to bad news for small timber towns like Sweet Home. 

Lumber and plywood mills were the first to close. Sweet Home went from eight mills to two mills almost overnight. That accounted for nearly six hundred jobs. That was a major hit in a town of six thousand people.

Fifty-year-old men who had worked their entire adult lives in a sawmill were suddenly out of work. Many of these guys had no other skills. The local community college tried to offer retraining for many of these men. But a lot of men were not good students in high school and were reluctant to return to school.

But they were still cutting timber in Alaska, and there were plenty of jobs. At first, it was a trickle of families leaving town. A lot of times, the husband went and left his family here. But as the weeks became months and it became evident that the mills and the logging were not coming back in Sweet Home, the trickle became a flood. Much of our client base was on the ferry to Alaska.


Several months into this flood of folks leaving town, I could see Sandy struggling over the checkbook.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Our gross is down this month,” Sandy said.

“Well, when everyone is leaving town, you have to expect that to happen,” I said. “How far down are you talking about?”

“If I place our usual order this week, there won’t be enough left for our draw,” Sandy said. “We are going to have to cut back on the supply order so I can buy groceries and pay the mortgage.”

“We can get away with that for a time or two, but I have to have things on the shelf in order to practice,” I said. “We can’t just eat our inventory and expect to stay in business.”

“I don’t know what else to do,” Sandy said. 

“We have to change the way we do things, but we have to be thoughtful in making those changes,” I said.

So change we did. We learned to manage a smaller inventory and laid off one position. That meant everyone had to work a little harder. The rule became that nobody walks by a dirty kennel without cleaning it. That included me, much to the chagrin of the practice managers, I am sure.

We went from a one-and-a-half-man practice to a three-quarter-man practice in a matter of weeks.

Our client base changed almost overnight. The young families were gone. We had been considering making a child play area in one corner of the reception area. Now, we added padded chairs for older folks.

Then we had to start building the practice again. 

“How do we build the practice?” Dixie asked.

“We go back to the basics. That’s all I know,” I said. “Nobody comes or goes without me interacting with them. I shake everyone’s hand. There is no hiding in the back. Everyone has to feel like they are part of the family. That means we have to know them. We need to know what the grandkids are up to this summer, where they are getting the new puppy, all the little things to show we are concerned about them and their pets.”

“We see a lot of people every day,” Dixie said. “How can we all keep track of everything?”

“We read the local paper and listen when people talk,” I said. “Then we make little notes on their file, so when you learn something, I can follow up on it. You make a note when Anita goes to watch her grandson’s pinewood derby. Then the next time Anita comes in, I see your note, and I ask Anita, how did your grandson do in the pinewood derby?”

“I see, sort of like what Fred Briggs does when he comes in to sell Sandy on something new,” Dixie said.

“Yes, that is far better than talking about the weather,” I said. “Grandkids and pets are our main topics. That and special events for the folks. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.”

So, that was the plan, and it worked pretty well. We had dug a deep hole for ourselves before we recognized that we had a definite cash flow problem. After a few months of poor response, it took over a year of hard work to correct. But the client interaction stuff stuck and became a mainstay of our client relations.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

5 thoughts on “Eating Your Inventory

  1. Enjoy reading your posts. Puts me to mind of “Doc” in my unpublished “Metaphor.” So much so, I’m kind of glad I wrapped writing over 5 years ago, so as not to draw too much on the wise large animal vet who narrated opening and closing pieces of that work. Durned good read, doc, durned good read.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I have six books self-published on Amazon. Easy to do, won’t buy you a villa in the south of France, but a few hundred dollars a month is better than just using disk space on your computer. Just a thought.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks, Doc. [I can call you “Doc,” okay? I call Metaphor doc, “Doc” having spent enough time with him trying between us to figure out how to handle Bart, Metaphor’s protagonist.]

        I’ll give the suggestion some “Hmmmm” time.


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