Chewy’s new vet care clinics aim to revolutionize the pet business again

Born in South Florida in 2011, Chewy upended the pet food business by providing online ordering, fast delivery, and personal touches like birthday cards adorned with actual paintings of pet customers.

Now among the nation’s largest pet supply retailers, the company took the first step this week in an effort to disrupt another traditional pet-related business: veterinarian clinics.

Chewy opened its first brick-and-mortar vet clinic, called Chewy Vet Care, on Monday in Plantation Walk, a mixed-use development along University Drive, south of Broward Boulevard, in Plantation.

Created by the company’s Chewy Health division, the clinic is the first of six scheduled to open this year in the United States. The others will be in Coral Springs, Denver and Atlanta.

  • Milo, a dog belonging to a Chewy employee, was on...

    Milo, a dog belonging to a Chewy employee, was on hand for the opening of the company’s first brick-and-mortar vet clinic, Thursday in Plantation. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

  • President of Chewy Health, Mita Malhotra, speaks during the opening...

    President of Chewy Health, Mita Malhotra, speaks during the opening of Chewy’s new brick-and-mortar vet clinic, Thursday, April 18, 2024, in Plantation. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

  • Dr. Benjamin Carter shows off the waiting room during the...

    Dr. Benjamin Carter shows off the waiting room during the opening of Chewy’s new brick-and-mortar vet clinic, Thursday, April 18, 2024, in Plantation. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

  • The surgical suite is seen during the opening of Chewy's...

    The surgical suite is seen during the opening of Chewy’s new brick-and-mortar vet clinic, Thursday, April 18, 2024, in Plantation. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

  • A gallery of patients is seen during the opening of...

    A gallery of patients is seen during the opening of Chewy’s new brick-and-mortar vet clinic, Thursday, April 18, 2024, in Plantation. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

  • Vet tech Vanessa Paolino cuddles a patient at Chewy's new...

    Vet tech Vanessa Paolino cuddles a patient at Chewy’s new brick-and-mortar vet clinic, Thursday, April 18, 2024, in Plantation. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

  • An exam room is seen during the opening of Chewy's...

    An exam room is seen during the opening of Chewy’s new brick-and-mortar vet clinic, Thursday, April 18, 2024, in Plantation. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

The aim, according to Chewy Health division president Mita Malhotra, is to provide a full continuum of care by leveraging information compiled from years of providing pet food, toys and supplies, medicines and insurance.

“We have 20 million patrons on the (Chewy) platform,” Malhotra said at an event held Thursday to show off the new center’s unique features. “The way our technology is set up is that we know a lot about these pets, right? As they come in, our team is trained to greet them by name and talk to you about them. They will know you, know the food your pet eats. We can make these visits personalized.”

Thought has been given to make every aspect of the vet visit more comfortable for pets and their owners, says Dr. Ben Carter, the company’s chief medical officer.

Carter says that Chewy worked hard to make its vet clinics — which currently treat only dogs and cats — feel like “Disney World for pets.”

Warm tones and rounded design shapes dominate the front reception area. The floor includes a grip technology to prevent slipping.

When pets arrive, they are called by their names and given favorite treats. If a wait is necessary, owners take their pets to a separate room with padded furniture.

Outside the clinic’s exam rooms, small video screens display patients’ names and portraits.

Inside exam rooms, 40-inch wall-mounted video screens will show results of a pet’s bloodwork and X-rays, plus answers to common questions about any condition that the pet might be exhibiting.

A cats-only room features interactive toys for felines and a Feliway-branded diffuser that sprays calming pheromones.

If serious decisions are called for — major surgeries or even euthanasia — pet owners are taken to another room with a plush sofa and chair. In this room is a mirror mounted just a couple of feet off the floor for owners and their pets to pose for selfies.

The back of the center is reserved for tests and surgeries. There’s a digital radiology suite, a full dental care station and 400 different types of drugs. During surgeries, pets’ vital signs are transmitted to vet techs’ iPads.

Along a wall is an array of different-sized “patient enclosures.” Carter explained that “we don’t call them cages or kennels.”

While inside them, pets look through clear glass rather than bars, and the enclosures are equipped with dimmable lights for post-surgical comfort.

Employees are provided a break room and attached to it is a chill room for privacy. These aren’t normally found in vet clinics, Carter said, but Chewy added them because it knows the work can be “insanely emotionally taxing.”

The suicide rate among workers in veterinary medicine, he says, is four times that of the general population. Malhotra says the stress of the job is causing fewer people to become veterinarians even as the country’s pet population continues to increase.

Care prices are competitive and Chewy Vet Care offers memberships for $39.99 a month per pet that entitle owners to priority booking, unlimited visits for wellness care, sick care and urgent exams, no exam fees, routine diagnostic testing and all required vaccines.

A $9.99 “lite plan” provides unlimited visits for wellness, sick and urgent exams and no exam fees. Owners who subscribe to this plan pay for vaccines and tests.

Records of all provided care are visible through an app that pet owners can download to their phones. That means that if pet owners plan to book stays at their local pet “resorts,” they can print or access vaccination records directly from their phones.

The technology that runs Chewy Vet Care can be used to send medicines that the clinics don’t carry directly to pet owners’ homes, Malhotra says. It’s available to traditional veterinarian practices as well, she adds.

Another reason Chewy is entering the vet care business, according to the investor blog The Motley Fool, is because it has the potential to deliver higher profit margins for the company and to increase its stock value over time.

In a March 23 blog entry, writer Timothy Green reported that the pet supply industry has receded since peaking in 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted households to adopt pets at a higher-than-normal rate.

Chewy’s stock price peaked at $120 a share in early 2021 and has since fallen below $20 a share. And while the company’s revenue increased by 4.2% in the fourth quarter of 2023 compared to a year earlier, its number of active customers fell from 20.7 million to 20.1 million year over year.

Chewy reported a net income of just 1.1% during the fourth quarter, largely due to interest income, while posting an operating loss for the quarter and the full year, the website reported.

But the vet clinics, if successful, can provide a higher-margin revenue source for the company, the blog post said, while adding new customers for its retail and pharmacy business.

Ron Hurtibise covers business and consumer issues for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. He can be reached by phone at 954-356-4071, on Twitter @ronhurtibise or by email at rhurtibise@sunsentinel.com.

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