Veterinary medicine as predominantly independent small businesses has been under assault from corporate big business since the early 2000’s and continued ramping up of big business efforts to acquire veterinary clinics is changing the face of veterinary medicine. Companies like VCA, Banfield, Blue Pearl, Vet Core and NVA are buying up veterinary clinics in record numbers, reminiscent of the 1980’s and 1990’s when optometry underwent the same type of big business invasion (try finding a private optometry office that is not a corporate chain – not easy). An organization called Veterinary Study Groups thankfully is also gaining traction to offer independently owned veterinary practices an opportunity to stave off the corporate invasion so that the profession, its patients and clients, and its veterinarians and medical teams can retain their small business roots that are are far more personal and endearing than working as a cog in the wheel of a giant corporation.
Before getting into Veterinary Study Groups, it is important to offer a little bit of background into why big big business is having such success at acquiring practices. As veterinarians, we are taught medicine first and foremost. Most of us are not intrinsically business people and without formal training we tend to run our businesses very poorly. We get into practice ownership so that we may practice medicine in a manner and within an environment that fits our initial expectations of what veterinary practice should be like when we envisioned pursuing a career in veterinary medicine to begin with. However, beyond the vision and the passion of veterinary medicine, we often lack the fundamental knowledge and skill sets that are necessary to run a financially stable and successful small business, whether it is budgeting, understanding benchmark percentages, human resources, and tax planning (these few items listed here are just scratching the surface). As a result, it leaves many veterinary practice owners disillusioned with practice as the practices grow yet become no more profitable (or sometimes less profitable) and more dysfunctional from a business perspective than when we purchased or started practice to begin with.
The next issue is that big business is coming in and offering big dollars for practices beyond what a young veterinarian associate next in line to buy his/her emlployer’s practice or outside veterinarian could realistically pay for a practice. The vast majority of aspiring veterinary practice owners need a bank loan to purchase a practice, but the bank must see gross revenue and cash flow that will offer reasonable assurance that the bank note will realistically be paid back. Big corporate does not have this concern and are even willing to lose money on a practice purchase for a few years because they have the volume based reference laboratory, vendor, insurance, and tax savings to overcome deficits rather quickly and hundreds (in some cases thousands) of profitable veterinary clinics to offset any temporary deficits.
Thus, we are left with practice owners that are burned out from the business side of veterinary medicine, not necessarily wanting to sell to a nameless, faceless big corporation, but cannot get remotely the same dollars for their practice from perhaps a long time veterinarian associate they care about and would love to see carry on their legacy. Having not been successful in setting up a good retirement scenario for them and their families, veterinarians often feel they have no choice but to sell to big corporate.
Thankfully, there is now a plan B: Veterinary Study Groups. Veterinary Study Groups as of the writing of this article is a co-op of more than 1200 independently owned veterinary clinics that combine their numbers to leverage partnership agreements with reference laboratories and vendors with pricing that better competes with large veterinary corporations. They have a benchmarking data collection system by which practices compile their financial data and compare against their individual Veterinary Management Group (VMG – more on this below), and against all Veterinary Study Group clinic averages.
We meet twice a year in Veterinary Management Groups of 20 veterinary practice owners recruited and chosen from all over the US and Canada to keep us compliant with anti-trust law to receive all manner of business training with expert content providers and gain consensus among one another on best practices and strategies. The entirety of the global Veterinary Study Groups meets in a Congress once every 2 years where we are presented with inspiring speakers from all walks of corporate and personal success the learn from the best and brightest in the business world.
My description of Veterinary Study Groups above just scratches the surface of the benefits of membership, but the bottom line is that Veterinary Study Groups enables the independent practitioner to not only survive but thrive in an increasingly challenging business climate. Within my Veterinary Management Group of which I have been a member since 2012, I not only have the privilege to meet and plan with twice a year, I can e-mail or call them at any time before I launch a new idea or am about to make a big purchase for my practice. They advise and I advise in return with all the selflessness in the world because of the bond we have created as colleagues and friends. Together, we are no longer individually small fish in a big ocean with circling sharks…we are a team that has one another’s backs within an ever growing organization that has our group’s back.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a globally recognized expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.