Jan 11, 2017 by Edward L. Blach, DVM, MS, MBA
The announcement this week of Mars' purchase of VCA is another example of the consolidation happening in our industry. Media accounts have reported that the two companies, Banfield (owned by Mars) and VCA will continue to operate as separate entities. Responses to this acquisition have been widely varied from the veterinary industry. I have witnessed individual practice owners who have anxiety about where our industry is headed with this consolidation. I have witnessed others who are celebratory in response to this activity.
Let's look at the facts. In an interview with DVM360, VCA CEO Bob Antin stated, "Thirty years ago, when I first went into animal hospitals after being in human healthcare, I was astonished to find that the most modern piece of technology was typically older than me. It was either a secondhand x-ray machine or an unsophisticated chemistry box that you really wouldn’t have much confidence in. The technology existed, but the capital to purchase it did not. The veterinarian had to decide if they would spend the money on their family vacation or on a piece of equipment. Human nature is, you worry about your family."
This statement summarizes my experiences with veterinary medicine as well. In my career, in practice and in veterinary business, the single greatest challenge has been lack of capital in veterinary medicine. When I've stated this over time, people have replied that 'we can get all the money we need to operate our practice'. That isn't the capital I'm referring to. The veterinary industry has never been seen as a legitimate or serious investment destination by sources of capital. This situation has always limited our ability to get investment in projects to bring veterinary medicine forward with advancement of diagnostics, treatments, or business technologies.
The leaders of companies such as Mars, Banfield, VCA, MWI, Henry Schein, and others, have provided a great service to our industry. Their efforts have brought focus and attention to veterinary medicine that we've never been able to capture. That attention has educated financial institutions and people about the great opportunities for ownership in veterinary medicine. This has created a dynamic, competitive environment, in which many people are now interested in ownership in veterinary medicine. Ironically, at the same time, many veterinarians are no longer interested in practice ownership. We are at the greatest time in our history for owning a practice. Greater demand for ownership along with increased capital availability have made it possible for veterinarians who have spent their lives building and growing successful practices to consider selling those practices and receiving significant value for those assets. In prior years, it wasn't atypical for practices to close their doors rather than accomplish a successful ownership transition. The current demand for practice ownership is good for veterinarians and for pets. Continuity of care translates to better outcomes for more animals. That is the goal of most veterinarians.
As Mr. Antin referred to in his statement, in the past, many veterinarians had to decide between a new piece of equipment or the family vacation. Current market conditions help more veterinarians to accomplish both.
Be an advocate for practice ownership. The opportunities have never been greater.