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THE group considering this question envisaged a continuation of current trends, with more corporate practices, but believed that a limit would be reached so that it was likely that corporate practices would eventually make up about 50 per cent of companion animal practices in the market. The remaining half would be made up of around 25 per cent large independent groups and 25 per cent smaller independent practices. Although independent practices could not benefit from the economies of scale that were available to corporate practices, they could potentially offer a more bespoke and respected service, and could be more responsive to local conditions. It shouldn't be forgotten that clients do want this personal touch; as one participant put it, ‘What we have to remember is that the pet is an emotive subject for people, it is part of the family . . . and they may want to keep taking Fluffy to the one-man band.’
‘What we have to remember is that the pet is an emotive subject for people, it is part of the family’
The type of corporate ownership would also probably even out, it was suggested, so that it was comprised of equal numbers of joint venture capitalists and consolidators.
For the independent sector, current partners might need to think of different ways of encouraging others to buy into the business. If, for example, a relatively small practice had two partners who were due to retire at the same time, it might be easiest to sell to a corporate group. However, practices might well have partners at different stages and so need new partners to come on board rather than sell the practice. With the rising cost of education and newer graduates often wanting a better work:life balance, practices might have to think of new ways of encouraging these younger colleagues to consider partnership, both financially and in terms of career development.
And what would practices be doing by 2023? The group could see that models might well become more polarised. Larger general practices would have the resources to offer some referral services within their group, so that ‘traditional’ referral practices would only do the very specialist work. Because of this, it might be that expansion of referral-only practices, which has been so notable in recent years, would be limited. So general practice might diverge into training hospitals and well-equipped practices that could offer a number of different services and ‘grow their own’ skilled staff, and ‘cheap and cheerful’ clinics that might only offer a handful of services, such as vaccination and neutering. Again, the idea of a holistic ‘one-stop shop’ came up as something that customers would want.
The pricing of products and services had to change. Online pharmacies meant that it was clearer to clients what products cost and they could see how much the vet might be marking up those products. Although clients might pay a little more for the convenience of getting a product then and there, practices needed to be more transparent on their pricing and charge the appropriate amount for their services rather than relying on product sales. However, it was asked, ‘Do vets know the price of their time, and do they know what clients are prepared to pay?’
To be sure they were heading in the right direction, practices had to be clear about their strategy. They had to decide what their client base needed and from this they could decide on what services they should offer. Once this was decided it was then crucial to recruit the right people and work with them to deliver the strategy. This could present challenges, but employers should not be frightened to deal with the problems if things were not right. It was also important to develop the people employed for the benefit of both employer and employee.
The successful practice of the future would, it was suggested, be more client facing. Successful practices understood that ‘we are all retailers’, but it was not necessarily price that would drive success. There was a need to deliver a quality offering and also to market what was on offer so that clients felt happy and comfortable with the service being provided for their pet.
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