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The future of small animal practice in the UK

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ANY business worth its salt needs to know or at least have a good idea what forces and influences will affect the marketplace in which it operates over a medium to long term. What makes veterinary business a little different is some of the specific influences such as legislation and other obligations that are unique to veterinary practice, and the addition into the mix of the whole reason for being here, the pet, does add another dimension.

The last few years have seen some significant changes in the industry, influenced by, for instance, the increased penetration of the corporates and the increase in competition for the pet owners’ pound from supermarkets, online pharmacies and elsewhere.

In this supplement of Veterinary Record, we report on a day that brought together people from across the veterinary sector to consider the veterinary business and what is the likely future for small animal practice in the UK over the next 10 years.

The whole project was a great example of collaboration within the industry. Through discussions at conferences and other events it became clear that a number of different people were trying to get a picture of where the industry is heading and from this came the idea to bring a group together for a day to pool their experience and share their views. With the six supporters, Hazlewoods, Henry Schein Animal Health, Hill's, Medivet, Petplan and Zoetis, in place, the project took off. Their contribution in the early stages means that when ‘we’ is mentioned, this refers to contributions made before the day from these supporters. We would like to say a big thank you to them as without them the project would still be languishing as a ‘good idea’ to get going at some point.

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But who should be invited to participate? We wanted to have a wide range of contributors, but equally the group had to be small enough to allow us to get the most from their contributions. Early on it was agreed that we wanted the views of not just practice owners, but also other businesses that have a stake in the veterinary industry. The decision was made to focus on small animal practice, but we wanted to include a spread of practice types, from corporates to small independents, and from budget practices to top end referrals. We wanted a good geographical spread so we could establish if there was an influence of local factors, and a good spread of age and gender to try and represent as broad a range of people as possible. We would have liked to have included the client, but we struggled to find someone that could represent them as a group rather than an individual.

Invitations went out and from the amount of people who immediately said yes, we knew we had hit on a subject that was of interest. Even those unable to attend expressed regret that they could not, and if the group is skewed in any direction, it is that inevitably those who participated are those that are interested, innovative and engaged in what is going on in their own business and also the wider industry, but we make no apologies for that.

For the day itself to work efficiently we knew we had to introduce some structure. The business consulting team at Zoetis had been working on an analysis of the veterinary industry, and they presented this at the beginning of the day. From this the group had a starting hypothesis to either agree with or dispute. These discussions are reported in the first section of the supplement, under ‘Assessing the industry using Porter's five forces’. The main group was split into break-out groups to facilitate discussions, and in the afternoon each break-out group was then asked to consider one aspect of the veterinary market. The outcomes from these discussions are reported in the section ‘How will these forces impact on the profession?’. It was agreed that we would operate under Chatham House rules, with individual contributions unattributed, so that the participants could speak freely.

The discussions were lively and every contributor was fully engaged and provided us with a huge amount of material to work on. Without their efforts the day would not have been the success that it was, and we thank them for their contributions. They are listed on the back page of the supplement.

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  • This supplement is sponsored by Hazlewoods, Henry Schein Animal Health, Hill's, Medivet, Petplan and Zoetis. Veterinary Record reported the event and also provided copy editing, production and distribution services. The project was managed by Keystone Conference and Event Management. Initial data analysis was conducted by Zoetis business consulting team. ©British Veterinary Association 2014. All rights reserved.

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