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Working in the veterinary marketplace
  1. Sara Armitage


Sara Armitage is director of products and buying for the CVS group of veterinary practices. Neither she, nor this week's 10-minute chat contributor, Barbara Peel, had planned a career in the veterinary sphere

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MY entry to the veterinary world was not by grand design. In fact, having left school with A levels and feeling that university wasn't for me, I happened to notice that there was a vacancy for a trainee veterinary nurse at a practice in Morley, West Yorkshire. I'd been brought up with animals and always enjoyed looking after them so I applied – and beat 50 other applicants to get the job. By chance and luck, I had arrived in a profession that I am now passionate about.

During my eight years in veterinary nursing, I became one of the second cohort of nurses to study for the advanced diploma in veterinary nursing (surgical) and worked in small animal, equine and mixed practice. My last role in nursing was as head nurse at a small animal dermatology referral practice. I really enjoyed the role, but started to feel that I needed a new challenge.

A move into veterinary sales attracted me and, in 1994, I secured a role as a territory manager with Mars in its pet foods division. The transition was challenging, particularly getting to grips with the change from working on one site to travelling around a large territory in the north west. On the positive side, I found being a VN a great advantage. I was meeting vets and veterinary nurses on a daily basis and could speak their language and understand their needs. I believe this enabled me to deliver products and services that were beneficial to them, to their clients and to their patients.

During my sales career, I went on to fulfil territory manager and regional manager roles for Mars and Intervet. Then, in 2008, I was appointed as national sales manager at Janssen, responsible for a team of 13 staff. When the company was bought by Elanco, I continued in the role for a further year.

I really enjoyed working in sales and found it to be as much about providing education and knowledge to vets and nurses, to enable them use products effectively, as about selling. I believe my nursing background gave me credibility with my practices and this helped me to build long and successful relationships with many of my customers.

I was ready for my next move when the opportunity to join CVS occurred, following a conversation with Simon Innes, its chief executive. He had asked me if I knew someone who would fit a new role he had created. After giving it some thought, I realised it could be a great move for me and, in 2013, I joined the group as director of products and buying. Since joining CVS my role has expanded in scope rapidly. I am responsible for buying the group's pharmaceutical products, together with the many other products that are used at our sites. When you combine all of the products it means I am responsible for an annual spend of around £60 million.

The proudest achievement of my career so far has been the development and launch, in 2013, of our own-brand range – MiPet. I was responsible for developing the initial concept and for turning it into a range of 20 branded products, ranging from core pharmaceutical products to waiting room accessories. More recently, we have added premium pet food to the range.

The development of the brand has been a great challenge, and it's been rewarding to bring a project from concept to reality; I am very proud of it. More importantly, the range is proving successful for us and is continuing to grow. As part of my buying role, I am also responsible CVS's buying groups – MiVetClub and VetShare and our fledgling instrument business VETisco – and I am a member of our acquisition team.

In 2014, I was appointed to CVS's executive committee. It is exciting to be part of the team that is steering our growth and I think it's important that this team includes a vet nurse as so many of our employees are nurses.

I relish the variety that my role gives me and the flexibility it offers both to work in the office, but also to get out and about meeting the teams in our practices. There is still a great deal to do, but I have found that the culture at CVS gives me the autonomy to fulfil what I need to do to achieve my objectives. I know I also have the support of my line manager and colleagues when I need it.

Overall, my ‘accidental’ arrival into the veterinary world all those years ago has really paid off and my time in nursing and sales has equipped me well for my current role. I love working in the profession and expect to take on even more responsibility as the group continues to grow.

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