13 Mar Veterinary Business
1994-2019… VBJ SPECIAL FEATURE SERIES
The science of effective business management has not always been a top priority for vets. Developing a successful practice often seemed to be about making
animals better, while smiling nicely at owners as they walked out of the consult room to pay the bill. Things have, however, got rather more complicated in recent years.
For a start, the number of sites has increased by roughly 20 per cent* in the past decade, which means there’s more competition for the pet pound than ever. Practices are fighting for their piece of the action; high-end practices, budget practices, multi-disciplinary practices, boutique practices, online practices, remote apps… the list goes on, meaning it has never been more important to ensure your practice is run as effectively and efficiently as possible.
In the second of our Fast Forward features celebrating VBJ’s 25th anniversary, here is the story of Vet Dynamics, a veterinary business consultancy that has helped hundreds of owners do just that.
THERE are now a growing number of veterinary business consultancies in the UK ranging in size and approach, but the one thing they all have in common is to help vets understand that a good practice is a profitable practice, writes James Westgate.
For Vet Dynamics that message has been central to its ethos since the business was founded by veterinary surgeon Alan Robinson.
Alan worked for many years in rural clinical mixed practice before selling in 1997 to focus on his passion for business, people and performance. He then went on to work as a consultant for Fort Dodge (long-since acquired by Pfizer, now Zoetis) on the Fort Dodge Index (FDI), an initiative designed to benchmark and aid development across UK practices.
At the time practice management was something of a nebulous concept, but It was from this work Alan developed his own analysis and benchmarking system that was to become the core of Vet Dynamics’ consultancy and practice development.
He said: “At Vet Dynamics we have one of the best jobs in the veterinary world as we get to work with this great bunch of dedicated and committed practice owners who are working very hard to make a real difference, and we get to help them align their businesses to that result… and that is hugely rewarding.
“There are people out there in independent veterinary businesses who have put their money, their marriage, their mortgage and their mental health on the line to set up their practices and build a business. Those things are on the line every day they turn up to work, and we want to be part of making it successful. The biggest challenge for us is vets’ cynicism and refusal to ask for help. But we are here to help the independent; we want to be on your side, on your team, and that’s how we see ourselves.
“Initially, we attract people because we offer them inspiration, information and coaching that can make them money. However, they stay with us year after year because of the connection, friendship and safety provided by our community. This year is the 10th anniversary of our first Platinum Academy. Most of the people in that programme are still in our community and some are still in our Mastermind group. We are very proud of that.”
In recent years Alan and his team have seen their business grow and adapt as the changing dynamics of the UK and international veterinary markets evolve at an unprecedented rate. As Alan explained, there is no single reason for these changes.
“We’ve seen infrastructure change. We’ve certainly seen economic change. We had the big clinical downturn with foot-and-mouth in 2001. Then we’ve seen the global economic meltdown in 2008-2009. As a result, I think vet practice has become very much a consumer-driven business, especially on the small animal side. These changes opened the door to the rise of other corporates, so we’ve now got six major players in the UK – some public listed, some private equity, some privately owned – all with their own strategies and agendas and no shortage of money – until now.
“Last year  in particular was massive for corporate buy outs, but I think we’ve seen the end of that bubble. If they’re taking corporatisation to 70 per
cent of the profession, there will need to be some aggregation (they’ll start buying each other) and massive and expensive operationalisation – seriously
looking after the practices and the people they have acquired.”
All this change creates a lot of uncertainty and this, as Alan explained, can lead to attrition and burnout. But despite the constant change, Alan and his team at Vet Dynamics believe there is massive opportunity in veterinary practice, particularly in the independent sector, and it is able to offer real stability in unstable times.
He added: “We have a belief that the ongoing future, integrity and soul of the veterinary profession is in the hands of the practitioner who turns up every day and works very hard in their own practice, delivers a good job based on their principles of animal welfare, love of the job and of doing a good job. More and more I see there is a core of practices that, if they can get the business model right, can do really well in the years to come. We are dedicated to helping those practices perform.”
Central to its expert coaching, training and mentoring platforms is the Vet Dynamics Index. Based around Alan’s long fascination with data and original work with the FDI, the online index has been massively updated and enhanced with Alan and his team confident of improving turnover and annual bottom line of those practices using it regularly.
He said: “We collect data from all PMS systems, categorise it to a common comparable data-set and analyse it on a monthly basis. We’ve got about 72 financial, marketing and clinical parameters from 120 practices we can produce data from. We also produce comparative benchmarks from the best performing practices, which we update every month, and make available on our website. We’ve also got the capability to show what they did last year, last quarter and last month and we can now slice the information to per branch and per vet in practice.
“This means we’ve got very predicative analytics rather than just reporting past performance. We can predict meaningful ‘what-if’ scenarios, such as how many anaesthetics, how much lab work you performed and so on, and if you change the percentage of this by x per cent, this is what it will mean to you. Then, if you actually get your subsequent consultation rate up to here, that would add £50,000 to your bottom line. What’s not to like?
“There are other benchmarking products out there, but ours is the only one that combines accounts and PMS, so we can influence and project both costs and income and have a greater influence on practice profit. Although the data analytics is important, by putting in a trained veterinary business coach to talk you
through and focus you on the key parameters and strategy – that’s really powerful.”
Each member of Vet Dynamics coaching team also runs their own Platinum Academy – a small focused group of practice owners that meets regularly to exchange ideas with expert business development and offer each other support.
There is also an annual Bootcamp event in May for newcomers to the Vet Dynamics’ family, while the Vet Dynamics Conference has been going from strength to strength for the past six years. “There is a central theme to all our events, which is if your team are together (trust) and pull together (flow), that engenders and allows people to succeed – and your practice will succeed as a result,” Alan added.
“I think what we provide for people is a regular place of safety in a very uncertain world. Nobody progresses, changes, does anything different, gets creative, gets engaged with or is helpful to anyone else… unless they feel psychologically, physiologically and environmentally safe.”
However, as Alan emphasises, Vet Dynamics membership is not just a quick fix.
He said: “People who join our programmes can easily earn their money out of that process quite quickly, but they soon learn this is not just about money, it is about being in a community – an ethos – and gets to the very heart of the integrity of the profession and your professional identity. You need money to get you back to your purpose, but your purpose is not about the money.
“It’s about your role as vets and nurses; about deconstructing some of the myths you carry round about yourselves, around money, around teams and so on. We are all bright, intelligent, people, but essentially we have been misguided and misinformed through our veterinary education and failed business
education and trying to comply with an incompatible rose-tinted public image of our profession.
“We want to give people back the power to say to their team: ‘I’m going to take charge of my own destiny here guys and start to really enjoy this… because it is still the very best job in the world’.”
An interview with Alan Robinson by VBJ Editor James Westgate