The Growth Of Corporate Veterinary Medicine
“There will be little room for dissent once the vertical integration is established. How are you going to say no when the other 75% of practices in your town are effectively owned by the same entity? There has always been the ability to move to another practice if you did not agree with management or philosophy of your current place of employment. This luxury may not be as available in the future.”
“I would like to see my clients have choices. I would like to have choices about where I am able to refer clients for advanced care. Unfortunately the only emergency facilities around me for hundreds…..yes hundreds of miles are VCA or are in the process of becoming VCA.”
“I don’t like feeling like I’m speaking for everyone, but in my case it doesn’t matter that Mars/Banfield bought VCA – it could be VCA buying Banfield and Blue Pearl. It could be Apple, or Google, or GM, or Lockheed Martin buying VCA and Banfield. My problem is not with who is doing the buying, but the buying and consolidation under one (albeit big) roof is happening – and veterinarians aren’t going to be driving the company.”
“While it may be true that Mars will control less than 10 %of the veterinary hospitals in the nation what I see on a local scale is unmitigated Monopoly.”
“While I cannot discuss my prices with my local practice owners, the VCA’s and Banfields are more than able and in my experience willing to price fix a geographic area. Combine that with limited exit strategies to sell my practice, the increased cost of drugs, health insurance etc on a unit basis due to economies of scale ……I can tell you I am concerned…..very concerned. I can tell you that when individuals ask me if I would make the same decision to pursue veterinary medicine as a career today as I did twenty some years ago….as a tech and then as a doctor. The answer is no…emphatically no.”
“In the 10+ years I’ve been on VIN I’ve been reading threads about the certain and imminent doom of the profession at the hands of Banfield and VCA. Here we are 10 years later and they still have only 6.5% of the market COMBINED. I think we have the best of both worlds as a profession. The profession has a enough economic upside to be seen as a desirable asset to large companies, yet the vast majority of it is privately owned.”
“Mars is not the boogey man, they are a large company interested in profit that pursues other successful companies within their areas of interest and expertise. Personally I think smaller private equity firms are going to have a bigger impact on our profession’s ownership over the next 20 years than one corporate player. No one talks about those deals though because they are invisible. (the clinic’s name doesn’t change).”
“I think we’re all going to be just fine, and I say this a practice owner surrounded by corporate practices. They were private clinics before (with the exception of a Petsmart Banfield) and now that they are corporately owned that just provides an extra differentiator (“locally-owned practice”) for me that wasn’t there before. In any case it’s counter productive to think that veterinary practice owners– uniquely among American small business owners–ought not to have to contend with corporate competition.”
“A few years ago at a dinner party at a friends house, another guest was some big, mucky muck who ran in house seminars for Mars. It was his only job; setting up and conducting management seminars all over the country for Mars. He had a second home in Italy, so I gathered it paid well. We sat next to each other over dinner. He was fascinating and I gained a great deal of respect for how Mars operated. This might have been before Mars bought Banfield….I want to say Mars was always a financier of Banfield….but this would have been around 2002-3. Anyway, I’ve always been impressed with whatever mars has done. They look like they know what they’re doing.”
“It’s easy to blame Banfield because it’s corporate and ubiquitous, but as said above, you will find plenty of questionable things happening at private practices as well – but it seems like if a doctor in private practice does questionable things, it gets blamed on the doctor. If a doctor does something questionable at Banfield, then Banfield gets blamed – not the doctor.”
As you can see there are some pretty passionate views on these events. Many people are genuinely worried for themselves and the profession as a whole, and some see this as the worst thing to have ever happened. Others simply aren’t worried.
So what’s my take on this?
First, I certainly don’t subscribe to the opinion that all hope is lost and the profession is ending. I think that there are pros and cons to corporations owning veterinary practices. These companies often have better negotiating and purchasing power which allows them to manage costs more easily and give higher salaries and better benefits than a privately owned practice. There is more lateral and upward mobility for the veterinarians. They provide some consistency and guidelines for practicing vets. But they can be limiting in flexibility for an individual doctor. Sometimes the leaders can be unfeeling because they don’t have a good understanding of day-to-day challenges. Change is often slow and difficult, unlike a private practice owner who can suddenly decide to buy a new chemistry analyzer.
I firmly believe that no veterinary practice is going to be perfect for everyone. I’ve seen privately owned clinics that are far stricter on dress codes, behavior, and medical choices than either VCA or Banfield. I know that vets who want their own practice or more independence will not be happy with a corporate environment. Doctors who only want to practice and never want to be owners or partners will be happy to turn over all business responsibilities and worries to someone else. A place that is a perfect fit for one person may be only manageable for another and be complete misery for someone else.
Our profession is changing, and doing so pretty rapidly. The demographics of who attends veterinary school has altered dramatically in the last 30 years. Within the last 60 years we have moved more and more from a rural to a suburban and urban outlook, with an increasingly smaller percentage of new graduates choosing to go into large animal medicine. The growth of the internet has seen a noticeable shift towards clients purchasing medications and preventative products online rather than buying them from the local vet. I would say that the internet has been a bigger problem for all kinds of businesses than any large corporation has.
In the US corporately owned veterinary practices aren’t going away. But I don’t see them becoming so large and all-encompassing that they wipe out the traditional privately owned practices. Just as there is room for chain restaurants and “mom and pop” ones, there is room for private and corporate veterinary practices. In fact, I think having both available gives veterinarians more choices about where they want to work.