The Solo Option
If you think corporations dominate the veterinary practice landscape, think again. In reality, multimillion-dollar (and multibillion-dollar) companies own about 20% of the estimated 35,000 U.S. clinics and perhaps half of the specialty practices. The percentages are growing, but not all that fast.
That’s one reason the Independent Veterinary Practitioners Association isn’t running scared but rather promoting the idea that a locally owned and operated practice can be a profitable and satisfying option for a veterinarian.
“It’s healthy to have a balanced ecosystem,” said Dr. Bonnie Bragdon, the co-founder of the 500-member IVPA and a former practice owner. “There are practices so big and so complex that it’s natural for a corporation to own them. But it’s also important for veterinarians, and even nurses, technicians and practice managers, to continue to own practices, because that keeps the profession competitive, viable, growing and thriving.”
Independent practices enjoy two big advantages, Dr. Bragdon said. One is their ability to “form a very deep relationship with the customer and offer very personalized care,” she said. The other is that they represent choice.
“Consumers want to know whether the practice they visit is independently owned,” Dr. Bragdon said. “Just like they have a choice to go to Costco to buy their vegetables or go to the local farmers market, consumers want that choice.
“I don’t want choice to disappear. And I don’t want veterinarians, nurses, technicians and practice managers to lose the choice in where they work, how they practice and how they take care of themselves financially.”
At the same time, Dr. Bragdon understands the lure of a big payout.
“What I get sad about is when a practice sells simply because of the stress of running the practice. That is not a good reason to exit,” she said. “Also, there are times if you sell early to a corporation and are in your 40s or 50s and have another 20 or 30 years to work, you potentially are losing money. You’re going to have to become employed or buy another business.
“Now, if it’s the right time for you to exit, absolutely you should sell and get what you can financially. If your exit means you have to continue to work there, that should be factored into the purchase price.”
Ken Niedziela, editor