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  • Writer's pictureDr. Bill Wagner

10 Things Large Veterinary Corporate Groups Get Wrong

In a recent blog we discussed 10 common mistakes by veterinary practice owners. Today we’re looking at common mistakes among a different group: large veterinary corporate groups.

1. Inattention to clinical excellence

Veterinary hospitals don’t make widgets! Veterinary hospitals provide a vital service to their community by providing excellent medical care to animals. Large veterinary corporate groups, especially ones that are not veterinarian-led, can lose focus on the most important job of a veterinary hospital which is to get the medical care right.

The AVP difference: We are veterinarian-founded and veterinarian-operated, which reflects in our commitment to clinical excellence and clinical autonomy at our partner practices. We believe that medical decisions belong between the veterinarian, client, and patient and that there is no space for investment banks and private equity firms in your exam room.

2. “One size fits all” approach

Just as every patient is a unique individual with his or her own needs and norms, so is every small business. “One size fits all” is the wrong approach in medicine and in business. The quirks that make every small business unique are part of what makes small businesses great, and trying to iron out veterinary practices into a uniform “McDonalds of medicine” strips the heart and soul out of those practices in the process.

The AVP difference: We tailor our operational approach to each clinic. We focus on addressing pain points, providing group-wide resources to set practices up for success, and otherwise leaving them with the autonomy to continue to thrive with the culture and clinical approach that makes their practice great.

3. Mentality of scarcity

The market for small animal veterinary healthcare services is growing rapidly by all key measures: Total pet ownership, total veterinary healthcare spending, and healthcare spending per pet. Importantly, that growth is driven by strong cultural and generational tailwinds that should be sustained for a very long time. More and more people are seeing their pets as members of the immediate family and seeking quality of care that reflects that relationship. Cutting staff, wages, or otherwise throttling operational capacity in order to improve margins doesn’t make much sense at a time when top line growth is so readily available. Strong markets are the best time to have a mentality of plenty and see opportunity for growth.

The AVP difference: At AVP we’re committed to retaining team members at our partner practices and focusing on ensuring that our partners are well leveraged with associates and support staff. Driving growth, especially finding the right people to add to your team in a challenging job market, is difficult. Having a dedicated business partner in AVP can take the stress out of guiding your practice upwards.

4. Serving the wrong people

A company can only behave as well as its investors allow. Nearly all large veterinary corporate groups are or have been backed by private equity groups. These investors are looking to make shorter term investments and care more about how to maximize their returns in a narrow window of time rather than creating long term value in the practices that they invest in. Most veterinary corporate groups are bound by strict governance rules that put them at the service of their investors.

The AVP difference: We serve our practice partners and the veterinary healthcare workers at those practices. We are not private equity backed, instead drawing our funding from high net worth individuals who have bought into AVP’s mission and have empowered our leadership to build robust, sustainable value for our clinical partners.

5. Branding (ego)

What’s in a name? Your practice name and brand are the way that you communicate to both prospective and current clients who you are and how you practice. Corporate groups who insist on putting their name and logo on your building tell you exactly where they think you stand relative to them.

The AVP difference: We do not rebrand or rename our partner practices. Our “brand” is derived from our partners, not the other way around: Who we are is defined by the amazing individual identities of the practices that choose to partner with us.

6. Big change, fast change

Large changes are disruptive for businesses and frightening for staff and clients who are used to the status quo. Trying to enact those large changes quickly only makes it worse. Large corporate groups will often try and enact sweeping changes quickly to demonstrate value to their investors who want to see fast results.

The AVP difference: We understand that change is best enacted gently and carefully. We take a multi-year outlook to adding value to our partner practices in the interest of building strong, resilient partnerships and minimizing disruption at the practice level.

7. Trying to fix what isn’t broken

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. While many independently owned practices have their share of areas for improvement and operational inefficiencies, there’s usually a much longer list of things that they’re doing well. In many cases, they’re doing some things better than the “by the book” formula in the playbooks of large veterinary corporations.

The AVP difference: We don’t take a single approach to all practices. Figuring out what is and isn’t working well at an individual practice takes more time than instituting a catch-all “model”, but giving every practice the attention it deserves and leaving the things that are being done well alone is much more effective.

8. Losing the small business “special sauce”

Independently owned small businesses can build unique relationships within their teams and with their customers. When large veterinary corporate groups try to bulldoze that individual practice culture and identity they strip away a part of what made that practice great in the first place.

The AVP difference: We don’t try to replace or change good practice cultures. We value “local feel”, goodwill and the trust that has been earned over many years.

9. Growing faster than they can support

Being the parent company to veterinary hospitals comes with significant responsibilities. Practices look to the company to provide resources, leadership, and knowledge and that’s only possible with the right team in place. To limit expenses and maximize short term metrics to show their investors, many veterinary corporate groups attempt to get by with the bare minimum (or less) in number and competency of staff at the corporate level.

The AVP difference: AVP has dedicated the resources to staying one step ahead rather than one step behind in supporting our growth. We exist to serve the veterinary healthcare workers at our partner practices, and they deserve the best people in their corner. Stay tuned for more AVP job postings on LinkedIn soon!

10. Bureaucracy

At the end of my time working as an associate at a corporate group (who I won’t name) I needed a letter stating that I didn’t work there anymore in order to transfer my health insurance. It took me: 3 weeks, 13 emails involving 4 different people, several phone calls, and finally getting the medical director of the practice to bother “corporate” in order to simply get a letter stating that I didn’t work there anymore! That is what bureaucracy gone wrong looks like. Large veterinary corporations, like many large businesses, often tie their employees up in red tape that prevents them from accomplishing even simple tasks without getting approval from someone further up the chain of command.

The AVP difference: Successful companies hire good people that they can trust to do their jobs and delegate authority to them so that they can do the work that they were hired to do. However, no system can be perfect so accountability needs to come from the top. Every AVP co-owner has my personal cell phone number and if our team can’t solve a problem for them, they can call me and I’ll solve it for them personally. Personal accountability that stretches up to our senior leadership is an important part of our company mission:

Our mission is to advance the lives of pets, pet parents, and veterinary healthcare workers together.

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