Sizing up your equine veterinary practice


Sizing up your equine veterinary practice

You're ready to retire, but is your practice ready to sell? If not, you likely need to address one of these three obstacles.
Dec 01, 2007

I'M A MEMBER OF ONE OF THE FIRST graduating classes of baby-boomer veterinarians heading into those so-called golden years. And, boy, did time fly. Now my boomer colleagues are crossing their fingers and hoping that the right one, someone, anyone will look at their practice and say those magic words: "I'll buy it."

Why are so many equine practitioners having trouble selling their practices? Well, for one, more veterinarians are heading to the suburbs and cities to predominantly small animal practices. We've all heard about the shortage of large animal doctors in the field. But three other factors are also making things difficult on hard-working but ready-to-retire equine practitioners. All three factors relate to your ability to listen to a new generation of equine doctors and find out what they want in a practice. Read on to learn about these top three practice-selling troubles—and how you can beat them.

Problem No. 1: The generation gap

James E. Guenther, DVM, MBA, CVPM
Why does it seem that there are still lots of veterinarians, but fewer and fewer willing to buy a practice? Gender is a big factor. During the 1960s, new veterinary classes were 98 percent men and 2 percent women. Now the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. Entering classes are predominately women with a few men in the mix. A similar trend is under way in other professional schools; doctors, lawyers, and dentists are facing a similar phenomenon.

Women are looking for—and finding—careers other than motherhood. In more and more families, the primary breadwinner is the wife and the husband is taking on the role of caregiver. The stereotypical nuclear family has changed.

With these societal shifts taking place, the average associate's mindset has changed. These intrepid doctors—mostly women—aren't interested in the old-fashioned "my way or the highway" practice culture. They don't want to be on the road for 18 hours a day. Owners need to understand the generational and gender issues present and adapt accordingly. Flexibility and understanding will go a long way in hiring associates and eventually selling your practice.

Solution: Be proactive, not reactive. Don't just wait for the phone to ring to plan your day. This creates large gaps of waiting and longer days as appointments trickle in. The new generation doesn't want to stay late for no reason. Progressive practitioners realize that being proactive and making calls is more efficient than waiting for the calls to come in. It can make for busier and more profitable days.

Problem No. 2: Overvaluing your practice

Make a savvy sale
Most practice owners believe they can get someone to buy the practice for at least the value of one year's gross because of all of the hard work they've invested over the years. The practice is their baby, and they've poured their blood, sweat, and tears into it. The trouble is, it's also a business. And the value of any business is based on profitability. (See "The new generation of low-value practices," November 2007, to figure out your practice's real profitability.) Successful practices are well-run businesses that make money and have systems in place to make your work more efficient and your services more appealing to horse owners.

What sort of systems? Well, if wellness care is more effective and rewarding for patients than "fire engine" medicine, why not use that same philosophy on your business?