Vet Business

What Are Your Measurements?

The busy spring season is in full swing however many vets I speak to throughout North America are finding that practice growth is flat compared to last year with the rare clinic showing a slight growth. This is actually encouraging news since up to last year year most practices saw a decline in revenue. One asks though since we are flat have we climbed out of the pit of the recession? Do we have nowhere to go but up? I would like to think so but a conversation I had recently with a veterinarian gave support to a concern I have been having for a while. This vet has a very well run practice in a region that was affected severely by the recession.  During our conversation they mentioned that they had just completed a survey of their clients. The results were staggering. 30% of their clients are over the age of 55 and 30% of the horses in the practice were over the age of 15. To add salt to the wound reproduction billing is down 50%. Two things came to mind right away when I heard this. The first is that barring a huge influx of new clients this practice is going to shrink in size. The second is kudos to this vet for actually taking the time to do this survey.

If these numbers are reflective of the general equine population the shrinking equine veterinary practice is our reality now. It is not going to happen over night but with a trend of aging horses and fewer new ones on the ground it is inevitable. All practices gain and lose clients every year. This is a natural part of a business. Horse die or are sold and people rediscover the love they had for horses as a child or introduce their children to horses. Is there a population of people on the horizon that is going to jump into horse ownership? Right now it doesn’t look like it but who knows what the future will hold.

The second point is the important one here. We have all have wondered if the horse economy will bounce back to where it was. How much of what we think is based on fact and how much is hope?  Beyond measuring our practices annual income and expenses do we really know what is going on with our practice? How many of us truly know the viability of our clientele like this one vet does? What kind of decisions would you make if you had this info? Would you put off buying a new piece of equipment or hiring a new receptionist? If you repeat a survey in a 2 or 3 years would you be able to monitor trends? Perhaps we find you have less jumpers and more western horses. That knowledge would certainly change how you deal with your clients beyond asking a horse to lope instead of canter during a lameness exam. The list is limitless.

The intent of this blog is to be optimistic. If we have excellent numbers about our veterinary practices we have power. We have the power to adapt to our future and prosper.  Hindsight is 20/20 but with the right approach now we can have the information we need to make adjustments.

Thank you to the veterinarian who gave me the inspiration to survey our practice clients and patients. We are going to use Survey Monkey to prepare an anonymous online survey so that we can learn about our clients and their horses.

Who else has done a client survey? Can you share your experiences and if the data you collected allowed you to make better decisions about your veterinary practice?

  1. Performance measurement and target-setting are important to the growth process. While many small businesses can run themselves quite comfortably without much formal measurement or target-setting, for growing businesses the control these processes offer can be indispensable.

    1. I agree. Unfortunately most equine practices have little or no growth. Many in fact are seeing negative growth so metrics are more important than ever to figure out why the the practice is flatlining.

  2. Survey Monkey is a great tool and free for small samples. What I like about web based surveys is that by 48 hours after sending out the link you have 90% of all the answers you are going to get. But don’t forget that web surveys give you a biased population based on self-selection and being internet-friendly.
    So my final thought is – don’t believe ALL the market research findings while leaving your common sense at the door. Like radiology, it is an AID to diagnosis.

    1. Excellent point Jos. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Great post, Dr Pownall.

    As a market researcher and horse owner, I think doing a survey is a great idea. I would make sure that in addition to asking questions where the responses can be quantified (multiple choice or rating questions), you would do well to ask a few open-ended ones. While the answers are anecdotal and to that extent have intrinsic flaws, I think you can learn a lot by asking them. I also think that if you can do some focus groups you might also learn a lot about why the business is flatter at the moment. Having said all of this, I agree with Jos as well.

    One thought I had while writing this is whether the industry is slowing or is flatter because of the recession, clients cost-cutting and the perception that going to the vet is necessarily expensive. For my part I have had several experiences (with my own horse) and as a barn manager taking horses to the clinic with the owner expecting the bill to be huge and then being so relieved by the actual cost. Of course, lots of procedures are expensive, for sure, but I wonder if what is needed is marketing that works on purchaser perception. I’ve been around various barns for years both as an owner and as a manager, and pretty much everyone has the sense that if anything happens to your horse, you have to “take it to Guelph which costs $1,000s before you even get off the trailer”(!) Again this is a perception, not necessarily the reality. If this is one of the issues, I hope your survey helps to demonstrate that and that you are able to overcome it successfully.

  4. We provide osteopathy, Chiropractic, acupuncture, massage and nutrition services in the North Ryde, Lane Cove, Macquarie Park and Ryde areas of Sydney, NSW.

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