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?