Veterinary industry faces an ‘economic paradox’
For the veterinary industry, the current COVID-19 crisis has had an economic outcome that would have been hard to predict and is still somewhat difficult to understand. Pet services in general have boomed under COVID-19 where most other businesses are suffering and many will never re-open in 2021 in spite of significant government rebates.
Monitoring the veterinary industry using Profitdiagnostix software installed in 200 vet clinics in Australia has shown a roller coaster of positive growth results over the last 8 months with some months showing growth in revenue and primary consultations at over 20% and other months showing a more conservative growth of around 9%.
But it’s not only us at APL Accountants who are perplexed by this roller coaster – Illion surveys which monitors volunteered consumer credit card spending of over 200,000 credit cards showed a 40% increase in spending on ‘Pet Services’ in the last week of August and then a more moderate 7% in the last week of September.
Regardless of the roller coaster ride, the growth, when averaged out is strongly positive over the last 8 months.
Economically this has been a great time for vet practices and profits are increasing, however there is a downside that you have to be aware of. Veterinary clinics now find themselves in a unique place which is almost the complete opposite of most other businesses:
- Other businesses are cutting back staff hours whilst veterinary businesses have teams that are overworked and have lost efficiency where social distancing is still required
- Other businesses are surviving on Job Keepers whilst most veterinary businesses will not qualify for this government rebate
- People employed in veterinary businesses are wondering why some of their friends are still able to earn a full wage whilst working reduced hours thanks to government rebates, whilst they are working harder than ever – a recipe for disengagement
- The veterinary skills shortage is becoming ever more apparent with city practices now struggling to recruit but getting busier and busier.
Veterinary managers should be very mindful of the above factors which will increase the volatility of the team and may increase staff turnover – now more than ever is a good time to put some effort into maintaining the morale of the team. The other take home message is that now more than ever efficiency, time management and strategic pricing may be the only tactics than some over worked practices have up their sleeve. For example:
- Do the team have idle time between procedures and are pre-ga blood tests being run before the surgeon is getting ready to start?
- Are consultations running on time?
- Are you using online appointment scheduling to reduce load on the reception desk?
- Are you still servicing low value clients and giving discounts – a bad idea in an economic environment where workload in increasing.
The question is also being asked as to what is driving this growth in veterinary businesses? And a very important part of that which we have investigated this month is whether growth is due to:
- Existing clients getting more pets
- New pet owners emerging in the market
This is actually a very important thing to think about because it effects your marketing strategies. If existing clients are getting more pets then these clients are already bonded to your business so marketing is not so important.
However the reality seems to be the second option – new pets being purchased by families that previously did not have pets. To do this we looked at the 12 month trend in client to pet ratio in a number of fast growing practices. The ratio of clients to pets has remained the same – so its new clients with new pets coming to your practice.
This means that you have to make an important decision – to capture this business marketing becomes important and everything that brings a new client to your door will drive growth – but do you really want to get busier? This is where strategic pricing is important because you should still want to get good clients but can do so and at the same time lose some of your bottom tier customers – pricing strategically is a clever way of doing this.