Where do you go for veterinary care? How is their overall service? Do they treat your pet with respect? How about you? Do you feel like a valued client or just a number? How has pricing been impacted since the pandemic? Has the name changed, how about the name on the invoice or billing? Have you ever been charged for something and thought… was that really necessary?
Often we get so frightened or worried in the moment, our focus too deep on our fur kids and our only thought is getting them well and home, that we overlook some very interesting things happening all around us. Vet care, especially in the Veterinary Hospital and Emergency/Urgent Care segment, is changing, and it’s not always for the good of you or your pets.
It might surprise you to find out that in the past 10 years, increasing quickly since 2020 and the start of the Pandemic, conglomerates and consolidators have started a worldwide effort to buy small independent veterinary hospital locations and roll them up into a larger “group” or corporate entity. On the surface, this sounds good for consumers. The idea of more locations, more options, more money in a bucket, more buying power, and more choice is enticing to the clients. Big names, big changes, fancy new signs, and uniforms. For the old owners of the independent locations, it seems like a great deal, as they are offered a solid and sometimes inflated value for their location and building. This offers security and a nest egg for their family. So it’s a win-win for the community and the former owner, right?
Not so fast. Most of the time, the changes are superficial, the costs go up to a Nationwide or Regional scale, and the bedside manner becomes rigid. You find that you and your pet are less of an individual, suddenly becoming a number or a bean being counted. Profit becomes the name of the game and the patient is just the cog that drives the profit. It’s not unheard of for these locations to be BEHIND in technology, as it’s not cheap to outfit 25/75/1000 locations with state-of-the-art equipment. Doctors and tech staff are often put on a commission and must achieve a “quota” for extra monthly incentive money. This leaves the door open for an ambitious and aggressive employee to load the patients treatment with extra tests and labs to meet their needed numbers for the month. When you have stockholders looking at the bottom line, the focus quickly shifts to different key performance indicators.
We’re not saying that all providers are this way, we’re saying that reviews, comments, interviews and the overall feel of these ‘mega chain providers’ are not improving the health care of pets across the globe. And YES, this is now global in its reach.
So how do YOU know if your Vet is independent or part of a bigger group or chain? The best and easiest way is to ask. Are they independently owned? Do they have more than 3 to 5 locations? Are they settled in a city, a market, a region or nationally? Who is their parent company? These are all simple questions that will quickly indicate to you who really is in charge of the rules, pricing, routines and regulations at your vet.
Let’s look at the raw numbers, worldwide, of WHO is buying up Veterinary Hospitals, and how many locations they have (as of 2022). The people investing in these conglomerate groupings are actually varied and come from a few different areas;
Organic Growth in the Industry – This is normally healthy and natural growth, when controlled. Vet lead groups who merge with other like-minded Hospitals to form a strong chain. This is the idea of “more locations, more money, more buying power, more name recognition, more control”. Ideally, this is a great model, as long as they continue to put the emphasis on the client and treatment. Slow, controlled growth is key to keeping these places from turning into nothing more than another mega chain.
Store in-a-Store clinics – Banfield started this way but have become something completely different. This design revolves around the idea of putting a clinic in an existing big box retailer. Regardless if it’s a PetCo, Petsmart, or Walmart using “VIP Petcare”, currently there are over 2000 of these “pop-up” clinics in operation. We’re not sure of the comfort level the average American has in rushing their best fur friend to Walmart for their healthcare… but you could pick up that pound of lunch meat and pack of socks while your dog was getting checked out!?
Private Equity Groups looking for Fast Growth – These firms are looking to increase their wealth and portfolios by buying or investing in existing companies. It’s inherently less expensive to buy rather than to start up anew; you’re getting all the bells and whistles without the cost of construction and start-up fees. Most of these purchases are looked at with a 5 to 7 year term for “churn and burn”. Maximize profit margins, improve operations, normalize and cut the fat. Then at the end of the term, sell for a big payday. As mentioned before, they come in with a great sales pitch, often retain the current owner/operator and let them watch as their once client focused operation is changed into a profit center. Unfortunately, this is where the industry is going. Private Equity Groups are leading the charge for consolidation and vet groups/mergers across the globe.
The Sweet Shocker –It might surprise you to find out that the same people that deliver you M&Ms, Mound & Dove Bars, also bring your pet Cesars, Nutro, Pedigree and Greenies products. Those are just a few of the overall reach and scope of what Mars Inc has their hands on. They also own Banfield (associated with PetSmart), Blue Pearl, and VCA Animal Hospitals. There are another seven pet clinics, hospitals, and research facilities under the Mars umbrella. Mars is a key player in the ever growing merger and acquisition of the veterinary hospitals globally and with the pet food and research arms, they are the biggest name in this crazy story. They also run their operations strictly for profit and have lessened standards of compassionate care. The reviews for Banfield, on the national stage, are not glowing.
Other players with over 100 Veterinary Hospital Locations
National Veterinary Association (NVA) – 469 locations
VetCor – 272 locations
Pathway Veterinary Alliance – 130 locations
Community Vet Clinics/VIP Pet Care – 2900 locations
PetVet Care Center – 138 locations
Banfield/VCA/Blue Pearl – Over 2000 Locations
There are another 18 to 20 groups who operate hospital “groups” under various name brands that have between 15 and 99 locations each. The numbers are staggering and ever growing. This is why it’s critical that you know who your pet is really receiving their care from, and what their true bottom line goal is all about.
Everything that you have just read, the push for profit, the decrease in focus on the patient, the higher bills, the unneeded testing, the poor reviewing, and client experiences… it’s all the reason that our founders created Freddie’s Place.
Freddie’s Place is and will always stay independent. Our staff works on a non-commissioned basis, so you never have to worry about them putting extra tests or unneeded exams on your bill. Our focus is on the patient and not profits. We are all pet lovers, we are pet families, and we care about each animal that comes through the door. The fact that you have entrusted the health and life of your beloved fur child with us is a personal commitment to all of our staff. THAT is the difference that an independent provider brings to you. A sense of family, a sense of commitment, and a sense of understanding because we have all been in your situation.
At Freddie’s Place we say that we’re “BY pet families, FOR pet families”, and that’s true. We’ve researched and developed programs like our $25-a-shot vaccine clinic and our online pharmacy for your medications and needed everyday supplies at a fair cost. We know what it is to be on a budget, to be afraid for your fur kid when you have no idea what is wrong. We deal in compassion and caring as part of the daily job description. We are truly different by design.
So, regardless if you use our Place, or if you have a favorite vet of your own… be on the lookout for the signs and changes of a takeover by one of the groups we’ve mentioned above. Make sure you know who is running the show at your fur families health provider, their lives might depend on it!
We hope that was helpful to all of our readers. If you have any questions or feedback, let us know in the comments sections below, we’d love to hear from you!
From all of us at FreddieSez Central, we hope your weekend is Dog-o-mite and you have some Freddie Style fun. As we say every week, when you’re done reading, you don’t have to go home… but you can’t stay here! Stay as cool as Freddie and we’ll talk at you next week! #FreddieSez