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The different types of practice – 2

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01 February 2015, at 12:00am

GARETH CROSS continues his reports on what owners think about various types of practice, this time giving the column over to a group which wants to dispel some myths about ‘joint venturing’

WHERE is the best place to work as a vet? Or more specifically, what type of practice – corporate, joint venture, private practice or charity, etc. – provides the best working environment and career structure for vets? And which delivers the best service to clients and patients?

That is the question the Cross-words column is tackling all through this year by asking different employer types to write about why their way is the best way.

Last month we heard from an old friend of this column, “Disgruntled from Staffordshire”, who owns and runs a private practice in the Midlands. This month, Vets4Pets group puts forward its point of view and also discusses a few of the issues raised in last month’s column which, to be honest, did have a few controversial comments in!

I have rightly been asked not to tinker with the Vets4Pets article so in the interest of free speech and right to reply I am intentionally writing this introduction without having read what the firm has written. So let’s find out what it has to say...

Dispelling the myths about joint venturing with the Vets4Pets group

There are several options for owning and running your own practice. Hopefully this article serves to factually explain the JV route in more detail and dispel some of the myths that are still apparent for some.

We have over 370 joint venture partners nationwide and they have decided to own their own practices with us for a number of reasons, from simply wanting the comfort of being part of a well-known brand and wanting to be their own boss (but not being confident about the business side of things or the finances to do it), through to clinical career development and ultimate earning potential. In essence, we do the business side of things so vets and nurses can get on with what they are trained to do, looking after the health of pets – but with the numerous benefits of running their own practice and complete clinical freedom.

The JV business model

The model means you own your own vet practice. The joint venture partnership (JVP) route with Vets4Pets and Companion Care is really quite a simple concept where the partner or partners own the “A shares” and the Vets4Pets Group owns the “B shares”. Our business model is the only ownership model in the vet industry where the JV partner owns 100% of the A shares – it also means that all the profit in the business goes to the partner.

It’s our tried and tested financial structure, amongst other things of course, which makes JV partnership appealing to so many people: having the financial backing to open your practice with all the modern in-house facilities needed to provide a full first opinion service from day one, being able to afford a full team in your practice from opening day through to having a fully stocked pharmacy.

The JV partner (or partners) typically requires a £30,000 partner loan, which is paid back to them tax-free as soon as the practice has repaid its bank loans and the practice is trading well enough to allow repayment.

The remainder of the finance required to build the practice is funded through a loan from the Vets4Pets group and also a business loan from the bank which the Vets4Pets group arranges and acts as a second guarantor for. This covers everything needed for the new practice build, fit out, and all the new equipment. It also includes enough cash in the bank to help keep the business up and running with working capital.

Crucially, partners earn a generous salary from day one and once the business is up and running with our support, each and every practice has the ability to grow and the potential to earn the partner or partners great rewards, in both financial terms and job satisfaction.

Once open, the practice then pays management fees which are a percentage of the practice turnover and start at a lower level so as to support the new growing business, plus other fees for specific services. These fees pay for tailored business services that are provided by the Vets4Pets group support office which include recruitment, marketing, payroll, operations, IT systems and commercial support.

The Vets4Pets group support leaves our JV partners to concentrate on what they really want to do, which is being the very best vet they can. Our practices also have the unique advantages of both national TV advertising and access to over 2.9 million (and growing) pet owners via the Pets at Home VIP database.

Growth

It’s true: since Vets4Pets and Companion Care merged in 2013 to form the Pets at Home (PAH) Vet Group we have efficiently opened over 101 successful vet practices, bringing our total to 308 (as at 1st January).

We have a number of partners now who own and run multiple sites, with many Vets4Pets partners jumping at the chance to open their second or even third practices in their nearest Pets at Home store or as standalones.

New practices mean new jobs. In the next three years alone our practice opening plan means we hope to create over 400 jobs for the vet profession and we believe this will positively impact on the apparent lack of jobs available for vets and nurses in the current market.

Flexibility

The only way we can accomplish our growth strategy is by accommodating flexibility. Our internal employment figures differ significantly to the RCVS survey results quoted in the original article by Gareth Cross in the December edition.

Our internal full-time (F/T) v. parttime (P/T) ratios show 43% of our female colleagues work F/T v. 57% working P/T. The survey figure for male colleagues working P/T is 11% and by comparison our internal figure is 34%. This clearly shows F/T and P/T working ratios are different today and that the JV model encompasses flexible working.

The JV model enables the flexibility needed for our partners to work P/T if they need to, but being part of a two, three and even four JV partner practice significantly increases this opportunity. Throughout the business we have lots of multiple partnerships, many of which are two females or a male and a female because it is a feasible way to own a share of a practice, earn a decent salary and still maintain a good work/life balance.

At the end of the day, you are partners and it means you don’t all have to be in the practice at the same time. It is also completely possible for a part-time worker to take on a percentage of a JV practice as an A shareholder/director.

Feminisation

We want women who are focused on leadership, ownership and who want to be the boss! Fifty-three per cent of our JVPs are women, which clearly backs up what has been recently reported in the vet press that more women are taking the leap into practice ownership.

Graduate, training and CPD programmes

The calibre of graduate vets has evolved in recent years. We recognise them to be the future of the veterinary industry, which is why we have developed what we believe to be an industry-leading graduate programme designed to give them the best entrance to the profession, growing year on year with more graduates on the programme than ever before and by working closely with vet schools across the country. We also encourage placements into our practices.

We strongly believe further professional development is vital to ensure the continuation of excellent care and service for our clients, so every JV practice sets a substantial annual budget for CPD. Our infrastructure has enabled us to develop our own Learning Academy where we offer extremely competitively priced CPD for vets, nurses and receptionists.

A personal view from Pets at Home Group JVP, Tom Mowlem

Tom Mowlem, JVP of Bournemouth and Christchurch, says: “I have been a JV partner with the group since May 2002 in Bournemouth and since 2009 in Christchurch. We have complete clinical freedom to develop a range of services at a local level to fulfil both personal goals and to serve our own client pet needs.

“The great thing about being part of a JV business is that the input from the support office is to assist in the ‘non vet’ bits that we as clinicians struggle with – employment contracts and admin (including employment disputes), health and safety audits, advice/help with practice standards, tax and VAT, payroll, invoice payment and checking, national marketing: these are all handled centrally.

“We also benefit from the group buying power to negotiate the best deals with suppliers of medicines, supplies and equipment – of course we have complete freedom to buy outside of the recommended list but on likefor-like products it would be an odd business decision not to use a preferred supplier.

“All of this support means not only can we work most of our time as vets, but it also maximises our profitability with the average practice being debtfree in seven years and earning profits of 10-15% on top of any fees paid to the parent company. Ultimately, we are also creating an asset to sell – the A share/goodwill valuations of many JV practices already sold have allowed exiting partners the opportunity to retire or develop other interests whilst allowing new partners to take on and develop an existing successful business.

“But it doesn’t stop there. Locally we still retain all the benefits of a wellrun local practice. We look after and develop our own team, work with our local business development manager to develop local marketing strategies and mailshots and most importantly can develop specialist interests within general practice.

“Many of our vets and JV partners are working towards certificates or taking part in CPD to increase the range of services we can offer. We also work with our local managers to set budgets, look at the business case for new equipment and to see how we as individuals want to develop our business and our personal objectives (including long-term exit strategies when appropriate).”