Jan 12, 2024

Buying a Veterinary Practice: 5 Things to Keep in Mind

Bryce Patterson
Buying a Veterinary Practice: 5 Things to Keep in Mind

Buying a veterinary practice is one of the most exciting (and terrifying) journeys you can take as a veterinary professional. It pushes you in ways that fall outside of your clinical training, and likely outside of your comfort zone. While it can be really rewarding, the journey isn’t easy.

So what should you know when you decide to take that big step? This guide is a quick starting point to help you formulate your game plan and figure out the right questions to ask.

Buying a Veterinary Practice: Go in Prepared!

When I asked Dr. Shawna Garner for her advice on buying a veterinary practice, she laughed out loud and told me “be as prepared as you can.” Her experience was the opposite, and was often quite hectic. This process can be intense, and there’s a lot you won’t be able to expect. The goal, then, is to go in with as few question marks as possible.

Luckily, there are a lot of resources available in the veterinary world that can offer some additional direction on the business side. VetPartners comes highly recommended, as do Veterinary Growth Partners and Ignite. A membership in VMG (Veterinary Management Groups) offers access to a large knowledge base, as well as professional development and discounts on purchasing. 

One more option here: there are a handful of veterinary practice management certificate programs available through different colleges (including Purdue) that cover the most important elements of running a veterinary clinic day-to-day.

Buying a Veterinary Practice: Put Together the Right Team

So the good news about buying a veterinary practice is that you’re not alone. Alongside the above resources, there’s the actual team that you’ll work with throughout the purchasing process. Just as a starting point, you’ll be coordinating with your bank, your accountant, and your lawyer. Those can be fantastic partners, as long as you find the right people. 

As a starting point, Shawna recommends meeting with a financial advisor to learn what type of loan you should take out. This advisor can also help you to determine if your financial goals are attainable for your region, how long it will likely take to be profitable, and more.

The valuation process is particularly important, and it’s worth working with someone that has particular expertise in the veterinary field. A veterinary-specific CPA is your best bet. On that note…

Buying a Veterinary Practice: Know What You’re Buying

It’s really important that you understand a practice inside and out before taking the step of making the purchase. Even if you’ve worked at the clinic and are now moving into ownership, buying a veterinary practice requires an in-depth knowledge of every part of the operations. 

As a starting point:

  • What is the clinic’s gross revenue?
  • Does it have any outstanding debt?
  • Is the equipment up-to-date and high quality?
  • Are there any outstanding legal concerns?
  • What is the current cost of staffing?

The two most important documents here are the P&L (Profit and Loss Statement) and the Balance Sheet.

One value to look at in particular: average daily transaction. You can compare this figure to baselines in your region to get a sense of whether the clinic you’re buying is leaving money on the table from the average appointment. This is a chance to start making improvements right off the bat.

Buying a Veterinary Practice: Prepare Emotionally

The first thing to know is that you’re in it for the long haul. Buying a veterinary practice takes time and energy on top of your normal schedule, and it can be exhausting. Deal fatigue often sets in as you work through a months-long back and forth. It’s normal to feel frustrated. It’s normal to feel stressed out.

Here’s how new clinic owner Aliyah Pipal put it: “Just remember that there is a reason you want to buy the practice and don't let the process make you forget the reasons you said yes in the first place.”

A few quick tips:

  • Be prepared for delays! Buying a veterinary practice is a complex process.
  • If you’re buying from someone you know, it can add weight to your relationship. Discuss the additional strain beforehand.
  • Look for ways to reduce stress in your day-to-day life. Figure out what you need to do to blow off steam and do it consistently.

Remember: business can feel very personal at times, and jobs in the veterinary industry tend to be emotionally charged. Find ways to step back and breathe throughout the process.

Buying a Veterinary Practice: Retain and Attract Talent

Regardless of your plans for the clinic that you buy, you’ll need great people. Of course, staffing in today’s veterinary industry is particularly difficult. Turnover is high, and retaining and attracting talent are both tough. You’re competing for a relatively small number of people with clinics across the country. 

Pay is the obvious starting point, but it’s not the only way to attract talent. The other side is offering a better work-life balance and a healthier clinic environment. After buying a veterinary practice, you have the opportunity to create new processes that can make your clinic particularly attractive as a workplace.

For example: more and more DVMs are saying no to on-call, but that doesn’t mean you should leave your clients out in the cold. Using an external after hours service (like GuardianVets) can be a great way to provide support without demanding too much from your team. Our staff of credentialed veterinary technicians takes care of your community while you sleep.

Think of it like this: you have the chance to offer a new beginning for your newly-purchased clinic. Improve your team’s quality of life from the word “go.”

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