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24-06-2009 - Vets urged to take advantage of the downturn

Vets urged to take advantage of the downturn

VETS are being urged to grasp opportunities offered by falling client numbers after the latest Fort Dodge Index (FDI) figures for the first quarter of 2009 indicated a continued slowdown in the veterinary sector.

The FDI analyses and benchmarks the performance of 250 practices across the UK. Figures for the first quarter of 2009 indicate that the downturn, which started to affect the sector in the last quarter of 2008, has continued into 2009, with the only mitigating factor being a modest increase in the average amount a client spends per year.

Double whammy

Matthew Rowe, companion animal marketing manager at Fort Dodge, said: 'It's been clear for some time that the veterinary sector is being hit by the double whammy of static growth and an increasingly competitive environment. The reduction in turnover being experienced by many practices is primarily down to current clients visiting less often and fewer new clients being attracted.'

However, he suggested that there is 'a major opportunity' for practices that are prepared to face the challenge by using the additional time they now have to ensure they are in the best possible shape to take advantage of the upturn when it happens.

'As the FDI data shows, practices which embrace change by investing in new marketing ideas and enhanced practice communication and staff development are consistently more successful,' he said. 'We urge all practices to learn the lessons of the last 12 months and to prepare their practices for the more profitable future already being achieved by some.'


Among the findings from the FDI for the first quarter of 2009 was a decrease in the number of active clients and patients, and in their frequency of visits to their practice. The number of new clients fell by 3 per cent, compared with 1·1 per cent for the same period last year, but client retention increased by 2·5 per cent, compared with 0·9 per cent in 2008.

FDI analyst Alan Robinson commented: 'In the current climate, the only contributor to turnover growth in many practices seems to be a steady rise in the price of professional fees, consultations and surgery. These have continued to push up average transaction values [by 1·4 per cent] and client values [by 1·2 per cent] in the first quarter of 2009 despite reducing visit frequency. Drug-related income increases seem to be driven by a small increase of POM mark-ups in many practices.

'But this alone will not sustain a successful business and, with transaction volumes still falling, the priority for practices is to maintain client footfall despite increasing competition and falling pet ownership. In today's market, retaining clients is a cheaper and more effective way to maintain client and patient numbers, so an emphasis on "bonding" clients though preventative healthcare and health maintenance programmes is key.'

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