A: Several weeks ago, I wrote a column about the growing influence of large corporations in veterinary medicine (http://clevengerscorner.com/2016/11/29/small-business-saturday). This week the Mars corporation made worldwide news with the $9.9 billion purchase of VCA, Inc. This massive transaction will make Mars, the maker of M&M’s and many other candies, the largest owner of veterinary practices in North America.
VCA, Inc. has been purchasing veterinary hospitals around the country for the past three decades. The company typically buys out private ownership of multi-doctor practices and brings them under the management practices of a large national corporation.
Mars, Inc. already owns Banfield, the clinics found in many PetSmart stores. They also own Blue Pearl referral centers and Pet Partners, another group of corporate practices. The transaction announced this week will also make Mars, Inc. the owner of Antech, one of the two large national veterinary reference laboratories. The deal also includes a major supplier of veterinary imaging equipment, like x-ray and ultrasound machines. Mars also owns many pet food brands, including Pedigree, Whiskas, and Royal Canin.
If consumers widely accept a corporate model of veterinary care, it could lead to the gradual disappearance of the family-owned business model, just like the nearly vanished “mom and pop” retail shops, service stations, and hotels of yesteryear.
There are certainly some benefits that can be realized through corporate veterinary medicine, including economies of scale and standardization of processes. These advantages can make it hard for a privately-owned clinic to compete. However, the mega-businesses are primarily financial entities and can lose some of the personal touches found in a traditional veterinary practice.
When people choose to patronize Lowes instead of the local hardware store or Walmart instead of the local toy shop, their spending habits contribute to the loss of locally-owned businesses. In a similar way, pet owners who choose to buy their pet’s medications from a 1-800 number, use the clinic inside the big box store, or get vaccines from a van at the farm store are cumulatively placing a strain on family-owned practices. When their pet gets sick they may eventually find themselves at a corporate owned practice looking to maximize profits.
I, for one, prefer developing long term relationships with clients and their pets. When people choose to regularly support their local practice, the practice owner can pay day to day bills from the steady flow of routine care. Then when there is a sick pet or a special circumstance, friendly faces will be there to care for pets with no financial pressure from regional management or national investors.