Co-op aims to strengthen independent vets

January 31, 2012

Independent veterinary practices are being urged to join an American co-operative to counter the inroads being made into profitability by internet sales, the arrival of big-box corporates and the economic downturn.

The backers of The Veterinary Cooperative hope to create what they call a level playing field.

"My customers often find they can get pet food and medication at my purchase price," says veterinarian Don Holst, a charter member and veterinary advisory officer to the co-operative.

"This makes us look over-priced and gets clients thinking we may be overcharging for all of our other services."

Some of the strategies of big-box corporates, such as offering walk-in hours for rabies shots and quickly treated diseases, and even in-store veterinarian services, were changing consumer behaviour away from independent vets.

"Independent animal hospitals are also having to combat newer pressures from customers with tighter budgets and the internet providing a quick way to check pricing," said the co-op's chief development officer, Richard Morris.

"That is exactly why we are creating The Veterinary Cooperative - to help independent animal hospitals competitively price all of their products and services."

Morris said veterinary practices should consider taking the lead from other industries that have banded together in buying groups to successfully compete against major corporations.

Adam Schwartz, vice-president of public affairs and member services at the National Co-operative Business Association, agrees.

"Independent owners in hundreds of industries have become stronger through joining a cooperative.

"True Value Hardware is an example. Individual owners who have joined a co-operative have achieved the same buying power as their big-box competitors, such as Home Depot," says Schwartz.

"When the price and services offerings are competitive, many customers prefer to buy locally," adds Morris.

The Veterinary Cooperative will provide veterinary practices with purchasing, marketing and business solutions to enhance veterinarians' operations and profitability.

The co-operative will be owned by its independent veterinary members.