By giving veterinarians the support they need to do their heart’s best work, National Veterinary Care is opening a whole new world of animal care.
It’s a scenario that’s played out all too often in the animal care industry: Veterinarians find that the business of caregiving requires a massive amount of energy that has nothing at all to do with healing. Time that could be spent in consultation and practicing medicine is spent in the daily grind of practice management with little meaningful support. As a result, veterinarians and their teams are subject to the effects of high stress on their own health, and on the health of their practices.
That’s precisely why Tomas Steenackers founded National Veterinary Care (NVC). That was in 2015. Today, the Queensland firm is traded on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX: NVL) and is setting a new standard for veterinary practice management.
In offering the tools, expertise, and infrastructure they need to flourish, NVC enables veterinarians to practice good medicine and helps them to stay well, maintain profitability, increase customer satisfaction, and provide great care for their patients.
Recognising that veterinarians are prone to mental health issues related to the high levels of stress involved in keeping a caregiving business afloat, Steenackers wanted to create a new paradigm wherein everyone in the process is cared for in the ways that matter most. “We wanted to support veterinarians better,” he told VENTURE. “That's why we started the group, to bring something different to the table for those workers, nurses, and veterinarians in Australia and beyond.”
The combination of carefully considered acquisitions and organic growth is moving the ambitious firm forward. At present, the firm operates 97 veterinary services businesses across Australia and New Zealand, each focused on providing excellence in clinical care.
Building A Community of Practices
For Steenackers and his team, running an acquisitions-based clinical venture requires taking a different tack from a traditional M&A enterprise. “At times, business people try to find businesses really quickly to add more revenue to their top line, but sometimes it doesn't bring a lot of positives,” he admitted. “When we buy an acquisition, we need to bring some positives to the community.”
To that end, NVC merges three revenue streams: a limited number of acquisitions, all of which are established clinics; a network of training centres made available to NVC members and outside clinics alike; and a managed services component that offers business development coaching and support.
In a departure from other common acquisition models, NVC allows the practices it invests in to keep their own identities and brands, offering the kind of back office support and ongoing clinical education necessary for each practice to thrive.
NVC’s veterinary training operation represents an industry first. NVC Veterinary Training Centre, state-of-the art facilities in Brisbane, Queensland, Melbourne, Victoria, and Christchurch, provide relevant, high quality training in veterinary science, including courses in surgical procedures, pathology, behaviour, dentistry, critical care, imaging, and much more.
“When you combine those business segments, NVC is representing 20 per cent of the vet industry in Australia. This provides the ability to influence suppliers and other industry stakeholders, and be able to bring something new,” Steenackers noted.
“When you look at other industries, it's always about buying as many businesses as you can. For us, it's more about how many people we can influence. How many people can we engage? How many people can we support? I think that's what the business difference is compared to other kinds of businesses. We try to help our practices develop businesses strategies, grow and develop their teams, develop succession plans, and build a great relationship and help them along the way.”
In speaking with Steenackers, goodness is a recurring theme – one that works for the organisation. Take, for example, his philosophy on what makes a solid target for acquisition, which goes well beyond basic financial performance benchmarks. “What I've seen in the past is that the cultural alignment needs to be pretty good, otherwise you're going to have some problems down the line after you acquire a business,” he advised. “The benefit of what we do is that it's a partnership, so it's important that culturally we are aligned, that we have the same ambition and that we understand each other. That's really important.”
Not only is NVC able to source goods and equipment at much more competitive prices than individual practices could afford, participating practices can take advantage of administrative and clinical technology they may not otherwise be able to sustain. “Every year we try to leverage new pieces of technology that will make vets’ lives easier, and also more efficient and competitive.
“In my mind it’s pretty simple,” he concluded. “We try to keep to the basics of operating business without too much ego, and that’s working to support our people and the community better. How can we add value each and every day, at every clinic? If we answer that, the outcome is fantastic. We get people that are fully engaged, enjoy working with us, and enjoy being part of the team.”