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Banfield chief sees slow recovery for animal-health market


John Payne, president and CEO of Banfield, The Pet Hospital, thinks the worst is behind but doesn't foresee a dramatic or fast recovery for the animal-health market. He addressed about 100 leaders in the veterinary medical market at the 2009 Pet Health Care Industry Summit in Portland, Ore.

Portland, Ore. — More than 100 leaders in the veterinary medical market converged on the 2009 Pet Health Care Industry Summit to explore trends in veterinary care, the economy, the impact of animal-health legislation and other topics.

John Payne

Headlining the meeting were Philip J. Romero, dean of California State University's College of Business and Economics and former chief economist for the state of California; U.S. Rep. Kurt Shrader, DVM (D-Ore.); Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, AVMA; Dr. John Albers, AAHA; John Snyder, of the Humane Society of the United States and others.

The goal, according to John Payne, Banfield's president and CEO, was to gather a diverse group of leaders within the market to talk about societal and economic forces impacting veterinary practices and animal-health companies.

Show of support: As part of the 2009 Pet Health Care Industry Summit, the Banfield Charitable Trust hosted an auction to help fund 46 scholarships.

"This program was really relevant to everyone in that room," Payne tells DVM Newsmagazine.

Consider the veterinary market's economy. "It's been an economic roller coaster," Payne says. Private practices are flat, while the market for many animal-health companies is going through a sort of bipolar disorder — strong gains in some months and declines in others.

Despite Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's mid-September declaration that the recession is "likely" over, unemployment has crept to 9.6 percent, triggering more fears about curbed consumer spending. Payne thinks the worst is probably behind us, but he doesn't foresee a dramatic recovery for animal health.

"We are all going to face higher taxes. Health-care reform is going to be passed in some form this year. So, we are planning in 2010 much of what we did in 2009 — preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

"I think the reason we are doing so well is because we are a preventive-care practice first ... And we take care of sick pets when that happens."

While Banfield is believed to be the nation's largest referring practice, Payne says specialty-care centers have been impacted the most by a poor economy simply because they rely on advanced care that costs a lot more.

"If you look at the equine segment, obviously the economy has affected that segment tremendously and very negatively. People can't afford their horses. As you know, we have had record numbers of abandonment cases with horses. The racetracks were struggling before the economy got bad. They are really struggling now quite dramatically.

"I think the food-animal segment, obviously, is affected by commodity prices, and it's been an up-and-down business. Probably the least affected (segment) has been companion-animal. However, when you talk to lots and lots of veterinary practices, you will find that most of them are happy they are even. I don't find too many down dramatically."

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