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Location: It's one of your most important considerations
Like Bill O'Reilly, I have a word for the day. Today's word is "no."
As a powerful management tool, it is far too seldom used. We are, unfortunately, raised in a world in which no is looked upon as antisocial, but that's what ruins too many financial lives. My use of the word has saved veterinarians hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenues. I kid you not!
My most common use of the word no these days is in feasibility reports. That's when anxious, glowing, young veterinarians come to me because they have found their ideal practice location and need me to put together a glowing report in their business plan for their bank financing. These veterinarians are excited because the location is perfect, and they know so many people (potential clients) that they should top a million dollars a year in the first week! Unfortunately, all too often, some things called facts get in the way of my glowing report.
For example, the five-year growth projection at their chosen neighborhood is minus 3.1 percent, meaning that more people are leaving this practice radius (five miles) than are coming in. In this era of Manifest Destiny III, people are hoisting their goods upon their backs and in U-Hauls and are heading south and west. Northern cities, especially in the Midwest, are shrinking. The population per veterinarian in this particular neighborhood is 7 percent less than the AVMA standard, and the community and average family income is only 87 percent of that seen as needed for success by AVMA standards.
Their area will only support 11 veterinarians, and 13 are already in residence. It helps considerably that five work less than a full five to five-and-a-half days a week unless they are the practice owners. One might note here that historically, the number of female practice owners is not increasing at the same rate as the number of female practitioners.
Knowing all these facts, I am tasked to provide positive factual evidence that another new practice intertwined into this mélange will be a success. It cannot be done.
It's only getting harder
I now have many dozens of letters from young professionals who are overextended in their businesses asking me to find them another location not too far away where they can move to at the end of their current strip-center lease and be more financially successful.
These veterinarians spent five heartbreaking years working uphill into an area that was never meant for them. I can and will find them a better location, but the financial losses created during that initial practice venture can seldom be recovered.
My advice for young professionals is to seek professional, demographically guided location services before you spend your first dime on rent. It is an ever-tougher world out there and here's why: For every service seller (that's us), there must be a buyer willing and able to buy their services.
Today, there are more sellers. In fact, there are 48 percent more sellers than a couple of decades ago. That 48 percent is composed of 29 percent new graduates and 19 percent old timers who should have retired by now but just cannot find buyers for their barely, if at all, profitable practices. These older practitioners will likely fall over dead into the abdominal cavity of the 140-pound morbidly obese Pit Bull Terrier that they were spaying for 78 cents or less just to keep busy.
Yet, there are fewer buyers. There were 14 percent fewer births from 1965 to 1975. This is our prime market: 35- to 45-year-old parents of children who cannot be managed without a pet to absorb their energies and insecurities.
Great, 48 percent more sellers and 14 percent fewer buyers. Let's compound the formula by adding in that many of the sellers and almost all the buyers are up to their eyeballs in debt. And the greedy bean counters at the credit card companies are no longer happy with a minimum payment of $3 a month—now they want a diabolical 10 percent of what they are actually owed.
And anything we buy from overseas is costing more. The OPECers are not charging more for their oil; they just want to be paid in the same valued dollars they used to get.
This whole scenario must be a conspiracy to get veterinarians to immediately join the armed forces or the very needy Department of Homeland Security. That's not a bad thing if making a living is your goal and patriotism is still a high priority for you. Even without a specialty, I believe the U.S. government is paying about $80,000 a year with super benefits. You may even get lucky and wind up in a third-world country where you can bank your whole check because there is nothing to spend your money on.
Keys to a great location
If you are determined to practice in our great country, you need to look before you leap. There are still great opportunities out there. These are areas in which:
1. Population growth is booming,
2. The average family income is above average,
3. Discretionary income is plentiful,
4. Spending on pets is historically high and
5. The area is not oversaturated with existing practices.
The true test of your location is the transaction numbers. Are you seeing more transactions each month than the same month last year? Yes? Well, you just wasted time reading this article. Now, you may sing hallelujah on the way to the bank because this column does not apply to you—unless you want to add a satellite clinic that actually brings in dollars.
If you aren't in this enviable position, remember that you are not bound to any particular practice location. (President Lincoln freed our county of slavery.) If there is a better place for you and you do not seek it, who then is the fool?
Dr. Snyder, a well-known consultant, publishes Veterinary Productivity, a newsletter for practice productivity. He can be reached at 112 Harmon Cove Towers Secaucus, NJ 07094; (800) 292-7995; Vethelp@comcast.net fax: (866) 908-6986.