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Recession in the equine world


The impact of a recession, if it happens, on equine veterinarians will be uneven, just as it will be in the small animal world, experts say.

THE IMPACT OF A RECESSION, IF IT happens, on equine veterinarians will be uneven, just as it will be in the small animal world, experts say. Clients with expensive race, show, and breeding horses will most likely continue to pay for care to protect their investments.

But recreational horse owners—the bread and butter of many equine veterinary practices—may balk at paying for wellness care; after all, they're already paying more for feed. It'll be up to you to explain the importance of maintaining their horses' health so their favorite four-leggers don't become sick—which could cost them even more.

Need advice on how to weather the economic storm? Here are tips from Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. James Guenther, MBA, CVPM, a consultant with Brakke Consulting in Asheville, N.C.

Photo by Mark McDonald

Don't short-change staffing

"If it takes a doctor and a technician to handle a call quickly and efficiently, don't give that up in a downturn," Dr. Guenther says. Look closely at your team and your schedule, and figure out if you're seeing as many clients as possible in a day. Don't harm your success by cutting staff costs in the short term.

Bundle services

If a horse needs a vaccination today, a dental procedure a month from now, and a Coggins test in three months, schedule them all right now and get paid for the package up front. This also means you'll get paid now and avoid having to send a bill.

Why is this better for the client? Because a small discount will sweeten the deal, Dr. Guenther says. Most horse owners know they need these services and appreciate the discount on a bundled program. You can inform clients of these wellness packages through community service programs, fliers, newsletters, and face-to-face dialogue. And don't worry if you don't get full compliance. "Some people will still want just one service at a time," Dr. Guenther says. "It's their money. You can't please all clients with any plan."

Bundle calls

If you haven't begun proactively scheduling nonemergency care appointments, start now. Plan all your appointments in one part of your geographic area at one time. The days of fire-engine medicine are gone, and smart planning saves gas and makes better use of time, Dr. Guenther says.

Control accounts receivable

An impending recession is a good time to get your billing in order—as in, stop doing it. "When clients don't pay at the time of service, they're using your money," Dr. Guenther says. "You're not getting interest. You're not getting anything from it."

If you have clients who are notoriously slow to pay, see if offering them an incentive will speed things up. For example, if a client spent $120,000 last year, offer that person a 5 percent discount this year if they set up an automatic monthly $10,000 deduction. You can then reconcile charges at the end of the year.

Don't get down

It's been a rough winter, the price of gas is up, the cost of feed is up, and the economy's slowing down. But that doesn't mean you have to suffer. "If you think everything is doom and gloom, it will become doom and gloom," Dr. Guenther says. "Yes, you may be down, but you need to keep a positive attitude, tighten the belt when necessary, keep a close eye on your performance indicators, and make adjustments when needed. Go out there and rattle the bushes a little harder. You'll find work."

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