Reasons YOU should be excited about Mars Petcare: VCA, Banfield, and BluePearl

Last week the news spread across the internet…”Candy maker Mars is buying L.A. animal hospital chain VCA for $7.7 billion” and “Better Known for Candy, Mars Makes a Big Bet on Pets.”

As expected…there was a major buzz, a frenzy within social media, and instant misinformation celebrex medication.

That is the media.  That is social media.  No fact checking.  No true information.  Just hysteria.

Why do I care?  As a veterinary professional I care about the future of veterinary medicine.

Moreover, I have personally been part of this transition.  Along with my passion for continuing education and VETgirl, I am an associate (emergency and critical care specialist) at the Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center (VSEC) in Levittown, Pennsylvania.

Just about 2 years ago, VSEC was purchased by BluePearl Veterinary Partners.  BluePearl was subsequently acquired by Mars Petcare.  Mars Petcare has acquired a vast veterinary and pet care portfolio including Banfield, BluePearl, Pet Partners, VCA, Royal Canin, Pedigree, Whiskas, pet DNA testing through the Wisdom Panel, and the pet technology company Whistle.

So what is the point of this post?  I am not here to change the mind of everyone.  I know that can’t be done.  But it does bother me when I see people calling Mars Petcare the “Walmart of veterinary medicine.”

Here are 3 points I would like to make regarding our veterinary profession and being part of a larger veterinary group.

1) Mars is a family owned business, not a publicly traded business.  Their decisions are not based on the media or at the discretion of shareholders.  As a veterinarian, I don’t have to perform.  I don’t have to meet a target.  As a veterinarian I have to practice veterinary medicine.  I have to do what is best for my patient and my client.  Ultimately, Mars is invested more in pet care than candy.  Over the past 2 years, BluePearl and Mars has shown me they are invested in the future of veterinary medicine.

2) A larger group of veterinary hospitals is not a disservice to the pet owner.  A recent comment on the internet really made me upset.  Paraphrasing…it stated, “This is really scary. Somehow I don’t think saved dollars are going to trickle down to higher salaries for the veterinarians and technicians.”  Maybe not.  While the salaries may not increase, there are many other factors to consider. If becoming part of a larger veterinary group leads to improved buying power…this will lead to less expensive medications, diagnostics, or costs to the client.

A veterinarian may now be able to provide services to a client that has financial concerns as the overhead costs would be less.  A practice may have a higher profit margin that allows them to purchase additional medications to stock for the clients, new diagnostic tools, cheaper in-house blood work, in-house ultrasound machines, or new CT or MRI for speciality hospital.

These savings will allow for better medical care for our clients and their pets.

3) A major frustration for a hospital is human resources.  The rising cost of health insurance alone can significantly limit attracting and hiring good associates. Larger associations provide a network of support allowing the practice to focus less on HR issues (health insurance, payroll administration, workers comp insurance, etc) and focus more on the veterinary team and the veterinary client.

I understand that there are veterinarians that enjoy practice ownership.  I know not everyone will agree with my comments.

What I do know is that veterinary graduates have significant debt limiting any future chance of practice ownership for many.  Veterinary associations and collaborations such as these allow leadership without ownership.  They allow personal and professional growth.  They decrease practice ownership frustrations such as human resources, health insurance, and negotiating prices with vendors.  Their buying power decreases costs and allows a practice to improve their quality of medicine and patient care.

Being part of BluePearl and now Mars Petcare I have witnessed these changes and I am excited about the future of veterinary medicine.

Knowledge is power! And make 2017 even more powerful!
Garret Pachtinger, VMD, DACVECC
Board Certified Emergency and Critical Care Specialist
Co-Founder, VETgirl

9 Responses to “Reasons YOU should be excited about Mars Petcare: VCA, Banfield, and BluePearl”

  1. Rene R Varela January 13, 2017 at 3:13 pm #

    Well said. As we all know that pets are part of our family, the care is very imoortant

  2. Paul Pion January 14, 2017 at 6:24 am #

    Garrett,

    Garrett, thanks for trying to put this in perspective and sharing your views.

    I don’t fear the merger. It is a fact. I share some of your belief that Mars is a better home for VCA than other options. For years I’ve asked Bob Antin about VCA after he and his co-founders. They have treated their veterinary employees well and respected the balance between the veterinary business and medicine. My fear was it would go to the investment bankers to call the shots and that scared me a lot. The purchase by Mars greatly relieves that fear. At the same time, I am concerned about one entity controlling too much of the profession and integrated verticals. But, it is what it is and I trust it will be OK.

    I do disagree strongly with this statement:

    “What I do know is that veterinary graduates have significant debt limiting any future chance of practice ownership for many. ”

    Yes, they have debt, but ownership is one way to get ahead and banks are very willing to loan to veterinary graduates with the right drive and mindset despite their debt. Ownership is not for everyone, but many of the young colleagues I speak with and work with are anxious to consider ownership. Without ownership, most colleagues will be limited in their earning potential.

    “Veterinary associations and collaborations such as these allow leadership without ownership. They allow personal and professional growth. ”

    That is true, but also true for ownership. In both cases we can’t have all chiefs, there will be many non-chiefs and the ongoing consolidation decreases the opportunities for our young colleagues to be chiefs.

    “They decrease practice ownership frustrations such as human resources, health insurance, and negotiating prices with vendors. ”

    This is true for those who want a job and not to be an owner or to be able to define their own destiny. Many will find this a positive. Many will find this a negative. I think you are a bit one-sided sugar coating this event.

    As with most things, there is good and there is bad. The reality is that corporate medicine is here. It is slowly diminishing the options for young graduates and we are moving closer to what is the reality in pharmacy. You graduate and you decide to apply at which big box.

    Yes, there are still independent pharmacies, and there will always be independent veterinary practices, but those options are and seemingly will continue to diminish.

    This is our reality and I accept that. I also accept that I am on the tail end of my career and I want nothing more than to leave to the next generation a profession that is more rewarding than the one I inherited. In many ways I think my generation has failed the current generation by bringing us to the current situation of debt, consolidation, and over-dependency upon product sales — to name a few.

    I encourage young colleagues reading this to not believe your fate is sealed. Working for a corporation can be great. Working for a privately owned practice can be equally satisfying. I suggest one or the other for the first 5 years after graduation (with or without an internship). Above all, choose your first job as carefully as you can. Don’t settle. Your first year(s) shape you as a veterinarian.

    While learning how others run their practice, consider your goals, options and personality.

    If you want the chance to be your own boss, lead a team, build something that is yours, and be able to practice and service clients as you wish, and to overcome the earning cap that will be reality for the vast majority of those who work for someone else, consider ownership. It is not without risk. But the rewards can be immense.

    Best wishes to all!

    >>>Paul<<<

    Paul D. Pion, DVM, DipACVIM (Cardiology)
    co-founder, VIN

    • Garret Pachtinger VMD DACVECC January 14, 2017 at 4:29 pm #

      Thanks for the feedback Paul!

  3. Marissa January 14, 2017 at 4:24 pm #

    Thanks, Garrett! Change can be terrifying for some (or most) people, so I’m glad to see you laying out the benefits clearly to help minimize some concerns. As a Banfield associate, I have seen many positive changes over the years, thanks to Mars. I look forward to continued improvements allowing our veterinarians to provide high quality care for pets in a supportive environment, not just at Banfield, but in all our companies.

  4. Bridget January 16, 2017 at 4:59 pm #

    Garret thanks for your perspective! Truly great to hear others experiences and opinions (I mean that).

    My husband is a specialist too that worked for a private specialty hospital that was bought by Blue Pearl, then Mars and here we are. Our experience has been VERY different (and this could just be this hospital/area?). For this Mars specialty clinic prices are *increasing* for clients, they cut staff, they cut benefits and turnover has increased. My GP practice has seen changes in their clinic (especially ER) for the worse and our client feedback has been less positive.

    Mars has swept through and bought ALMOST EVERY practice in our area…essentially squeezing out any competition, which is not good for anyone really (pet owners, DVMs, techs). Now with Mars owning almost every clinic and due to non-competes in this state many DVMs have no where to work in the area (if they don’t like Mars) and are leaving the area.

    I could go on but, you get my point. Our experience has not been great. In the end I just don’t want the little guys to be squeezed out by the bigs guys…which I see happening right before my eyes. =(

  5. Susan S. Lassiter, CVPM January 18, 2017 at 11:31 am #

    Very Nicely Said !

  6. W. R. Folger January 23, 2017 at 8:20 pm #

    Garret- not sure I am excited, but not surprised. What has surprised me is the speed in which Mar acquired banfield, Blue Pearl, and VCA/Antech. I thought Bob Antin (?) was just wrong when he predicted that by 2020 a large portion of the veterinary care delivery market would be corporate. I stand corrected. The fact is, in the future very few independent one doctor practices will exist. Not just because the new grads have enormous debt, but because 1 doctor practices are invariably becoming no-lo practices by definition. Too much overhead, not enough profit margin. Therefore, after 20-30 years of just above starting salary income, they have a practice that no one wants to purchase. Those successful 2-5 doctor practices that can provide the owners a decent ROI will eventually sell to a corporation since very few banks will loan money to a single individual with no collateral. Not that it might not happen, but let’s face reality: not like it was 30 years ago. I would never believe that corporate medicine will lower prices to the public due to increased saving. When has that ever happened? I do believe Mars has such enormous resources that it provides continuity and sustainability. I predict by 2030 corporate practices will account for 75% of the income in veterinary practices nationwide.

  7. James Blandi February 1, 2017 at 2:35 pm #

    Mars Petcare appears to be a great home for VCA, for those furry and fuzzy patients, and their owners. I agree with the move.

    Economies of scale can be built and leveraged to build a stronger community where greater access to affordable treatment and medications are attained. Better imaging (CT/MRI) programs can be developed. Social program development will reap huge rewards for the communities they serve. The possibilities are endless when a family owned Brand, such as Mars Petcare, pulls together other great brands and bands them together in an effort to build a community for access!

    We love our extended family members, even though they sometimes make us sneeze !

    Thanks for the post!!

  8. Trevor W. Ashley, DVM February 18, 2017 at 7:26 pm #

    I spent a good portion of my career with Banfield and it was a very successful run (for both of us). I recently made the decision to leave Banfield, and Mars, to open my own practice. I respect your accomplishments and your opinions and agree with Rene Varela that your article is very well written. I truly believe Mars is helping to improve the profession in many ways. However I have some insights that I would be willing to share with you if you are interested, but not in a public forum such as this.

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