Maintain your stride during the recession (sponsored by Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health)

Maintain your stride during the recession (sponsored by Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health)

Consultant, practitioners offer their top economic strategies.
Sep 01, 2009

Tough times often call for tough love.

And that's just what it's going to take for equine practice owners who want to avoid getting crushed in the tightening grip of this recession. If you haven't done so already, it's high time to adopt a tough-love policy—both toward your practice's financial procedures and toward those clients who are lax about paying for your services.

And what about your very best clients? This is the time to show them more TLC than ever.

Photo: Getty Images
That's the essence of what we learned from a consultant and two practitioners who are riding out this economy successfully, striking a good balance between the more profitable segments of their business and those that are more recession-sensitive.

They are Dr. Marsha Heinke, CPA, EA, CVPM, a veterinary practice consultant and accountant in Grafton, Ohio, who also is a licensed equine and small animal veterinarian; Dr. Erica Lacher, who owns a two-doctor, full-service equine practice in Newberry, Fla.; and Dr. Kenneth Marcella, who with his partner Dr. Laura Duvall operates a busy all-equine mobile practice just north of Atlanta.

We asked each of them whether, from their perspective, the recession is having a greater impact on equine practices than other types of veterinary practices. Then we asked for their best survival strategies. Here's what they had to say.

Equine practices feel the pressure

Dr. Heinke says unequivocally that the recession squeezes equine practitioners more than other veterinarians. Why? "Horse ownership costs far surpass those of small animals," she says. "In 2007 and 2008, feed, bedding, and boarding already were increasing at double-digit rates due to regional droughts, energy costs, ethanol production demands on corn supplies, and so forth. All that was happening even before the banking disaster and economic downturn that hit last fall."

As Drs. Lacher and Marcella see it, the recession's impact varies by region. Both say that their clients keep horses more for pleasure than for business purposes and that most will forego some discretionary spending to take care of their horses' medical needs.

Still, "there's no question we've seen some reduction in business," Dr. Marcella says. "The greatest reduction is in breeding, the most purely business side. No one keeps a stallion and a bunch of broodmares just for fun. When horses are selling for less, the economics say you breed less. But we are still busy and profitable."

The principal downside for Dr. Lacher is clients who try to stretch the preventive care intervals she recommends. "For instance, we recommend dentals every 12 months, but some try to stretch that to 18 months," she says.