Over one-third of veterinary practice owners are looking to sell their practice within the next three years, according to newly-published research.

The study, undertaken and published by accounting and advisory firm HLB Sheehan Quinn, also noted that achieving a better work-life balance is a “top aspiration” of 60% of practice owners and 85% of their employees, with many reporting that their workloads increased due to Covid-19.

It appears that Covid-19 has resulted in a higher turnover for almost half of veterinary practices, though this is largely due to an increase in pet ownership, resulting in a greater demand for services.

Some 47% of respondents said that their turnover increased in 2020, partly due to and influx of new pet owners and people working from home having more time to interreact with their pets.

Other key findings of the research included:

  • 43% of respondents work more than 50 hours a week and almost 1 in 4 (23%) are putting in more than 60 hours a week. Those working the longest hours tend to be practice owners;
  • Staffing issues are the top challenge facing veterinary practices and most respondents (63%) plan to recruit additional vets or veterinary nurses in the next 12 months;
  • The number of incorporated practices is up by 12% when compared to 2019. While the majority of practices remain unincorporated, 60% of those surveyed indicate that they would consider incorporating their business.

With regard to corporate activity, more than 20 practices have been purchased by the corporates operating in Ireland. The study noted that there is “no indication” that the practice of veterinary medicine has been negatively impacted.

“Like many businesses across Ireland, veterinary practices had to find new ways of working in 2020 to cope with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Those who fared best adapted their working practices, finding ways to overcome difficulties and take advantage of emerging opportunities,” said Mark Butler, HLB managing partner.

By focusing on areas like practice management, digital marketing, practice culture and profitability, practices can identify the steps they need to take to optimise their business.

Addressing the fact that a third of practice owners indicated an intention to sell up within three years, Butler noted that any potential buyers will examine a practice’s “financial track record”.

Because of this, he noted, practice owners obtaining advice in advance of any transaction will “identify and address potential problems”.

“Look for experts with experience in the sector, as traditional valuation methods may not suit veterinary practices,” Butler noted.