Early-career veterinarians, hear it regularly, “If you want to make more money, become a practice owner!” Great! So you have studied up on business financial statements, management, leadership, personal financials and gotten your feet wet managing a team. Check, check, and check; you are ready to step into the shoes of a veterinary practice owner! How the heck do you locate a business to buy? Unlike a house with a for sale sign in the front yard or listed on the MLS, finding a veterinary practice for sale may be a bit more arduous. Since you can’t drive around town looking for practices with a for sale sign in the window, here are a few routes for finding the right veterinary practice to purchase.
Slightly old school, but these do still exist, especially when you consider the demographics of people who are in a position to sell their practices. State veterinary medical associations, as well as the AVMA, have classifieds for practices for sale. Yes, the numbers have dwindled over the years, but there is still is an opportunity to find one there. Just like searching for the right relationship, it only takes one, the right one. You will likely notice that a broker advertises many of the practices listed. So that leads us to our second option.
- Veterinary Practice Broker
First, what is a broker? By definition, a broker acts as an intermediary between a buyer and a seller. This definition also applies to a stockbroker, real estate broker, and of course, veterinary practice broker. In veterinary medicine, they can function in some different capacities. Most often, the sellers will engage the broker to maximize the sale of their business. The broker can perform a valuation (appraising the business), marketing the business to potential buyers, negotiating and helping with the transition. In this case, they are hired by the seller, so they are on the selling veterinarian’s team. But when searching for a practice, brokers are a great place to start as they are actively looking for buyers for their clients.
The good news is these folks are good at marketing, so a simple Google search will get you plenty of results. You can easily reach out to a broker and let them know what you are looking for, in what area, and they will keep you in the loop if they find a practice that fits your criteria. This is a great place to start even before you’re ready to make the leap because you can begin to see what is out there and learn the lingo. They typically have more buyers than sellers, so know that you may not be the only one looking at a particular business. If the initial ad piques your interest, then they will have you sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) to protect the seller. They don’t want word to spread on the financial performance of their business.
As a buyer, you can also engage a veterinary practice broker to be on your team, acting as a buyer representative to help locate the right practice. They can also help you interpret the financials of the business, advise on whether a practice is a right fit and hold your hand through the buying process.
The adage of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” also applies to find a practice to call your own. Expressing to your network (be careful with your current employer) your desire to become a practice owner can also offer exciting connections and referrals.
Leveraging conferences and identifying the lecture topics that someone contemplating selling would be attending can also lead to a chance meeting. However, you can’t just silently sit there to reap the benefits. Chatting with folks and gleaning insights from the seller’s perspective can yield dividends, even if you don’t meet your match.
If you are looking in a particular area, a simple Google search can give you basic information on the practice owners that may be inclined to sell their business. You can set up a meeting, buy them coffee, etc. to get facetime and again seek advice on ownership, as it is your ultimate goal. Remember, this practice is likely more than just a business or a job; this is their life’s work. You need to work on gaining trust, rapport, and some semblance of a relationship before trying to take their baby away from them.
One way to approach the subject with them is by saying, “I love what you have built here and have always envisioned myself as a practice owner. Do you have a succession plan in place for this incredible asset you have built?” Never underestimate the power of talking to people and getting your desires out into the open so that others can help you reach your goal.
If you are starting to think this feels a whole lot like modern dating, you are correct. You are looking to make a significant investment in this relationship that will play a huge role in your life, so it is not unfathomable that the processes look similar. It is great to have an idea of what you are looking for, but also be open to possibilities. You may have to look at some frogs before you find your practice charming. You also may not be the right fit in the eyes of the seller and lose out to another candidate. Be careful not to fall in love too fast as it can get you in hot water. You need to make sure it is the right fit, and be prepared to walk away if not. After all, this is business, not dating, so if there are red flags, get professional advice and be prepared to walk away. Patience and perseverance are essential to this endeavor, but ultimately, your dream of owning a practice can come true if you put in the effort.