30K Feet: Key Takeaways from the 4th Annual Little Fish Conference

30k-littlefish-thumbnail.jpgHarris Williams professionals regularly attend industry conferences and events. On the flight home, they share three key takeaways to help shape your strategy.

Event: 4th Annual Little Fish Conference

Report by:  Geoff Smith, managing director; Whit Knier, director; and Taylor Will, vice president; all of the Harris Williams Healthcare & Life Sciences Group

Event Overview: Little Fish focuses on growth strategies for veterinary services platforms.

Why is this an important event for professionals active in this industry?

Smith: It attracts a diverse group of leading veterinary services platforms of various sizes, and they’re all there for a day and a half of valuable education on a variety of different topics relating to how to grow their businesses. It’s interesting to see that a number of those that were small players just four years ago when this event started have grown significantly since then.

Which trends, companies, or business models were top of mind at the event?

Smith: Overall, there was a lot of conversation about the new tools that veterinary services providers can use to advance their platforms—and, more specifically, how to increase the supply of services to meet growing demand. Many of the platforms are struggling with how to provide more services when they have a fixed number of veterinarians who only can work so much without burning out. We heard many people talking about how to make greater use of technology and better infrastructure to take some activities off vets’ plates so they can be more efficient and treat more patients. One tool it seemed everyone was talking about is telehealth, and how to staff and use telehealth to free up more vet capacity and expand their reach. And there are many more tools out there today than there used to be.

Knier: Along with the capacity issue is the general focus among the larger platforms on creating a more professional, sophisticated, and cohesive business. There are a handful of key strategic buyers that have grown significantly in the past few years and have developed a portfolio of hundreds of animal hospitals. Now they need to figure out how to do more than just bring these practices together, and use the platform to create greater value. It will be interesting to see how these platforms’ growth strategies develop and what they do beyond simply aggregating assets.

What opportunities are these dynamics creating for strategic buyers and private equity investors?

Will: This sector is still in the early days of professionalization. The long-term winners will be those who can figure out how to provide the infrastructure, tools, and training to boost the overall efficiency and capacity of their veterinarians. Investors that are really good at operations have plenty of attractive opportunities in this sector.

Knier: There are really interesting opportunities for a lot of investors who may not have looked at this space, particularly those with retail expertise. This sector is unique in that it combines the positive aspects of healthcare and the positive aspects of consumer services.

Smith: I would add that we definitely see strong investor interest in the sector because of where we are in the business cycle. It’s highly recession-agnostic and there’s minimal price sensitivity among consumers when it comes to veterinary services. Most pet owners consider their pets to be family members, and they want to make sure they get the best medical care available.

Published October 2019