Special Report: For Warnambool Veterinary Clinic, COVID-19 ended up providing an opportunity, rather than a threat.

Like many business leaders, Apiam (ASX:AHX) clinic lead Dr Glenn Cuzens had to think fast when COVID-19 struck back in March.

As the head of Warnambool Veterinary Clinic (WVC) – one of the larger practices in the group’s portfolio – Cuzens had to take some drastic emergency response measures.

But speaking with Stockhead recently, Cuzens explained that with some quick adjustments, WVC has emerged from the crisis in better shape than it went in.

“It was a real collaborative effort across the group. So from our own (clinic’s) point of view, we were meeting every day and passing what we’d learned onto other clinics,” Cuzens said.

The net result was a textbook COVID-19 success story.

“We saw foot traffic through the clinic as the key risk, so the measures we took probably decreased that by around two thirds,” Cuzens said.

“Yet the way we did it with our delivery system and social distancing measures, we increased revenues through that period by 20 per cent.”

Calm in a crisis

With a suite of veterinary clinics across regional Australia, Apiam benefited from the fact it already had an advanced proprietary knowledge base around biosecurity.

For example, the company introduced mandatory masks “way before it was recommended practice”, Cuzens said.

Rather, the key operational changes were based on WVC’s ability to operate once strict social distancing measures were enforced.

“The key initiative for us was to put up a tent marquee in back carpark. That allowed customers to be adequately distanced, but also to be able to see us and what we were doing.”

“We could see that providing owners the opportunity to be present for the treatment made them a lot more comfortable about bringing their pets in.”

In addition, WVC implemented contactless farm delivery for its production animal clients.

Once it had established the logistics, the clinic extended that into its companion animal clients for services such as medication delivery and specific food orders.

That proved so popular that the clinic ended up bringing another couple of staff on to help book delivery orders.

More broadly, Cuzen’s said WVC’s success was reflective of clinics across the Apiam group to continue providing the same level of service to customers.

Market tailwinds

And that leaves it well-placed to benefit from the post-Covid growth in companion animal services.

“Our business model was pretty resilient, and I know a lot of that was because of people were at home and they wanted that company pets provide.

“Certainly all the data suggests pet sales have really increased. People went and got a puppy or a kitten

“And once they had it, if they couldn’t get it vaccinated that was going to cause more stress. So our active customer numbers have increased in line with the rise in pet ownership.”

WVC now employs around 50 staff serving a team of 18 veterinarians, and those numbers are growing.

“if you go back to when (COVID-19) started in March, all the thinking was about how we’re going to get through this.”

“Fast forward to November, and we’re having to put job ads out for new vets to keep up with demand so we can keep providing that same level of service.”

This article was developed in collaboration with Apiam, a Stockhead advertiser at the time of publishing.

This article does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.