CEO Chris Richards explains how tech solutions play a key role as Apiam builds out its dominant regional market footprint. 

For animal health company Apiam, investors are becoming increasingly familiar with the broader tailwinds behind its regional vet care strategy. 

Higher rates of pet ownership and a sharp lift in regional population growth (accompanied by higher property prices) are two such tailwinds. 

But just as importantly for the business, Apiam is Australia’s best placed veterinary provider with the  footprint to meet that demand. 

It’s a key competitive advantage which is the result of a multi-year expansion strategy. And in a recent interview, managing director Dr Chris Richards detailed how the company is positioned to capitalise.  

Tech support 

Along with a successful growth-by-acquisition strategy, Apiam is also leveraging technology through its proprietary software-based triage service that enhances the interaction between  vets, clients and their animals  in regional areas. 

The service is run by a team of experienced veterinary nurses who manage after hours and weekend calls into Apiam vet clinics.  

All the calls from  more than 30 of our vet clinics come through that service,” Richards said. 

Experienced nurses take the initial call and establish whether that animal needs to see a vet immediately, or whether it’s something that can be done in normal business hours.” 

Richards noted that more than 50 per cent of the calls that have come through the triage services in the first couple of months don’t require the immediate services of a vet. Many out of hours calls are to make bookings for the following week for vaccinations, grooming or other elective surgeries. 

Concurrently, some animals do require emergency assistance, shaving a coordinated approach to these out of hours calls is the ideal way to manage both vet workflow and best outcomes for the animals in regional areas. 

“What’s really exciting is we’ve been able to integrate that with our vet tracking, practice management and rostering systems,” Richards said. 

“We know exactly where our vets are, and their availability. And we can keep the customer updated in terms of when they meet the vet at the clinic. 

So it’s a neat system, in that it enables us to determine which cases are urgent and then to determine which vets are available to best service them.” 

To illustrate how it is in practice, Richards used the example of a regional vet attending to a call at a dairy farm who, at the same time, receives  an update from the triage team regarding a customer reporting that their pet is ill. 

Through the triage app, the vet on location can accept or reject the job based on how they are progressing on current job, the level of urgency and their proximity to the clinic 

The triage nurse can also coordinate with other vets who may have just finished a call of their own.  

If they can attend, the triage service coordinates a meeting time and provides the attending vet with all the relevant details so they’re briefed on the case before meeting with the client. 

“It’s a good example of how technology is making Apiam an attractive place to work for regional vets,” Richards said. 

Retaining talent  

As Australia’s dominant regional vet groupApiam has already established itself as an employer of choice that provides a supportive environment for workers to build their skills. 

 And Richards said its coordinated after-hours triage service is one of the ways that it attracts and retains talent in high-growth regional areas. 

“If you’re a vet in a small animal practice in a capital city, you work more like 85 type hours and after-hours and weekend calls just go to an emergency centre,” Richards explained. 

“In a rural practice, in addition to working business hours, vets and support staff are routinely rostered on to provide the after-hours and weekend work, with emergency centres being located 2-3 hours away.” 

So in that sense it can be harder for regional vets to get the right worklife balance. Historically it’s been harder to attract and retain vets in some regional areas but our ability to offer this unique type of support is assisting us to provide better workplace outcomes.” 

We have recently seen several cases where some competitor clinics, unable to attract or retain enough vets to continue to service afterhoursWe have taken an alternative  approach, seeking  solutions using technology and changes in work place practices to address this issue. 

“We’re not completely there yet but we’re certainly moving in the right direction. 

Richards highlighted the recent establishment of Apiam’s newest veterinary clinic in Torquay North, Victoria, which attracted strong interest from professional vets across the state. 

“We’re looking at doing more (clinics) in regional growth areas, and we’ve recently had strong interest from vets and nurses wanting to come and work with us,” he said. 

He attributed the demand to several reasons, starting with the graduate development programs and mentoring support the company offers. 

“Then it’s the quality of our systems like vet triage support, and the third one is that we have scale and we’re growing, so it’s providing an extra level of certainty, particularly with some smaller rural clinics having struggled to attract production animal vets and consequently ceasing to provide some services,” he said. 

Richards said a key factor behind its talent acquisition program was the addition of a dedicated vet recruitment consultant, who previously worked as a practising vet and owned their own practice.  

“It used to take us about 150 days to get a vet on board, and now the time to bring a vet on board has dramatically reduced,” he said. 

“If you’re a vet and you come into the countrythere’s more opportunity to develop a broad range of surgical skills, whereas in  the cityits more likely that many of those higher level surgical cases will get referred to a specialist.” 

So for us it’s all about professional development, providing vets the support they need and giving them a platform to use the skills they’ve been trained in. And that flows through to our value proposition,” Richards said. 

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.