Competition causeway: In the nation's most densely populated areas, veterinarians find the means to spread collegiality

Competition causeway: In the nation's most densely populated areas, veterinarians find the means to spread collegiality

State of the Profession, 2006
Jun 01, 2006

Seventy years later, the hospital's namesake and solo owner stand as testament to his father's vision, but the landscape has changed. The Montclair, N.J. practice sits amid enough competition to make most battle-hardened small business owners nervous.

Too close for comfort? More than 66 percent of respondents have at least three competitors within five miles of their practices.
Dotted along New Jersey's concrete landscape in two-mile intervals, companion animal veterinary practices provide income for most of the state's 1,908 licensed DVMs. Yet 18 miles south of dense New York City, Dr. George Cameron's business appears unscathed.

Since joining his father's practice in 1970, Cameron has enjoyed a reputation as the area's cat whisperer, drawing up to 30,000 clients who visit the practice and sit through its sometimes legendary three-hour waits.

The camera-shy, modest veterinarian is guarded about his age, his success and his relationship with colleagues. Cameron labels such attention advertising, even among the pages of DVM Newsmagazine. "It's unethical. Nobody in the neighborhood does it," he contends. Yet Cameron's been around long enough to see practices come and go. The secret to longevity? Don't sweat over your neighboring colleague's prices or equipment. Cameron's advice: Focus on relationships; forget the competition.

"It's very hard for practices to do that considering there are so many out there," he says. "But veterinarians need to treat their neighbors with respect, make sure no one on staff has a negative thing to say about another practitioner and take their phone calls no matter what. That is the key to friendly competition."

Breakdown on competition

Trend data shows that might be easier said than done. According to DVM Newsmagazine's 2006 State of the Profession report, 28 percent of 625 survey respondents from across the country rank other traditional veterinary practices as their top competitive threat, with Internet sales Web sites trailing by four points.

Forty-five percent of respondents reported their geographic region as highly competitive, up from 40 percent in 2003. And while about 59 percent of respondents reported no practices opened in the past three years, nearly 38 percent report five or more direct competitors are located within five square miles.

Set apart

Dr. Faith Krausman is one of Cameron's neighbors, though she's created a niche among her colleagues as a house-call veterinarian. That distinction brings about more cooperation than competition, she says, yet Cameron's practice sits less than two miles away from the Vet-on-Wheels home base.

There are local veterinarians who don't pass on referrals, and likewise, Krausman admits she rarely offers them her cases. But collegiality reigns in the upper middle-class community, she says. The home environment prohibits Krausman from caring for a client's blocked cat or an animal hit by a car. In those instances, she relies on neighbors like Cameron to work those cases.

"There's no threat here," she says. "There's always a give and take. I don't actively compete with anyone. That's just how I approach it."