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Case study: AniCura

A tour of AniCura’s animal hospital in the Danish city of Aarhus tells you all you need to know about how our pets have well and truly become part of the family.

One room after another reveals the lengths we now go to in caring for our pets and giving them the best possible treatment. A state-of-the-art CT scanner sits in one room, another is dedicated to dealing with 24/7 emergencies, in another a Labrador walks on a submerged treadmill as part of its post operation recovery.

The hospital’s proud boss Claus Bundgaard Nielsen (pictured above) sums up what we are seeing. “What is happening here is what happened to humans. 75 years ago you had a doctor who did everything, today medicine is full of specialists. Exactly the same is happening in veterinary surgery.”

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Market drivers

So, just why are we seeing this increasing humanisation of pets? Bundgaard Nielsen thinks there are a number of reasons. “One would be that people have families a little later in life, or choose not to have children at all, so are more likely to buy a pet. Another reason is that we as surgeons can do a lot more for the animals, so people want more. If you can repair an eye rather than remove it then people will pay for that.”

The point is echoed by Peter Dahlberg, President and CEO of AniCura (pictured left) which acquired the Aarhus hospital from Nielsen and his fellow partners in 2013.

As he adds: “The pet’s position in the family has been elevated and owners nowadays want to do everything possible for their pets. They give them better food and better care which leads to a longer life, and as pets live longer they then need more treatment. Customers are becoming more demanding and better informed. They want more information, better service and higher quality veterinary care.”

Another driver is the increasing take-up of insurance. In Denmark the figure for dogs is around 35%, but it is as high as 70% in neighbouring Sweden.

Doing a deal

Against this backdrop it is little surprise that the market has seen major M&A activity in recent years with AniCura, backed by Nordic Capital, being one of the most active players. As Dahlberg adds: “The industry is resilient, predictable, growing fast, and there are lots of opportunities. For owners of clinics there are big opportunities too.”

Nielsen explains the thinking behind the sale of his own firm to AniCura. “We wanted to improve the level of medicine we offer and raise the bar. We could see that being part of a bigger group would enable us to raise this bar quicker and we could set standards. We needed that professional management.“

Adds Dahlberg: “Depending on preference, we can take most of the marketing, IT and financial functions away from the practices. Owners are happy for us to remove admin matters and partner in the overall development of the clinic.

“However, preserving the passion and entrepreneurial spirit of clinics is essential, which is precisely why we operate a very decentralised model with flexibility depending on owner preference. One size doesn’t really fit all.”

Consolidation

Dahlberg says the consolidation drive in the industry is just in its early stages, but there are ever-increasing barriers to entry for potential new players. Just how big could AniCura, which already has operations in almost 200 locations, become? Says Dahlberg: “We have been growing at more than 10% organically since 2011, 50% a year if you include our acquisitions. We have never had a specific target of how many clinics we should have, we just want to create the leading European network of specialists.

“Because of our unique culture and many positive references, a lot of clinic owners want to join us now and we are in the privileged situation where we can pick and choose a bit. We will only do M&A that we believe benefits our group. We have turned down more clinics than we have said yes to.”

Dahlberg also has his eye on new markets such as the UK. “There are really nice opportunities remaining and if the right opportunity presents itself we will take it. We are opportunistic in terms of our expansion.”

What about outside Europe? “To be honest, there is so much still to do in Europe that the market can easily keep us going for another 10 years. Under every stone we turn, we find many more opportunities – it is still a highly fragmented market. But we have such specialised expertise, a quality development programme that is yielding international acclaim, and an operating model that seems to work in every market, that in due course maybe there is a place for AniCura outside Europe too.”

Experience

For Bundgaard Nielsen, himself a leading ophthalmologist, the future remains exciting as the clinic develops new specialisms. “Today I can enjoy more what I love doing knowing the clinic has a long-term future. Don’t ever forget that vets love animals, that’s why we do what we do.”

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Recent transactions

Clearwater International advises Varde Dyrehospital on its sale to AniCura, backed by private equity groups

Clearwater International has advised the owners of Varde Dyrehospital, a leading animal hospital in the Southern and Western part of Denmark, on its sale to AniCura, a family of animal hospitals and clinics specialised in veterinary care for companion animals.

Varde Dyrehospital is the result of a successful merger between Varde Dyrlæger and Helle Dyrlægerne in 2015. Varde Dyrehospital is the largest animal hospital in the region, with the highest volume of veterinarians solely dedicated to surgery and care of small animals. The animal hospital has a broad service offering with several specialist competencies such as heart scans and spinal surgery. Varde Dyrehospital is equally owned and led by four highly-experienced veterinarians and has 19 employees.

Read more about this transaction.

Aarhus Dyrehospital sold to Djursjukhusgruppen

Swedish Djursjukhusgruppen is the largest group in animal hospitals and is owned by the private equity group Fidelio Capital. Since its founding in November 2011, Djursjukhusgruppen has consolidated the Nordic veterinary industry through the acquisition of more than 40 animal hospitals and clinics. The shareholders of Aarhus Dyrehospital took after careful consideration, about the best options for future development for the benefit of patients and clients, the decision to sell the company to Djursjukhusgruppen.

Read more about this deal. 

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