What it takes to be the Veterinary Business of the year

18 Aug 2023

Catherine with OIlie

Dr Catherine Harper grew up on a farm in regional South Australia surrounded by animals, and as soon as she could speak, she told her parents she was going to be a vet.

Despite her conviction, Catherine didn’t study veterinary science as soon as she finished school. She was very sporty and ended up playing softball for Australia. This led to an opportunity to play college softball in the USA, where she spent four years and earned a Bachelor of Science. She returned to Australia and enrolled in a veterinary science degree at Murdoch University, graduating in 2013.

She doesn’t regret becoming a vet when she was older.

“I’m an advocate for mature age entry into the profession, because having life experience helps you deal with the challenges,” Catherine said.

Just as she’d known she wanted to be a vet, Catherine knew she wanted to run her own business. She was the president of the university’s veterinary business group and did post graduate studies in business administration.

It didn’t take long for her dream of being a business owner to come true.

“I started work in 2014 in a business run by an older vet who was ready to retire and very quickly the conversation turned to me buying it. I saw the opportunities offered by taking on a practice that didn’t have any business focus and improving it.”

Catherine and her husband bought the business in July 2016 and changed the name from that of the previous owner to Barossa Veterinary Service. The practice has two locations, one in Nuritootpa and the other in Kapunda. They started with 11 staff, and now have 32.

Catherine’s efforts to build a forward-thinking practice were recognised with the AVA’s Veterinary Business Group (VBG) Award for Veterinary Business of the Year 2022.

Catherine holding her award

“Award applicants were asked to address the VBG’s 10 pillars for business success, which relate to areas of corporate governance such as finance and policy. I think what made our application stand out was that I created an 11th pillar – customer service – because we don’t achieve anything for animals unless we work well with their owners.”

The other thing she thinks made the business stand out is its use of technology to improve the customer experience.

While externally is all about the customer, internally Catherine and her husband are very much focussed on supporting their employees’ wellness and career progression. For instance, she’s proud of the fact that as a small business, the practice offers paid parental leave.

“How we run and care for our teams is incredibility important. As business owners we really can make such a difference to the experience of the people we employ. We are directly in control of this.”

Catherine joined the current VGB as soon as it was formed and appreciates being part of a group of like-minded people who support each other.

“I really like the collegiality of business owners and finding out that everyone deals with the same issues.”

Catherine also like the emphasis the VBG puts how on how veterinary practices run and care for their teams.

“Business owners within the VBG are really focussed on doing the best we can for our staff. What’s challenging is getting other people on board who may be unintentionally perpetuating the problem.”

Catherines takes advantage of the opportunity for CPD, that the annual Veterinary Business Summit offers. She likes the diverse range of sessions on offer, particularly those on topics that may not be front of mind.

“At the summit last year, the keynote speaker talked about the importance of getting enough sleep to function well. This wasn’t something I’d thought specifically about before, but it makes a big difference to your ability to work effectively – particularly with clients.”

“All vets do great clinical medicine but it’s the background stuff the makes the difference in terms of running a successful business that serves the needs of animals, clients and employees.”

Catherine and her Clinical Operations Manager are looking forward to attending the Veterinary Business Group Summit in Brisbane from 13 to 15 September.

Find out more and register now to advantage of Early Bird pricing.