Second veterinary business allies with Petco to run in-store clinics

The Pet Vet plans operations in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas

January 18, 2018 (published)
By Edie Lau

Photo courtesy of The Pet Vet
The Pet Vet has leased space in a Petco in Frisco, Texas, since 2009. By the end of the year, it expects to be in nine more Petcos as part of a Petco initiative to add full-time veterinary services to many of its stores.

A Texas veterinarian who says he wants to promote independent practice ownership plans to open multiple clinics in Petco stores this year.

Dr. Danny Cox, owner of The Pet Vet in Frisco, opened a new clinic in a Petco in Highland Village, Texas, on Jan. 12. Another The Pet Vet is slated to open in Prestonwood, a Dallas suburb, in about three weeks, according to Cox. They will be followed by new clinics in Arkansas, Oklahoma and elsewhere in Texas, he said.

The Pet Vet is the second veterinary business to team with Petco as the national pet-store chain pushes to add full-time veterinary services in its stores. The first in-store clinic opened in Aldine, Texas, in October. As of this week, Petco has nine recently opened clinics, a company spokeswoman said. Eight are run by Thrive Affordable Pet Care, which is based in Austin.

In an October announcement about its coming in-store clinics, Petco identified only Thrive as a clinic operator, although Cox at The Pet Vet knew at the time that he, too, would have a part in the venture. In an interview with the VIN News Service in December, Petco officials continued to speak only of Thrive as its veterinary partner. Dr. Whitney Miller, Petco director of veterinary medicine, said the retailer might choose later to work with independent practitioners, too.

Megan Oxford, Petco manager of consumer public relations, said today that The Pet Vet was not identified in the October news release because none of its locations had opened. Petco identified The Pet Vet as a clinic operator in a news release on Jan. 11.

Cox of The Pet Vet attributed Petco’s early lack of recognition to an oversight. “It’s something that I think slipped through the cracks. Thrive came in with the ability to expand very rapidly,” he said. Thrive is owned by Pathway, a veterinary management company that operates about 140 clinics under multiple brand names.

Although Thrive was the higher-profile partner in Petco’s foray into veterinary clinics, Cox said, “Petco has always made it clear they wanted to expand with me. We wanted to take it a little different route. I wanted to push the independent model.”

Cox said he hopes to attract veterinarians wishing to own practices to buy into The Pet Vet’s Petco-based clinics. In a video posted Oct. 12 on YouTube, Cox says:

“The goal is to create an environment for independent operators, independent veterinarians, who would like to own their veterinary practice but for whatever reason, they haven’t been able to get into the ownership situation … maybe because of … lack of funds, high student debt — you know, you may just not be able to have the borrowing power, and yet you’re a fabulous veterinarian … We want to encourage you to … open up hospitals with us, so we can help you to realize your dream. …”

He continues: “There’s a lot of talk about corporate veterinary medicine. That’s not what we are. We’re the independent operator. And we have a team of special people that want to help you manage those hospitals, get you off on the right foot, follow standards and protocols associated with best practices laid out by the American Animal Hospital Association. The opportunity just happens to be inside of Petco stores.”

Cox told the VIN News Service that an entity he’s created called Pet Vet Management Consultants will build the hospitals and hire chiefs of staff and associate veterinarians. “We’re looking for doctors that would be interested in … being chief of staff and ultimately being an owner-operator with us,” he elaborated. “Our organization will maintain a management position with them and help them to maximize the success of the practice, helping them to hire doctors and staff members and to maintain hospital standards … ”

Hospitals would operate under The Pet Vet at Petco brand, Cox said, “but doctors who are looking for an opportunity to have ownership, have a say-so in their practice, we will help them have that.” He added, “Ultimately, we’d like to see independent doctors own the practices independent of even us.”

Asked about his statement that The Pet Vet isn’t a corporation, Cox acknowledged that it is a corporation but distinguished it from the kind of large corporation exerting a spreading influence on the profession and drawing concern among independent practitioners.

“We’re never going to get that big,” Cox said. “We’re not going to be a 200-, 300- or 600-hospital organization. But I can’t deny the fact that you would see us as a corporation to a certain extent.”

Cox, who has been a veterinarian for 35 years, has a multifaceted background. In addition to The Pet Vet, he owns a mobile vaccination clinic called The Shot Spot, run by two of his sons, whom he described as businessmen. Cox also lends his name and endorsement to a pet supplement called The Gift for Life. Previously, Cox worked for three years as a regional medical director for Banfield Pet Hospital, the largest veterinary practice chain in the world. Cox also has owned and operated various independent practices, one of which he sold to VCA Inc., the world’s second-largest practice brand.

Petco is not the first national retailer to ally with a veterinary practice. Banfield, which began as a single, independent hospital in 1955, opened a clinic in a PetSmart store in 1994. Thus began a partnership that fueled Banfield's growth into the largest practice chain, with more than 1,000 locations to date, 85 percent of them inside PetSmart stores. Today, Banfield, VCA and several other practice chains are owned by the same company — Mars Inc., the candy-making conglomerate.

Cox’s business relationship with Petco dates to 2008, when he looked into opening a clinic at a shopping center where Petco was building a store. “I gave them a pitch on how I thought it would be beneficial to their customers, and I agreed to fund it 100 percent if they would just lease me the space,” Cox recalled. The Pet Vet opened in the Frisco Petco in 2009.

The business arrangement behind the new clinics is different. “It’s a little bit more of a partnership with Petco working with us to put in the hospitals,” Cox said. “We negotiated a project with them to remodel their stores and build these clinics. They’re making an investment, and we’re making a big investment.”

The Pet Vet Petco clinics will be unlike Thrive Petco clinics in prices and types of services. Whereas Petco and Thrive tout exam fees of $10 to $15 at Thrive clinics, Cox said The Pet Vet charges $55 for an exam. “Thrive has a lower-price office visit, but they give a quality product, and so do we," Cox said. "We’re even doing cutting-edge things — laser therapies, ultrasounds, all that, in our hospitals. We’re more full-service, [including] urgent care.”

By year’s end, Cox said he expects The Pet Vet to be operating new clinics in four Petcos in Texas, three in Oklahoma and two in Arkansas.

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