For longer than most people in the Bay can remember, animal industry stalwart Vet Services Hawke’s Bay (VSHB) has been ensuring all beasts – from sheep to bearded dragons – get the care they need.
Over the past seven decades, the business has grown from a one-vet practice in CHB to an incorporated business of five practices located in Napier, Hastings, Waipukurau, Dannevirke and Masterton.
“Sixty, seventy years ago you couldn’t get a vet down here,” says business manager Brendan James.
“That was pretty typical for rural areas in New Zealand in the late 40s and 50s, even throughout the 60s and into the 70s. At the time, agriculture science was evolving and vets were only just starting to play a more prominent role in the productivity of farms.”
However, Brendan says CHB farmers saw the value of a good vet early on, with a group of farmers getting crafty in 1949 and forming the CHB Farmers Veterinary Club, where they pooled their resources together to establish the district’s first professional veterinary practice.
“The club members collaborated and contracted a vet to come and live here to service the farms in the area,” he says.
“This was pretty typical of what was happening across New Zealand; farmers had to get creative to get vets into the regional areas.”
Thanks to the initiative of a few farmers almost 70 years ago, VSHB is a thriving business today. Incorporated in 1974, it now employs in excess of 50 staff and has plans to expand their Hastings and Waipukurau buildings to better service their clients.
Brendan admits that while the business may not have the same problems attracting staff to the district, vets are still in pretty high demand countrywide, with only around 130 graduates coming out of Massey University each year.
“These grads are highly sought after,” he says. “So, like the farmers’ club before us, we still have to get creative about how we recruit.
“One effective way has been to offer scholarships to students; another drawcard for us is that we can offer them time in a mixed animal practice.
“These types of clinics are becoming less and less so but it gives graduates an opportunity to develop their general veterinary knowledge before they decide what line of clinical expertise to follow.”
While it is these points of difference that have served VSHB well, Brendan says the team is well aware that the business can live and die with the seasons.
“Thanks to some good rain, the dams are full and farmers are in a position that they do not normally find themselves in in that they are trying to find animals to eat the grass,” he says.
“As a consequence, the market is lifting and the sheep and beef guys, the dairy guys and the deer farmers are generally feeling pretty positive at the moment.”
Brendan explains that if it is a dry season then the number of animals disappear out of the area to be fed elsewhere where there is grass.
“We ride the lows and the highs from that point of view, and I am probably oversimplifying it. It is quite a simple business for us on the large animal side, we live and die by their good or bad fortunes.”
In terms of the small animal side of the business, Brendan admits it is driven by how well the Bay is travelling economically and is well measured at the Hastings clinic.
“You may have noticed Hawke’s Bay is bursting at the seams in terms of people wanting to move in here,” he says.
“Most people have pets and when people have got money, they are prepared to spend money on looking after their pets better and prolonging their life.
“It’s interesting seeing the different dynamics of our client base and just how they ride on what is happening economically.”
Because of this, VSHB has to expand two of its clinics to cater for this demand.
“It’s a good problem to have, even if it is a little bit uncomfortable for the guys at the moment because we are really busy and they are working on top of each other. But if we have to create more space for the right things for the right reasons, then it is a good thing to be able to do.”
Beyond this, Brendan believes that what makes his business successful is that the company is owned by the people who work for it every day.
“It makes a difference for the clients due to the quality of our staff. We want to make sure that we deliver the best experience for our clients every time because if we don’t, they don’t return.
“At the end of the day, we are in a service industry so it doesn’t matter how good the seasons are, if you don’t deliver good service you won’t have clients coming back.”