Specialty vet firm merges and grows

BluePearl expands outside Florida where need exists

Tampa Bay Business Journal – by Margaret Cashill Staff Writer
Friday, July 16, 2010  |  Modified: Monday, July 19, 2010, 2:00am EDT

TAMPA — Just as a human in need of special medical attention may turn to a cardiologist, neurologist or other specialist, animal owners are taking their pets to veterinary specialists.

The breakthrough of specialty veterinary care has translates to growth for BluePearl Veterinary Partners, a Tampa-headquartered group of hospitals offering specialty treatment and emergency care to dogs, cats and other animals.

BluePearl’s 12 hospitals in seven states have 700 employees working as doctors, nurses, technicians, client care coordinators and other support staff.

Brothers Darryl Shaw, CEO, and Dr. Neil Shaw, chief medical officer, opened their first hospital, Florida Veterinary Specialists, in 1996.

Darryl Shaw handled business operations at the 1,500-square-foot leased facility while Neil Shaw, a veterinarian, treated animals. The Shaws had one employee, a technician who is still with the company.

“We started lean, and we essentially reinvested,” Darryl Shaw said. “We knew the practice was growing quickly, so we invested profits and lived lean for a while.”

By 1999, the company moved into a newly constructed facility on Busch Gardens Boulevard. An expansion in 2001 brought the facility up to 17,000 square feet.

“There was a lot of demand,” Shaw said. “You’ve seen people willing and interested in providing a level of care for their pets they would provide for themselves and family members.”

The Shaws in 2005 opened a 6,000-square-foot facility in Brandon in 2006 opened a 3,000-square-foot facility in Clearwater.

Later in 2006, they opened a 20,000-square-foot hospital in New York City after veterinarians in the area reached out to them expressing a need for specialty services.

After a yearlong renovation in the basement of an 18-story apartment building, the greatest challenge was building the relationship with the New York City veterinary community, Shaw said.

With the 2008 opening of a location in Queens, N.Y., and merger of the Florida and New York hospitals with a practice in Overland Park, Kan., the company took on the name BluePearl Veterinary Partners. It has since added locations in Eden Prairie, Minn., and Brentwood, Tenn.

On July 12, BluePearl announced the addition of a hospital in Atlanta and three hospitals in Michigan through mergers with local veterinary hospitals.

Barry Alpert, managing director of investment banking at Raymond James Financial (NYSE: RJF), and Dick Dobkin, retired managing partner of Ernst & Young, are BluePearl board members.

While the Shaws have an ownership stake in each location, they share ownership with doctors and key administrators onsite at the various locations.

With nearly 100 percent internal ownership and no outside investors or private equity, the firm does not feel pressure to grow at any certain rate. The company offers equity when prudent in a merger or acquisition and has stated to the Securities and Exchange Commission the minimum investment accepted is $140,000.

BluePearl does not have a timetable or a geographic plan for growth, Shaw said.

“As we’ve become more well known, more opportunities are finding their way to us,” he said.

A Brooklyn, N.Y., facility is scheduled to open later this summer.
Relationships important

As in the case of the New York City location, a BluePearl hospital increases business by keeping up contacts with referring veterinarians.

Veterinary specialty medicine is still evolving and finding its way to new regions around the country, said Leah Basinais, chief operations officer of Symphony Inc., a veterinary management company based in Ventura, Calif., that owns and operates specialty practices.

“The veterinary community is extremely tight-knit,” she said. “We’re still small enough to where it’s very personable. You know people at a large number of hospitals.”

Basinais is president of the Veterinary Specialty Practice Alliance, a nonprofit representing 20 veterinary specialty hospitals around the country. While the members do not encompass the entire veterinary specialty hospital community, it’s small and extremely tight-knit, she said.

“Our bread and butter is a general practitioner who sends us a case,” Basinais said. “With the exception of emergencies, we are almost 100 percent referrals.”

The pet-owning population covers a range of demographics and pet owners usually pay out of pocket for patient care.

Veterinary medicine is not “recession-proof,” Neil Shaw said, but while clients may have smaller budgets, their desire to help their pets has not waned.

The hospitals have seen 74,500 new patients in 2010, up from 48,000 in 2009.

BUSINESS: BluePearl Veterinary Partners
ADDRESS: 3000 Busch Lake Blvd., Tampa 33614
NATURE OF BUSINESS: Specialty and emergency veterinary medicine
PHONE: 813.933.8944

This story was originally published Friday, July 16, 2010 in the Tampa Bay Business Journal.