A Start-up Success in Northumberland

Morris & Plumley Co-Founder & Director Dom Plumley looks back on starting up his own business and the role ezyVet has played during their growth.

The team at Morris & Plumley

1. Starting & Building a Veterinary Practice

Why did you want to start your own business?

I have worked in the Alnwick area for a number of years now, like my business partner, Stuart Morris. We both used to work for a large vet practice, where I had previously been a director, but in 2016, my former partners sold the practice to one of the national corporates. Stuart and I decided we didn’t want to work for them. We wanted to be our own bosses so set out on our own.

What were the most important factors for you to consider when setting up?

We had to manage a number of things simultaneously so it’s hard to rank them in any particular order. These were:

  1. The type of work we wanted to do (first opinion small animal and farm work)
  2. Professional help – accountants/solicitors
  3. Finding suitable premises and making them into a vet surgery
  4. Staffing levels at start up and recruitment
  5. Practice management system
  6. Wholesaler

How important do you feel the practice management software used is for a new clinic (or even an established clinic)?

The practice management system is vital and can have a significant impact on the way the business develops. It is integrally involved with everything that you do. Both Stuart and I were experienced vets, who had worked with a number of different PMS’s over the years, so we had a reasonable idea of what they can and can’t do.

What initially attracted you towards ezyVet, and ultimately why did you decide to join us?

Funnily enough, our introduction to ezyVet came from our accountant, who had suggested we look at the system because of its integration with the Xero accounting package. We had a clear idea that we wanted a cloud-based system, so it ticked that box straight away. Our experience of the “traditional” UK systems was that they were very much linked to the purchase of expensive hardware (including servers).

Has ezyVet delivered on what you expected?

Yes, certainly with respect to the financial functionality. With the recent changes in the UK to a digitally based VAT system, our choice of ezyVet has clearly paid dividends. Being cloud based, the system is regularly updated and improved, without lengthy periods of downtime while servers update. Certainly, in the start up phase, the flexibility with respect to hardware required saved us a large amount of capital outlay (and continues to do so).

If you could give one key piece of advice to someone looking to start up their own veterinary practice, what would it be?

Apart from the obvious ‘know your market’, my advice would be to cut your cloth according to your means. It can be incredibly expensive to set up a vet business and there are loads of areas where you can save money. ezyVet is a good example; you don’t have to buy expensive hardware and the monthly subscription is easily manageable for a start up company. Similarly, us using Xero as our accounting package meant we didn’t need an inhouse bookkeeper, again helping cash flow by reducing wages.

Also, don’t underestimate how hard you have to work – it is all worth it in the end, but it can be very hard work.

That’s three pieces of advice, isn't it!

As an independent business, how important was it to find an independent software provider?

We had an ethos that, where possible, we would look to build partnerships with other independent businesses. When faced with the choice between two options that were broadly similar, we would always choose the independent one.

Particularly with respect to software provider, it was important to us that everything beyond the software remained in our control. For instance, we didn’t want a system that committed us to use a particular wholesaler or in-house laboratory system.

With the widespread corporatisation of the UK veterinary industry, I guess there is always that nagging concern that corporate businesses will look after their own first.

Overall, what was has been the biggest challenge in starting up your own business?

Looking back now, the truth is that we have been very lucky.

One of the biggest challenges was to commit to setting up a new business in the first place. Both of us had reasonably well-paid, secure jobs so there was a significant element of risk involved.

Having decided to go for it – our next challenge – something that may be very peculiar to us – was finding a suitable location for our clinic (Alnwick is quite an odd town in that respect!). It took us nearly 10 months to identify a potential site and another10 months to buy the property and convert it into a functional vet clinic.

We managed to scrape together enough capital to get us going without having to start our business with a large debt burden, and because we knew our market (and our market knew us), we were able to hit the ground running.

“Flexibility with respect to hardware required saved us a large amount of capital outlay and continues to do so.”

Dom Plumley

Co-Founder & Director, Morris & Plumley

Veterinarian Stewart Morris of Morris & Plumley

2. The Growth Story

How has your business grown over the last few years?

I guess in broad terms we started from scratch in 2017 – two vets, two nurses, and two receptionists (one part-time). We are now two-thirds of the way through our fourth year of trading with a predicted turnover of about £1.1M. We have now grown to 4 full-time vets, 3 full-time nurses (shortly to go up to 4), and 3 ½ full-time equivalents of receptionists.

This growth has been consistent throughout, with clear steps up in turnover as we have increased our vet numbers (and thus work capacity).

How do you feel ezyVet has supported/facilitated this growth?

This may sound like a slightly odd analogy but a veterinary practice management system is a bit like a rugby referee. The very best games of rugby occur when you’ve got two great teams and a great ref. The teams go at it and you hardly notice the ref, though you know they are quietly and efficiently going about their job, facilitating the game. If your teams are not great – it doesn’t matter how good the ref is, the game will not be great. That said - a poor ref is perfectly capable of ruining a game between two great sides!

The ezyVet system has done pretty much everything we have asked or required it to do – including things that we perhaps hadn’t thought of at the very beginning and has worked consistently with virtually no faults or downtime. It is very flexible and easy to learn. Communication to and from the system is great (though I’m sure we still just scratch the surface with this) and the financial side integrates seamlessly with Xero.

While it obviously wouldn’t be correct to say that the only reason our business has grown is because of ezyVet, it is very true to say that there would have been a lot more work (and stress) involved in achieving that growth with a practice management system that didn’t work as well.

How easy has it been to train and onboard new employees with ezyVet?

All new employees have found it very straightforward to learn and then use the system. It is very flexible and I’m suspicious we are all using it in slightly different ways to get the same functionality. This may have implications in the reporting tools – we will see.

Are there any other interesting stories from your growth story?

With respect to the business – it’s funny to think back to the day we opened – we were very chuffed with our premises that ended up being significantly smarter and (so we thought) more future proof than we had perhaps hoped. Lots of people suggested that we would be needing to extend in no time – but we were pretty confident it would do us for a good while. Within 12 months we started talking about it, and after getting planning, we started building an extension that just about doubled our original footprint almost 2 years to the day after opening. We took final possession of the new bits from the builders about a month before the pandemic started so hardly any of our clients have seen it – but it has been invaluable!!

Perhaps the most obvious PMS hurdle relates to one function that ezyVet did not do for us at the start, but is a good example of why it is good to have an independent software provider. Unlike other parts of the world, the UK requires specific batch tracking of all medicines going into the food chain. When we started, ezyVet could not automatically upload batch information from our wholesalers (my understanding is that this was to do with the wholesalers in the UK as ezyVet does do this elsewhere). As a fledgling start-up, medicine usage is not enormous and we did all of this manually. However, as we have grown, this has become more time-consuming. Working closely with the ezyVet development team and NVS wholesaler, we now are well on the way to a fully integrated direct ordering system that automatically batch tracks all purchases. The first stage of development was completed before Christmas and we have now ironed out a couple of glitches, with the second phase do for roll out soon. For us, this will be the final cog in a perfect machine.

“We didn’t want a system that committed us to use a particular wholesaler or in house laboratory system.”

Morris & Plumley

Co-Founder & Director, Dom Plumley

Veterinary nurses Emma and Stephanie tend to a dog at Morris & Plumley

3. Day-to-day use of ezyVet

During the pandemic, have any ezyVet features in particular benefited your team?

The system has been great during the pandemic. To be honest, we had a little go with some video consults before that function went live and we found it difficult to get good video images of what we needed to see, so most of the remote work has still been done over the phone. However, the flexibility of the system to allow uploading of photos etc has made this far easier.

The ability to work on the system remotely has been a massive plus. We have had receptionists set up receiving calls at home and able to access the system.

Do you use any integrations with ezyVet? Are any particularly helpful?

The main integration that we use is Xero, which is incredibly useful. As previously mentioned, we are in the throes of setting up an integration with NVS (wholesaler) which will be great when complete. The system also integrates with our Abaxis internal lab machines using the ‘Fuse’ set up, ensuring accurate booking of lb work and efficient delivery of results into the patient's file.

Do you feel there have been significant benefits from ezyVet’s automation of manual tasks?

There are clear areas where this has been very useful, though in truth, we still haven’t taken full advantage of enough of them. This I guess is one of the pitfalls of being a rapidly growing business. Sometimes you are too busy doing what you are doing to step back and realise that there are ways of doing some of those things quicker and more easily.

Do you feel ezyVet supports your staff to have a good work life balance?

Yes. This is certainly seen by everyone as a benefit of the system. The pandemic has been a strange time (to say the least!) because normally we would discourage folk from taking their work home with them! That said, it is very useful for our duty on call vets to be able to access notes from home (out of normal working hours).

Does ezyVet support your clinic in any other way to provide excellent patient care?

It’s a bit like the rugby ref analogy!

Does ezyVet support you in charge capture or reducing missed billing?

I think the billing is clear – ultimately most missed billing can be blamed on operator error and not the system. The integration for both internal and external laboratory work definitely helps to ensure accurate billing.

In short, what makes ezyVet stand out for you?

Cloud-based system, very easy to use and access remotely, very regular updates and improvements with no downtime.

“The ezyVet system has done pretty much everything we have asked or required it to do – including things that we perhaps hadn’t thought of at the very beginning.”

Dom Plumley

Co-Founder & Director, Morris & Plumley

Veterinarian Dominic Plumley on the job at Morris & Plumley

4. Looking Forwards

If you could sum up your ezyVet experience so far in 1 sentence, what would you say?

It has been a pleasure to work with a team that are all clearly invested in their system, the service has been consistent from day 1 (as a start-up) through to today, a confident, pragmatic approach to make ezyVet work best for us (however large or small we might be).

What do you think of the ezyVet community and have you been actively engaged in it?

I have to admit, I’ve not been great at this. I’ve read the odd thing, but generally have been so busy getting the business going that I haven’t had much time – something for the future.

What do you hope to do with our product moving forward? What are you looking forward to in the future?

If you’d asked me this question 6 months ago, I would have said integrated medicine/stock ordering – but we’ve just about ticked that box. There are two other areas that I want to look at.

Firstly, I think we could use the system more efficiently to how we currently do. We have a plan to use the ezyVet team to help us improve the way we use the system. I think this will enable us to make better use of the reporting functions. When you start up a business, you find that you jump in the water and keep swimming as fast as you can to achieve your initial goal of becoming a stable established business. We have reached the point where we need to come up for air!

Secondly, I remember from our early conversations with ezyVet that there is/was a bolt-on website that allows clients to access some of their information, upload patient photos etc – I think this would be an area that would be fun to develop going forwards.

What are the next key goals for your business and will ezyVet help to facilitate these?

Unusually, we have a clear idea of what size business we want to be and do not want to continue to grow forever unchecked. We want to reach a size where we can provide the service that we want, from the building that we have. To be financially stable, this will require precise management and I am certain that ezyVet will be a vital tool in this process.