Michael Ferguson, Wauchope Vets

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Michael, you are a vet and you have now owned and run the Wauchope Vets business for nine years. What was your background before moving to the area and buying this local business? 

I moved to Wauchope with my wife and our two-week-old baby, Charlie, after a good friend of mine recommended the business, Wauchope Vet Clinic, the town and the whole area!  

I had met my wife, Leisa while I was locuming and travelling in the UK, and during this time we had been thinking about what we wanted to achieve in life and where we wanted to raise our family. 

We took a leap of faith by moving to this region, as we didn’t know the area or have any close friends or family here. I think we chose very wisely!

What do you love most about being a vet? 

I love the relationships I get to develop. When I get to know a pet and their owner, I get an insight into their relationship, and seeing that develop in its own unique way is really special. 

I have been very fortunate with my own pets over the years and gained so much support and so many life lessons from them. I am quite lucky as a vet to be able to contribute, nurture and support that bond through my work. It can be very emotionally challenging, which is tough at times, but overall, it is a very rewarding job.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you face as a vet and as a business owner?

As a vet we are faced with emotionally tough cases for which you have to guide, support and help people through difficult times. We also need to be careful to not get pressured or emotionally blackmailed into making bad choices or providing unreasonable expectations. 

Many vets suffer from mental health issues due to the daily emotional toll we face. So as a business owner, we have to find ways to support our team of vets and nurses, as well as the pet owners, to achieve the best possible outcomes for all. It sounds easy, but it is certainly not! 

Managing and supporting our staff is essential for us to provide the service our dedicated pet owners require.

Does seasonality affect your business and if it does, how do you plan your resources to manage this? 

We are extremely susceptible to seasonality! The weather has quite an effect on the type of cases we see. For example, an East Coast low can lead to more cats with bladder issues, itchy dogs with fungal skin infections, as well as more mastitis in dairy cows. 

This certainly provides variety in our day-to-day workload, so we need to have an adaptable and flexible team. The onset of warm weather brings about a 50% increase in our workload from one month to the next. This is a massive challenge for our business, as we need highly trained and capable staff year-round. 

Yet as a regionally based small business, we do not necessarily have access to casual or seasonal staff. There is a real vet shortage nationwide. We have been fortunate to have attracted and retained a great team of vets and support staff, which is something we are very proud of. 

What’s one thing that you wish someone would have told you before you embarked on being a business owner?

Get good marketing advice from the get-go! Be very clear on what you stand for, your values and your goals, and your brand should reflect them clearly 100% of the time. This can help you make quick and clear decisions.  

Business is all about building and maintaining relationships, yet all relationships will evolve, and nothing stays the same. 

Keep adapting to change and be brave enough to discard your old ideas in order to keep your team fresh and focused on your clients’ needs. 

Never think you know it all, and mistakes are part of every journey, so seek out good advice – and then listen very closely! 

What do you think is the single most important factor in running a successful family-owned, regionally based business? 

Keeping my team and my family happy is essential, but all small businesses like ours must focus on what our clients actually need and want. 

It may not be as obvious as it appears, but you need to get to the crux of what made them seek you out in the first place. That requires you to actively listen and develop a really in-depth relationship with your clients, one that is based on trust and open communication.  

Make sure your team is ready to service that need really well. If you really believe that what you are doing and whatever you are recommending is in their best interest, your business will endure. 

What are you hoping to achieve in business this year? 

We are reviewing our marketing and our online appointment booking, to make it easier for pet owners to see us. We are focusing on training and developing our team, so they enjoy and thrive, while providing excellent vet care with an emphasis on what the pet owners actually want. I also need to spend some time planning my next 10-year business plan.

And finally, if you could invite three business people to lunch, who would they be and why would you invite them?

Well, I would love to have a hilarious, inspiring and enthralling lunch with lots of insightful, determined, committed and resilient characters, so David Attenborough, Barack Obama, and Anh Do would be my dream lunch. It would have to be an eight-course degustation over many hours to do the company justice! 

Thanks for your time, Michael.

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