Animal magic as vets plan a major expansion

A YORKSHIRE-based veterinary practice plans to create hundreds of jobs by opening up to 50 practices across the North and Midlands over the next seven years.

The White Cross Veterinary Surgery dates from 1937 when a newly-qualified vet called Miss Woods started providing treatment for sick animals, from the front room of her house in Menston, West Yorkshire.

The practice, which cares for small pets, is now gearing up for growth by opening new surgeries outside its traditional heartland in West Yorkshire.

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Tim Harrison, the managing director, said: “We have decided to create a platform to rapidly expand White Cross. In recent years, we have opened four new practices and made two small acquisitions.

“We are now putting the foot on the accelerator. White Cross is a fusion between veterinary expertise and business expertise. The corporate veterinary practice in the UK is in its infancy.”

The growth is being financed with support from Yorkshire Bank and the company’s directors.

White Cross has humble roots.

Mr Harrison said: “Initially, the vets was run in her (Miss Woods) front room and later at a small surgery at the bottom of the drive. Miss Woods joined forces with another vet, Miss Dalby. They were a formidable duo with a phenomenal reputation for caring for animals.”

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After the founders died, the business was developed by Craig Harrision who became a sole trader in 1985. After creating a purpose-built surgery in Guiseley, near Leeds, the practice expanded to have surgeries in Ilkley, Baildon and Addingham, in West Yorkshire.

Tim Harrison orginally joined the practice in 1995. He rejoined in 2008 after heading up the international veterinary division of Mars. Since then, staff numbers have grown from 11 to 62.

The practice is owned by Mr Harrison, John Guggenheim, Craig Harrison, the clinical director, and Richard Burgin.

Tim Harrison said his experience at Mars had been useful, because the company owns US-based Banfield Vets, which is the largest veterinary practice in the world

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He added: “We are a family-owned and run business with strong family values. We are not recession proof, but we are recession sheltered because British people like to look after their pets, even in a downturn.

“We only employ pet owners, because we are passionate about pets. We only treat pets that are part of the family. We have phenomenally low staff turnover rates.”

He said each new surgery would create around eight or nine jobs.

The company is expected to announce another acquisition in the the next two weeks.

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Mr Harrison said many traditional vets practices were based in converted houses, with little or no on-site parking.

White Cross is working with Savills Commercial to buy space for the new surgeries.

James Lamming, an associate at Savills, said White Cross is looking for “prominently located” retail units on major roads, to make it easier for customers to visit.

He added : “White Cross Vets is a Yorkshire success story, with seven successfully trading practices across the North and Midlands and ambitions for creating a national chain.”

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Mr Lamming said the most recently completed surgeries have been in Middlesbrough and Northampton.

In Northampton, White Cross has a 2,000 sq ft unit on a 15-year lease and will pay £29,000 per annum.

The company plans to openthree new practices in Leeds by the end of the year.

Rob Greenwood, a business partner at Yorkshire Bank’s Leeds Financial Solutions Centre (FSC), said: “White Cross Vets is a fast-growing family business which focuses on allowing pet owners to provide virtually the same standard of healthcare to their pets as they would to their family.

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“The business is passionate about what it does and has bucked the economic trend by expanding during the credit crunch and recession. Yorkshire Bank Leeds FSC has been pleased to support it with a range of corporate banking facilities.

“During this time, we have helped the practice as it has opened new pet hospitals in Birmingham, Derby, Redcar and Northampton and with the acquisition of a veterinary hospital in Manchester. This is a very dynamic business, with experienced management, which we would expect to see grow further.”

White Cross has always tried to be ahead of the times. Eleven years ago, the company opened an animal hospital in Bramley, near Leeds, offering twin operating theatres, X-ray suite and separate dog and cat waiting areas.