Finding a bank and a leasing company that will support you may take time.
One of the key issues to consider is how much it costs to start up a mobile veterinary clinic. Veterinary Practice News estimates up to $250,000 of startup capital required to launch a mobile veterinary clinic. That may seem like a lot if you are a veterinarian working for a pre-established practice, but it’s actually quite low when you compare it to the cost of starting a stationary vet clinic – which is upwards of $1,000,000.
Given the high upfront investment of either type of clinic, most vets interested in launching a mobile practice will need to get a loan from a bank or investor to start their practice. That’s exactly what Dr. Kovac did when he launched his mobile practice bank in 1987. “My wife and I saved up $5,000 to get a lease and our first loan from a brand new bank,” says Dr. Kovac. “We went to work on February 5, 1987 and we haven’t looked back since.”
Dr. Kovac makes it sound pretty straightforward, but in reality, it wasn’t. In the late 1980’s, mobile veterinary clinics were not nearly as common as they are today, so lenders may have been skeptical about an investment. “Finding the right bank and leasing company for our business was key,” he says. “Part of it was that we didn’t go with standard veterinary builders. I bought RVs and had them customized as mobile clinics.”
As time went on, Dr. Kovac saw that each new request for funds was easier because of his continued success and profitability with his mobile vet clinic. “Later responses were like, ‘What do you want, Larry? Go buy it and we’ll pay for it.”
One of Dr. Kovac’s biggest pieces of advice to veterinarians considering a mobile practice? “Find a bank that is willing to work with you.”
Mobile vets will need to dispel the misconceptions of local stationary vets.
Before starting a mobile vet clinic, many veterinarians will probably have worked for established stationary clinics in their area. They are likely to have relationships with various types of vets locally. Those relationships, which would seem like they would only be a help to mobile vets, can sometimes prove to be a hindrance for various reasons.
One common misconception is that a mobile vet clinic is actually just what many refer to as a shopping center or parking lot vaccination clinic – not a full-service clinic. Dr. Kovac has experience with this firsthand. “When I wanted to start my mobile clinic, I went to four of my colleagues and presented the idea to them. I knew they could afford to start me up. They all said no, we’re not interested because they thought I was starting a parking lot vaccination clinic.”
And it wasn’t just saying no to the investment. Dr. Kovac reports some ill will on the part of his colleagues. “One of the old timers at the time pulled me aside and said, “There was a time when we were all going to run you out of business,” says Dr. Kovac.
Through his work with a pet store at the mall, Dr. Kovac was able to show his colleagues that he was operating a full-service clinic. “We had a start-to-finish program where I sent every pet to their veterinarian healthy and fully vaccinated,” Dr. Kovac says. “They saw that I was serious, and they actually started referring to the pet store when clients wanted a purebred.”
Another misconception is that once a client uses a mobile vet, they will never go back to their stationary vet. The perception of stationary vets is that mobile vets are “stealing” their clients. However, there are many cases where a client may need on-site service from a mobile vet just as a one-off, but plan to keep using their stationary vet for the long haul.
Dr. Gardner takes these types of client relationships very seriously. “It’s very important for us to maintain that relationship, and it’s an honor to know that those veterinarians trust us with their families,” Dr. Gardner says. “We want them to go back.”
“Even still today, some don’t want us to steal their euthanasia business,” says Dr. Gardner. “I tell them, we’ve got a line out the door. If you want to do general practice and go into people’s homes, that’s great. We’re here if you can’t.”
Specific to end-of-life, a third misconception is what a mobile hospice vet actually does. Many veterinarians believe mobile hospice is actually prolonging suffering and inevitable death for a pet, but Dr. Gardner disagrees. “We’re focused on palliation and making sure pets are comfortable until the end – not prolonging suffering.”
Experience in other veterinary settings is critical before launching a mobile vet clinic.
To those fresh out of veterinary school, a mobile vet clinic might seem like a way to skip the standard track and be your own boss from the start. It is a way to be more independent, but only after some experience in traditional vet practice where more junior vets can pick up valuable experience they’ll need while out on the road.
Dr. Gardner gets questions all the time about how long a veterinarian should be out of school before attempting mobile end-of-life care. Many assume that what she does is rather easy, but she quickly sets them straight. “You’ve got to have the confidence to be on your own, in strangers’ homes or out front in your van,” she says. “You’re on the road by yourself, with no technician. You’re talking about medicine, diseases, and treatments to families. You really need to be a lone wolf.”
Dr. Kovac had a similar experience with confidence when starting out his mobile practice. “I was going to get started in 1986, but I wasn’t ready,” he says. “Another year in private practice got me ready to where I was confident enough in myself to go out and take it on.”
Dr. Aumiller also agrees and adds another skill vets may get in private practice that contributes to a well-functioning mobile clinic: technical skills. “You need excellent technical skills to run a mobile vet clinic,” she says. “That’s why a year or two in private practice can make a big difference.”
Driving is one of the biggest time-drains for mobile vets. Efficient routing is key.
One of the key benefits of a mobile vet clinic – freedom to move – comes with one of its biggest downsides: driving. If you’re not careful, you can spend more time in the car than you do with pets and clients. Dr. Aumiller learned that early on: the key to a successful, well-functioning mobile vet practice is a routing process that reduces drive time as much as possible.
“Mobile vet calls take a lot longer than stationary vet calls because we have to do the routing and figure out where the client lives,” she says. “That’s probably the biggest time investment for our mobile practice: quick routing. I wish I knew of an app that helped with routing.”
Dr. Gardner agrees and has taken it one step further. “I’m working with our developers to create software that reduces the time we spend on routing,” she says. “It’s definitely a challenge for our business.”
Mobile vet practices face significant – yet surmountable – challenges.
Given all these hurdles, launching a mobile vet clinic may seem beyond reach. Finding a bank and convincing local vets to collaborate can both be tricky. Experience in private practice and a solid routing process are really necessary. That’s a lot to take on.
However, the important thing is awareness. Knowing it might take some time to get funding from an investor and/or buy-in from colleagues sets expectations going in. And both experience in private practice and routing tools are things vets can work on ahead of time. These are all things would-be mobile vets can prepare for.
Looking for a quick reminder of all the positives of a mobile vet clinic? Take a look at our previous post for more details.