One of the hottest business trends in the animal industry is the mobile veterinary clinic. The convenience of at-home pet services is a big selling point for busy pet owners, and the demand shows no sign of slowing. The mobile clinic is also gaining popularity with veterinarians due to the significantly lower start up cost of such an operation, compared to the great expense of starting a brick and mortar veterinary office.
Are you a vet (or future vet) thinking about opening your own mobile clinic? Let’s take a look at some of the steps involved in starting a successful mobile veterinary clinic:
Define Your Business Model
You will need to answer many questions as you define your business model. Will your clinic be an entirely mobile operation, or some combination of a mobile vehicle and stationary clinic? Will there be multiple vets and multiple vehicles working together as part of a large mobile practice, or just a single practitioner operating independently? Will you travel only to client homes, or will you also set up in parking lots of high traffic areas like apartments and shopping centers to offer services? Will you work on the weekend, and how many days will you work during the week?
You also need to determine what type of care you will offer. Will you focus on just shots and basic exams, or will you provide full service veterinary care? If you perform basic care only, will you refer more extensive procedures to a stationary local vet clinic (and set up a reciprocal arrangement in case any of their clients require at-home care)?
You will also need to investigate the requirements in your jurisdiction with regard to licensing, insurance, permits, and pharmaceutical restrictions to be sure that you are in compliance with all codes and ordinances.
Name Your Business and Design a Logo
The name you choose for your mobile vet clinic is important, and it should be something that is unique and memorable. Check out other mobile vets in your area to be sure that your chosen name isn’t overly similar to those already out there.
You also need to design a logo that features your business name in an attractive way. The logo will be featured on your vehicle and all promotional materials, so it should clearly identify the business as a mobile vet clinic and have an eye catching design.
Purchase a Vehicle
There are many commercial companies that offer specially outfitted veterinary vehicles for mobile practitioners. You have the option of using either a customized van or a customized trailer. The vehicle will prominently feature your logo and contact information on the exterior. Inside, the vehicle will be equipped with most traditional veterinary equipment in a space-saving design. Vehicle pricing can of course vary based on the specific items included in the design.
Data collected by Veterinary Practice News in 2009 indicated that the total start-up cost for a mobile vet clinic was approximately $250,000. This was significantly less expensive than the investment required to open a standard small animal clinic (about $1,000,000).
Develop a Marketing Plan
As was discussed above, the logo and contact information displayed on the vehicle serves as a mobile billboard to advertise constantly to the community. A large percentage of your business will come from potential customers seeing your van while it is traveling between appointments or parked in front of a neighbor’s home. The money spent on the vehicle customization will be well worth it in the long run.
Another key part of the advertising process is setting up a website and dedicated social media account for the business. A website is a great place to detail your pricing, define a service area, display a clinic schedule, allow clients to set up their pet’s basic patient record, to offer an online scheduling module, or to provide a “contact us” form. The website should feature high quality photos and clearly provide your contact information (and once you have a client base it is a great idea to solicit recommendations to post on the site). A social media account on Facebook can also help raise your clinic’s profile.
You can also advertise in traditional print media through local publications like magazines, newspapers, yellow pages, and church bulletins. Be sure to put up flyers in public areas with high pet owner foot traffic (like the bulletin boards often found in the entryways of supermarkets and pet stores).
Another potential source of business can be found through networking with local pet service providers (especially at-home care providers like dog walkers, pet sitters, and mobile groomers, since their clients already use at-home services). You can both benefit from offering reciprocal recommendations.
Determine Pricing and Fees
As a premium convenience service, mobile clinics can charge a house call fee (usually around $50) on top of their usual exam and treatment fees. A LaBoit Specialty Vehicles client survey indicated that the total revenue per patient per visit averaged $250. Mobile clinicians can usually accommodate 4 to 8 separate appointments per day depending on travel time and the extent of the veterinary care required during the visit.
Define a Service Area
You definitely need to consider the size and scope of your service area, as this will affect the business in terms of mileage, fuel expenses, and travel time between appointments. Will you provide services city-wide or just in a specific segment of the city? Will you divide the city into quadrants and service a different area each day of the week?
Hire a Vet Tech
Most mobile clinic operators have a ride along vet tech to assist with procedures and animal restraint. The tech also provides additional administrative support for scheduling, returning phone calls, data entry, invoicing, and applying payments. They can also assist with driving and navigation duties.