Clocktower makes time for animals, owners


Bill Swartz, DVM, builds his small animal practice on service

Just a few miles outside the hustle of Washington's Dulles airport, lies a private veterinary practice boasting a unique blend of service and compassion.

Clocktower Animal Hospital, nestled in the heart of an active, but charmingshopping center, services small animals of every kind. Practice owner BillSwartz, DVM, says it's the design of his five-veterinarian clinic coupledwith the warmth of his staff that makes his workplace rare.

"This place is designed to be small and intimate in care and infeeling," he says. "We don't want to grow that large. We liketo spend time talking with our clients and patients and serving them."

Opened in 1994, the 3,000-square-foot clinic has three exam rooms, onewhich doubles as Swartz's office, and a fourth open exam table for overflow.Decorated by Swartz's business partner and wife, Mary Lou, the clinic'stables, chairs and wall covering are painted in bold greens, blues and yellows.The reception area is clean and bright, surrounded by bay windows and filledwith children's toys and videos.

But perhaps the clinic's most inventive ode to client-patient intimacyis its glass-enclosed surgery suite designed so owners, and whoever's walkingdown the street, can watch as their pet undergoes surgical procedures.

"We want to be as comforting to the owner as the patient,"Swartz says. "If they don't want to see, we just close the blinds."

Size, service matters

Six years ago, Swartz left a 23-year partnership at a nearby large clinicbecause he desired a smaller, "more personable" practice.

"Part of good care is being able to remember your patient's nameand spending time with them," he says. "That's tough to do ina large practice, and I had a tremendous following from my old practiceto here."

As a rule, Clocktower DVMs spend at least one hour consulting with newclients and examining their animals. And once any patient leaves the office,a DVM or receptionist follows the next day with a courtesy phone call tocheck if the animal is OK.

"A lot of clients say, 'My vet calls to follow up and my doctordoesn't even call me,'" Swartz says. "I think they appreciatethat."

New clients might also appreciate knowing their opinions matter to Clocktowerstaff. After the initial exam, each owner is mailed a satisfaction-scoringquestionnaire. Good or bad, Swartz enters returned comments into a binderfor employee analysis.

"These aren't dumped in the trash; they're actually reviewed,"Swartz says. "The return rate is phenomenal. It's something like 90percent and the vast majority approves of what we do."

Clocktower receptionists also phone clients with appointment remindersand mail vaccine/exam reminder cards. Sympathy cards are sent out aftereuthanasias, and referrals are rewarded with personal 'thank you' notes,coupons and an occasional dinner with a DVM.

"I have many long-term patients, and I'm convinced that this kindof care is the reason why I've retained some clients for more than 20 years,"Swartz says.

Building on success

One of Swartz's objectives after starting Clocktower was to have hisclinic's gross exceed the million-dollar mark. In 2000, Clocktower surpassedthat quota by $280,000 and is still reeling from 1999's 23-percent hikein growth.

There now are more than 4,700 active patients on Clocktower's registerand room to expand. Extended hours recently were added to include shortworkdays on the weekends, and weekday-hours have been lengthened for eveningappointments, clinic administrator Roberta Hebert says.

"My guess is the way we're growing right now, it'll be less than18 months before we've grown into those hours," Hebert says. "Everytime we've expanded, we've grown into it."

But growth and financial successes aren't making Swartz rich, he says,adding that most of Clocktower's profits are re-invested for equipment,and a high percentage of the clinic's gross pays a staff of three full-and two part-time veterinarians, nine veterinary assistants and one licensedveterinary technician.

"We don't flash money around here," he says. "Almost everydime earned is used to pay for something."

For now, Swartz says early retirement isn't in the picture, adding thatwhile he's cut back on some hours, he has about 10 more years left in him.

"Sooner or later this clinic will probably go to one of my associates,and I'll be working for them from time-to-time," he says. "Butright now, I want to see this clinic's reputation grow as a practice ofquality care and caring. That's my goal."

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