Creature comforts benefit your bottom line


Demand for luxury boarding is still growing among veterinary clientele, urban and rural. Learn how this feature can attract pet owners and create cash flow for your practice.

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At VMC St. Lucie, clients boarding dogs in luxury suites can choose among jungle (pictured), beach, Disney, princess and cowboy themes. Each suite has a satellite TV and is under surveillance by staff and owners using webcams.

Unlike many practice owners, Dr. Michael Geraghty, owner of Merit Award-winning hospital Veterinary Medical Center of St. Lucie County (VMC St. Lucie) in Port St. Lucie, Fla., set his sights on luxury boarding suites early in his hospital building process. And after thorough research, he knew just how he'd like them to be designed-with pet owners in mind.

"I toured lots of boarding suites and found lots that looked like small, tiled bathrooms,” Dr. Geraghty says. “It wouldn't make me feel comfortable to leave my pet there."

So other than its standard dog and cat runs, VMC St. Lucie offers five themed luxury rooms, removed from the main boarding corridor, for canine guests. And thus far, it has proved to be a valuable investment.

"Boarding is a vital part of our revenue stream," says Dr. Geraghty. "After only seven full months of operation, the monthly gross from boarding paid half of our loan payment."

In fact, Dr. Geraghty has said he would've added two or three more luxury suites if he had known just how popular they would become with clients.

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VMC St. Lucie's beach and Disney-themed luxury boarding suites. "This is Florida, after all!" says Dr. Michael Geraghty.

"Sometimes it takes time to build the demand to fill them regularly if you overbuild too many too soon, but normally all practice owners wish they had more," says Wayne Usiak, senior partner of Wayne Usiak and Associates/BDA Architecture P.C. in Albuquerque, N.M. and Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member, who worked on the VMC project. "None of our clients have ever regretted putting luxury boarding in."

So how does one decide how many boarding suites to include? Talk to your architect and share your business plan. It's important that he or she has a clear understanding of this in order to arrive at a reasonable number.

"We spend considerable time discussing the right mix-economy, larger runs and suites-and providing practice owners with strategies to deal with the typical holiday crush they all want to capture," says Usiak.

He also recommends using the demographics in your area to decide how much to charge-personally, he's seen fees range from $45 to $75 per night.

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Boarded cats at The Pet Hotel enjoy state-of-the-art glass-front, multi-tier feline condos that continually circulate fresh air into the entire area. Windows are strategically placed to face the outdoors and allow cats to watch the world go by. In addition, each individual enclosure has a separate area with a private litter box. Clients can also check in on their pets via webcam.

During the planning stages for their new veterinary facility in Wooster, Ohio, Drs. Chad and Stephanie Bailey were surprised to receive an overwhelming number of client requests for luxury boarding suites.

"While we live in a more rural area, it's still very progressive, with universities nearby," says Dr. Chad Bailey, co-owner of Cleveland Road Animal Hospital, another Merit Award winner. "Pets are valued family members and our clients demand the creature comforts of home."

So in addition to the hospital, the husband-and-wife team included The Pet Hotel, the first luxury boarding, spa and doggy day care facility in the area. They cater to boarded cats and dogs not only with attractive housing, but also veterinary medical care, grooming and even room service-with special meal options and snacks.

"Saving time with one-stop shopping is critical to our clients," says Dr. Chad Bailey. "Providing them with high-quality veterinary medicine, boarding, grooming day care and training under one roof at a reasonable price is a great start."

And since The Pet Hotel was new to their business plan, they were wise to include expansion possibilities into the original design to enable future growth and meet rising demand. If the trend's past and present serve as any indication for the future, it won't be long before all pet owners want their furry friends to live in the lap of luxury.

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The luxury boarding hallway, designed to resemble downtown Wooster's street scape, evokes a familiar local feel. Each custom suite includes a unique and comfortable bed and rug as well as a flat-screen TV, webcam and artwork adorning the walls. They're all large enough to accommodate pet families, both canine and feline.

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