Delivering a modern profile


A new design that emphasizes natural light and delivers a commanding presence in the neighborhood led to a 40 percent increase in business for the 5,750-square-foot Century Veterinary Group in Los Angeles.

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Jeff Werber's idea of modern was having his own practice. He couldn't have predicted that today the word would mean a new 5,750-square-foot work of art that won a Merit Award in the 2004 Veterinary Economics Hospital Design competition.

"I can't believe it was so long ago that I was driving along Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles and I saw an old brick building for rent," says Dr. Werber, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member. "The building had been used as a film lab, restoring motion pictures. It wasn't ideal for a veterinary practice, and the rent was more than I could afford at the time. I'd only been out of veterinary school four years. But it was imperative that I get out on my own."

A glass wall in the lobby bathes the area in natural light, and parabolic and dropped pendant lighting provides task illumination. Black granite, inset glass tile, and aluminum finishes at the counter give a contemporary feel. A 400-gallon aquarium, reclining chairs, and a waterfall complete the look.

The landlord offered a deal: Dr. Werber could pay whatever rent he could afford for the first two years, then pay back the difference at a reasonable interest rate over the following three years. Dr. Werber jumped at the chance.

A space planner helped convert the building into a workable veterinary practice, with three exam rooms, a lab and pharmacy area, two treatment tables, a surgery suite, a small reception area, and dog and cat wards. The reward: Two-thirds of Dr. Werber's clients followed him to his new practice.

Award-winning floor plan

"I grossed $600,000 that first year and had to add an associate to keep up," he says. Dr. Werber also shared some space with a board-certified surgeon. However, about eight years later the three-doctor practice was grossing $1.6 million a year, and the 15-member team clearly needed more elbow room.

"It became obvious that the facility needed a major facelift," he says. "The building was cramped and just didn't reflect the kind of medicine we were practicing. And I knew I didn't want to rent forever. So it was time to strike out with a building of my own."

As fate would have it, Dr. Werber found a suitable lot just four blocks west of his facility. When asked what he misses today about his previous facility, Dr. Werber quips: "Zilch! It didn't have a single redeeming quality. Today, I have my dream hospital. Now it's just a matter of paying for it!"

Industrial chic aesthetics combine with warm colors to make Century Veterinary Group a sculptural art form, Dr. Werber says. The contemporary appearance is in keeping with surrounding commercial buildings.

Battling the building process

Thrilled with the idea of building from the ground up, Dr. Werber chose architect Richard M. Rauh of Rauhaus Architects, designer of the 2001 Hospital of the Year, and got started. Dr. Werber insisted that the practice be AAHA compliant.

Other must-haves: plenty of table space, exam rooms with built-in tables and lower sinks so water can't drench things on the counter, lots of light over exam and treatment tables, skylights in the main treatment and reception areas and upstairs lounge, and a consultation and grieving room. "I had a lot of ideas, and Rich brought even more options to the table for discussion," says Dr. Werber. "My main goal was to improve the overall look and feel of the practice and to provide the amenities that make a practice comfortable for patients, clients, and staff members."

Staff members can enjoy a relaxing view of sunny Los Angeles and access to a secure patio off this second-story breakroom.

Dr. Werber wishes he had taken his architect's advice in choosing a builder. "I chose the wrong contractor, and I'm still paying for my mistake," he says. "I based too much of my decision on price. My contractor's bid came in hundreds of thousands of dollars less than those from the contractors Rich has used before. But now I see that it would have been cheaper to go with someone else. My project would have come in on budget and on time, and I wouldn't still be battling lingering legal issues about work the contractor should have done."

Providing high-quality care

Although a new facility doesn't necessarily mean better care, it's a plus for Dr. Werber's clients. "I've always charged what I think my services are worth, and my clients have happily paid for the high-quality care their pets receive," says Dr. Werber. "This new high-tech facility makes it even easier for clients to understand what they're paying for. They still may not notice that we keep a technician on duty 24 hours a day, but they do notice the cutting-edge equipment and inviting practice."

Take-away lessons : You get what you pay for

The new attention from clients shows. Since opening in July 2003, revenue has grown nearly 40 percent. In March, Dr. Werber and his team brought in $240,000 in revenue, beating his previous best month by $80,000. With this growth, Dr. Werber has added several staff members, which means the team has about three technicians or assistants per doctor to maximize delegation, he says.

"Our clients loved the move," he says. "Even though many have known me for 15 years or more and they saw the architect's rendition of what the building would look like, they're still surprised and awed the first time they visit. With a corner lot and the modern look, this place stands out in the neighborhood. I'm excited that I can serve my clients in a facility like this."

The administrative offices, located on the 1,240-square-foot second floor, offer a quiet retreat from the hospital below.

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