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Do you have the 'I'm outahere' mind-set?


It's Monday morning, and only three clients came in.

It's Monday morning, and only three clients came in. Where are the dozen clients a solo practice usually has to squeeze in?

"I'm dying here!" said one distraught caller. "I don't know whether it's me, the economy or what. If I can find somewhere near here where I can keep some of my clients, great, but otherwise I'm outahere!"

The call brought back memories of two prior recessions that hit hard. The first was the 1973 oil-crisis recession that lasted two years. I was only one year into my first practice, and while my business growth probably was slower than it would have been otherwise, it was still growth. Bank loans helped me through that one.

The second was in the early 80's and that one was particularly difficult. Business dropped 30 percent, and I was very tempted to throw in the towel and move. I would have if my consulting career had not taken off, providing me with the income that was missing from my practice. Were it not for that, I would have sought greener pastures because I was surrounded by desperate people clawing to feed their families.

I was three miles from the more affluent pet owners closer to the city center. Across from me was a large development of very low-income service workers interspersed with those who gained their daily bread from transporting and selling certain agricultural products from South America. Behind me was a huge celebrity development that, after 10 years, allowed no pets.

It was a mistake not to move, but I was ignorant of practice-location methods at the time. One area looked as good or as bad as another, and I could not afford to make another bad selection. When times are hard, people won't travel any more than they have to, so if you are not in a productive population center, you have "had it."

Choosing the right location

Here are five key factors to be considered in choosing a recession-resistant location, assuming one is using reliable 2008 demographics:

1. A five-year population forecast showing adequate current population and significant growth and potential for new clients.

2. Family incomes capable of supporting an average hospital transaction and quality diagnostic and surgical procedures.

3. Total consumer purchasing indicative of quality-minded clients.

4. Current expenditure for pets consistent with expected use of veterinary services.

5. Discretionary income as measured by greater than average dining outside the home.

Today, computer algorithms can search for areas near your desired area that score highest under each of those five criteria. The combined weighted scores can then be mapped.

When you have selected a couple of the best-looking sites, then the feasibility of each can be studied to determine how much revenue per veterinarian a practice in that location, considering competition and marketing share, can be expected to generate. Then you can make an intelligent selection.

A bit of explanation; In a fishing tournament, one individual occasionally may catch a longer fish, another a heavier one, while a third occasionally might catch more fish. But the individual who consistently catches more than the average number of fish, longer and heavier than average, is the one to bet on to win the tournament.

Each of the five criteria above must meet or exceed the needs of a successful animal hospital; combined, they will project the greatest opportunity.

It is not enough today to have excellent medical skills. One also must be perceived as a caring doctor with a caring staff. Further, even a caring staff of 10 can be destroyed by the effect of one member who alienates a client. These are what we call energy vampires, and every practice has had one or more at some time in their history.

Assuming that the energy vampires have been vanquished, your location is the most important factor in your success or failure.

I can understand the "I'm outahere" position. Just don't take a bold leap into a galaxy where no hospital has gone before without doing your homework.

Much of the information you require is out there on the commercial demographics internet for a fee that pales in comparison to the cost of failure.

Go forth and prosper.

Dr. Snyder publishes Veterinary Productivity, a newsletter for practice productivity. He can be reached at 112 Harmon Cove Towers Secaucus, NJ 07094; (800) 292-7995; Vethelp@comcast

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