I managed my practice's remodel like a boss

September 6, 2016
Tracy Sheffield, BS, LVT, CVPM

Tracy Sheffield is practice manager at Wimberley Veterinary Clinic in Wimberly, Texas.

When Wimberley Veterinary Clinic faced the opportunity to remodel, this practice manager and 2016 dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year contestant also donned the hat of project manager.

Applying the feedback from other managers and my team

I resisted the idea of paying another person for the project, but hiring a commercial designer was the best money I ever spent. Our designer solved space problems, made sure the spaces were ADA-compliant and managed the décor. She also met with my front office manager, who shared these concerns:

> Where will we put prescription medications that are ready for pick up?

> Where will we put pulled charts for the day? 

> Where will we put forms that we keep on clipboards (drop off, surgical release and so on)?

The designer offered an ingenious solution. We were already planning on shelving to display our OTC products. On either side of the shelving she suggested adding pass-through cabinets. One side is for prepared prescriptions and the other is for the day's charts and the forms. These cabinets are easy to access from both the front desk and the treatment room behind the wall.

Imagine wishing for more space. Then … voilà! The next-door neighbor in your leasehold space moves out. That spurred our practice to consider remodeling. Here's how I rocked our remodel:

Step 1: Ask questions. Lots of 'em.

I interviewed our team members to uncover changes to improve work flow. Then I attended extensive CE on clinic design and remodeling, where I talked to other practice managers who'd been through the remodel process. (Looking for design advice? Check out the Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Conference here.) The best advice I received? Hire a commercial designer.

Our retail cabinet displaying OTC products. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Sheffield.)

 

Step 2: Budget for the project. The numbers came together from three sources:

> We received a forgivable loan from a reference laboratory in exchange for using them exclusively.

A note on forgivable loans

If you're interested in this approach, contact your laboratory rep to see if you're eligible. The practice signs an exclusivity agreement with the lab. The length of the agreement and the amount of business you do determines the amount of capital available to your practice. These agreements need careful review. You must perform a minimum amount of work a month with the laboratory to have the loan forgiven. These loans can be an excellent source of capital for major projects, such as a remodel or major equipment purchase. A caution: Don't commit to an agreement that stipulates more lab work than you're already doing.

> One of our distributors offered 10 months same as cash to finance equipment purchases.

> I analyzed our monthly cash flow for money to divert to the remodel without affecting our ability to meet our obligations.

With the budget established, my attention shifted to the design. 

Step 3: Evaluate the space and the challenges. Our building roof is made from trusses, so I didn't have to deal with the issues of loadbearing walls. But our budget constraints meant I couldn't move the plumbing.

Step 4: Hire the general contractor and the interior commercial designer. Both these hires were key to the success of the project. I'd used the contractor before when I remodeled my kitchen. He'd done excellent work, understood my need to keep the practice open as much possible and, best of all, his estimates where spot on. I budgeted $125,000 for the project, and we came in at about $129,000.

I chose the commercial designer with veterinary hospital work experience.

Step 5: Stage the project so the clinic could stays open and functional.

Here's how we did it

Stage one: Moved radiology across the building to iits new home adjacent to surgery.

Stage two: Converted the new space we took over into exam rooms.

Stage three: Turned existing exam rooms into a large treatment room. During this part of the project, we also started the renovations to reception.

Stage four: Enlarged the surgical suite and completed interior finishes.

The result: a modern, well-equipped clinic. We're able to do more and see more patients in a day.

 

 

So was it all worth it?

The money talks: A financial comparison of first-quarter 2015 (pre-renovation) with first-quarter 2016 (post-renovation) shows a 25 percent increase in income. A look at April 2015 (pre-renovation) and April 2016 (post-renovation) shows a 29 percent increase in income.

And clients and patients love it too! Several exam room features make visits a more positive experience for patients. Instead of chairs in our two larger exam rooms, we placed a small upholstered bench. These benches are designed as outdoor furniture, so they're up to the punishing environment of the clinic. They're covered with a water-resistant fabric for easy cleaning, and both dogs and cats enjoy them. Pets can sit on the bench next to their owners just like they're cuddling on the couch at home. How relaxing is that?!

Another important feature: durable, easy-to-clean indoor/outdoor rugs in each room.

Even though our flooring isn't slippery, dogs-particularly older dogs with arthritis-feel more at ease with the traction the rugs provide. Doctors and technicians also like the rugs when they need to get on the floor with a patient. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Sheffield)

 

The two features that the kitties appreciate:

> Exam room mirrors (Our feline patients really enjoy looking at themselves in the mirror. Who knew?!)

> Exam rooms windows

 

This kitty is sitting pretty in our exam room window. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Sheffield.)Clients love the new look of the clinic and how their pets respond to the exam room environments. And our team loves it too! You can check out a virtual tour of the clinic here.

dvm360, Firstline and Vetted will be publishing personal stories, in-the-trenches advice and bright practice management ideas in the coming months-all from entrants in the dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year contest. The finalists were announced at CVC Kansas City in August, and the Practice Manager of the Year will be announced at CVC San Diego in December.

Tracy Sheffield is practice manager at Wimberley Veterinary Clinic in Wimberly, Texas.