If (dirty) walls could talk

August 21, 2019
Tracy Sheffield, BS, LVT, CVPM

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

When your veterinary hospital looks like a badly aging 1980s movie franchise, its time for the reboot: Take an honest look around and imagine what a little elbow grease and a few tweaks could do to get your place the audience (and clients) it deserves.

beavera/stock.adobe.com

Whether or not you realize it, your walls are talking to your clients. Maybe they're saying a friendly “hello,” but more likely they look ignored (and are telling your clients they'll continue to be ignored) or they're so willfully out-of-date, they're positively offensive.

While it's never as important as your medicine and your customer service, your clinic décor really matters. In far too many veterinary facilities, interior design receives no thought at all. Posters provided by pharmaceutical companies are haphazardly thumbtacked to walls. Framed and unframed licenses and certificates are scattered about. And there's that photo collage of pets who were patients … 10 years ago.

The average veterinary practice is haphazardly decorated. Anatomy posters are great tools for client communication and conversations, so they belong in exam rooms. But do they belong on the walls everywhere? Does a client want to sit in a room while waiting for the doctor and stare at a dog's liver for 10 minutes? Anatomy lessons are for informational handouts, not your walls. You may also be grossing out clients with posters of tapeworms or giant display fleas hanging from your ceiling.

Sales representatives aren't necessarily decorators, people. Their help and resources are valuable, but don't let them set the tone of your clinic. That's for you to decide.

Take a walk through your facility and think like a client-or invite a friend or family member who'll be honest with you. It can be an eye-opening experience. If, after looking around, you decide that refreshing your space is in order, how do you get started?

No. 1: Start from first principles

Consider your location: A look that's perfect for a large city may be out of place in a semi-rural area. And consider your particular mission and what you want to convey to clients. Warmth? Friendliness? Professionalism? Modern medicine? Calm and comfort? Light and happiness? Some combination of these?

No. 2: Clean up the place

Walls should be in good repair and clean. Beat-up, splattered walls tell clients you're messy-even if your medicine is pristine. Address blemishes and repaint as necessary to keep the place looking fresh. Color choices can range from bold and interesting to soft and comforting. While white has a place, going with all white everywhere can be problematic: It's hard to keep clean, and a bland look doesn't say much about you.

No. 3: Accentuate with art

Once the walls are painted, the question is what to put on them. I think you should lean heavily on art, not pharmaceutical advertising. Of course, art can be a variety of things: photographs, paintings, giclées-even mirrors.

Photo par-tay!

A pet photo shoot at your hospital can turn into a really fun event for clients that will bond them to your practice. Here are the steps:

1. Email and use social media to advertise the opportunity for clients to get a professional portrait. Ask everyone interested to sign up for a time; 10 minutes per pet should be about right. Ask them to sign a release so your practice can use the photos.

2. Ask the photographer to put photos in a folder on Dropbox, Google Drive or another cloud storage option for you and clients to access.

3. For bonus points, this pet portrait event could be modified into a fundraiser for your charity fund for financially struggling clients or a charity you or your clients love. The photo opportunities tied to the fundraiser could give you the opportunity to market the event locally to increase visibility of your practice to the community.

Photographs of patients are a popular choice for walls, but they're often poorly done (remember the 10-year-old collage above). Do it right and hire a professional photographer. If a client happens to be a professional photographer, you may be able to barter and wind up with low out-of-pocket expenses. (Want to make it a party? Check out the “Photo par-tay!” sidebar.)

With photos in hand, I recommend you choose a framing option that will allow you to change out the portraits over time. Clients are thrilled when they see a portrait of their pet on your walls. Rotating pictures every few months keeps the look fresh and interesting. It's also a fun way to engage clients when it's their pet's turn to be featured on the wall. This is quality art that pleases everyone who looks at it.

Artwork reproductions in the form of prints and giclées are affordable and can be very striking. Consider the size of your walls and the space available. Where possible, choose large eye-catching pieces that give clients something interesting to look at while they're waiting.

Also, consider themes for your artwork. Do you want to go whimsical, stylish, abstract, realistic? A theme creates cohesiveness throughout the premises and reflects who you are to your clients.

I can't do it

If you truly have no idea how to get started on refreshing your space, consider hiring a commercial interior designer or decorator. They can come up with color themes for your consideration and will have access to a wide variety of affordable, high-quality artwork reproductions.

Let your walls do the work of creating a pleasant work environment and a happier clientele. They will talk to your clients everyday. They will say good things about you and your practice.

Decorative mirrors can also have a place. Mirrors can make a room feel more spacious. They can also serve as a point of interest to feline patients. The frame on the mirror should be attractive and it goes without saying that the wall mount needs to be secure.

Remember: The goal of any art you choose is at least partly to make your life a little easier. When a client says, “I love the artwork,” they're instantly in a better frame of mind. They're happier, more pleasant to serve and more receptive to information. This beats a neutral or unhappy mindset. This is the work your walls can do for you!

Tracy Sheffield, BS, LVT, CVPM, is practice administrator at Wimberley Veterinary Clinic in (you guessed it) Wimberley, Texas, as well as co-owner of T&L Veterinary Business Consulting. She was a dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year finalist in 2016.