The 2001 Hospital of the Year increased traffic with a larger facility, better hours, and nearby stores.
"Everything we read told us we'd grow. If you build it, they will come," says Dr. Janine Swailes, co-owner with Dr. Susan Thorson of Meadow Hills Veterinary Center in Kennewick, Wash. Turns out they were right. The 2001 Hospital of the Year winner grew fast after its debut and has ever since. "In our first year, revenue went up 24 percent," Dr. Swailes says. "We've gone from $900,000 in 2001 to $2.1 million today."
Drs. Swailes and Thorson found that not only did they attract more clients, but also the clients spent more money. That in turn led to more staff. Fourteen full-time and seven part-time employees have blossomed to 20 and 24, respectively. An emergency clinic that originally leased space in their clinic had to move to a nearby facility because of increased traffic.
Hours have also increased, with Saturday and later evening hours. The doctors conducted focus groups, and respondents always came back with the same demand: convenience. "Target doesn't close at 5 p.m.," Dr. Swailes says. "Even my favorite ice cream place-I'm so bummed that it's closed Saturdays and Sundays."
Better medical care and more staff aside, the facility also blossomed thanks to its look and location. An original plan included half-stone exterior that turned out to be too expensive. The doctors are happy they spent the money on the compromise: half-stone for stone pillars and complementary siding. "We wanted the building to be an ad," Dr. Thorson says. "People like to go to nice places."
It's not just the facility that brings in customers, but the location. The doctors found a piece of prime real estate on a major road that led to a new mall. When the Costco moved in just down the street, traffic increased.
Drs. Swailes and Thorson have few regrets about the facility. But one is the flooring. Architects steered them toward a dark color, but the doctors were stuck on light epoxy flooring that would look great in an interior that was praised by judges as "clean and bright." Unfortunately, the light color got dirty fast. "The epoxy has little grains of sand in it," Swailes says. "When the grain comes out, the depression fills with dirt. The epoxy itself has held up very well, but it's tough to clean."
The other regret was actually a post-planning change. Grief rooms were becoming popular when Drs. Swailes and Thorson were finishing up the building process, so they converted a storage room into one. "We put in gorgeous paintings and nice places to sit, but we just could never quite get people back there," Dr. Thorson says of the room's location at the rear of the hospital. "It went back to being a storage room."
A change they haven't regretted was doing away with grooming. The duo researched the service before leaving their old practice, and it never seemed to pull its weight. "The square footage used for grooming was just not as profitable," Dr. Swailes says. "So we decided to broaden our relationship with local groomers and let them do the work."
Looking back, with more than a year of preliminary planning, months of building, and years working in their new facility, the two doctors are happy. They're glad they got lots of help from architects, and they aren't looking to move anytime soon. "The process of building your own hospital was great," Dr. Swailes says. "I recommend it to everybody."