Measure twice, cut once ... planning ahead pays off


One doctor's dedication to creating a solid business plan and the perfect floor plan pays off for Superior Animal Hospital and Boarding Suites in Superior, Wis.

PUTTING TOGETHER AN OUTSTANDING BUSINESS PLAN isn't the most exciting part of building a new facility. But Dr. Robert McClellan, owner of Superior Animal Hospital and Boarding Suites in Superior, Wis., learned the value of taking his time and planning carefully. He spent nearly a year just on the business plan and found it to be time well-spent.

Exterior: Dr. McClellan's wife, Serena, and architect Robert Berquist designed the hospital's exterior in a craftsman/mission style. Featuring stone and shake siding, the exterior is highlighted with accent lights at night. Stone beds make up much of the landscaping for ease of cleaning and caretaking.

"I put this plan together to convince lending institutions, but I found that it was the best thing I could do to convince myself I was making the right move," says Dr. McClellan. "It made me feel better to hear everyone say the plan was good and that we could do it."

The 2006 Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition judges obviously agreed that the finished facility that arose from Dr. McClellan's business plan made the grade. They awarded the practice with a Merit Award for excellence in hospital design, mentioning its well-thought-out circulation, good choices in materials, and a striking exterior.

Planning ahead

To get started, Dr. McClellan found sample business plans from the local college as well as from AAHA. And he attended the Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Conference—twice. "I really explored the elements that would go into the business plan, because I knew nothing about it to begin with," he says. "I spent time with my accountant, talking through all the details. I was scared to death, and that's what made me take so long and do so much. When the lenders looked at my business plan, they said it was one of the better ones they'd seen. That convinced me it was time to proceed."

Next came the floor plan. "In the old clinic, we were close to everything no matter where we were in the building," says Dr. McClellan. "We wanted the floor plan to maintain some of the efficiencies of the current facility even though the floor space would triple. The floor plan needed to allow us to maintain personal client contact, which is a critical element of our practice's success."

Floor plan Superior Animal Hospital and Boarding Suites

Going from a roughly 3,000-square-foot building to more than 10,000 square feet, Dr. McClellan had to work extra hard to keep daily life efficient for staff members, convenient for clients, and as well-organized as possible. The first thing he did was copy an idea that was already perfected in the old building: stationing the phones away from the front desk. He says this approach keeps the reception area from becoming congested and that a separate phone area makes it easier to train new staff members on the phones.

But while some areas of the new hospital mimicked the old, others saw dramatic changes. "In our old place, we had a teeny, tiny vestibule and a small reception area," he says. "Our clients couldn't all fit into the reception area at the same time, and in Wisconsin in the winter, that's a problem." Now clients and staff members don't have to worry about freezing or overcrowding.

Dr. McClellan also gave a lot of thought to the pet food storage area. This room is right off the reception area, making it easy to load and unload, saving staff members from hauling large bags from the back of the practice.

But Dr. McClellan's favorite area is his treatment area, which features what the contractors called the "spaceship"—a stainless steel treatment island that Dr. McClellan designed. "After working in a four-doctor practice with one small wet tub and one treatment table, this is my pride and joy," he says. "I was going to ask the company that did our cabinetry to build it in laminate. However, the stainless steel contractor bid for the project, and it came back about the same price. This approach seemed like a better long-term solution. We're really happy with the final product."

Making it a team effort

While Dr. McClellan had plenty of ideas about how he wanted his new practice to look—he'd been planning to build since he bought the practice in 1999—he understood the value of involving his team members. "We knew we didn't have all the answers, and we wanted our experienced staff members to have input," he says.

Dr. McClellan held several staff brainstorming sessions. During one of these meetings, he passed out large copies of the floor plan, then broke the group down by its teams and asked them to analyze the proposed traffic flow.

Exam: The exam rooms feature custom cabinetry, an under-table cubby-hole for a feline scale, and a radiograph viewer. Two of the rooms have lift tables with scales. Exam rooms also have central vacuum dust pans.

In other sessions they worked on the design and layout of the exam rooms, the treatment area, the surgery suite, and the reception area. "To facilitate this process, we created 12 poster boards of photos cut from the past five years of Veterinary Economics hospital design articles," he says. "For example, we had four posters of exam rooms, two posters of treatment areas, two posters of surgery rooms, two posters of reception areas, and two equipment posters. We hung these on the walls all around the old veterinary clinic for several months as we mulled over the possibilities."

While staff members contributed valuable ideas, Dr. McClellan said the best part was getting them onboard with the project and making them a part of the process. To further this idea, he even took the team on a field trip to the building site once the studs were up to see what the floor plan looked like in person. "It was the middle of winter, we were freezing, but it got all of us thinking more clearly about how we wanted the new hospital to flow."

Area suppliers were instrumental in the building process, too. Early on, Dr. McClellan asked his sales representatives to point out newer practices that do things well. Based on their suggestions, he visited 10 practices to get ideas. He also got helpful equipment and materials referrals from these sales representatives, who Dr. McClellan says see it all—and often don't get tapped for their valuable know-how.

Three years out

It's been three and a half years since Dr. McClellan and his team took up residence at Superior Animal Hospital and Boarding Suites. With the move, they added three exam rooms and oodles of space to the treatment area and reception area—tripling their square footage. Not to mention they added a booming boarding business. One result: Gross revenue is up about 50 percent over the last three years. "Of course, you can attribute some of that business to the new boarding suites," Dr. McClellan says. While the revenue increase is great, he says he's most excited about working in an efficient, modern facility—and having staff members who give the all-important personal touch to the business. "Our building now reflects the high-quality medicine we deliver, and we're able to keep growing and improving."

Sarah A. Moser is a freelance writer and editor in Olathe, Kan. Please send questions or comments to

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