How do you build a client base from zero? Can you mix business with friendship? Are there benefits to starting small? Trent Eddy, DVM, of Ironhorse Veterinary Care in Leawood, Kansas, a 1-year-old startup, shares advice for fellow and future entrepreneurs.
Trent Eddy, DVM, and Blake Dickerson, DVM, co-owners of Ironhorse Veterinary Care in Lenexa, Kansas. All images courtesy of Ironhorse Veterinary Care.After graduating from Kansas State University's veterinary program in 2006 and working as full-time veterinarians at Great Plains SPCA in Mission, Kansas, for several years, Blake Dickerson, DVM, and Trent Eddy, DVM, were ready for something new-brand new, in fact.
“Dickerson and I had a clear vision of the type of practice we wanted to build and own together,” says Dr. Eddy, but finding the right location wasn't easy.
The pair spent two frustrating years looking at clinics for sale and spaces for rent in several areas before finding their current location, a vacant 2,200-square-foot facility in upscale, suburban Leawood, Kansas-25 minutes outside of Kansas City, Missouri-that had been built to be a veterinary clinic but was sitting vacant.
“In addition to genuinely liking the space and the neighborhood, we knew the surrounding population was on the rise, so we decided to go for it,” Eddy says.
But as they were putting the finishing touches on their new hospital, Dickerson and Eddy felt something was still missing from the clinic's philosophy: “We wanted to do more for our patients and wondered if Fear Free methods could be the answer,” Eddy says.
After attending a lecture by Marty Becker, DVM, the veterinarians realized Fear Free methods weren't merely the missing piece of the puzzle-they needed to be the cornerstone of the practice.
Ironhorse Veterinary Care, which celebrated its one-year anniversary in October, is now accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association, and Dickerson and Eddy represent two of the seven total veterinarians in Kansas who are Fear Free certified.
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Advice for fellow and future entrepreneurs
You can mix business and friendship. Not everyone should start a business with their friend and former college roommate, but Drs. Dickerson and Eddy are proof that it's possible.
“Dickerson and I have been friends and colleagues for a long time,” Dr. Eddy says. “Over the course of our careers, we developed complementary strengths and interests within veterinary medicine. Dr. Dickerson has a wealth of experience in veterinary dentistry and I have a passion for soft tissue surgery, which allows us to easily divide the caseload. Our decision to partner together was an easy one.”
Take your time. Dr. Eddy speaks from experience when he encourages entrepreneurial veterinarians to slow down: “We were so excited to open our doors that we didn't take into account the fact-yes, fact-that hiccups and delays would happen. When we opened our doors, we didn't have a sign on the building or a functioning website. It's difficult for new clients to find you when your business lacks such basic items.”
Build your base. Speaking of clients, Dr. Eddy says the scariest thing about choosing a start-up over an established practice is that one comes with clients and the other doesn't.
“Our first step was to get our name out there,” he says. “We hired Beyond Indigo, the company that designed our website, to manage our SEO (search engine optimization) and online reputation, and KC Sign Express did a great job creating our external signs. The majority of our new clients have found us by either searching online for a veterinarian in the area or by driving past that signage.”
The two co-owners also sent introductory postcards to the surrounding neighborhoods, used networking groups to spread the word about their presence, and even created a Groupon deal.
“Now we're focusing our efforts on local real estate companies,” Dr. Eddy says, “with a goal of getting our brochures in new-home welcome packets.”
In the midst of these signage impressions and website visits, however, the pair remain convinced of the power of word-of-mouth advertising.
“It's important to us that our patients and clients have a fantastic experience and then share that experience with others,” Dr. Eddy says. “We strongly believe it's our most effective marketing tool.”
Learn as much as you can while you're small. Ironhorse Veterinary Care doesn't have a practice manager at the moment, but the doctors say that's by design.
“We're still very new and very small but have great potential to grow,” Dr. Eddy says. “At this stage, we feel it's important for both of us to learn all of the different facets of running a veterinary clinic and then add a practice manager as the workload becomes too much to handle.”
When that time comes, they're already grooming their top pick for the job: the clinic's lead veterinary technician, Candace Dietrich, RVT, who recently earned a degree in veterinary technology management.