Veterinary design project survives and thrives through recession
With perseverance and determination, these hospital owners battled a tough economy to build a booming business.
I first met Mark Ransom at the Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Conference in 2006 when he and his wife, Dr. Katherine "Kat" Ransom, were ruminating over the costly and time-consuming decision to build their own veterinary hospital. Mark made an impression on me immediately. As the businessman behind the business, he had the kind of can-do attitude that I knew was going to pay off. What none of us knew was that his project was to land on top of the worst market downturn that our country had seen in decades. Today, Mark is not only doing as well as he initially had hoped-he's doing far better. What the Ransoms accomplished, against many and various odds, is truly inspiring.
The new Watchusett Animal Hospital in Westminster, Mass.Photo courtesy Wachusett Animal Hospital
A husband-and-wife team that worked
The Ransoms began their project with a do-it-right attitude. While Kat put in many hours honing her veterinary skills, Mark voraciously consumed information. He attended design seminars and studied Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition Hospital of the Year and Merit Award winners. From our initial conversations I could see he didn't simply want to drive the car-he wanted to know how it worked.
The Ransoms understood that you can't have a dream without financing, and they worked equally hard on the business side. Mark put together a business plan (yes, you're supposed to have one of those), and enlisted the help of a skilled accountant, Mark McGaunn, who was especially helpful at the back end of the project when the Ransoms were opening their doors.
Like many of our young clients, Mark and Kat were full of enthusiasm and optimism. But they also had the education, knowledge, work ethic and sheer stubbornness that would pull them through the roller-coaster ride of actually building their hospital. By the time we began their schematic design process in earnest in January 2008, Katherine and I were both eight months pregnant with our first children. Tony Cochrane in our office joined the team to assist in designing the hospital, and the Ransom and Lewis daughters were born within days of each other in late February 2008. I still remember that sweet photo of Sydney Ransom, all big blue eyes wrapped in her hospital swaddling blanket. She inherited her parents' spirit.
Mark, Sydney and Kat RansomPhoto courtesy Wachusett Animal Hospital
When everyone wants to kill each other
Mark and Katherine began their construction shortly after the panic over the Lehman Brothers collapse in the autumn of 2008. This extraordinarily bad timing for their project meant obtaining financing was a lot harder. As Mark has said to me since, “If I wasn't stubborn enough to ignore the dozens of times I heard the words ‘you can't do this,' we wouldn't be where we are today.” Recessions are an especially risky time to build projects, because construction markets are hit the hardest. At the time the Ransoms began their project, contractors had not yet cut their prices to the dramatic lows we saw in late 2009 and 2010. So in essence, Mark and Kat bore all of the risk, without as much to gain from low construction costs.
Of course, there's a time in every construction project when everyone wants to kill each other. Fortunately, it's usually short lived. Mark's came when, after a much-needed foreign vacation, he returned to find that the hospital's generator had been installed in the most visible location adjacent to the front door instead of at the back of the building where it was supposed to be. I didn't even notice the generator when I first saw the photos of Mark and Kat's beautiful building, but for them, it's a reminder that construction is never perfect!
Almost always guaranteed success
Mark and Kat opened their hospital and boarding facility, the Wachusett Animal Hospital and Pet Retreat, in early summer 2010. Since opening their doors, business has been gangbusters. They've hired associates sooner than predicted and quickly outpaced their business plan.
One of the reasons it's such a privilege to work for veterinary clients is that their projects are almost always guaranteed successes, especially when they work hard to plan them right. Mark and Kat's practice is no exception. Today, much earlier than anticipated, they are significantly expanding their building. Many veterinary practices get only one chance to build, but the Ransoms have another opportunity to do so within a few years!
The bottom line is, even in the wake of difficult times, veterinary medicine is still a rewarding place to be.
Heather Lewis is a partner at Animal Arts, a veterinary design firm based in Boulder, Colo.