Case Study: Macungie Animal Hospital
Bird’s Eye View of Macungie Animal Hospital
• Operating for 4 years in the Lehigh Valley region of Macungie, Pennsylvania
• Accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association
• Open 6 days a week
• Current staff:
– 3 veterinarians
– 1 part-time ACVS-certified veterinary chiropractor
– 1 part-time IVAS-certified veterinary acupuncturist
– 3 licensed veterinary nurses
– 2 veterinary assistants
– 5 client services staff
– 1 practice manager who holds an MBA
Two weeks before Nancy Soares, VMD, opened Macungie Animal Hospital, she set out a sign that read “Coming Soon,” along with the number to the phone she carried day and night. More than 70 appointments were booked on the day the hospital opened its doors. Within the first year, the practice enjoyed a revenue of nearly $1 million.
Just 5 years earlier, Dr. Soares was working as an associate in her first job out of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. She found the job to be a poor fit and dreamed of running a practice on her own terms. “It’s not about how many people you can get through the door; it’s about living up to the oath you took to care for the creatures that don’t have voices of their own.”
After 2 years, Dr. Soares left her first job and went to work outside the area defined by her noncompete agreement. She candidly told the practice owner in her next position that she planned to open a hospital of her own. Happily, he became a mentor, encouraging Dr. Soares to learn as much as possible about surgery and practice ownership.
During the next 3 years, Dr. Soares spent her free time strategically. She evaluated existing practices but couldn’t find one with everything she was looking for. “I decided I wanted a practice without existing baggage,” Dr. Soares adds. And so she began building Macungie Animal Hospital from the ground up.
Unwilling to take a chance on opening a practice in an unprofitable area, Dr. Soares hired a veterinary demographics firm to help choose the perfect location. “I put my faith in people who are great at what they do,” she says. Putting together a team to help execute her vision is a hallmark of Nancy Soares’s working style. “I surround myself with people who are better at what they do than I am. I don’t micromanage and I’m not afraid to trust experts’ opinions,” she says. “You can’t do it alone.”
When it came time to secure a loan, Dr. Soares explained her plans to build an AAHA–accredited hospital, hire a top-notch staff, and offer the best medicine possible to local patients. The loan officer bought into her vision and as a result, she was able to purchase the building and hire contractors to remodel the facility. The loan officer and several other bank employees are now Macungie Animal Hospital clients.
Veterinary facility architect Mark Hafen of Animal Arts Design in Boulder, Colorado, sketched the original hospital design concept after a chance meeting with Dr. Soares at an NAVC Conference. Hafen advised her to implement the design with a local engineer and architect who understood Pennsylvania law, saving her thousands of dollars in the process. Ultimately, Dr. Soares and her team were able to build to Hafen’s plans “without changing a thing—the design was spot on.”
Macungie Animal Hospital Today
The Ritz-Carlton Model
Macungie Animal Hospital strives to make every client experience positive and professional. “We use the Ritz-Carlton model of customer care—that means taking a 5-star approach to service,” she explains. Dr. Soares demands that her staff treat every client with the same level of respect and sets high standards for the team’s conduct. “We had a few employees who weren’t able to treat all clients with respect—we had to let those employees go.” Coffee and tea are offered to waiting clients; if they need to use the phone or the photocopier the staff takes care of it. With leather couches and coffee tables in the waiting room, one client mistook the practice’s reception area for a law office.
Macungie Animal Hospital has also differentiated itself from other practices by offering specialty services. A certified veterinary chiropractor is on staff as well as a veterinarian certified to perform acupuncture. Macungie Animal Hospital offers cold laser therapy and in-house radiography and runs almost all patient tests in its in-house laboratory.
The hospital schedules 30-minute appointments to educate clients, review handouts, and answer questions. The Rainbow Room, a dedicated quiet area for grieving clients, allows people to say goodbye to their pets in private.
Dr. Soares is constantly striving to grow her business and give clients the best experience possible. She began a client education series and offers monthly lectures at her practice on topics ranging from dentistry to ticks; a recent session on food allergies was led by a local board-certified dermatologist.
Macungie also offers a free product delivery service, an idea inspired by a chance meeting with veterinary practice management expert Gary Glassman. Two nights a week, an employee drives a station wagon sporting a Macungie Animal Hospital logo to clients who are not able to pick up medication during regular business hours. “Internet pharmacies are so detrimental to patients and what we do,” says Soares. “This value-added service helps keep those products in-house.”
Macungie Animal Hospital’s website also links to an online pet portal that clients can keep connected to at their convenience. “We get emails at 2 am—the portal has increased our compliance rates, especially for vaccinations and scheduling well visits.” Next up: text message reminders will be introduced for technologically savvy clients.
The practice also stays involved with the community; one of the ways Macungie Animal Hospital gives back is by donating veterinary care to local canine police officers.
While Macungie Animal Hospital was being built and she was working as an associate at another practice, Nancy Soares and her husband were in the process of adopting their second child. “I had three desks at home—one for the adoption paperwork, one for the practice paperwork, and one for regular things.” Just weeks after successfully opening Macungie Animal Hospital, they flew to Azerbaijan to bring home their little girl. Using a skeleton staff, cell phones, and email, the practice kept running despite a 10-hour time difference.
Regardless of how busy work becomes, Dr. Soares insists on being an extremely involved parent, even if it means, “staying up until 2 am to make cupcakes,” she says, explaining that “I will not sell my kids short because my dream was to be a veterinarian.” At the same time, she acknowledges that balancing her career and motherhood can be difficult. “There are times I’m late for my son’s baseball game because I have a client who requested me to help a sick pet—it’s hard to choose,” she says. Luckily, her family is supportive of what she does. “None of this would be possible without my husband,” she adds. “I have the world’s most supportive spouse. Whatever needs to be done, he helps out. He understands this is an investment in our future.”
Dr. Soares’ Advice
“Hiring a terrific practice manager was one of the best decisions I ever made. My manager has an MBA and is exceptional at communicating with staff and clients. This allows me to grow my business and encourages the doctors to practice medicine without having to worry about the financial aspect of medicine.”
Dr. Soares encourages veterinarians interested in launching their own startups to take business and marketing classes, spend time learning from owners at nearby practices, and “surround themselves with really good support systems … I would not be able to do what I do and grow the business if I did not have such talented people around me.” | EVT