OnPoint: New Builds
With today’s supply disruptions, the right business partners are critical to building a new veterinary hospital like OnPoint from the ground up.
Megan LeFave, DVM, CCRT, cVMA, grew up in a small town, so she could relate to the passion that the local residents of Middleton, Idaho, have for animals both large and small. When she learned that Middleton’s lone veterinarian was retiring, she knew there would be a shortage of veterinary care available.
The area was seeing explosive growth. Before COVID, Dr. LeFave estimated the Middleton population at around 6,000, not including the neighboring towns. During the last two years, it’s jumped to 9,500.
“He had been the only veterinarian for that town, and we only have one specialty ER veterinary hospital in the entire valley,” Dr. LeFave said. “But they’re so busy that wait times can be greater than eight hours in some cases. It was hard as a veterinarian to see that my neighbors, friends, and community couldn’t get veterinary care, or couldn’t get appointments in time, because nearby veterinarians had stopped taking new clients.”
Dr. LeFave resolved to fix that problem by opening her own veterinary hospital with the motto of “Say yes to pets.” Doing so amid a pandemic proved challenging, but not impossible, thanks to the help of business partners like MWI Animal Health and territory manager Paula McMullen.
From vision to reality
Dr. LeFave’s background is in emergency medicine and specialty care such as acupuncture and canine exercise therapy and rehabilitation. For OnPoint Vet Hospital, she envisioned the ability to offer everything a general practice can, but also provide urgent care when needed.
To do so, she had to consider what kind of patients they were going to see and plan accordingly. Because her hospital would be heavily invested in urgent care, she estimated that they would probably see about five per day, per doctor. “So, if a doctor is having an appointment day, we expect that there’s probably going to be about five care cases that are going to come in, scheduled or not. And that might be cheatgrass in the ear, or it might be a laceration, or surgery. We did a surgery two days ago that walked in that day, that wasn’t a client of ours.”
For equipment, the obvious needs would be digital X-ray, ultrasound and in-house lab work. “The only thing that was on our wish list that we weren’t able to get was endoscopy,” Dr. LeFave said. “We’ll get that in the future. But with Paula’s help, we got everything else that we knew we would need for general practice and urgent care.”
To finance the equipment purchases Dr. LeFave said she and her team went with a loan company that specializes in veterinary medicine and SPA loans. “They really had it down to a science,” she said. When Dr. LeFave and her team did their financial planning, the loan company provided a sheet with projections of what their expenses would be, how many cases they would need to see to pay off the financing, and then what the case average for each day needed to be. From that OnPoint could estimate an equipment budget.
“And then Paula was great helping us work within that budget,” said Dr. LeFave. “We were very open about what we could spend, because it’s just easier that way. ‘This is what we can do. What’s most important, and how do we prioritize?’”
McMullen made a lot of calls with suppliers in advance before Dr. LeFave even thought about ordering something so they would know if a product was available or if there was a waiting time of weeks or months. Those advance calls cut out a lot of potential delays for the opening by allowing OnPoint to consider alternatives if their first choice in a product category was unavailable, Dr. LeFave said. “She was amazing doing all that legwork for us.”
The opening also didn’t go as planned, but not in a negative way. OnPoint’s brick-and-mortar build started summer of 2021, but their mobile hospital was up and running six months earlier. “Because of seeing clients in the mobile hospital, the in-clinic appointments booked out before we even opened our doors, so we weren’t able to have a grand opening with the public,” Dr. LeFave said. “We were just too busy from the start, keeping up with the appointments.” Instead, OnPoint went with a soft opening last summer. “We called it a Client Appreciation Day. We held it in the parking lot because our building wasn’t quite ready yet. We had hot dogs and sodas and ice cream.”
Inflation, too, has forced the veterinary hospital to make some changes. While OnPoint had to adjust its pricing due to inflation, clients have been understanding. “We always work with our clients in the sense of offering options and planning for their pet’s care,” Dr. LeFave said. “Our clients appreciate that. We still tell everybody, ‘This is what I would do if it was my pet,’ but this is what the cost would be. Most pet owners have been okay with our prices.”
McMullen said Dr. LeFave and OnPoint were fortunate when they started the ordering process in that they didn’t incur some of the supply issues that have popped up recently. “Her lead times were adequate, and we were able to anticipate her needs, put the orders in, and it worked pretty smoothly.”
Right now, veterinary practices are finding longer lead times for ordering certain equipment categories. For instance, McMullen had to inform a client that wanted a surgery table that the lead time was around 10 to 12 weeks. Anesthesia machines were lucky to be delivered by 6 to 8 weeks. “I had somebody order a dental compressor unit in January, and they just got the machine the last week of July,” McMullen said. “So, it hasn’t eased up yet. [Supply and delivery] have been challenging.”
McMullen said she works with an MWI technology support specialist to help manage and communicate some of those timelines with clients, particularly when it’s a new build. “We’re able to do it, but a customer certainly needs to give us advance warning, and we need to work in advance of their project.”
It’s certainly a different reality than pre-pandemic selling. A few years ago, there were product categories like cages that had traditional lead times of a few weeks, or specific times like end-of-year when demand would pick up because veterinary clinics were buying equipment to take advantage of purchases from a tax benefit perspective. “There would always be a lead time,” McMullen said, “but it wasn’t 3 to 4 months; it was much more realistic, and you could see the end of that.”
A particular challenge for distributor reps to help with now is when a veterinary hospital needs a quick replacement. “As an example, if a general practice has their autoclave die on them today, I say a little prayer that when I call a manufacturer and tell them my client has a problem, we can get them a new one in a reasonable amount of time.”
Looking back, Dr. LeFave said OnPoint has been fortunate in the suppliers they’ve chosen and decisions they’ve made during an unprecedented time. What started as one doctor’s vision has turned into a growing small business. OnPoint is currently a four-doctor practice with room to expand. “I think we’re lucky where we’re at, and excited about where we can go,” said Dr. LeFave.
Connecting the dots
One of the main benefits that distributor reps can bring to clients looking to add on or build a new facility is the wealth of industry connections. MWI Territory Manager Paula McMullen said she can start the conversation and make introductions among industry sources even before the practice is ready to build. “If I’m doing my job, I know about a build before they’ve started the process, having heard it from other vendors,” McMullen said. Maybe MWI can put the veterinary clinic owner in touch with a good financing person, builder, or supplier. “I actually have a project that’s spinning up now that we’re working with the architects and the construction company for their design and their plan,” McMullen said.
MWI starts from the very basics of the hospital design, such as where things will go (surgery, tables, dental suites, oxygen supply drops, CT scans, etc.), and maps out the product and equipment needs from there. “We go from the front of the hospital all the way to the back and can have those conversations about what they need, and what options are available from us,” McMullen said.