How We Started A Mobile Veterinary Service Serving Our Community
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
HousePaws started 10 years ago this April. I had become disenchanted with practicing in a “normal” veterinary environment: appointments every 10-15 min, stressed owners/ pets/ workers, etc. I was starting work and it was dark outside and leaving work and it was dark outside. Clients, despite liking me as a vet, did not perceive the value of the visit was worth what they were paying, and the hospital I worked out was corporate-minded. The practice had one size fits all plans which were not consistent with how I like to practice. I consider every patient as an individual. Each pet, even those living in the same house, have different lifestyles sometimes.
I decided to go mobile. I wanted to bring high-quality patient care to the pet, in the comfort of their own home. I planned on using my family SUV and visiting patient homes. I thought I would make some money with the low overhead and have plenty of time to spend with my 3 young children.
At the end of 2010, I was working alone, 80 hours a week, and making $60,000 in revenue. Today we have over 100 employees and are making more than 7 million in revenue and thankfully I am not working 80 hours a week anymore!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I ALWAYS wanted to be a vet. There was no other option. When I was in high school I would read the stories of James Herriot who was a traveling vet who did large and small animals. I thought the idea of doing this was serene and romantic but not practical in this day and age.
Once my husband and I started our own family we decided to have midwives and have our children at home. Those experiences made me realize you can do good quality medicine in the comfort of one's own home. If you can do it for people why not pets? I watched technology change and people wanted more convenient services and I thought it was the perfect time to try going mobile. As I was researching how to create a mobile vet practice I got released from my job. That was the catalyst that made things develop full throttle. I went to a local networking meeting and walked out with an attorney, an insurance agent, a car wrapping company, and an accountant. Within a week I had an LLC, business insurance, and was ready to roll to my first appointment.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The business launch was like a hurricane. I had a job one day and no job the next. Our family depended on both of us having incomes. It took me about a week to get all the things I needed to be official with the state. While I was waiting for the pieces I was researching practice software and ordering supplies to build my car into a mobile unit.
Thankfully, a company that knew me gave me some money for signing a 5-year contract with them. I used this money to start the foundation. Pharmaceuticals were the biggest expense. I stocked up on supplies knowing that I had one month to pay the bills. I started to email and Facebook marketing and handed out about 10,000 business cards within a few weeks. I visited places where people congregate: gyms, hairdressers, cafes, delis, etc. I told everyone about what I was doing and everybody wanted to help spread the word. I attended any community event I could go to and set up an “Ask the Vet” table. My kids would come with me and they would work the vendor tables and tell them about our business and collect vendors cards for me to make contact with later. The launch was grassroots all the way.
I did go to numerous banks for loans but the banks require that you are in business at least 2 years to get an SBA loan. So I basically used what I made to pay bills and buy supplies. We had to use our credit cards more than a few times. At a year and a half, I got a lucky break. A banker from First Trust decided to ride with me for a day and see what I did. He loved it and wrote me a loan which helped us tremendously. I still use First Trust Bank to this day!
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Our company was founded on personal connection and we make sure that everyone we hire knows that personal connection with our clients and their pets is where it’s at. Initially, we had no marketing budget so the rule was we could only invest in our community.
I visited places where people congregate: gyms, hairdressers, cafes, delis, etc. I told everyone about what I was doing. I attended any community event I could go to and set up an “Ask the Vet” table.
No marketing dollars could be spent unless it was for our community. To this day we still only engage in community marketing. We go to events, parades, host educational lectures, and we do fun things like doggy swim parties. We love our customers and want to connect with them on that personal level.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Currently, we are utilizing the book Traction to take our business to the next level. It is a great book that puts together so many other books (highly effective people, one-minute manager, etc) into one usable plan. All of our goals revolve around improving customer service and patient care. If we do that the best we can we will improve all the other key numbers.
We recently negotiated with our diagnostic company to decrease the cost of blood panels and increase what is included in the lab panels. Clients have been apter to run blood and we have found so many early problems which result in us helping keep pets healthier longer...so it’s a win-win-win all the way around!
On an administrative level, we are looking to increase administrative costs, decrease COGS, and increase our margin. We have developed our community calendar for the whole year so our team can communicate more easily with clients.
We are looking to find a routing app or co-develop one to help us increase our routine efficiency so we can see more pets who need us.
Our long term goal is to bring housecalls to every home in the United States. I believe it is so much better for the pet, the client and the veterinary team!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Trust no one. Always have checks and balances in place to protect yourself. Always look at the numbers and sign your own checks.
Trust everyone. If you’re good people you will attract good people. Don’t let a bad apple ruin the bunch. Hire people that ooze passion who want to serve your customers as well as you do.
Hire and onboard with your vision and core values in mind are super important and hire people that thrive on change and that are adaptable.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We utilize a number of different platforms to help our business and our clients. For HR I love Bamboo. It makes it so easy for our team to communicate. For accessibility to clients, I love TextMyBiz -- they can access our main number like it’s a cell phone.
For patients and clients, I love VitusVet. It allows clients to have access to their records 24/7, request meds and appts, and send records on their own accord right through their phone. It also allows us to send push notifications about patient reminders or important messages.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I love the short/easy read business books: Purple Cow, FISH, Who Stole My Cheese, The One Minute Manager, Traction, 7 Habits..., etc. I don’t have a ton of time so these are easy reads and my team can read them as well. We have a lot of fun with them and take away a good message.
If you’re good people you will attract good people. Don’t let a bad apple ruin the bunch. Hire people that ooze passion who want to serve your customers as well as you do.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Get started. Make a plan and work on it! Don’t hem and haw get to it today! Pick the right people from the start do not just hire people to fill seats. Ask for help. Everyone wants to help you succeed. Most importantly serve the community. If you serve the community they will take care of you in return.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking for an Operations Manager and a Marketing Director.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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