Opening a Veterinary Clinic

Veterinarian examining black cat
••• Sigrid Gombert / Getty Images

While many veterinarians choose to work as associates within an established practice, some decide to venture out on their own and build a new practice from the ground up. Starting any business can be a difficult task, but with careful planning, the process can run quite smoothly.

Veterinary practices can be expensive to start. Depending on the size of the practice, location, and other factors, expect to spend at least $1 million on renovations, equipment, fixtures, and more. If you have the money or can secure funding through loans, investors, or some combination, follow some key tips to start a new veterinary practice.

A Team and a Plan

Two of the first things needed before opening a veterinary practice are a launch team and a business plan. Since your background is in veterinary medicine, you’ll need experts in other areas to assist with your plan. Most people hire a business or office manager early in the process and also secure the services of an accountant, an attorney, a real estate agent, and perhaps an architect. It’s also a good idea to hire a marketing professional or contract with a marketing firm early in the process to help announce your launch.

Once you have these key people in place, creating a business plan should be the first step. The business plan should address the type of clinic you intend to operate, the size of the operation, staffing needs, services that will be offered, marketing plans, funding sources, and financial projections for the next three to five years.

Specific to opening a veterinary clinic, it’s important to establish an identity with your business plan. Identify what types of pets you’ll see, whether or not you’ll specialize in a particular area, and if you’ll be open for emergencies.

Some staff will need to be hired early in the process, but other positions won’t need to start until much closer to when the clinic opens. Using an employment agency to screen applicants can help with the search for veterinary techniciansreceptionists, and other support staff. You also may need to hire a veterinary practice managerkennel attendantsgroomers, or other accessory team members.

Location, Regulatory Approvals, and Licenses

You need to decide if you will operate out of an existing building or construct a new facility from the ground up, and you also need to decide if you will lease or buy. All options have their pros and cons, but some vets choose to consider more affordable options such as mobile veterinary clinics to save money on location expenses. It’s also important to consider your client base. Property near residential areas with heavy traffic and visibility likely will be more expensive, but it also will be closer to families with pets and, thus, potential clients.

Veterinarians also must apply for federal and state narcotics licenses for drug dispensation. They must pay state board fees, obtain a business license to operate in their local jurisdiction, and secure a tax identification number.

Specific regulatory requirements can vary, so it is important to research the requirements in your area and consult professionals who have been through the process to make sure you do not miss anything.

Once the location is secured and all necessary permits acquired, the clinic needs to be outfitted with a variety of supplies, medical equipment, laboratory instruments, and drugs. Some clinics also choose to offer pet food, pet supplies, and other over the counter items. 

Marketing

Many vets enlist the help of marketing professionals to assist with the key task of promoting the business’ opening. The first step is to name the business and create a signature logo, both of which will be critical for all advertisements, building signage, and the website. Vet clinics also should consider using social media accounts, direct mail advertising, local magazine advertisements, radio or TV coverage of the clinic’s opening, and network with other animal businesses for referrals.

Once everything is in place, the final step is to open the doors and make sure that members of your community know that you are open for business. If a good marketing plan is in place you should be well on your way to establishing a successful practice.