Transcript: Veterinary Dental Services: Expanding a private practice

It was my goal to own a practice within 5-10 years of graduating from veterinary school. Working in a private practice, you're able to make your own decisions and have a dream, have a model of what you think is ideal for your practice, and then execute it. It's all within your power.

I am Dr. Bonnie Shope. I am the owner of Veterinary Dental Services — a state-of-the-art veterinary dental and oral surgical center in Boxborough, Massachusetts. 

One of the benefits of having worked at Veterinary Dental Services before becoming the owner was that I had the mentorship of the prior owner. She really helped me think about managing a practice and made me realize that being a veterinarian and a business owner is more than just being a good veterinary dentist and being good with the animals. It's really important that we treat our clients with respect.

I have a wonderful mentor, who is both an attorney and a veterinarian, and he has really counseled me through every stage of my career development — from when I was a new associate coming out of vet school looking to sign my first contract, to having this opportunity to purchase the business.

In 2009, I had made the decision to purchase the practice and when it came down to the wire Wells Fargo was the lender that came through. Wells Fargo said, “We believe in veterinarians. The business plan that you have just looks very doable.” And that business plan changes, depending on the goals of the business. In the beginning, it was about: Can I afford to buy this practice, and how much revenue do I need to generate to cover the expenses? And for that I utilized my mentors to help me develop a plan. Having a business plan in place helped me to procure the financing that I needed to build the building.

When I first bought the business, you know, I took the first year just to keep the business as it was and shortly thereafter, I realized that we had the opportunity to expand into the business suite that was next door. Within a year or two, I knew it wasn't big enough and that I needed to create something larger.

The next step really became talking to my mentors, talking to my advisors, and looking at real estate. The cost to build the building we had designed was more than what my accountant had told me I could afford, and I had a really good phone call with my Wells Fargo rep, and he said, "You keep talking about this business advisor. Can you run the numbers by him? Why don't you talk to him and see what he says?” I called my mentor and he said, "Well, Bonnie, I think you can do this. I think this is a good plan.” I called my accountant back and he said, "Well, you never told me you wanted to grow the business."

My accountant was able to help me project the numbers with growth and gave me the confidence that I needed to go forward. But I think that was sort of an important lesson for me, that your different mentors have different areas of expertise.

If I had to give advice about taking that next step, I would encourage them to hone their vision and surround themself with mentors that have different perspectives and have a team of people that you trust. Give them opportunity to grow. And I think it's really important to give your team members autonomy to do their job, not to micromanage them. So the more I can delegate the management to people who are trained in management and I can operate, the better the bottom line.

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