Giving your practice a frugal facelift

Giving your practice a frugal facelift

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Mar 01, 2003

By Sarah A. Moser, Associate Editor

If you think it takes $50,000 to update your facility, think again. We've got project ideas for limited budgets, from free to $6,000. Just check out this list:

Improvement 1: Clean up your act

First things first. A good, hard scrub goes a long way toward improving your practice's appearance-and it doesn't cost a thing beyond elbow grease. "Getting rid of the cobwebs in the corners and making the place smell nice makes a big difference to your clients and to your team," says Dr. Lamar Crossland, co-owner of Sunset Canyon Veterinary Clinic in Dripping Springs, Texas.

Enlist your staff members' help, grab a bucket of solution, and scrub the walls, floors, cabinets, and workstations. Make sure to get rid of the grime along the floorboards and around the cabinet seals.

Improvement 2: Freshen the paint

A fresh coat of paint offers big value for a small investment. For best results, use an epoxy paint for durability in your treatment area, says Wayne Usiak, AIA, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and a principal of Usiak and Associates in Albuquerque, N.M. This project will cost you $1,000 to $2,000 if you hire a professional to remove items from the walls, prepare the walls, paint them, and rehang items, he says.

Improvement 3: Gain some visibility

"Many of your clients are used to you coming to them for field work," says Usiak. "So if you've just started having more clients haul their horses to you instead, they may not know where your facility is or be able to find it easily."

Usiak's suggestion: Invest in a new sign that clients can see from the road easily. You'll want to include your practice name, logo, and phone number on the sign.

Improvement 4: Install better unloading doors

It's important to make the unloading process as easy as possible for clients who haul in horses. After all, you don't want frustrated clients to feel that visiting you is more hassle than it's worth. One way to smooth the road: Consider investing in an overhead door or a pair of doors that will safely and securely allow clients to deliver their horses from the trailer to your treatment area, Usiak suggests. "The doors in many renovated practices aren't large enough to accommodate horses comfortably," says Usiak. "And as long as equine doctors allow clients to assist with the unloading process, it's important to make that process simple. You don't want anything to make the horse feel uncomfortable."

Usiak says roll-up overhead doors work well, but they can be noisy and scare the horses. And he says double swinging doors are more easily weather-proofed and help confine the horses during unloading.

Improvement 5: Light up your life

"Equine facilities are notorious for having horrible lighting, because they've been converted from a barn or another existing building that wasn't meant for treatment," says Usiak. "I recommend pendant-mounted fluorescent lights with full-spectrum bulbs set so the light bounces off the ceiling, making the room brighter."

Dr. Crossland also says that high-quality lighting makes a huge difference. "The right lighting sets the mood for clients and staff members," he says. "Our practice uses 8-foot fluorescent strip lighting in the treatment area, and we have a mobile surgery light to add concentrated light."

Improvement 6: Update your flooring

Next check out the flooring in your treatment area. Does it give your patients good traction? Will it withstand pressure-hose cleanings for years to come? "I think the best solution for equine treatment areas is troweled-on epoxy with a lot of grip to avoid slipping," says Mark Hafen, AIA, a board member and a principal with Gates Hafen Cochrane Architects in Boulder, Colo. "Ideally you want some resistance. But this kind of floor is more difficult to clean than a smooth floor. A plus: An epoxy floor keeps urine and other messes from penetrating the floor."

For horses' stalls, Hafen suggests heavy timbers over a sand bed-a low-tech solution, he admits, but one that works well. Usiak, on the other hand, recommends poured concrete with rubber on top for sanitation and resiliency.

Improvement 7: Hang new cabinets

"Most of the equine practices I see have wood or plastic laminate cabinets that have been blasted with the pressure hose so many times they're swelling and falling apart," Usiak says. The solution? Stainless steel cabinets. These durable fixtures offer a high-tech, medical look-and they last.

Improvement 8: Make stocks functional

"Equine practices often underestimate the need for a decent stock," says Hafen. "The Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital uses a stock that works well. A gate folds down from the side but stops short of the floor, so penned horses can't damage the stocks or themselves."

Dr. Crossland also recommends building an enclosed stall for foals or colicky horses. "We included a heater in the enclosed stall to make us and the horse more comfortable," he says. Dr. Crossland also mounted cord reels for electricity in the stocks. "In our old building we always had to search for extension cords when we needed to plug in clippers or add lighting while working in the stocks," says Dr. Crossland. "When we built the new facility two years ago, we mounted cord reels at the head of the stock-off to the side, so as not to spook the horses-and it makes our jobs much easier for little cost."

On a bigger budget

If you want to splurge, add a drive-up window for admitting clients, Usiak suggests. For about $300 you can buy a sliding vinyl window to install on the side of your building. Installation, however, will cost you about $700, depending on the building structure. The total will go up if you need many finishes patched and elect a bay window. Station this window near the receptionist's desk so she can see clients coming, let them know a technician will meet them at the back to unload, then page a technician for help. This approach allows you to assign one receptionist to both small and large animal duties.

Another option: Install an intercom so clients can call a receptionist when they approach the gate, Usiak says. "The receptionist can then send a technician to the back to help unload, keeping clients from trekking all over the hospital just to let you know they're there," he says.

A porte-cochére can also dramatically change clients' perception of your practice. "We added a covered driveway when we built our new practice," says Dr. Crossland. "Clients love being able to load and unload under it in bad weather. It doesn't have to be anything fancy-a simple pole barn would do. That will only set you back about $5,000, at the most, but the good impression you'll make on your clients is priceless."

Have you put off an update because of the cost? Happily, none of the suggestions our sources offer here are that expensive. And you can control your budget by addressing one issue at a time. "Figure out how much you can spend over a set time period on practice improvements," suggests Usiak. "Then prioritize the items you feel your practice needs." With careful planning, he says, virtually any practice team can implement a frugal facelift-and earn the sense of accomplishment an updated practice environment offers.