Good advice for great renovations
There are lots of reasons to renovate, Chapel says. You may not be able to find a buildable lot in close proximity to your current clients. Or neighbors might block your your zoning variance on a new building site if they worry—unfairly or not—about odors and noise. There's also talk of an economic downturn affecting many areas. "Now's the time when veterinarians' accountants start telling them, 'Put your building project off a year or two. Maybe you could remodel,'" Chapel says.
If you're thinking of building because you lack space, keep in mind that sometimes cramped quarters can be fixed with a well-planned renovation. You can make room for new equipment, exam rooms, or treatment space. Perhaps your retirement-age clientele is traveling more and needs better boarding options—and you could provide them.
So if you're ready to spruce up or expand your current building instead of moving elsewhere, check out Chapel's advice on renovating right.
Care for your clients
> Give kids free play tools and hard hats printed with your hospital logo.
> Offer clients coupons for a free car wash if construction is kicking up a lot of dust and mud in your parking lot. (You can usually get a great deal on coupons in bulk from a local car wash.)
> Put plastic booties on dogs that will be walking to and from vehicles outside.
Also, it's nearly impossible to put up too many posters or send out too many mailings letting clients know you'll be renovating. Tell them as often as you can that you're fixing the place up for them and you apologize for the mess. All that apologizing will pay off in the end, Chapel says. "Especially if you spruce up the front of your building, you'll see a spike in business of 25 percent to 30 percent," he says. "There's a group of people out there always looking for new places to go to." Capture those curious clients attracted by the new storefront, and you'll be building toward a banner month—and year.
Inspire your team members
Cover surprise costs
And because surprises can pop up, your contractor may need to change the estimate mid-project. A wall that looked usable may be rotting. Plumbing may be deteriorating. The electrical lines may be inadequate for the new power needs. Some of these things can't be accounted for until the contractor gets started.
To handle these mid-project changes, save up or negotiate with your lender for 10 percent to 15 percent more than you expect to need for a contingency fund. That's easier than trying to scrounge up cash or bargain with the bank in the middle of construction.
Budgeting helps veterinarians balance their renovation hopes against the reality of a pre-existing floor plan. "We work things backwards," he says. "How much money is it worth it to invest in the renovation? Will you get your money back?" Don't spend the money to completely reconfigure your space if you can get away with doing less.
Make the right choice
See, the urban neighborhood was rundown, but people were buying empty buildings and doing funky things with them. Artists' lofts. Cool restaurants. Maybe the urban rebirth was a few years out of the soon-to-retire doctor's business plans, but it would work for an up-and-coming associate. Chapel told the doctor to "take the majority of the money you're going to spend on the lot and go out and buy land in the country."
Chapel got a call from that doctor six years later: "I owe you a lot of money," the doctor said. A total of $300,000 had funded a great renovation of his existing facility, and his associates snatched it up from him. The doctor then bought more land in the country than he needed for his new, smaller practice. A developer bought half of that empty land, and the doctor retired early and built his "toy hospital" sooner than he thought he could.
If your building's a little small, if your storefront is a little tired-looking, and if you can't quite fit in the new high-tech machine you bought at the latest veterinary convention, it may not be time to build. It may just be time to renovate.