April 17, 2009
Life moves fast at Metropolitan Veterinary Referral Services, where a 24-hour intensive-care unit forms the hub of a bustling internal medicine specialty practice.
Still, Eric Goullaud, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, finds time to reflect. The way he sees it, he has no other choice.
“Because we are a specialty practice that professes to be the best around, we have had to make significant capital outlays,” says Dr. Goullaud, owner and operator of the Eden Prairie, Minn., hospital. “I bet I have $300,000 to $400,000 invested (in devices and equipment). So return on investment has to be part of the equation.”
Before adding technological advances such as ultrasound, digital X-ray and video endoscopy, Goullaud made sure he or others crunched the numbers, multiplying a fair cost for services by a projected number of procedures.
Before he invested in the cages that are now the centerpiece of his intensive care unit, his calculations were less exacting. Basically, he knew he had to have them and he knew he wanted the best.
It turns out the cages “have to be the most cost-effective thing in the clinic,” he notes. “The return on investment has to be thousands upon thousands.”
That revelation isn’t uncommon, says Jeremy Panzer, veterinary sales manager for Suburban Surgical Co., maker of the stainless-steel cages as well as the surgical tables Goullaud bought when he first outfitted his practices and which he still uses 20 years later.
It’s clear that return on investment isn’t always at the front of practitioners’ minds when they buy durable equipment such as cages, pens and tables, Panzer says. But perhaps it should be.
“When you invest in a quality cage, you know you won’t have to buy one again,” Panzer says. “You know it will be there every day, you won’t have to worry about it, and it will be a great cash cow for your practice.”
Goullaud agrees that when equipment qualifies as worry-free, the returns are almost always worth the investment.
“Everything wears out eventually, including the floors and the lights,” he says. “The equipment can get bruised and battered. But not the cages. It’s great to have something that’s almost bullet-proof.”
Because his practice doesn’t board animals, it’s not as easy for Goullaud to directly connect his cages to the income they generate. He charges $125 a night for a stay in intensive care and $50 for a stay in the general ward. Sometimes he can have as many as 10 overnight patients.
Panzer is eager to help clients do the math. Four dogs boarded a day at $25 a dog equals about $2,000 a month. “At that rate, you could pay for a cage bank in just a couple of months,” he notes.
Jay Epping, DVM, owner and operator of two general practices as well as the Midwest Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center in Blaine, Minn., opted for heated cages to limit maintenance and the potential hazards of add-on heating elements. But the main reason was “to apply the highest standard of care at all the clinics,” he says.
Earning and reinforcing such a reputation provides financial returns by supporting overall client satisfaction, Dr. Epping adds.
For similar reasons, Mark Pirrung, DVM, owner-operator of South Mesquite Veterinary Hospital in Mesquite, Texas, selected Suburban Surgical’s stainless-steel cages over less expensive options more than 26 years ago. He has never regretted his choice.
“They are probably in as good a shape now as they were when I got them,” he says. “It’s hard to calculate how much value they’ve provided.”
Dr. Pirrung points to ancillary revenue that often comes with boarding, such as bathing, routine checkups and vaccinations. And clients aren’t the only ones who link the quality and cleanliness of cages with the overall quality of the practice.
“When I have relief doctors in here, they often comment on that unit,” he says. “They’ll say, ‘I sure wish I had something like that.’”
While it may not be easy to quantify such financial rewards, there are some factors to look for in durable veterinary equipment, Panzer and practitioners say.
• Make sure cages have no sharp edges, inside or out. A poor design that leads to injured pets or staff can turn an investment into a liability.
• Seek out a unitized design that keeps debris out of the frame and limits shifting and rattling over time.
• Before buying a table, consider the length of surgeries. Having a built-in place to rest a foot can ease the strain of a two-hour procedure. And a heated table can reduce the risks of hypothermia.
Considering all the factors in a cost-benefit analysis can make it a lot easier to commit to investing in durable equipment such as cages and surgical tables.
When Goullaud bought his cages two decades ago, he had no idea how durable his investment would be. It’s safe to say, he’s been pleasantly surprised.
“I didn’t realize,” he says, “the longevity would be millennial.”
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