Dr Jess Patterson on taking the plunge into veterinary practice ownership
Although initially doubting herself, Dr Jess Patterson decided to take the plunge and start her own vet clinic—now she’s reaping the rewards.Learn More
People will tell you it takes a certain type of person to go out and start your own veterinary clinic. They’ll say it takes a degree of confidence, and a knowledge of business systems, or at least the humility to take advice from business experts. Which is all true, however as Dr Michelle Trevan and her husband Aiden found out when establishing Northern Beaches Veterinary Clinic in Cairns, Queensland, you can have all of that, but there are still plenty of things that keep you up at night.
“We had moved to Cairns for my job,” Aiden says. “We looked at some opportunities previously and decided against them for various reasons. But during that process I had always said we should really start our own practice. The fact that we tried to buy into an existing clinic and the deal fell over, really motivated us to get something going.
“We were quietly confident that we could make a brand-new clinic work. We did a lot of research around the demographics of the area where we wanted to put the clinic, the growth trajectory in populations for the area, and the competitors nearby. We also engaged a marketing firm called PetPack to do the same thing, just to clarify and confirm what we thought.”
The dream of having your own clinic is often tied up with general dreams of the future. It nestles in with fantasies about family, where you want to live, and who you want to be with. That’s what it was like with the Trevans. “Michelle and I actually met at university,” Aiden explains. “Michelle was studying veterinary science, and I've got a commerce business degree. We met at the University of Queensland, and pretty much from very early on, we always discussed having our own clinic. It was always a dream of ours that we shared.”
Dr Trevan graduated from vet school in 2008, but it took another 15 years for that dream to come to fruition. Part of the hold-up was that they moved around several times for Aiden’s career—from Brisbane to Rockhampton, then down to Launceston, Tasmania, for six years. “We had an opportunity in Launceston to buy into a
clinic,” Aiden says. “But we didn't actually want to live in Launceston long term. We only ever wanted to go there for a period of time and then move on.
“Tassie is a beautiful place. We like the outdoors and there is lots to do there, but it was just too cold for us. We also had a family. Having young kids made it really difficult and delayed us going ahead with either starting a new clinic or buying into one until our kids were of an age where we thought that was feasible.”
The children were four and eight when the opportunity came up to move to Cairns. “When we decided that we’d go there, we also thought it would be the time to start our own clinic,” Aiden says.
“We knew that it would take a little bit of time to get off the ground, and the kids were just at the right age where they were becoming a bit more independent and they could handle us being really busy.”
After a false start or two, they were determined to get everything for the new clinic right from the get-go. Aiden’s experience in business management, particularly around sales, marketing and business development, guided him as to the kind of things they should be thinking about. “I said to Michelle, we want to make this work, so let's confirm the research that we've done by engaging a professional.”
The professional help came mainly from word-of-mouth recommendations from other vets. Other than PetPack’s help with marketing, they also sourced specialist veterinary accountants (APL Accountants) and finance from Colin Taylor at BOQ Specialist. “We did meet with another bank, and we just didn't get a great vibe from them,” Aiden says. “BOQ Specialist and Colin were recommended by a couple of people that Michelle knew who had started up clinics. We had a good conversation with Colin. He just happened to be in Cairns for a conference at the time. It was right around the time we were looking for finance options. We talked about what we wanted, what we planned on doing, roughly what we thought we were going to spend and what the future held for us. After that, everything on the finance side of things went really smoothly.”
The Trevans spoke to BOQ Specialist in September 2021, when they had already been scoping out potential properties for a few months. It was around November that year they found an ideal spot. “We’d tried to get some places to lease and I'm very glad that we didn't,” says Aiden. “They were expensive, and they weren't in the right spot. It took us six months to find the shops that we eventually purchased.”
The spot they liked had three shopfronts side by side. The two on the outside were vacant, but the shop in the middle was tenanted with two years left on the lease. “But we couldn't find anywhere else to put this business, so we took a risk and bought all three and then managed to negotiate to get the tenant out in the centre—but that was pretty stressful.”
They put in an offer in December, and settled in February 2022. Dr Trevan resigned from her full-time position and started putting in 80-hour weeks in preparation for opening day. They also brought in Elite Fitout to get the place up to scratch. “It did take quite a while to land on the design, the layout, and to get together all of the fittings and fixtures and equipment that were going to go into that clinic,” says Aiden.
“Elite did a great job and in difficult times. The business I'm in is part of the building and construction industry, so at the time, all the trades were unbelievably busy in Cairns. They still are to be honest.
“So Elite initially said it would be a six-week build time and in the end it only took seven, which under the circumstances was great. So they did an amazing job to get that done in such a short time frame.”
Northern Beaches Veterinary Clinic officially opened its doors in July last year. Aiden was grateful for the relationship with BOQ Specialist and their understanding of the realities of owning a clinic. “Just covering the costs to run that business in the early days was probably the most stressful bit for us,” he says.
“With that in mind, it's really good having a direct line to Colin and his associates. That communication line makes life much easier as a business owner.”
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