It’s 7 a.m. and Dr. Kelly is ready to roll.
Or, more to the point, she’s ready to stop rolling.
Because 7 a.m. is when Dr. Kelly’s Mobile Surgical Unit opens for business. And first she needs to find a place to park the clinic.
Dr. Kelly and her team work out of a 28-foot custom-built and converted interstate commercial trailer. Inside, a fully equipped veterinary clinic stands ready to treat the first clients of the day.
Dr. Kelly is her street name, and it’s a familiar sight on the streets of Phoenix, Arizona, and its environs, emblazoned in big, blue letters on the side of the rig. In real life, she’s Kelly Patriquin, DVM, and she co-owns the practice with her husband, Douglas Patriquin, who doubles as the practice manager and business developer.
And business is booming—they bought a second rig last July and they’re close to buying a third.
Not bad for a veterinarian who went from corporate franchisee to independent road warrior in just under two years. The Patriquins used to own an 8-doctor Banfield Pet Hospital in Chandler, Arizona, but, tired of the long hours and associated hassles, sold it in March of 2016.
After taking a few months off to relax and weigh their options, they considered opening another brick and mortar hospital. But Douglas said when the opportunity came up to buy a “friend of a friend’s” mobile spay/neuter clinic, they were intrigued and took the plunge.
Unfortunately, the clinic was heavily dependent on reimbursed spay/neuter work from the county, which suspended the program right after the Patriquins bought the rig. It was a shock. “75 percent of our business went away,” said Douglas. “We were kind of left hanging a bit.”
But not for long. The Patriquins decided to expand their offerings to include other elective surgeries. They were already doing those one day a week, so it wasn’t a stretch. Douglas said they still do a lot of spay/neuters—the county business eventually came back—but now they also do dentals, hernia repair, microchipping, vaccinations, mass removal, and more. “Things that require skill and anesthesia, but don’t require a significant amount of follow-up,” Douglas said. “So, we don’t do osteo work, we don’t do extremely difficult internal abdominal stuff.” More complicated procedures that require a fully equipped hospital, they turf out.
That means no x-rays or ultrasounds. And no expensive equipment helps keep overhead low. Usually when customers come to them for something like a bladder stone, or a foreign body, they've already had the x-rays taken somewhere else. “So we don’t pass the cost along to our clients.”
Douglas said the prices they used to charge at their brick and mortar practice were three to four times what they charge now.
Going mobile changed everything.
“Because we don't own a [brick and mortar] business, and we don't do preventive care, we don't do ear infections, skin scrapes, my dog looks weird, he threw up yesterday, none of that is us,” Douglas said. “We don't have to make up those costs so we're literally a third the price of other vet hospitals in town.”
Douglas sets up the schedule a month or so in advance, actively partnering with local businesses and locations that like the idea of having a mobile veterinarian on the grounds for the day. That could mean setting up shop outside a food bank, or a pet store, or a BMW dealership sponsoring a fundraiser.
“We drive to one spot, we park for the day, we do surgeries, and then we leave,” Douglas said. “Everything is scheduled, nothing is walk up, and we don’t go door-to door.”
He said he'd like to expand the business across state lines and maybe even franchise.
“I think we have a pretty unique model.”
Photo credit: (c) Douglas Patriquin