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Veterinary Forum February 2007 (Vol 24, No 2)

Doctor to Doctor: "Creating a professional atmosphere"

by Ronald E. Whitford, DVM, Rebekah Cintolo

    Professionalism in many respects sets the veterinary profession apart from the retail industry, although both share the need to maintain a public image. Veterinary professionals also rely on client confidence in their knowledge, experience, ability, and enthusiasm in providing quality care.

    How can we best protect and enhance our image and consequently our reputation? During the next few months, I will be sharing with you some helpful hints on creating and maintaining a professional atmosphere that can help ensure your clients will keep coming back.

    The building is a client's first impression of a veterinary practice and thus sets the stage for creating a professional image. Therefore, it is important to create a "wow" exterior that is both pleasing and functional.

    Outdoor signage

    There are several options in choosing outdoor signage. Sometimes a combination of different signboards and/or banners to promote separate messages works best.

    Outdoor signage needs to be updated at least every 5 years and properly maintained, including applying fresh coats of paint in the clinic's colors and landscaping surrounding signboards.

    Signage should not be overloaded with too much information but should include the following:

    • Clinic name
    • Street address
    • Logo

    It is best not to list the names of veterinarians unless the practice is solely owned. The phone number can be included, but typically people who are driving by the clinic will not be able to record the phone number anyway.

    At night, the signage should be lit by photoelectric cell lighting rather than having lights on a timer.

    Message signboards can create ongoing awareness of the facility as well as serve as a means of marketing the practice services. Electronic message signboards are best, as the message can be changed using a computer. Changing the message every 5 to 7 days is a constant reminder that products and services are varied. However, the message should not be lengthy because people only have a couple of seconds to grasp and mentally store it. That is one reason repetition is so important to marketing success.

    Changeable letter marquee boards also work, but it can sometimes be difficult, particularly during inclement weather, to change the message often enough.

    To gain instant awareness of a new service, outside banners can be effective. Banners also are handy tools in promoting consumer awareness of the different national pet celebrations, such as National Pet Wellness Month.

    Parking lot

    When selecting a surface for the parking area, remember that concrete is less expensive, requires less maintenance, and typically lasts longer than asphalt. If oil and grease drippings from cars start to accumulate, cat litter effectively removes them. Asphalt, on the other hand, needs to be sealed at least every other year.

    Parking slots should be clearly striped, and the layout should maximize the capacity of the parking lot. Concrete front wheel bumpers are advisable, as is the installation of good lighting.

    Many practices do not consider litter control a priority, but it is important to maintain daily litter pickup. A specific staff member can be assigned this duty, or the task can be rotated among various staff members. Litter control should include daily emptying of trash and cigarette butt containers.


    Landscaping is the most cost-effective way to enhance the appearance of a facility. Mulch adds color to the landscaping décor, and frequent maintenance of plants and grass gives a clean and professional look at all times. Concrete pet statues and water fountains add a nice touch to the overall landscape.

    Although litter control of the parking area can be maintained by staff members, a professional manicuring company should be hired to remove dead leaves and spruce up the lawn as well as to clean and sanitize the pet toilet area. Following are tips to keep the pet toilet facility functional and sanitary:

    • Seal any concrete in the landscaped area with waterproofing spray to help prevent odor from urine absorption.
    • Designate a yard pet litter station.
    • Provide outside seating, preferably concrete benches and tables, that also have been sealed with waterproofing spray.
    • Install guard rails to protect the landscaping.
    • Place a security alarm system sign in a visible area.
    • Install accent lighting.

    Building exterior

    One tip on keeping the building exterior looking modern and maintained is to install vinyl trim, which eliminates any need for hiring painters. If that is not feasible, make sure that any peeling paint is quickly fixed.

    Hiring a local maintenance company or a "handyman" to clean and repair the building exterior is well worth the investment. This person also should be responsible for cleaning gutters and windows on a regular basis, preferably weekly. In addition, ensuring that handicap accessibility is free of debris and cracked walkways is important.

    Renewed awareness of the exterior of a building can be achieved by updating, adding, or changing the color of shutters and by coordinating the new color scheme with the outdoor signage and pet elimination station. Adding stained glass inserts touting a pet-friendly theme in the windows also creates a warm, inviting environment. Last but not least, highlight a veterinary caduceus by placing it in a prominent position on the front of the building with a nighttime spotlight.

    A closing thought

    By "dressing up" the outside appearance of a building, veterinarians are telling clients that they take pride in the practice — both outside and within — and aspire to provide only the finest veterinary care.

    NEXT: Eli Lilly and Co. enters companion animal health market


    Did you know... A standard operating procedure should include all the information on why a procedure is performed, who performs it, and how it is performed. Read More

    These Care Guides are written to help your clients understand common conditions. They are formatted to print and give to your clients for their information.

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