Perfect Plan: Successful animal hospital bolstered by business development center at Indiana State

March 13, 2013

Terre Haute veterinarian Beth Brown vividly remembers her father encouraging for her to own her own business. Yet while she had the technical expertise to be successful in her field, she was not nearly as familiar with the business aspects of running her own animal hospital.

As Brown recently stood on stage to receive a state award for outstanding small business, she was reminded that the lessons she learned from an organization housed at Indiana State University were pivotal to her success.Brown received support to create Brown Veterinary Hospital from the West Central Indiana Small Business Development Center located in Federal Hall, along with Indiana State's Scott College of Business. Brown worked with Dick Pittelkow, business advisor at the center, to develop a business plan and learn more about the resources necessary to open the animal clinic.

"I got overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material and information, and the process," Brown said. "I'm very detail-oriented, and sometimes I drown in those details."

She first learned about the business development center from her father, and had attended a lunchtime presentation by one of the center's former directors. Still, she wasn't necessarily prepared for everything that she and Pittelkow would discuss.

They met at least once each week starting in January 2011, though some weeks they met more frequently in those first months. Brown also attended several workshops hosted by the center on how to draft a business plan, and on March 16, 2011, she received approval for financing for her clinic, which she had decided would be in Terre Haute.

"It made sense. I had an established clientele, I had a reputation here, and I have my family here," Brown said. "This is where my roots are, so it made more sense to grow a tree where you've got your roots planted."

The center was integral to her success, as it provided Brown with a variety of tools and resources, including perspective on the research she needed to open her business. The local veterinarian is the perfect example of a Small Business Development Center client, as she had a very technical background and knew her profession well, but was not familiar with the information and knowledge needed to start her own business, Pittelkow said.

"We try to take some of the stress out of the process of developing a business plan and starting your own business by providing tools and resources to develop the business plan, so it's not such a scary ordeal," Pittelkow added.

The meetings provided additional insights for Brown on what research was needed - she even researched the number of dogs and cats that lived in her projected area - along with vital professional industry information. Through her research, she was able to project the level of anticipated revenue a new veterinary clinic could expect in its first few years of being open. The development center also helped Brown cultivate contacts with other agencies, such as attorneys, who provided support for her business.

"It lets you have better assurance that you're making a wise decision ... and you convince yourself again, this is good," Brown said of developing a business plan, which provides an "expectation, and it gives you milestones and a road map to follow."

"Now sometimes the journey goes off-road, or you get to go on the highway and not go the rough road of the business plan," Brown added. "But it lets you have decent expectations of ‘We thought this could happen,' and it lets you know how you're doing according to what you could predict."

Brown Veterinary Hospital opened on July 13, 2011, and quickly gained community support. The hospital received three times the amount of business that Brown had initially expected in the first year, even surpassing Brown's projections of what to expect in her third year of being open.

In 2012, the animal hospital received a local newspaper reader's choice award for favorite veterinarian. Earlier this year, her string of success continued, as Pittelkow informed her that Brown Veterinary Hospital received the Indiana Small Business Development Center's Economic Development through Growth and Entrepreneurship Award in the emerging business category. The hospital was one of 10 emerging small businesses across the state to receive such an award.

"It's independent validation of her success," Pittelkow said of the award. "It's something more than the financial success of her practice."

The veterinary hospital continues to be successful, with Brown considering adding more staff members, including possibly a second veterinarian, to the clinic. The hospital currently employs Brown and four other staff members, including an Indiana State alumna.

The Small Business Development Center at Indiana State also plans on expanding its reach as well, publicizing its services for established businesses and organizations, not just start-ups. The center can help improve an organization's success, just as Pittelkow has continued to work with Brown even after she opened the animal hospital.

"I'm convinced that anybody else opening up a veterinary clinic would not have done the professional execution and planning as well as Beth did," Pittelkow said. "Her success doesn't happen just by chance. It takes planning and preparation and execution.

"Beth," he added, "is a primary example of how execution can make the difference, and make it all work."

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/i-tw7kfc3/0/L/i-tw7kfc3-L.jpg (Submitted photo)Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann (left), Terre Haute native and veterinarian Beth Brown, and Heather Strohm and Dick Pittelkow of the West Central Indiana Small Business Development Center at Indiana State University. Brown won a state award from the Indiana Small Business Development Center for Brown Veterinary Hospital. She received resources and support from the development center at Indiana State to help open her business, which has encountered more business than Brown had anticipated.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/i-GHLNBMZ/0/L/i-GHLNBMZ-L.jpg (Submitted photo)Veterinarian Beth Brown, owner of Brown Veterinary Hospital

Contact: Heather Strohm, regional director, West Central Indiana Small Business Development Center, 812-237-7676 or heather.strohm@indstate.edu; Dick Pittelkow, business advisor, Small Business Development Center, 812-237-3946 or rpittelkow@indstate.edu

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or austin.arceo-negrich@indstate.edu