First in a series.
You might see anything come in the door of the Beard-Navasota Veterinary Hospital in Navasota, Texas on any given day.
On the day I visited the practice in May, I was delighted to see a miniature Zebu cow with a errant horn that needed shortened and feet that needed trimming, a registered Black Hereford heifer in for AI, a bull being treated for a toe abscess, a horse that needed castrating and much more. Later on a couple of calls there were the beautifully exotic Romagnola cattle and another operation with a whole bunch of skittish Brahman heifers that moved as elegantly and in sync with each other as a herd of deer.
The practice, housed in a former stagecoach inn (remodeled of course!) from Navasota’s wild and wooly early history (an Indian fort is just down the road), originally began in 1957 by Dr. Bryan Beard who was the sole practitioner in the area. David Luedeker, DVM, bought Beard’s practice, and Don Goodman, DVM, bought the Navasota Veterinary Clinic, then the two practices merged into one in 1986. “We were instantly able to offer more services to our clients,” says Goodman.
“We were able to hire other associate veterinarians and part-time veterinarians in our practice,” Goodman continues. The practice radius is about 60-70 miles, but they have had certain clients drive hours to bring animals in. Sitting on 14-acres with numerous pens and excellent working facilities, the practice is able to work and even house livestock when needed. A separate business unit of the practice is the Pharmacy & Livestock Supplies (PALS) which operates as a cash-and-carry animal health supplier (see sidebar).
Near the Brazos and Navasota rivers, the practice sits about 80 miles northwest of Houston, and conveniently just over 20 miles from Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine in College Station. It serves a town of about 6,000 residents and six to seven surrounding counties.
Goodman says the bovine part of the practice consists primarily of pet cows and hobby farmers with an average of a 25-50 herd size, but they also work with some larger beef cattle herds, the largest at 3,000 head. The practice also does work for the nearby sale barn. “The sale barn owner likes the perception of having a veterinarian who is on the premises there,” Goodman says.
“One thing we are successful at is our ability to adapt to changing times,” Goodman says. “When we started in 1986, our practice was primarily dairy – fire engine dairy practice – because Grimes county was one of the biggest dairy counties in Texas. As dairy started to move out, we were able to adapt or change to the smaller cow-calf practices and to the urban sprawl coming from Houston. We still do a lot of production animal medicine with ranches.”
“We had about 75-100 dairies in our practice area,” adds Goodman’s partner Luedeker. “Since then it has turned mostly to beef cattle operations. One of the reasons our practice has continued its drive is our flexibility, being in the right place at the right time and being able to take advantage of those situations. We’ve been fortunate to have good support staff, both at the clinic and at home with our families giving us support.”
Growing and sustaining a practice means having a keen eye on what clients want. Luedeker says over the years the practice philosophy has been trying to find out exactly what the client wants and how the veterinarian fits in helping those clients achieve their goals. “We’ve been fortunate to have veterinarians here over the years who could help the cattlemen through the services, skills and consultation they could provide. Those things along with an ability to reinvest and build a practice with equipment and various other facilities makes practice fun. It’s still fun. I still like to make a diagnosis and go from there. Our clients appreciate us making the diagnosis and helping them to achieve their goals. That is the basic premise of our practice.”
Goodman says a client-first mentality enables the practice to identify opportunities. For example, two years ago the Texas Animal Health Commission implemented a trichomoniasis regulation where change of possession, not change of ownership, required testing cattle. “This gave us an opportunity to talk to the clients about herd health, not just trich, which is what we were trained to do as bovine practitioners,” Goodman says. “We could talk about the movement of animals and biosecurity measures with other diseases as well. It gave us an opportunity to help lower the incidence of trich and gain better access to clients and their biosecurity programs.”
Technology is key
Back in the 1990s, Goodman fought technology. “I still thought I could get by on a Big Chief tablet. How in the world did we run a veterinary practice without the technology?” Through the years he and his staff were able to see what was coming and recognized that they were going to have to embrace technology. Two examples include a hydraulic chute/tilt table and a phase microscopic connected to a flat screen monitor. The day I was there I saw the tilt table (see practice tip pg. 12) used numerous times in the practice’s spacious large animal handling facility for bulls and cows needing work on their feet. The microscope and flat screen monitor are used to demonstrate to clients in real-time the morphology and motility of bull semen samples, which Luedeker says has been a great teaching tool when clients can actually see what he’s talking about in terms of semen quality.
Technology doesn’t always have to mean large items, either. “Now we’re trying to stay ahead of the curve including doing more continuing education and investing in things like iPhones and our recent jump into Facebook,” Goodman says.
Goodman has seen a return on these investments. “I think clients appreciate new services and technology, but you have to charge for it. We only invest in new technology after careful research. We have to have a return on investment.”
However, just because you have new technology and new services, doesn’t mean your clients know about it. Marketing these services is critical. Goodman does this a variety of ways including holding semi-annual client meetings. “Some clinics and distributors don’t like producer meetings because they are not well-organized,” he explains. “We have a list of everyone who came the year before and we call them to invite them again. We try to get good speakers and topics that will interest them, hot topics of the day.” This includes, he says, investing in out-of-state speakers.
Staying sharp with CE
Goodman belongs to several veterinary and cattle industry associations such as the Academy of Veterinary Consultants, American Association of Bovine Practitioners, American Veterinary Medical Association, Texas Veterinary Medical Association and others. He has been involved in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and was on the committee in the 1980s that established the rules for it and other stock shows on drug use in livestock. He goes to a variety of CE meetings during the year.
“I personally go to many of the smaller meetings because I feel l get more of a hands-on approach from the speakers,” he says. “There’s so much CE out there that almost any given weekend you can get some. If you really want to get a return on investment, it is CE. Just staying up with the current trends is not enough, you have to think ahead.”
Goodman also participated in some practice management CE provided by Pfizer Animal Health, namely a three-year series that focused on marketing, then finances and finished with employee issues. “I wish I had it 25 years ago when I started practice,” he says. “We all have a tuition that we have to pay. I learned it the hard way. It was very good takehome information.”
Goodman says he learned he needed to offer value-added services, not just the cheapest services. “I brought that idea back and we got to talking about that we need to sell more than a bottle of penicillin. We need to sell our value-added services on top of that.” In the financial training he was able to compare Beard-Navasota to other practices and discover what they were lacking in and their return on investment in many areas.
He says the employee management training was invaluable and he has implemented a lot of its concepts in the practice. “We were not getting training to our new and part time employees,” he explains. “The reason was no one stopped to think about it. I started to assign employees to train them. They appreciated it and they then had a barometer of how things needed to be done.”
Staff makes a difference
Luedeker gives credit where credit is due – namely the staff. “Most or all of our success falls back on our employees and staff,” he says. “We emphasize the lack of turnover in our staff. When our clients come in they like to see a friendly face; they call our staff by name. It’s like a family-run practice and we are very family-oriented. I think our staff has been trained to know what each of the four doctors need and want.”
At Beard-Navasota the management philosophy seems to be if the staff is happy, they will portray that to the clients. “I think that we try to bend over backwards and accommodate scheduling conflicts they have with their families,” Goodman says. “We kind of have an open door policy. It’s not corporate America around here.” He adds that the practice is big into the concept of “the team” and it has holiday and other celebrations that sometimes involved staff and their families, or sometimes just the staff.
Low turnover and happy staff also means that the practice is supporting them financially. Goodman says the practice offers the usual benefits such as retirement and a 401K. “We have to compete to get the better people,” he says.
Staff are also included in professional training. “We really emphasize continuing education with our staff,” Goodman says. Many of the staff – whether technicians or veterinarians – spent time at the practice while working their way through their education, and then have returned.
Want to know? Ask the staff
It seems like a big happy family at the practice, but to get the real truth, you
need to ask those on the front lines – the office staff. Vonda Sechelski and Michelle Savensky have run the front of the clinic for 10 ½ and 7 ½ years, respectively, and are another example of long-term employees at the practice. “The atmosphere is very laid back and relaxed, says Sechelski. “Every day is a new day and you never know what is going to come in the door or what kind of questions you will get asked on the phone, so it keeps it interesting.”
Savensky notes that the strong relationship with clients keeps locals as well as clients as far away from Houston and beyond coming back to the practice. “Our clients give others recommendations for us,” she says. “There aren’t many food animal veterinarians toward Houston and clients with livestock and show animals will come to see Dr. Goodman and Dr. Luedeker. We have good clients. They get the word out and they like to come here and see the doctors.”
Behind the reception desk is a bulletin board with pictures, newspaper articles and bulletins for community events. The practice is heavily involved in community activities such as purchasing fair animals, supporting fair queen candidates and more. “This is important for our clients who come here,” says Savensky. “It’s payback.”
And being an important part of the community is what this practice is all about. “We are fortunate to live here and fortunate to practice here because this is home to us,” Goodman says. “We are fortunate to live in a community that appreciates our services. Everyone waves at you in the morning on the way to work, we are small enough we can leave our key in our trucks. We are very active in our churches, communities, schools, school boards and county fairs. It makes you feel good in the local sale barn when someone wants to buy you coffee or lunch. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Beard-Navasota Veterinary Hospital, Navasota, Texas Established in 1986. Seven veterinarians (full and part-time) and 25 staff. Veterinarians:
• Don Goodman, DVM
• David Luedeker, DVM
• Robert Werner, Jr., DVM
• Travis Halfmann, DVM
• Courtney Baetge, DVM
• Blane Eschberger, DVM
• Hillary Smith, DVM
Beard-Navasota Veterinary Hospital is a mixed-animal practice servicing companion animals, livestock and horses. The practice owns Pharmacy & Livestock Supply, Inc. (PALS), as a separate business unit.
Visit the practice at: http://www.beardnavasota.com/history.html
See videos and a slide show of Bovine Veterinarian’s visit to the Beard-Navasota Veterinary Hospital at www.BovineVetOnline.com, click on Resources.
PALS keeps product sales in-house
The Beard-Navasota Veterinary Hospital in Navasota, Texas, saw the writing on the wall with internet and distributor sales of livestock animal health products increasing, and sales from the practice decreasing. “We were slowly losing sales to the competition,” practice owner Don Goodman, DVM, says. “People perceived going to a vet clinic and buying a bottle of XYZ for $10 and they could buy it from the competition for $5. We felt like we needed to stay within the ballgame and have an added value.”
So, the practice started by developing a cash and carry policy – that grew. “It grew into something we didn’t think it would,” Goodman says. “We felt like it was about perception. They perceived an expensive product meant an expensive service. We wanted them to buy the products and come in the front door and see our services were not expensive. If we can keep them coming in the front door, we can control that.”
What it grew into is the Pharmacy & Livestock Supplies (PALS), a separate business unit from the practice, from which clients can buy products similar to buying them from a distributor. This business unit has separate books, separate staff and even its own entrance into the space it occupies in the practice.
The other advantage to PALS is better inventory control for the products the veterinary side of the business uses. “We buy the products from PALS for the clinic,” Goodman explains. “That is our inventory accountability. We are able to keep things in stock, and it’s a check system. If we run out of it at the clinic we can get it there. We have an excellent office manager who keeps our inventory low because it’s like cash.”
Investing in the next generation
Practices that remain viable for decades are often very active with the next generation of veterinarians before they graduate from veterinary school. Don Goodman, DVM, of the Beard-Navasota Veterinary Hospital, Navasota, Texas, believes having students and interns at the practice not only helps the students, but is also a great practice builder. “It amazes me how clients interact with the veterinary students,” he says. “The clients feel like they are helping that student out somewhere down in his or her career.”
Goodman compares mentoring and having interns to the minor league baseball system. “We help the maturation process. They go to school and a lot of them will come back and go to work for us.” Case-in-point is new Texas A&M graduate Blane Eschberger, DVM, who was hired on as a fulltime veterinarian in May. “Students tell classmates about us, and the students also come back,” Goodman notes. “It’s a win-win for both of us.”
Having Texas A&M only about 20 miles down the road doesn’t hurt either. “We’re fortunate to be in close proximity and we have a good relationship with them,” Goodman says. “They appreciate us helping the students as well. It’s expensive to teach students bovine medicine and they are not always real-world situations at the veterinary school, but they get to see a lot of the day-to-day individual animal medicine when they visit us here.”