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Efficiency is the Cat's Meow in Flat Economy

Dr. Denali Lovely always knew she wanted a job that focused on animals. But it wasn't until she worked doing research and data collection on wildlife that she realized she wanted a more hands-on approach.

"I volunteered at a veterinary clinic and discovered I liked the medical and surgery aspects of animals better than crunching numbers," said Denali.

So she went back to school for her doctorate of veterinary medicine. In 2001, Denali took her veterinary credentials and moved with her family to her hometown of Fairbanks, where she began working for some of the local veterinary clinics. She found that, though she liked certain qualities of each clinic, there wasn't one clinic that had everything.

"I wanted to work in a place where the doctors were efficient, yet able to spend time with patients. I wanted to have technicians and a staff that were dependable and talented, and the capability to treat patients with up-to-date medicine," said Denali.

Venturing off on their own

Having no success finding all those qualities combined in any of the clinics in which she worked, Denali decided to open her own business, with the help of her husband Pat.

The Lovelys knew they wanted to buy an existing clinic, so after much research and the help of a loan from First National Bank Alaska, they purchased North Pole Veterinary Hospital (NPVH) in 2006. They've made major leaps and bounds for the business in the three years since.

While Denali is busy giving the best care possible to her furry patients and managing staff, she relies on Pat to take care of the other aspects of the business, including payroll, bills and taxes as well as building maintenance. It's a situation that works well for the couple.

"We met many of our three to five year business goals within the first 18 to 24 months," said Pat.

But in this uncertain economy, many businesses in Alaska are starting to feel the pinch. NPVH hasn't escaped that burden. The Lovelys started to notice at the end of 2008 that some clients weren't coming in for necessary veterinary care for their pets and many more were declining more detailed work-ups for their sick animals. This concerned the Lovelys because of the animals' health and the clinic's bottom line.

"Starting at the end of October 2008 we were down anywhere from 10 to 20 percent from our yearly and monthly averages, which really starts to get your attention when it comes to payroll, expenses, regular maintenance and upgrades," said Pat.

Staying ahead of the pack

So the Lovelys began to focus on ways they could make NPVH more efficient, beginning with customer service and communication.

"We always send out reminders for vaccines and wellness exams, but we really did not have it set up as efficiently and timely as we could have," said Pat.

Now they send out reminders twice a month, a move that seems to have rebounded clientele activity. On top of that, the Lovelys have put a renewed focus on great customer service.

"People are looking for quality when they do spend their money and they'll go where they can get the best experience and value," said Pat.

The Lovelys also took a magnifying glass to NPVH's office staff, creating the fine balance between avoiding both overtime hours and overstaffing.

Streamlining cash flow

One of the biggest things that has helped NPVH stay healthy is refinancing at First National. With such low rates, the Lovelys were able to restructure their financing for the business, saving them money that could be applied to other aspects of the clinic.

"I recommend to other businesses to sit down with their accountant and banker and really look at how their financing is set up. If they can create some cash flow by structuring things a little differently, it may give them some peace of mind when they see continued stretches of lowered revenue," said Pat.

Though NPVH is a fairly new business for the Lovelys, their quick thinking to improve customer service and tweak the way they run NPVH has helped give them the ability to continue to care for the Fairbanks area's furriest patients.

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