April 9

How to start your own vet clinic in Singapore

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Dr Kenneth Tong, the founder of AAVC (Animal & Avian Veterinary Clinic), doesn’t have a website.

And as a web development agency owner, I was surprised.

I used to think one always had to have a website in order to be visible online. But I slowly realised that Kenneth wasn’t bad at online marketing.

Rather, he was marketing in a different way.

In a better way.

Dr Kenneth Tong, the owner of AAVC, has often emphasized a different approach to building a sustainable vet practice.
Dr Kenneth Tong, the owner of AAVC, has often emphasized a different approach to building a sustainable vet practice.

The word of mouth way

Most of his customers came because they heard of AAVC from their friends, or family. They would see the Google reviews online, see his Facebook page, and then be convinced that it was worth visiting.

Do you always need a website?

But one curious question I had always was,

was this also the same when he first started his clinic?

Having run his clinic for the past 15 years, since 2008, I could understand if there was a steady stream, post the first few years. But how about the first few years?

With no steady stream of customers in the beginning, how did he do word of mouth?

He was also hampered by rules from Singapore’s authorities, which restricted how much advertising vets could put out.

He couldn’t just start standing at the MRT, giving out flyers.

So how did he manage to build a thriving practice, growing from a team of 3 to 12?

It was primarily because Kenneth had focused on a good offer, from the beginning.

Focusing on what serves the customer, such as affordability, has always been at the forefront of Kenneth’s mind.
Focusing on what serves the customer, such as affordability, has always been at the forefront of Kenneth’s mind.

Focus on quality of service

He always focused on 2 things. Firstly, the quality of service, and secondly, its affordability.

Entrusting a vet with your sick and (possibly dying) pet is no easy task.

I know, because when my dog was sick, we were worried sick (forgive the pun) about whether our dog was going to survive.

Kenneth focused on communicating well with pet owners, helping them to feel reassured.

If you’re going to start a vet clinic, you’re going to be equally limited by what the authorities say about marketing. How much you market, how you market, and where you market just aren’t that easy to get around.

What I also found interesting was his desire to do good for customers, rather than his costs. For example, when he started offering small scale tests, he didn’t push it to customers like a snake oil salesman.

You would imagine that would be pretty easy. Especially when your customer is fearful and scared about whether their animal would survive.

Ordering another test for them might seem easy money.

But he chose not to.

He chose to operate with integrity.

And that’s led to longer-term relationships with customers.

So how do you do it?

Focusing on word of mouth can mean starting from something as easy as,

hey, if you enjoyed our visit, would you mind recommending us to your friends?

You should try to get their email when customers register, so you can send follow up emails like this.

Making it affordable, and winning the first customers

But part of Kenneth’s desire not to have a website has also been to pass on the savings to customers.

If you’ve been to a vet, you would quickly know how expensive it is.

The procedures do add up.

If you’re a pet owner, you might find it hard to suddenly fork out a few hundred dollars for the visit to the vet, especially when you compare it to your own health visits.

As one CEO in the shipping industry once taught me,

to win a 40 foot container, you must first win a 20-foot one.

To get more customers, you need to first get the first customer. And as you get one, from word of mouth, that will slowly spread.

Hyperlocal focus

Rather than targeting everyone else, Kenneth chose to target the heartlanders.
Rather than targeting everyone else, Kenneth chose to target the heartlanders.

Kenneth has always been very focused on the hyperlocal, heartland crowd, within Yishun. He hasn’t done things that may seem more common in bigger outlets, such as a 24-hour service.

You often find that in a vet hospital.

Instead, when he was facing a plateau in revenues during his 8th year of operations, he shared how he started offering smaller scale tests, to diversify the different services they offered.

This allowed for the convenience of doing these more common tests at the clinic, rather than in a bigger outlet (which might possibly charge more).

Kenneth’s focus on the heartland crowd has also meant that most of his customers come from the local community, which allows him to build a captive base of customers.

You go to the same vet, often, increasing the lifetime value of each customer that walks in.

Small is beautiful

Often when we start businesses, we tend to think that hitting the big numbers, growing your team aggressively, and making a bucketload of money is the most important.

I used to think that way too.

Until I realised that when you run a business, sometimes, small is beautiful.

Sometimes, small is beautiful. You don’t always have to do everything customers and stakeholders ask for.

You may not land up on the Forbes magazine, but you would find yourself well engaged by the work you do, the customers you have, and the people who use your services.

It’s not easy to say this, but it’s worthwhile to note just how much you can learn from this shift in perspective.

From recognising the beauty in small, rather than chasing big, at all costs.

If you’re starting your vet clinic, start first by thinking small. Get your first 30k, then the 100k, and then the $1 million.

Don’t overreach, and end up stopping short of your dreams because you weren’t too sure if you are going to be able to reach them.

It might be a far better way to get started, by starting small.

 


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