Veterinary Integrative Performance Services, Inc. (VIPs)
“Our animals make us feel better. Let me help them feel the best they can,” insists SCORE client, Christine Woodford, DVM, owner and founder of Veterinary Integrative Performance Services, Inc. (VIPs). Dr. Woodford graduated Summa Cum Laude from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemistry. She then received a Master of Science in Organic Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1996. In 2002, Dr. Woodford graduated with honors from Iowa State University and received her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine.
Dr. Woodford, a licensed veterinarian, worked in regular practice for six years. While she was working, she went on for advanced training in animal chiropractic and veterinary acupuncture. In 2006, the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association certified her in Animal Chiropractic. In 2007, the Chi Institute in Florida certified her in Equine Veterinary Acupuncture.
Jim Williams, SCORE mentor and counselor, first met with Dr. Woodford in September 2006 and has met with her about once a month since 2007 when she first began to think about someday opening her own veterinary practice. When Dr. Christine, as most people know her, first met Jim, the assignment he gave to her was to write a business plan. She states that writing the business plan was “painful” but she admits that it was a “very important process and one of the key tools that has contributed to the success of her new company.”
After working through the start up worksheets provided by SCORE, Dr. Christine realized that she could start her own veterinary practice specializing in chiropractic and acupuncture for small animals and horses. She left her previous employer on good terms and was able to retain her existing chiropractic and acupuncture clients. In May 2008, she founded VIPs. Her overall goal is to keep the horse’s body balanced through chiropractic and acupuncture to optimize the horse’s health and performance. Chiropractic is a drug free approach to animal health care. It focuses on restoring proper motion to the spinal column and limbs to keep the nervous system working optimally. The goal of acupuncture is to unblock stagnation and allow “Qi” to flow properly. This restores balance and harmony to the animal.
Since Dr. Christine offers very specialized services, she knew she would have to cover a wide area to reach her clients. She travels to different areas of Iowa each month to provide those services. Dr. Christine says, “Managing the travel throughout the state and the work schedule was the toughest part of my first year in my own business.”
After that first year, she began renting office space at Crystal Creek Equine Center. This is a premiere horse facility in Marion conveniently located one-fourth mile north of Highway 151. This location allows her to work on small animals safely in a climate-controlled office. It also has a large indoor arena and an area where she can work on horses. Currently she sees patients at her office two to three days a week and travels to other areas of the state two days a week. When asked what the biggest surprise of owning her own business was, she answered, “The amount of time it takes to ‘manage’ and the need for consistent/constant marketing, accounting practices, time management; someone told me that ‘starting your own business is like taking care of a newborn child—it takes constant care and attention.’”
Marketing has been an important factor in the success of VIPs. As Jim Williams stated, “marketing is announcing who you are and what you do.” Dr. Christine writes educational articles for local animal owner magazines. She has taught courses at Kirkwood Community College. She also has a website, www.Vipsvet.net. She has her logo and contact information on the sides of her vehicle that she refers to as her “mobile billboard.” She also reaches prospects through direct mail. About two weeks before she plans to be in a certain part of the state, she sends post cards to her existing contacts. Even if that client’s animal is doing fine and does not need treatment that month, the reminder postcards generate a tremendous amount of word of mouth advertising and she receives referrals from satisfied clients.
Dr. Christine created a tri-fold informational brochure that explains her services. She has contacted other veterinarians, human chiropractors and acupuncturists, and pet groomers, boarders, and trainers. They display her business cards and brochures at their places of business. She joined Linn County Le Tip, a local networking group of business professionals. She gives educational talks and demonstrations for animal enthusiasts.
Dr. Christine says the greatest satisfaction of owning her own business is in “Helping animals feel better; providing hope to animal cases when traditional veterinary medicine has left them with a poor prognosis.” She states that she gets continuing satisfaction from the “feedback from her clients telling me that their animals feel better and are happier. In addition to her highly specialized services, other distinguishing characteristics of Dr. Christine’s business is that she schedules all appointments—no emergency services—and that she always collects for her services at the time of service; this contributes to her low overhead. When asked what have been the most important keys to her success, Dr. Christine agrees that a well thought out business plan, including a detailed marketing plan is high on her list and that she could not have done that without the help of her SCORE mentor. Dr. Christine states that Jim has been a mentor on every aspect of her business, including making suggestions about how to dress to make the best impression on clients.