Liisa Carlson didn’t want to go into the family business, but it turned out practicing veterinary medicine was her dream job after all.
“I really avoided this like the plague,” Carlson says, because in her youth she remembers dogs coming home with her father Delbert Carlson, who started Carlson Pet Hospital in 1959. “We never took vacations. I thought, I’d rather do something else.”
But she realized it was her calling when she was watching a television commercial for the lottery. It posed the question: “If you could do anything you wanted, what would you do?” Her immediate thought was going to veterinary school.
“I’ve come to see the passion my dad had for it,” she says. “It’s the most rewarding job you could have.”
Carlson earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine from University of Missouri in 1988 and returned to Springfield to join her father at the pet hospital. She began leasing the hospital from him in 1995. Since then, veterinary medicine has advanced, and along with it, the focus of the business.
In November 2017, Carlson Pet Hospital moved to a new location, from the corner of Sunshine Street and Campbell Avenue to West Elfindale Street, and the business name changed to Carlson Veterinary Wellness Center. Carlson says the new name reflects the main mission, preventive care.
“We’re an advocate for the pet,” she says, noting the center still handles emergency care and surgeries. “We’re advocates for good health to prevent premature death and health issues.”
At 6,000 square feet, the new leased building on Elfindale is equivalent to double the size of the prior space for giving medical care. After receiving an offer for the old building, it seemed to Carlson like the time for a transition.
Developers organized as East Sunshine Property Group LLC plan to rebuild that corner – across the way from Bass Pro Shops and Wonders of Wildlife.
“I had an opportunity to take a building and make it mine,” she says. “Before, I just had to revamp what I had. Here, I got to come in and organize this facility the way I think a hospital should be set up.”
Carlson has created designated spaces for a pharmacy, laboratory, surgical prep, three exam rooms and an intensive care unit. Previously, one room might have had multiple purposes.
Joel Reeter, Carlson’s husband who has been working as hospital administrator for almost two years, says the wellness center has recorded nearly 15 percent profit growth in the roughly six months since making the changes. Revenue came in at $1.37 million in 2017, and he’s projecting $1.5 million this year.
In the previous location, he says walk-ins were common, which sometimes turned into helping an animal for less payment. The Elfindale space has fewer walk-ins and is a newer building with less maintenance costs, both factors in the increasing profit margins.
Carlson recently rolled out a new payment concept called Petly Plans, which spreads out veterinary bills over 12 months. A perk to the program is a 10 percent discount on additional purchases, such as food and medications. The center also offers a Petness Wellness plan with dental cleanings, a health workup and electrocardiograms.
Technology at work
One of Carlson’s goals is adapting to advancements in veterinary care.
“Technology is so important with us,” she says. “It makes us better doctors and better caregivers.”
The center offers real-time lab work, laser surgery, dental therapy and access to other veterinary specialists when needed.
Carlson’s partnered with Idexx Laboratories, a Westbrook, Maine, company that provides in-clinic analyzer equipment and reference laboratory services.
Bronson Makeeff, a regional manager for Idexx out of Tennessee, says Carlson Veterinary Wellness Center’s blood analyzer is the same equipment utilized by the U.S. Olympic equestrian team. The analyzers can do a full blood panel, much like an analysis for a human patient at a hospital or one’s yearly checkup.
He’s working with Carlson on the center’s technology needs for two years.
“More people, especially millennials, are willing to spend money on their pets to get good care,” he says.
With preventive high-tech health care for pets, Makeeff says clients can actually spend less on their pets in the long run.
“Going to an emergency clinic can cost you $500 just to get in the door,” he says.
Carlson’s father not only started the pet hospital but also wrote two pet references dubbed Home Veterinary Handbooks – one each for dogs and cats.
The books, available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, guide pet owners in knowing when a condition is serious enough for a trip to the vet. Carlson says she has heard from veterinarians and pet owners across the world in regards to these books. The books are currently being revised for newer editions, but not by Carlson, as she currently has other veterinary priorities on her plate.
Carlson says she’s coming up on her “exit years,” but she hopes to find someone as passionate as she is, and as her father was, to carry on the business when the time comes.
“Anyone who knew my dad knows, there’s nothing they could fault him on when it comes to caring and compassion,” she says. “The day didn’t get too long for him.”
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