Getting Started: Spotlighting Canadian Small Business Owners

Whether you’re running a coffee shop, a small manufacturing company or a busy veterinary clinic, starting from scratch is always a challenge. We asked Dr. Jonathan and Candace Leicht, along with their business partner Tracey Ruzicka to share some insights into the strategies they employed to get Calgary’s Bridgeland clinic up and running.

If you’re currently in the process of starting business, you might be asking yourself: “How can I stand out from the crowd? Do I have the capital I need now to get moving?” While the answers are different for every business, a few factors will always be important: ambition, a great idea, hard work, and access to cash flow.

For Dr. Leicht, the ambition to start his own business didn’t strike immediately. Instead, the idea to branch out on his own grew organically after a number of years working as a vet.

I'm a graduate of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. In 2009, I started off working in what we term a hybrid practice, which is both general practice and emergency veterinary medicine. I moved through a variety of roles over the past 14 years, progressively taking on senior leadership roles, then going back into private practice and finally opening Bridgeland Clinic in 2021. 

To help get their clinic off the ground, the Leichts and Ruzicka drew on some previous business experience they had gained as property managers. Despite being in a completely different line of work, he found that his experience provided him with transferable skills that could get the business up and running.

Prior to opening Bridgeland, we ran rental properties as a side project to our primary jobs. Through that we learned how to read leases, understand costs and what it would take to start up our clinic—it all came through our previous entrepreneurial experiences.

Those early lessons would go a long way to growing Bridgeland into the successful practice it’s become. They also served to illustrate just how important it can be to draw on existing skills, or learn new ones, when it comes to starting a business.

A vet clinic that thinks of itself as a startup

Once they had the idea to start Bridgeland, they knew they’d need a business plan that could be used to apply for the financing they’d need to get things off the ground. Without any formal business education, they did what came naturally: they looked on Google.

To tell you the truth, when I went to put my business plan together, I used Google to search for resources from people who had opened clinics in the past. I struggled to find a template to work from, but in the end, it really worked.

Rather than simply opening the clinic, the team used “startup” thinking to ensure they were on the right track. The first step was understanding the market they were planning to open in.

We really worked on the basics and found some technology I could use for putting the business plan together. Then, we just worked through the system in terms of understanding the local population, demographics, average income, and our ability to find veterinarians to work for us. Once we had put that all together, we planned to approach TD and hoped we’d get the loan we needed.

Thanks to TD’s flexibility in working with small businesses, when it came to securing a business loan, they got what they needed. The clinic opened in 2021 with a goal—to have two doctors on staff within two years.

The next step to growing the business was marketing. Here again, the Bridgeland team went online but also took a more traditional approach to community engagement.

We used a lot of social media connections with our friends and other veterinary industry people. Just building up an advertising presence on Google and Facebook. It had a huge impact. We also branched out personally in our community and met with other business owners. We introduced ourselves and started to form long-lasting relationships. That had a huge impact as well.

Another factor Bridgeland attributes to their success was a conscious decision to distinguish themselves from other vet clinics. This was accomplished by taking a proactive approach to veterinary medicine, rather than the reactive one taken by most clinics.

There are many different versions of veterinary clinics, and all have a place. At Bridgeland, our vision has always been to be a proactive wellness clinic for our clients and patients. We want to be less reactive and more proactive for the people and pets we see, which to be clear doesn’t mean we don’t take in sick animals. We do that daily. But what we really want to be part of is the client’s and the patient's journey through a lifetime of forming relationships. As a result, we have happy visits where they can come in and get free treats.

This happy, good feeling has had a secondary benefit for the clinic—staff retention. By building a great place to work, they’ve been able to attract and keep doctors and staff, a critical component of business expansion. Their unique approach compared to other clinics, and appreciation of the journey they’re on with their patients and their owners, has also helped them expand, big time.

When we opened, we had an expectation that at two years in, we’d have the equivalent of two doctors working full-time. Now, on any given day we’ve got three doctors at a full-time equivalent, and we’re growing from there. We also thought we’d have two or three technologists by this point, and we’re now running a total team of 15 or 16 people, including a couple of part-time staff. We certainly didn’t expect that when we opened.

Thanks to their passion, marketing savvy and ability to retain staff (a key component of their ability to scale), Bridgeland’s future is practically unlimited. Sounds like growth was just what the Dr. ordered.

Top 3 pieces of advice I would give other entrepreneurs:

  • Get and stay organized from the start
  • Do fun things to create a sense of cohesion with staff
  • If you’re growing quickly, don’t lose sight of the community that’s helped you grow

How TD can help

Starting or growing a medical professional business and want to talk about the banking options that are available to you. Visit our healthcare page now. 

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