How do we develop a unique name, brand, marketing materials, and plan that are not a cookie-cutter application that looks and feels exactly like the practice down the road?
This is a great question and one that, surprisingly, is often overlooked. It is quite common to see a practice named after the founding doctor (Smith Animal Clinic) or a geographical reference (Washington Lane Pet Clinic). This may seem logical, but is generally not recommended, for several reasons. In the short term, the reputation of an individual doctor may help the practice develop a following and build its base of clients. However, it can do the opposite if the owner does not have the best bedside manner. Tying a brand or an identity to one person does not allow the practice to stand on its own and will always be "Dr. Smith's" hospital. That's fine if Dr. Smith wants to be around forever, but in all likelihood, at some time she will want to sell or bring in a partner, and the goodwill associated with the value of the practice can be hard to transfer. In summary, buying a practice with someone else's name attached to it is not always desirable.
A geographical reference in the name may be fine if you never plan to move. That means you have enough physical space and parking to accommodate growth in clientele and services. You then must hope that the neighborhood remains stable in population, demographics, and overall appeal.
Another common theme in practice logos is the veterinary symbol. Many people recognize it, but it is used by so many practices that it may appear generic and unmemorable.
The best way to develop a name, logo, and brand identity is to work with a good marketing firm or designer who can ask the type of questions necessary to help you define who you want to be as a practice. The best designers then translate this into a graphic image that accurately represents you and what you want your practice to be known for, thus avoiding the ordinary or common logo marks and instead showing what makes you unique.
How do I know if it is worth the money to renovate the outside of the practice to improve the look only (nothing functional)?
Regular maintenance is essential to a practice's overall appeal. It is natural to become desensitized to the types of things that pet owners notice when they approach or enter your facility. In fact, it is common for clinic staff to enter through a back door or a door other than where the clients enter, and therefore what they see every day upon entry is different from what clients see. Every day when you open your doors for business, try to prepare as if it were "open house" day, when you put your absolute best foot forward. After all, if it truly is your privilege to be chosen as the health care provider for your clients' pets, then you must act accordingly. Marketing is all about the many individual acts you undertake to create an attitude in the minds of your clients that binds them to you and sustains your practice over time. This compilation of touches, both overt and subconscious, builds a strong brand.
Create a maintenance checklist that is reviewed monthly, quarterly, or annually, depending on the item. This might include the door mats, inside and outside, exterior landscaping, signage and sign illumination, baseboards, countertops, paint, odor, overall clutter or organization, bulletin board, check-out area, art, refreshment area, storage, and accessibility of often-used and stored items. In this manner, you can keep up with regular maintenance and create a small budget for it, tackling repairs as they arise to keep the place looking fresh, attractive, and welcoming.