E.C. Veterinarian Takes Creative Route to Sell Clinic
‘Buy My Dad’s Vet Clinic’ video wants you to do exactly what the title says
Dr. Jeff Stepanek has made a career – and a life – as a veterinarian at the Ark Animal Hospital in Eau Claire.
“It’s something I wanted to do since I was 8 years old growing up in a Chicago suburb,” he explains. After veterinary school at the University of Minnesota, Stepanek came to Eau Claire, where he worked at Westgate Animal Hospital before buying the Ark from Dr. Walter Klein in 1985. For a time he handled all sizes of animals – treating family pets as well as helping bring calves into the world at all hours – before limiting himself to small animals since the 1990s.
While Ark Animal Hospital (2914 Mondovi Road) has about 10 full- and part-time employees, Dr. Jeff remains the only veterinarian. “I never wanted to expand,” he says. “I wanted to keep it small and very personal.”
Pet owners, he explains, “knew they were going to see me, they knew I was going to show up on time, they knew I was going to follow through with them. … You set up relationships.”
Now, Dr. Jeff is thinking about how to transition these relationships – and his business – to a new veterinarian. “It’s time for a younger person that has more energy,” he says. “I’d like to provide that opportunity to sell it to someone that’s going to take care of it like I did.”
Or, in the words of a video created to market the Ark Animal Hospital, “It’s time to find the next Dr. Jeff.”
The voice in the video – as well as the reason the video exists in the first place – is Dr. Jeff’s daughter, Elizabeth (Liz) Stepanek. Once a girl who tagged along with her dad to help deliver calves, puppies, and kittens, Liz is now a TV commercial producer. After spending about 14 years in Los Angeles, she relocated to Minnesota four years ago.
When her dad began exploring how to sell the family business, she offered to help. She researched how veterinarians typically sell their clinics, and discovered most were still taking out classified ads in veterinary association publications. Such ads, she says, all sound alike and draw little interest: Some clinics have remained on the market for years.
So Liz decided to draw on her own professional skills. “You need to have something a little bit more dynamic,” she says, something social-media friendly that can reach veterinarians in their 20s and 30s.
And that’s how “Buy My Dad’s Vet Clinic” was born. Liz asked friends at an L.A.-based production company, Sharkpig, to create what became a 3-minute video by that title. It’s a charming, homey look at Dr. Jeff, his staff, his four-legged clients, and the picturesque community (Hey, that’s us!) they all are part of.
An accompanying website (buymydadsvetclinic.com) touts the advantages of buying the clinic (“Be your own boss”) and coming to Eau Claire (“Here, you’re not just a resident, you become part of a welcoming community”).
The combination of her father’s legacy, a talented office staff, and the attractiveness of the community for building a career and raising a family make buying the Ark a home run for the right person, Liz says.
And the video, like the business, is a family affair: Dr. Jeff stars; Liz narrates and makes a cameo; and Missy, Liz’s mom and Dr. Jeff’s wife, adds some emotional weight.
“The day he walks out of The Ark Animal Hospital,” Missy says of her husband, “he will have left an amazing legacy behind.”
Enjoy the people, enjoy the animals. Make Eau Claire a better place.
DR. JEFF STEPANEK
offering advice to whoever buys his vet clinic
Building a legacy doesn’t happen overnight, nor does selling a small business. However, the family is encouraged by the feedback they’ve received since the video and website went live a few months ago. Now, they’re in the process of having conversations and finding the right person, Liz says.
Dr. Jeff notes that most veterinarians don’t graduate with training in running a small business, so they may be reluctant to purchase their own clinics. However, he wants them to consider the advantages of ownership, such as being their own boss and building the clientele they want.
Once a buyer steps up, Dr. Jeff plans to stick around for a while as a mentor. He has no specific retirement date in mind, but he is looking forward to shifting gears and spending more time with his family – both two- and four-legged.
In the video, Dr. Jeff offers this advice to his successor: “Enjoy the people, enjoy the animals. Make Eau Claire a better place.”