How to choose a location for your first veterinary clinic

May 15, 2024 | 4 minute read

You’ll make many decisions along the way to owning your own clinic. One of the most, if not the most important, is the location of your clinic.


Some veterinarians search on their own, while others work with a specialized real estate professional who can offer valuable insight about the local market and may know about available properties.


There are three main things to think about when choosing a location, whether you’re working with a specialist or by yourself:


  1. Physical space
  2. Demographics
  3. Competition


Align these three elements with your goals to help ensure you choose the right place.


Plan your physical space

Your practice must provide enough clinical room to support, treat, and expand your client base in the future. 


Local veterinary real estate brokers are estimating that first-time practice owners in cities and urban communities typically start with about 1,400 to 2,000 square feet. They also stated that veterinarians generally work in 1,900 square feet or more for their first office in suburban areas. 


Plan for the long term, and your practice won’t outgrow its space too quickly. Here are some things to consider as you begin your search: 


  1. Can the location fit the type of practice you envision, and how can you maximize the space?
  2. Are you confident you’ll want the location for a long time, and is it ideal for growth?
  3. Is the location zoned for a veterinarian practice? The local municipality handles property zoning and can provide specific information on a site. Look on the website or call the local zoning office. 
  4. Does the space need significant upgrades? If so, consider your budget, and if you’re renting, find out if the landlord is willing to contribute to improvement costs.
  5. If the location is retail, does it have adequate parking, and will neighboring tenants have noise concerns or raise other issues, given your patient base?


When it comes to location, there are other things to keep in mind depending on what type of services you plan to offer (small animal; feline-only; urgent or emergency care; specialty and exotic, etc.). 


After locating a suitable space, your next step is to have an Office Design Plan completed. An office designer or architect should measure the space and produce a preliminary layout to ensure it meets your needs and vision. 


This drawing will show the space and how it can be configured, equipped, and accommodate growth. The layout will let you know just how much of the space can be used for clinical work, surgery, lab work, grooming, boarding, and workflow, which plays an essential role in the potential outfitting of equipment. This is all valuable information to understand before moving forward with a letter of interest, lease, or purchase.


Do your demographic research

Since most people choose veterinarians near their homes, it is essential to understand the makeup of the population around your potential location. 


Conduct some demographic research before and during your clinic search; it will help define the type of practice you create. 


Go through your veterinary vendor network to find market research companies that sell this data. This information will provide a snapshot of the pet clientele you will treat within your geographic area, including statistics on: 


  1. Median household income 
  2. Average household size 
  3. Population growth projections
  4. As of 2023, about 44.6% of American households have pet insurance according to NAPHIA. This is up from 38.5% in 2020. 
  5. Pet ownership and demographics


You can purchase expanded demographic reports with even greater detail. 


Familiarize yourself with the community around your potential space. For example, families with young kids typically correlate with the purchase of dogs. Likewise, there is a strong connection between money spent on toys, games, youth sports, and new pet ownership. 


Demographic research is an integral part of the process and can help make landing on your first space easier.


Get a look at your competition

To make a strategic choice about location, do some competitive research to determine if the site is ideal for a new vet practice. 


If you are a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), you can find many up-to-date economic studies and market research that can be helpful. 


Some questions you should answer before you secure space include: 


  1. Is there a need for a veterinarian in the area? 

  2. Are the current veterinarians overflowed with the current pet population? 

  3. Is the current competition aging out?  

  4. What percentage of the competition is corporate-owned? 


The market today

Today’s market offers veterinarians more opportunities with both lease and purchasing options. 


As supply increases, so can the incentives landlords offer future tenants in leased spaces. We have seen some increases in tenant improvement allowances, with lower escalations on leases, and in flexibility, with free rent concessions, and — most importantly — favorable pricing and terms.


It's time to make the decision

You've done your due diligence if you’ve thoroughly researched your potential population and competition and relied on experts to help with the location and outfitting of your space. Then, bring all the facts together to make an informed choice on where your first veterinary practice will be.

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