Entrepreneur Stories · Thursday, December 22, 2016

AnimaPlus: Creating your kind of business

Sarah Annie Guénette’s story

Building a business she could personally relate to had long been a goal for Sarah Annie Guénette when she co-founded the veterinary chain AnimaPlus in 2006 along with Mathieu Doyon.

At the time, the young veterinary medicine graduate had spent several years filling in at veterinary clinics in order to learn which good practices she should adopt and what mistakes she should avoid.

In 2006, the two founding partners bought their first veterinary hospital in Montreal’s South Shore, where they first specialized in exotic animals before widening the practice in 2009 to include small animals like dogs and cats. Today, the AnimaPlus network includes 11 clinics.

 “The idea of developing an empire was always very clearly in my mind,” she explains. “As a child I was already a leader. I put on shows, organized outings, and I realized the impact that I has having on those around me.”

Strength in numbers

Sarah Annie Guénette could have been a number-cruncher or gone into law like the rest of her family, but animal health was what captured her interest. “As a child I always kept a first aid kit ready to treat anyone’s little injuries,” explains Guénette, who considers herself a healer at heart. “And I always had a special relationship with animals, whom I often understand better than human beings.”

Her business idea first came to her while working as a replacement at clinics, where she noticed that clinic owners often felt a sense of isolation. “Veterinary doctors are usually better at personal relationships than at business or management techniques,” she notes.

To alleviate their sense of lacking certain skills, she decided to create a veterinary group based on the idea of mutual assistance. “We always buy two or three hospitals in the same area so that they can be of help to each other,” she explains. “Becoming part of a network is what makes us strong.”

The Montreal head office centralizes human resource management, payroll, partnerships and finances. By banding together, professionals specializing in management or marketing can be hired, thus allowing the entire network to take advantage of their skills. This also gives the doctors more time to dedicate to their animal patients.

A committee of doctors gathers together every two months in order to ensure democratic decision-making and the unity of their vision for the business.

«Getting the veterinarians to sit down together for four hours is quite a task,” she admits, “and we are the only ones who do it. But it’s very important.»

– Sarah Annie Guénette

Seeing yourself in your business

From the beginning, the entrepreneur wanted to launch a business that reflected her interests—one where her love of animals was just as important as healing them.

Since the veterinary business is massively dominated by women, both as caregivers and as clients, Guénette also intended to develop an approach to her clients and employees that reflected this state of affairs. “Women make up more than 80% of our personnel, so setting up processes enabling employees to better reconcile their personal and professional lives was part of my job.”

Her twin problem of how to marry a woman-focused veterinary practice with the desire to prioritize the well-being of all her clients—at both ends of the leash, so to speak— was solved through a completely redesigned customer experience approach.

At AnimaPlus, clients and their four-legged friends are welcomed in a relaxed, boutique-café environment, where snacks and biscuits for animals are offered.

Another goal of Guénette's was to make veterinary medicine more fun. “Most care revolves around prevention, so why not make it enjoyable?” she asks. The clinic thus lightens up the mood by participating in doggie fashion shows and cruises.

Ten years after launching herself into business, Sarah Annie Guénette feels she has developed an “interesting and winning” recipe for success that she intends to build into a nationwide network. While she hopes to at least double the number of AnimaPlus clinics in Quebec, she also aims to break into the Ontario market through affiliated hospitals in Ottawa. Her dream is to see her business extend from Vancouver through to the Maritimes.

The Business in Numbers

170: Number of employees, including around 40 doctors

11: Number of veterinary clinics currently owned by AnimaPlus  

25–30: Number of clinics AnimaPlus intends to include in its network in Quebec in the next five years

Want to learn more?

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