How do you select a building site for your pet business that fits just right? Finding the best existing “spot”—and building on or remodeling it—is a multi-step process. Building a successful pet business means taking into account your client demographics, the subtype of pet business (e.g., veterinary, boarding), your business plan, and architectural programming.
Of course, we’re biased when we say that we’re big fans of retaining an architect. But beyond securing architects and engineers—a barkitecture team, if you will—what are the best practices of choosing a site for your veterinary, grooming, pet daycare, boarding, or training facility?
It all starts with programming. Programming is the architect’s procedure for defining what you are trying to accomplish. Through this process the criteria for site selection are established and the hunt can begin. Already have a space in mind? That is no problem either.
A feasibility report with preliminary budget information is a highly successful way to suss out the pros and cons of a location.
Do you have a thumbnail sketch of your clients? If not, you’ll need to do some demographic or marketing research. For your human customers, their demographic profile includes their age; their income; and where they live, work, and go to school, as well as their hobbies. Your profile of a typical client and the process of architectural programming will guide your business plan—down to the way you provide your services and the location(s) thereof.
Who are Your Clients?
Consider your clients. Are your clients mainly people, as with a pet retail–only location? Or, as with most pet businesses, is your “foot traffic” a mix of people and their small domestic pets (e.g., dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, or pocket pets such as hamsters, gerbils, and mice)? How are your clients most likely to prefer reaching you: do you come to them or do they come to you? Moreover, are they mostly going to be arriving by personal vehicle rather than by foot, bicycle, or public transit?
If your clientele consists mostly of large pets or livestock, such as horses, cattle, goats, sheep, et al, your concern in choosing the best parcel of land will extend even further into zoning regulations, meeting your clients where they are, pasturing, drainage, parking, and so on. In other words, rural locations tend to make better candidates when your clients are farmyard or barn inhabitants. More on this in a minute.
For Successful Pet Businesses, It’s Still About Location, Location, Location
The analysis of location and site orientation for building a successful pet business can be both simple and mind-achingly complex. But finding the best location or building a site anew need not be difficult or frustrating. An architect smooths the path forward. S/he will guide you in determining how to situate your veterinary clinic, grooming business, or pet boarding/daycare facility to best capitalize on the inherent or constructed merits of a site. Some of the criteria analyzed include the sunlight in the wintertime, shade in the spring or summer, the optimal drainage, predominant wind directions, and ideal traffic flow or visibility.
The just-right piece of land—or pre-existing building—can save veterinarians, groomers, or pet-boarding owners a good chunk of money. An interview with veterinary architect Dan Chapel (“5 ways to keep costs down while building”)1 contains this kibble of wisdom: “Before you buy, make sure you can build without excessive expenses like blasting rock and access to utilities. Thoroughly planning—with an experienced team of professional design consultants—in the pre-construction process can minimize the need for potentially costly change orders.”
Let’s dig into the particulars of different locations, from rural to suburban to urban.
Rural Versus Urban Versus Suburban Businesses
How can you identify the specifics of an ideal type of site for your pet business? You won’t want to plop your luxurious chandeliers-and-catviar pet spa down in a muddy, sparsely populated rural hamlet where residents are unlikely to want your services. Nor do you want a horse haul-in located in downtown Seattle or Los Angeles. In short, you will have to decide whether your client demographics demand an urban, suburban, or rural business location. Ideal siting can mean the difference between building a successful pet business and a less productive one.
Here are a few site-specific considerations and some that apply to all types of sites.
You may need to add a well for your primary water source. Well costs can vary greatly due to site composition.
A septic system may be necessary. The type of system, its size, and its location are critical to overall site design.
Propane may be your main heating fuel choice. Consider requirements for tank installation.
What type of electric service is available? If you will have equipment that requires three-phase power, this can be a costly challenge to overcome.
You should also consider an emergency generator if any animals will have overnight stays during the course of your business.
Parking should be able to accommodate trailers/larger vehicles.
Adequate site lighting is a must for security and safety.
How are your clients mostly likely to prefer reaching you? Are you located close to public transit sites such as bus and subway stops?
Do you provide bicycle racks for your clients with small or “pocket pets” they might be transporting via bike?
What is the overall parking situation?
Do you need way-finding signage if located inside a larger development?
How are the businesses nearby likely to be impacted by your pet-based business? You might not want your pet salon next to a manicure salon or vaping store in a strip mall—and vice versa.
What is the landscaping situation, if any, around your store or business? Dogs, if they are part of your clientele, will need a specific outdoor area in which to relieve themselves. Landscaping (or lack thereof) can either improve or worsen this issue. Decorative landscaping can be protected from the pet’s relief areas by elevated planters and other means. The biggest mistake is in providing no landscaping, which often results in an unhappy pet guardian.
Suburban, the urban/rural buffer zone
What is the visibility of the site?
Is there existing signage, or can it be installed?
Who are your nearby competitors in the pet business space?
Has the parcel you’re considering been surveyed to guarantee correct acreage? Surveys indicate property boundary lines, utility locations, topographic information, and much more. The architect will require this for any new site
or expansion of an existing building footprint.
Does the seller indicate whether the property has a clear title and/or is it free of taxes, liability, or liens?
Where are easements located?
What are the zoning regulations of the site under consideration?
How is the site accessed by clients?
As aforementioned, what is the availability of utilities to the site, including Internet access, water, gas, electricity, and so on?
Your budget for a new build, especially in the case of a veterinary medicine facility, will chiefly go directly toward building-related construction (50-70% of the budget), architect Wayne Usiak says.2 But this leaves some 10% to 20% (or more, in some cases) of the budget dedicated to “site development costs that can include, but are not limited to, grading, installation of a parking lot and driveway, drainage, sewer or septic systems, retention ponds and utility installation.”
Building a Sustainable Pet Business
At REspace, we have long been proponents of sustainable or resilient architecture—which benefits not only the environment, but the bottom line of your business.
Sustainable architecture: Also known as green architecture, this concept is “the theory, science and style of buildings designed and constructed in accordance with environmentally friendly principles. Green architecture strives to minimize the number of resources consumed in the building’s construction, use and operation, as well as curtailing the harm done to the environment through the emission, pollution and waste of its components.”3
Here’s one simple example of sustainability for a pet business. Can you build your business to take advantage of the sunlight in wintertime (natural light not only reduces costs—it appeals to patients and their humans) and harvest the shade, either created by the building or from introduced or natural landscaping, when temperatures reach sweltering? In architect-speak, proper siting “. . . means a solar orientation relative to the window placements and roof overhangs that minimizes summer heat gain and takes advantage of winter sunshine.”4
Your Site Choice Will Follow You for Years
As the owner of a pet business, using your gut to guide you to the best spot for a new build or remodel can only take you so far. Brainstorming and researching—from your business plan and preliminary sketches of both the location and its specifics to thumbnails of your typical client—will take you another part of the way toward building a successful pet business. The next logical step is locating an architect.
Whether you choose a firm with REspace’s level of expertise in the pet business landscape or someone else, the decision will affect your business for many years to come. As architect Wayne Usiak advises in “Building your first veterinary practice,” if you make a good site/building choice, you can retire and either sell your business outright or rent out the building.
So, make that choice of a team for building your dream an informed one!
2 “Building your first veterinary practice” (January 2019), at https://equimanagement.com/articles/building-veterinary-practice-54023
3 “Green Architecture: A Concept of Sustainability,” Procedia: Social and Behavioral Sciences (Volume 216, 6 January 2016, Pages 778-787). Accessed at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042815062552
4 “Sustainable and resilient” (December 2018), Today’s Veterinary Business, by Paul Gladysz. At https://todaysveterinarybusiness.com/sustainable-and-resilient/