Out of the starting blocks
By the time she graduated in 1996 and her father was allowed to move back to South Dakota, Knutson felt like she needed a
break from school and running the business. She took a job in a medium-sized veterinary clinic only to learn that her education
was just beginning: The world of practice had its own lessons to teach. "The practice was not a good fit for me," she says,
although she didn't see it that way at the time. "I had many things that I thought were good ideas that I wanted to do. I
was impatient and I was constantly pushing for changes. I'm sure I drove the practice owner crazy and I was fired."
But Knutson didn't give up and became a practice owner herself in 1997. Although she had a vision of the kind of practice
she wanted, money was an issue. Fortunately, she knew a like-minded veterinarian, Steve Barghusen, DVM, DAVBP, JD, and they
became partners in what would eventually become Pet Crossing Animal Hospital and Dental Clinic. The original practice was
880 square feet of neglected property. Knutson and Barghusen were able to buy it because the sellers, who also had a beautiful
hospital in another section of town, allowed them to use "sweat equity" in exchange for the down payment on the practice.
In addition, they financed new equipment on their personal credit cards and saved money by working all day and making improvements
to the practice at night.
Reflecting on that time, Knutson says it was gratifying but not easy. Her original office was in the bathroom with a small
drop-down desk. When someone needed to use the bathroom, she had to close up the desk and leave.
Practice takes patience
Knutson and Barghusen planned on building a hospital from the ground up some day, and that goal influenced everything they
did from the get-go. If they needed new equipment, they bought the best they could in order to practice the way they wanted,
even in their tiny hospital. But their vision went beyond equipment. They wanted the hospital to be a place where clients
and pets felt welcomed and comfortable—one that would feel like a home away from home for their veterinary team.
By the end of their first year, thanks in part to Knutson's passion for dentistry, they were able to increase their dental
services from two procedures a month to four a week. And as rewarding as that was professionally, she says the real surprise
was how grateful clients were.
In 2002, Knutson and Barghusen broke ground on a beautiful new hospital. The building, which occupies 7,800 square feet today,
is home to three veterinarians and 16 support staff and boasts a fully equipped dental suite and a warm, inviting reception
area with a fireplace, upholstered furniture and rugs. But it's not just a new and improved building that makes their practice
so successful. Dr. Knutson credits much of their success to lessons learned along the way.
Even in the early days when they had only two staff members, she and Barghusen agreed on the importance of implementing protocols
for quality control, a lesson Knutson says she learned when she took over her father's business. She discovered that he relied
on something he called his "Homer Book," which was essentially a checklist for how to do client proposals, organize the work
and more. "Without the Homer Book, I don't know how I could have managed my father's affairs," she says. Later, she realized
that they could use the same checklist principals in their veterinary hospital to ensure consistent quality.
Karyn Gavzer, MBA, CVPM, is a veterinary business consultant and nationally known writer and speaker. She says her job is
to help practices "go and grow" with training, marketing and new ideas. She is a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager, an
adjunct instructor for AAHA, and a founding member of VetPartners (formerly the Association of Veterinary Practice Management
Consultants and Advisors).