David Brake was not studying for a life of helping household pets when he decided to shift his focus toward becoming a veterinarian. He also wasn’t planning to take on another vet’s practice a few weeks ago but ended up taking on additional clients from another practice located about 2 miles from his. He recently talked to business writer Will Buss about his evolving metro-east practice:
Q: Why did you end up taking on more clients from another practice?
A: “Dr. (Phil) McKinney (of Adair Gardens Pet Hospital in Belleville) and I have had a pretty good working relationship now for 10, 15 years. We use Hawthorne in Glen Carbon as our emergency practice quite a bit. So we have a good working relationship with them and obviously know Dr. McKinney pretty well. He purchased the practice from Dr. Martin in 2005 when Dr. Martin retired. We had a really good relationship and we ended up talking maybe a year ago. We both had these very similar practices of similar size and client makeup and both sort of approach our practices the same way. We talked about if it would make sense to merge our practices together.
“I have a bigger building than Adair, and theirs is pretty old. I have a newer building with more space, so we thought maybe we could somehow decrease the overhead and it could be a convenience for people since we are located close to each other. So we talked about how it would work, how would we do it? Is it 50-50? Is it 60-40? Then, Dr. McKinney developed some health issues and was unable to practice and run his place, so it sort of turned from a merge into a consolidation. We purchased their client list and data base and everything. So it’s our practice. Our practice hasn’t changed, we have just added on.”
Q: How many clients do you have now?
A: “If I remember correctly we have 1,200 to 1,500 active clients. It was one of the things that started as what we can do that would mutually benefit both parties? Then, because of some unforeseen circumstances, things sort of went in a different direction and had to move rather quickly. But it worked out really well. Dr. McKinney is taking care of himself and doing pretty well.”
Q: How has the transition gone?
A: “So far, except for a few minor hiccups in the transition of records and stuff like that, it has worked out really well.”
Q: How long have you owned the practice?
A: “I bought the practice from Dr. (Jim) Carey in 2000. He started it in ’67.”
Q: How long have you been a practicing veterinarian?
A: “Since ’95.”
Q: Are you from the metro-east area?
A: “From Granite City, originally.”
Q: What attracted you to this profession?
A: “It’s funny because I probably have the most unique story. Most kids who become vets say they have been around pets since they were little and had a dog in the family. That never occurred to me. Never once did it ever occur to me. I was actually in college, I went to (Washington University in St. Louis) as an undergrad and was a sophomore and happened to be having a conversation, a pretty interesting conversation, about really horrible summer jobs that we had had throughout high school, like working at a horseradish farm, working at a steel mill, stuff like that. And one of the girls I was talking to said she helped out at a vet clinic and cleaned up all of the bodily fluids and those things. That’s when a light bulb went off.
“It was funny; I didn’t think of it as a horrible job. I was a biology major, and I was one of those who were going to medical school but was the not-sure-what-I-wanted-to-do-type biology majors. So once I heard her say that, it was like it was there, but I never knew it, and that flipped a switch. And I went back to my dorm room, and back in the day that’s when we still had the Yellow Pages, that’s how long ago it was. You couldn’t look stuff up on the Internet. I looked for a veterinarian that was close to campus where I could either walk or ride a bike.”
Q: What did you find?
A: “I called one and said, ‘Look, I’m a sophomore at Wash U. and I’m interested in this. Could I just make an appointment with you?’ I didn’t know anything about it, what was required, I had no idea where you went to school, nothing at all. And that’s how it started. I met with him and he had a lot of good information about how the education works and all that stuff. I was able to go there during my free time a few hours a week to observe and see what it was like. Actually, that clinic is where I got my first job.”
Q: Which vet office was it?
A: “It was Big Bend Veterinary Clinic, just down the street from campus in Richmond Heights. I actually kept in touch with him all through school and got my first job there after I graduated. I went from there to here to buying the practice.”
Q: What do you enjoy about your vet practice?
A: “I would say there’s a couple things. As far as owning the practice, I like being my own boss. I think that’s something that really appealed to me early on, once I started. Although that comes with its own headaches, just like any business, but what I like about it from a practice point of view, even if I didn’t own the place, is that ability to solve problems for people. They come in with a problem and hopefully I can fix it and they leave happy.”
Q: Did you have a family pet when you were growing up?
A: “We had a tiny little chihuahua that was just this dog was never sick and lived to be 15 years old and never went to the vet. The dog was always there. By the time I went to college, my parents had gotten another dog and that was much more of a family pet at that point. But for whatever reason, becoming a vet was never on my radar screen at all.”
Q: Do you have any pets now?
A: “Yes. I have two dogs and here at the clinic we have two cats, that live here along with two snakes. So I embraced it wholeheartedly once I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”