Dr. Natasha Ungerer, co-founder of Clarendon Animal Care, shares how engaging in your community and supporting causes that you are passionate about may just be the key to success. Natasha/Dr. Ungerer is a native of western New York. Growing up she always knew she wanted to be a veterinarian (her Dr. Seuss’ All About Me book attests to this), and still feels that was a great decision! Dr. Ungerer graduated from Sweet Briar College in southwest Virginia and obtained her DVM degree from North Carolina University College of Veterinary Medicine. She then completed a one-year internship at a large referral/emergency hospital in Gaithersburg, MD, where she met her business partner and CAC co-founder, Kayleen Gloor. After working at several small animal hospitals she realized she wanted to tackle business ownership and founded Clarendon Animal Care with Dr. Gloor in early 2015. CAC has experienced steady growth since then thanks to an awesome support team and the pet-loving Arlington community.
Full Transcript Below:
[00:00:00] Jennifer: Hi, I’m Jennifer Mulchandani.
[00:00:02] Heather: And I’m Heather Myklegard.
[00:00:04] Jennifer: Welcome to The M Word
[00:00:06] Heather: where we have uncensored conversations on all things marketing. Due to COVID, we are not recording in the studio and apologize for any poor audio or technical glitches. As soon as it is safe, we will have our guests with us in the studio, until then stay healthy and wear a mask.
[00:00:28] Jennifer: Hello and welcome to The M Word. My name is Jennifer Mulchandani
[00:00:32] Heather: and I’m Heather.
[00:00:33] Jennifer: And today we’re talking to Dr. Natasha Ungerer with Clarendon Animal Care. Dr. Ungerer is a native of Western New York and growing up, she always knew she wanted to be a veterinarian, and she still feels that was a great decision. Dr. Ungerer graduated from Sweetbriar College in Southwest Virginia and obtained her DVM degree from North Carolina University College of Veterinary Medicine. She met her business partner and CAC co-founder, Dr. Kayleen Glor when completing a one-year internship at a large emergency hospital in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Together, they co-founded Clarendon Animal Care in early 2015. Natasha credits CAC’s steady growth to an awesome support team and the pet-loving Arlington community. Thanks for being here, Natasha. We’re excited to talk to you.
[00:01:21] Dr. Ungerer: Thanks for having me.
[00:01:23] Jennifer: Great. It sounds like you wanted to be a vet from a young age, but what made you open your very own business?
[00:01:31] Dr. Ungerer: Having worked in several practices over the years and seeing things done different ways. Kayleen and I felt like we were at the point where we had enough medical knowledge that we kind of wanted to experiment on our own with the organization side of things and jump into the running of the business. Which we had no idea what we were getting into, at that point, and since I still feel like that some days. But, really wanted to be able to run things our own way and set things up how we wanted to right from the get-go.
[00:01:58] Jennifer: Right, we’re here to talk about as many M words as we can around marketing, and I know that’s not your typical role, so how do you interface with the marketing of your business?
[00:02:08] Dr. Ungerer: Veterinarians, we get, zero marketing training in school, obviously, but historically veterinarians, you did zero marketing. Like even having their name in the phone book would be considered overzealous. Marketing in the veterinary field really has been pretty obscure until the last, probably five to 10 years. When it’s obviously taken on a bigger role. Coming into it, we really didn’t have a plan for marketing, which is actually why we had worked with Jennifer, early on, to set up a marketing plan and find out what we should be doing. But it’s really evolved organically as we’ve grown.
We don’t have a super intentional marketing plan. It really stems from organizations we want to support, events that we want to be involved in, and client education and we try to take it from there then use that sort of as a platform for marketing.
[00:02:56] Heather: Yeah. Natasha, I want to talk through the evolution of your business, and as you’ve learned more about marketing, what parts or aspects of it have you learned to appreciate, or maybe interest you? Just as the owner, watching it go on, what have you seen that you really like about marketing?
[00:03:15] Dr. Ungerer: The client engagement? I think especially with our social media page, which I think we have an amazing social media coordinator in-house who just has such a knack for it. And it’s all so out of my wheelhouse, it’s hard for me but, she comes up with these clever things. I really love seeing that and seeing how our clients engage with that.
We’ve always looked at the social media stuff as to being more for our existing clients and engaging with them rather than necessarily attracting new clients, but that part’s really fun for me. Then again, the education piece of it, because we do education is one of our core values and so we like to use that as a kind of a starting point, I think for a lot of our marketing material or marketing efforts so to speak. Like when we were writing a weekly blog for ArlNow it was all obviously very education-based, but a good way to get our name out there.
[00:04:02] Jennifer: I love that you talk about you’ve got core values and your marketing kind of organically came out of that, education being one. What are your other core values?
[00:04:11] Dr. Ungerer: Excellence– kind of across the board, enthusiasm- for our profession, for each other, for the work we do. I think it’s pretty easy when you work with puppies and kittens. You get to see these pets from the time they were puppies and growing up to be enthusiastic about it, but when you’re the daily grind of it, especially this last year, that’s one that we find where we’re needing to intentionally revisit regularly.
Accountability– so again, to ourselves and to our clients and having a patient-centric focus that we’re a fear-free hospital which means we’re working towards really trying to provide an experience for our pets that isn’t as scary as it always is. It’s not scary, but we try to limit some of that fear in how we’re handling them.
We won’t wrestle with an upset pet or anxious pet like it’s historically been the motto is: just get it done and we try to take a different approach.
[00:05:02] Heather: I love that, and Natasha, just going back to the marketing for a minute, how do you decide where to put money into your marketing?
[00:05:09] Dr. Ungerer: Other than when we first had worked with Jennifer and had a plan for marketing, we had nothing, so, we needed a starting point. We were going to try to do these couple events, and we’re going to do this blog. And we did have some more intentional strategy with it since then. It’s really been mostly, again, supporting causes or groups that we’re passionate about, like the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, and supporting their causes. They’re trying to get our name out there as a sponsor for any of their programming. We always have sponsored their walk for the animals, which is one of their big fundraising events that a couple of our doctors that are really passionate about education have done one-on-one talks for the community through their channels.
So it’s been a nice, it’s a nice way to partner with an existing group in the community as well, I think.
[00:05:56] Jennifer: I mean, You touched on, what we call cause marketing. It’s connecting your business at a more fundamental level to making an impact within the community that, transcends what you’re selling. I’ve always been very appreciative of seeing how much you guys do invest. Can you share more about, cause you mentioned AWLA, um, some of the other organizations that you’re supporting and how? A lot of businesses think, ” I’m a this, so I am not in the business of giving to the community. I don’t know how to do that”, and I think you all have been very creative with some of your activities.
[00:06:27] Dr. Ungerer: Yeah, we do work with a lot of the rescue groups. We have a couple of lab rescue partners that we do a lot with. A lot of the adoption groups we partner with to do initial physical exams, which is a win-win. Clients come in the door and we hope that once they’ve had one, hopefully, great experience, that they’ll become lifelong clients. Despite that first initial courtesy exam, we’re supporting those or supporting those groups who are gonna obviously promote our name in their marketing materials as well.
We also really like to support groups that are. In Arlington and we just love Arlington so much that it’s easy to want to support groups that are local. With the TurkeyTrot and Bridges to Independence. Even though they’re not veterinary-related, we like to be able to be associated with groups like that, that are Arlington-focused.
[00:07:16] Jennifer: Yeah. And I think one of the, you mentioned earlier that how you use the social media, the idea is that it becomes like a community for your own patients. Like the human side of your patients to connect. But you’ve also held happy hours and you’ve thrown parties at the park, and you’ve had people come into your offices for tours and behind-the-scenes looks.
How do you characterize the importance of that type of opening your doors and creating a sense of community? Has that been an important part of in your business?
[00:07:46] Dr. Ungerer: I think it has. We don’t think of it, again probably just as veterinarians, we’re conditioned to not think about marketing, or not think of it as marketing. So, even things like that, we don’t necessarily know. Aside from the happy hours, but even those, they usually have a group that were raising money for the Welfare League of Arlington or one of the rescue partners. So for us, it’s something that we just enjoy doing, or like having the GirlScouts come in or, and Kayleen’s done talks at the library before on dentistry.
Some of it’s just stuff that we’re nerdy about, and we like to get out there and share knowledge without the first thought being marketing. I think just probably again, because of how we’re ingrained in school. And that marketing is usually not what we’re thinking, first and foremost, but I think that those things are probably some of the best things that we’ve been able to do to get our name out there. Even though that wasn’t necessarily the original intent.
[00:08:36] Jennifer: In a way that makes it more authentic, right? Like you’re being yourselves and you’re doing things that just mattered to the culture that you were creating in your business and it served a purpose of connecting you to people. So I think that’s even better. So you said I want to go back to, you said, some of the things that you’d liked to nerd out on. Putting on that veterinarian hat, what about your practice gets you super excited? What do you wish you could talk to people about more have people understand about?
[00:09:05] Dr. Ungerer: Oh gosh, we’re actually big dorks at heart when it comes to the medical staff and Kayleen, and I will still get excited when we diagnose a weird case or something, and we’ve been doing it for 15 years.
I think that’s one of my favorite things is that we do. Every day is different, even though a lot of it is routine, but there’s always going to be something that keeps you on your toes even after all this time. So that’s one of the things that I really love about it from the medical sense.
On the business side and the marketing side, I think that’s kind of what keeps this fresh for us, because it’s not something that we get in school and it’s not something that we had to do when we were working for somebody else. It amazes me that we are where we are six years in and it’s kind of been fly by the seat of our pants.
We have just fantastic clients and we’re able to connect with them probably on a more engaging level, as far as what’s going on with their pets, medically, and why heartworm preventative is important and why flea and tick prevention is important and why vaccines are important. A lot of the time it feels like. Seeing our team, I think it’s not the most. It’s just seeing how some of our team members have grown with us. And what they’re now able to bring to the table. As our business has grown from four employees to 50. So that’s been really, that part is just super exciting to me.
I think that’s one of the things I’m most proud of is the growth of the team and the awesome people that we’re able to attract now because we do have that solid base.
[00:10:22] Heather: It’s a huge accomplishment. Natasha, talk to me about the last year, I’m curious about the impact of COVID. What did you see as far as business and did clients stop coming in? Was it an increase?
[00:10:34] Dr. Ungerer: Yeah, so when things first shut down and remember it was a panicky week or two. As we were trying to think, what? Are we going to have to close? What’s going to happen? And then literally it was just craziness from probably beginning of April on. And it wasn’t just us. It’s veterinarians across the country. Who’ve just been swamped in a good way. It’s not a complete but it was the opposite of what we had expected.
Initially, and, to me, it just shows what we already knew, which is that pets bring so much to the table, and can be such a good support mechanism for us and mental health and physical health. There’s so many benefits of having a pet. It’s not surprising, in hindsight, but it was a little bit surprising early on to see this big volume and all these new pets being adopted. I think as a profession, there was a lot of growth through COVID.
[00:11:24] Heather: Yeah, but didn’t you also open a new location like right in the start of this?
[00:11:30] Dr. Ungerer: We were, yeah, we were already on track, so we couldn’t really slow things down. And we were fortunate to be able to open an early June without really any significant delays. And it was really a blessing that we had the second location in the works, because of the volume of new pets coming in, we were able to accommodate that extra volume. We feel like that was a blessing and we were able to offer a service to a lot of community pets. Somehow, not most general practitioners, but a lot of the emergency hospitals have been just at capacity so haven’t been able to take sick pets in and we felt like it was really great to have a little bit of an overflow to be able to do that.
[00:12:06] Jennifer: Now, one of the things I think people would be curious to hear is, so your first location is in the heart of the Clarendon neighborhood in Arlington.
[00:12:14] Dr. Ungerer: So you became Clarendon Animal Care, and then your second location is along the Columbia Pike, near Penrose square. Was it a struggle for you? Were you worried at all about having a name Clarendon outside of a Clarendon area?
Yeah, it’s definitely a conversation that we went back and forth on. Got a lot of opinions and at the end of the day, we just decided that we really liked Clarendon Animal Care and we had a solid reputation to step off from with that. And we felt like if we changed the name that we might’ve lost some of that connection with our existing location.
At the end of the day, it was a close call, but we were glad we kept it just from a unifying and simplicity standpoint. We really do envision them as we’re one hospital with two locations. All of our records are merged, some of our staff goes back and forth.
So, at the end of the day, it was definitely the right decision. It creates some confusion. The occasional client shows up at the wrong location or things get shipped to the wrong location or billed to the wrong patient. But that I think that the benefits outweigh the alternative.
[00:13:17] Heather: Natasha, is there anything new or different you want to try this year, either with marketing or business? Anything you haven’t done before?
[00:13:25] Dr. Ungerer: Oh, there’s always more, and I’m looking forward to hopefully being able to get back out into the community a little bit, and have you open our doors up. Yesterday, was actually the first day that we officially opened up our lobby at our main location for clients to come in for appointments. So that was really exciting. But like we talked about earlier, we do like being out in the community and engaged. With our focus on education, I’d like to be able to have girl scout troops come back in and just be able to have people in the office and us to be able to be out and about in the community more.
[00:13:55] Jennifer: That’s great. One of the questions we always ask guests is who do you look to? What sources do you look to as inspiration, whether for marketing, or just even as, as a business owner how are you getting your cup filled or your continuing education, on the business side of things?
[00:14:13] Dr. Ungerer: I think it comes from all directions, at this point, sometimes it’s a weekly newsletter that I might delete every week, but, something catches my eye and the subject and I’ll hop into that. Our practice manager gets the Harvard business review, which I always did really guilty when I see it come in and hand it over to her, that I’m not reading it, but something might catch my eye there.
One of our biggest resources, I think, is a management group I’m in and it is 20 hospitals from across the country, similarly size, all privately owned. They’re a huge resource for me, as far as, you know, how are you guys handling this ,or who did you use to update your website? Or how are you tackling this specific problem?
It’s just nice to have a group of peers that aren’t your immediate competitors, as well, to reach out to for those types of things. And then sometimes it seeing things on, you know, maybe seeing something to Instagram that another hospital is doing. And you’re like, I want to do that. One of the things, all the rage was having a little chalkboard with your puppy’s vitals, as far as like my name’s Susie and I saw Dr. Ungerer today, and I weighed 7.2 pounds, and my favorite treat is this. That’s obviously caught on because you see a lot of it now.
[00:15:18] Heather: So Natasha, I have a question about dogs and cats on social media. Is there one group that does better like the dog owners or the cat owners? I think every social media manager’s dream is to be able to just throw in a puppy or kitten on every post because they do so well. But have you seen whether dogs or cats do better on social media?
[00:15:42] Dr. Ungerer: That’s a good question? I feel like I would say cats just because cat followers are so loyal, but. Obviously, there’s more dogs, like we’re 75% dogs and 25% cats as far as like our patient breakdown. I don’t know, I’m a dog person, so it’s still hard. It’s hard to beat the dogs for me, but I think cats are just so funny.
[00:16:00] Jennifer: And I think it, we should tell our listeners too, so you have Clarendon Animal Care has great social media, but then your clinic cat their own social media account, which is hilarious.
[00:16:15] Dr. Ungerer: Yes. I think it’s Clarendon Gremlin Care now. After Tommy Lee Jones has passed, but BamBam is pretty entertaining as well.
[00:16:24] Jennifer: That’s right. I think everybody should follow those accounts. It’s hilarious. You’re now you said five years into your business, six years into your business. A lot of water under the bridge, as they say, if you could go back to that formulating day when you were launching your business, go back to day one, what would you tell yourself?
[00:16:43] Dr. Ungerer: Oh, they should’ve thought of an answer for that earlier on. Probably just the be ready, you know, have to maybe go with the punches a little bit more. I think there’s so many things you just aren’t prepared for, or that we’re not prepared for in our profession coming into it as far as going from working as a veterinarian, prescribing, diagnosing, treating to managing people. I suspect that that’s the case in any small business or any business at all. But I would have maybe liked to maybe have read a few more of those articles beforehand.
[00:17:12] Heather: So Natasha, if our listeners are local and have pets, where can they find you and if they’re not, but want to follow some of your Instagram accounts, how do they find you guys?
[00:17:24] Dr. Ungerer: So our website is ClarendonAnimalCare.com that is also our Instagram handle. Our clinic cat Bam, who is a naked munchkin cat, is @ClarendonGremlinCare because he definitely looks like a gremlin. And we also have a clinic bearded dragon, who I think is the most funny in his is @Blink182TheBeardie.
[00:17:47] Jennifer: That’s great. And we’ll put those links when we post this episode too, for our listeners. So I want to thank you again. We’ve been talking with Dr. Natasha Ungerer from Clarendon Animal Care. Thanks for tuning in and we’ll see you next time.
[00:18:01] Heather: Bye.
[00:18:02] Dr. Ungerer: Thanks guys.
[00:18:11] Heather: Thanks for listening. We hope you’ll come back. Subscribe to The M Word, wherever you listen to podcasts. And for more uncensored conversations, visit The M Word page at ArlingtonStrategy.com.
Listen to other episodes of The M Word Podcast here.