The day after Dr. Jennafer Glaesemann closed on her loan to take ownership of Blue Valley Veterinary Clinic in Beatrice, she left her office to head out to a nearby farm. A donkey was suffering a troublesome birth, and she needed to sedate the stricken animal before she could start treatment. As she tells it, the farmer’s inexperienced son tried to help her hold the donkey still so she could safely administer the sedative.
“The donkey wasn’t real fond of the situation,” she explained. And when the donkey charged forward on him, jostling her, she accidentally jammed the needle into her own thigh.
“Like, welcome to real life,” she sighed.
No place to go from there but up, right?
And so she has, with monthly revenues from the business up by a third since she bought the practice two years ago, with help from SBA financing.
Watching a dramatic treatment to an ailing cow set her on her course
Blue Valley offers preventive and emergency care from house pets to large farm animals, including the occasional uncooperative donkey. Such care includes dentistry, reproductive medicine, nutrition and body condition management plans, and behavioral interventions. The clinic also provides veterinarian and support personnel on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide the only emergency care within 20 miles of town; the nearest full-service emergency clinic is 40 miles away in Lincoln. As a plus, there are boarding and grooming services for dogs and cats.
Glaesemann grew up on a dairy farm in rural southeast Nebraska, involved in 4-H and Future Farmers of America, helping with feeding calves, rounding up the cows from the pasture come milking time, and other chores. There’s one story she often shares of a time she helped her father back then that proved pivotal in her choice of career.
Often enough, dairy cows can be afflicted with low blood calcium, a potentially life-threatening condition which demands treatment right away. Veterinarians often teach savvy farmers to administer intravenous calcium therapy to address this problem quickly. Once, in the wee hours, Glaesemann’s father needed her help out in the barn to hold a flashlight while he bent down to inject a large bore needle right in the jugular of a stricken bovine.
“Once you administer the calcium,” Glaesemann said, “they actually can get up within a few minutes. And so it’s one of the few things in veterinary medicine where it’s split second life-changing … they go from something that is almost dying or almost dead to something that is up and walking around.”
That’s something pretty dramatic for an impressionable young child to witness. But from that moment, watching the instant effect of her dad’s therapeutic action on a cow, she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life.
On the wall of the lobby entryway of the clinic, on the right next to the wire racks of specialty dog and cat food is a child’s drawing in a frame. Glaesemann’s first-grade teacher had given her students an assignment—to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up. That was an easy thing for her; she drew a picture of a veterinarian.
Tough luck finding a job that fit, turned toward owning her own clinic
Coming out of high school, Glaesemann applied for the veterinary early application program at Kansas State, which she then interviewed for in the fall as an undergraduate student. Years ahead of the usual veterinary school application process, she was accepted. She planned to use a Nebraska program which helped defray the costs of an out-of-state student, costs which can add up to some $80,000 over the course of study. But when budget constraints forced the state to eliminate that program, she found herself scrambling. Fortunately, the dean of the agriculture college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recognized the need to keep veterinary prospects in Nebraska and, together with the Iowa State veterinary college dean, came to the rescue with an innovative veterinary school cooperative program. Glaesemann graduated as part of its inaugural class in 2011.
And graduating into what many have considered the worst year in the country for debt-burdened newly-minted veterinarians to find a job in the industry. With some taking up to 18 months to find a position in a clinic, they had to compete for scarce positions across the country with the next year’s class and against experienced associates let go during the economic downturn.
Glaesemann was no different, interviewing at clinics from British Columbia to Pennsylvania, but, despite promising job offers, she found nothing satisfying enough to move. Instead, she began negotiating to purchase her own clinic, a process that through ponderous meetings with attorneys, appraisals on inventory and equipment, and cash flow projections, lasted a long 17 months. Things lasted so long she even took a low-paying gig with the practice to learn the business as the ownership transfer slowly moved forward.
Complicating the sale was that half the value of the business was tied up in its ongoing clinical relationship with its biggest client, a relationship which would leave with the departing owners, meaning the real estate purchase and clinical operations would have to be supported with a mere half of the clinic's historical revenue.
“You already know you can’t have that source of income when you start,” she explained, so “you really have to respond quickly to grow to make it more profitable and more stable and more sustainable of a practice.”
SBA loan from Lincoln's Union Bank made deal possible
She knew the start-up costs would be “tremendous,” and worse, after paying thousands in fees as part of the purchase preparation, Glaesemann found herself “tapped out” with no money for a down payment.
Undaunted, Glaesemann worked with Union Bank’s Lincoln location on a creative financing package for the practice, the clinic building and surrounding real estate. The bank, ranked as one of the top three SBA lenders to date for Fiscal 2014, combined its own capital with $84,200 approved Sept. 2012 from a standard SBA 7(a) loan and a loan from Community Development Resources.
“I had really good mentors, some at Union Bank and some with experience in the vet industry,” Glaesemann said. “You have to surround yourself with people who can keep you from making stupid mistakes.”
And she agreed that making a decision to become a business owner “has to be something you can rationalize. You need to have that objectivity to know that it’s something that if the numbers aren’t right, you can’t commit to it.”
Since she took over the clinic, not only are revenues up, but there was enough cash flow for Glaesemann to purchase a second, separate veterinary clinic in nearby Pickrell using seller financing and a loan from the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project.
And she was approved May 2014 for a second SBA loan through Union Bank, one under the Small/Rural Lender Advantage program. Glaesemann is replacing the current "dinosaur" X-ray machine with a new digital X-ray suite. While it squeaks by cash flow-wise at current revenue and cost levels, she’s been told the new piece of tech could grow the clinic’s radiology offerings by some 30 percent, in the process elevating dental radiography standards of care for her patients.
In part due to her clinic’s success, Glaesemann recently was honored with the Early Achiever award by UNL, representing the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, recognizing outstanding young alumni across the university. She also serves on the Animal Welfare Committee of both the America Association of Bovine Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Glaesemann said there’s a reason why she was able to overcome each obstacle along the way to turn what a young girl imagined she’d one day grow up to be become a reality.
“I’m the kind of person where once I’ve decided that it’s something I want to do I’m really committed to that project,” she explained. “And perhaps I’m a little too stubborn in that regard and there may have been some things that would have been easier if I hadn’t had those blinders on.”
But, she added, with a grin, “that’s also one of the reasons that my friends and peers and those that know me think that I’m likely to be more successful--because I am stubborn!”