I recently spotted a Facebook post that speaks for many veterinary practice managers. Perhaps this sounds familiar to you, too: “My open, blank, empty lobby needs a welcoming makeover on a clinic-friendly budget.” Luckily, if you share the same goal, you’ll be surprised by the many ways you can transform your lobby into a more modern, welcoming environment while diminishing its cold, sterile, echoey feel.
Let’s start with these economical tips from Rebecca Rose, CVT, a certified career coach and the veterinary outreach specialist at Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice:
- An album filled with thank-you cards showering gratitude on your team. Another can contain photos of your team members showering love on patients.
- Fresh flowers in a decorative vase.
- Easy-listening music (not the local radio station with advertisements).
- A wall of team photos.
- An afternoon popcorn machine.
Other low-cost suggestions include:
- Cheerful, pet-oriented artwork. You might arrange for local artists to showcase their works for sale, or sell pet-related, locally made crafts, such as dog sweaters, pottery and urns.
- Inviting, painted quotes on the wall, like “Wet noses, warm hearts,” “Woof,” “Meow” or even “I like big mutts and I cannot lie.”
- High floating shelves with plants, pet figurines and other small, homey touches.
- A bookshelf or two stocked with popular items for sale, such as collars, leashes, bandanas and treats.
Now, if your budget is more robust (anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000), a few changes can transform your lobby into a welcoming oasis. Sean M. McMurray, AIA, NCARB, AAA, a principal architect at Animal Arts, recommends focusing on the following five categories.
1. Lights and Ceilings
Lobby lighting can affect the mood of your clients and team members. Today’s options, particularly LED fixtures, will turn a sterile room into a warm area.
- Energy-efficiency: LED lighting is up to 80% more energy-efficient than standard halogen and incandescent bulbs, and it’s longer lasting.
- Less heat: LED lighting is cooler than traditional lighting, reducing your air conditioner usage.
- Myriad options: From chandeliers to recessed lighting, the designs of today’s LED fixtures are limitless.
- Fingertip controls: With commercial LED fixtures, you can easily adjust dimming, daylighting, sensors and timers.
- Cost effective: LED lighting costs much less than traditional lighting over time.
“New, clean LED fixtures do a lot to show off space better and with a more modern quality of light,” McMurray said.
As for the broad expanse overhead, he noted: “Your ceiling grid and acoustical ceiling tile is a good thing to look at when you’re considering changing out the lighting. The lighting is mounted in the grid or tiles themselves, and the tiles can get damaged and stained over time.
“Taking some time to clean up the ceiling and modernize it goes a long way in improving ambiance.”
Manufacturers have introduced cleaner, streamlined tile options in recent years. Replacing your ceiling could improve the acoustics, too.
- LED: Track lights (six lights) can run from $50 to $200, depending on the style. Add two to three hours of installation labor ($150 to $250).
- Acoustic ceiling tiles: $1 to $20 per square foot.
2. Seating and Furniture
Furnishings can make an instant impression on clients, indicating whether your waiting area feels cozy and inviting or just generic. Chairs, end tables, coffee tables and lamps take a beating from people and animals, but fortunately, affordable replacements come in all sorts of sizes and designs.
You don’t have to buy brand-new, high-end furniture, so if you’re open to bargain-hunting, check out a consignment store or thrift shop. You might come across a hardwood coffee table, a vintage desk that can be repurposed as a coffee station, a large chalkboard for daily greetings, or a set of sturdy casual chairs. They’re likely in great shape and priced to sell quickly.
The cost: As low as $25 for a consignment shop wooden coffee table. Go up from there.
“Like old furniture, old cabinetry can make a lobby feel dated,” McMurray said. “A new reception desk can have a large influence on how clients feel when they walk in.”
Consider replacing your reception desk and wall cabinets with sleek, modern fixtures that offer plenty of storage and function.
- $600 for a basic reception desk to $20,000 and up for a high-end piece. An L-shaped laminate desk can run from $1,000 to $2,100 and an L-shaped veneer desk in cherry from $1,500 to $3,200.
- Wall-mounted cabinets cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the material and how much space you want to cover.
The color of a wall can change the entire mood of a room. Compare a standard white wall with something modern and soothing. For a calming feel, try creamy off-white, griege (a greyish beige, which is popular) or the organic look of Sherwin Williams’ “Naturally Calm” soft green. You might want to make one wall a bold color, perhaps behind the reception station to draw clients toward the desk.
“Paint is like furniture in that it’s relatively easy to change and doesn’t require a lot of time, money or effort,” McMurray said. “You can invite a few friends over on a weekend and have a painting party. Try some fun colors, and if they work, you’ve got something that feels really refreshed. If not, you just grab another bucket and try again.”
- $40 to $70 a gallon for high-quality, interior eggshell paint (including primer), plus $100 for brushes, trays, rollers and dropcloths.
- A professional painter typically charges $2 to $6 per square foot.
A new floor can drastically alter the feel in the entire clinic. Imagine what clients and team members will see after you swap out a tired, institutional-looking floor with modern tile or laminate. One popular solution is inexpensive, easy-to-clean tile that looks like wood. Why? It stands up to just about everything without a scratch and has a much lower installation and maintenance cost compared with a wood surface.
“Floors start to look perpetually dirty after a while no matter how much they’re cleaned,” McMurray said. “Durable and attractive options can be installed with relatively little effort, potentially over the weekend or a few evenings.”
The cost: 50 cents to $35 a square foot installed.
You might want to consult an architect to develop a lobby game plan.
“We’ll most often work up some design documentation that outlines one or more items, and then the owner generally finds a local, small-scale general contractor to help them carry out the work,” McMurray said.
Here’s a final word of advice: Be flexible given the struggling supply chain. If you can’t get exactly what you want, consider alternatives.
“Almost every item in the construction material supply chain is delayed right now,” McMurray said. “It starts at the raw materials level — wood, metal, glass and plastic — and is made worse when these items hit the manufacturing level and are made into the final product. … Plus, there’s a shortage of carpenters, welders and masons.”
In the end, the investment will create lasting value for your staff and practice and enhance your clients’ experience when they walk in the door.
HOW TO MANAGE A LOBBY PROJECT
Sean M. McMurray, a principal architect at Animal Arts, provided these tips for executing a successful lobby re-do.
- Solicit advice. Talk to people about your vision. They might include friends, colleagues, team members and clients.
- Choose a preliminary orders-of-magnitude budget. Are you willing to spend $10,000? Can you afford $100,000? More?
- Contact a design professional. On a $10,000 project, you might need only a furniture, art or equipment vendor. Or you can hire an interior designer to suggest light fixtures, paint colors, flooring options and installers. On a $100,000 project, you’ll likely want an architect, who’ll suggest other team members depending on the scope of the work. An interior designer might be important, too, along with engineers if mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems need to be redesigned. An architect might identify a general contractor.
- Assemble your team.
- Be flexible with the schedule and budget. Any project has three main forces acting on it: time, cost and quality. Unfortunately, you can choose only two of them. Your team will help you decide which two are best for your project.
- Design the project. This is the fun part. Continue to communicate your vision. Your team can translate it into the documentation for building permits (if necessary) and get things built.
- Execute the design. Continue to communicate your vision, and work with the team during construction to make everything a reality.