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Have you ever considered turning your veterinary clinic into a referral practice? We’re not talking about taking on supercomplicated medical cases but rather providing after-care services. For around $100,000, give or take, you could install an on-site crematory and start a new revenue stream, compassionately assisting not only your grieving clients but also pet owners from other practices.
In Rochester, New York, the 16-hospital Monroe Veterinary Associates network operates Forever Friends Pet Crematorium, a standalone facility.
“Having the crematory as a part of the business is important to building client relationships,” said Carolyn Fisher, DVM, the hospital director at Suburban Animal Hospital, part of Monroe Veterinary Associates. “We can honestly and sincerely tell our clients that we know and trust the people who will be handling their pets’ remains.
“Additionally, we can answer any questions about the cremation process or help facilitate special requests because we know the crematory operations well. This allows us to provide the highest level of customer service when it matters most.”
Crownover Animal Clinic in Tullahoma, Tennessee, runs the off-site Pets Forever Crematory and sells after-care services to other Middle Tennessee veterinary clinics.
“It’s important when our clients are in a predicament of losing a pet that they can just call us,” practice manager Tiffany Garner said. “It makes end of life much easier. It’s not only convenient but also more personal for the pet owner.”
Here or There?
Some crematories are on the grounds of a veterinary practice, which can save money. However, purchasing or leasing a separate location and then outfitting it is sometimes the better choice.
“Opening one on your existing property can be less expensive, but a separate building can be easier to manage,” said Paul Seyler, the manager of global product and marketing at crematory manufacturer Matthews Environmental Solutions. “As individual or private pet cremations continue to grow, the crematory will need room to grow, especially if it serves more than one practice. A separate facility can make that easier as well.”
Government red tape can slow the installation process.
“First, you’ll need to make sure the land is zoned to house a crematory,” said Tom Clayton, the Eastern/Midwestern sales representative at American Crematory Equipment Co. “Most communities will not allow a crematory near a school, for instance. Once the zone is determined to be appropriate, the next consideration is air quality. Every state and sometimes counties are different.”
Seyler and Clayton estimated the startup costs of an on-site crematory at $40,000 to $95,000 for the furnace and $28,000 for its delivery and installation. The remaining costs depend on the location, the type of facility and the services to be offered. Variables include:
- Building modifications such as an exhaust stack and electrical and gas lines.
- A processor to reduce cremated remains to powder or ash.
- A refrigerated storage unit, which could be anything from a chest freezer to a walk-in cooler.
- A vehicle to transport deceased pets to the crematory and return the cremains to the clinic for client pickup.
- Urns, bags or boxes to hold pets’ ashes.
You’re in Charge
Owning a crematory allows a practice owner to control the level of service and it eliminates pain points, Seyler said.
“Many veterinarians and their staffs hate everything about pet cremation — the cost, delays and paperwork, to be sure, but also the way it impacts the client’s experience on the worst day of their life,” he said. “Because the pet never leaves your care, clients can feel more comfortable about how their pet is treated and the ashes that are returned.”
Pet cremation typically costs a client from $50 for a communal process in which no cremains are returned to $350 for a private cremation and the return of ashes, usually in a basic box or urn, according to the Cremation Institute, a trade group. Veterinary practices also might charge a fee to pick up a deceased pet at its home and, if the client wants to be present, for a cremation viewing. The pet owner’s purchase of an urn can run as high as $1,000.
“Veterinarians are able to keep the revenue stream in-house instead of sending it to a local crematory partner,” Clayton said. “Additionally, they can do cremations for other local veterinary practices and humane societies, creating an additional revenue opportunity.”
Crownover Animal Clinic opens its Tennessee crematory to shelters and other veterinary hospitals.
“The practice will benefit in the long run,” Garner said. “The investment in a crematory pays for itself.”
Selling cremation services to other clinics isn’t complicated. You might already partner with a cremation provider, but if you can do it all yourself and make money, getting nearby practices to switch to you or even split the investment can be easy.
“If you want to take them on as partners, there are two business models to consider,” Seyler said. “The first is a simple partnership where you share in upfront capital, operating costs and bottom-line profits. The other is a pre-purchased subscription service, where other practices buy their cremations from you in bulk, often with some kind of discount from regular prices. This generates some upfront cash flow and locks in their business, but it doesn’t require a big capital investment from the partners to kick things off.
“Since only one practice owns the cremation business, the legal and accounting efforts can be a lot simpler.”
Many clients aren’t very price-sensitive when a pet dies, Seyler said.
“They’re often more concerned with high standards of care and keeping the decisions simple,” he said. “A few simple and complete product and service packages are all you need.”
Anyone considering the installation of an in-house crematory should speak with practices that operate one, Seyler and Clayton said. Crematory manufacturers can provide a list.
ROUND OUT THE PACKAGE
One benefit of operating an in-house crematory is the ability to oversee the process from start to finish. The finished product is often an urn containing the pet’s cremains.
The quality of the urn goes a long way in determining client satisfaction, said Teresa Witkowska, the president of Enchanted Boxes.
“By procuring urns, a practice could control the overall selection, quality and price that clients pay,” Witkowska said. “A very popular trend is including an optional or standard urn in the price of cremation, giving your customers an easy, fast and stressless option.
“If you have a lot of storage space, look for the best quality, the lowest price and stock up on urns. One thing to look for is products that are stocked in the USA versus those shipping from overseas with long lead times.”