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A passion for pets and a gap in the market saw young entrepreneurs Nicole George and Gareth O’Conner turn PetMedics into a profitable business.

PetMedics came about when 24 year-old vet Niccole George was working the emergency shifts at North Shore Veterinary Specialist Hospital in Sydney. On any given shift she would receive a number of calls from distressed clients whose pets required urgent medical attention, but who were unable to transport their pets themselves. After speaking to friend Gareth O’Connor about the problem, the pair decided to start a 24-hour pet ambulance service to meet these clients’ needs.

From their experiences with the ambulance service they discovered that many pet owners have absolutely no idea what to do when their pet is ill or injured, and actually cause further injury or illness because they mistakenly assume human medication is safe for their pets (such as giving a cat paracetamol). To help prevent these mistakes, PetMedics has developed an Australian-specific canine first aid course for pet owners and people in the pet industry and feline courses are currently being developed.

DB: What advice did you seek when you started the business?
NG: The advice was primarily legal in nature; what we could and couldn’t do for the pets, what our insurance requirements were, etc. We also spoke to ENYA (Enterprise Network for Young Australians) for advice on our business plan and financing issues. Because we were both uni students, capital was not easy to come by. Luckily ENYA, in conjunction with NAB, was able to provide us with a micro-enterprise loan to get us started.

Who are your main competitors? How do you differentiate yourself?
Our two main competitors are pet taxis and the veterinary clinics themselves. Unlike a pet taxi, PetMedics’ ambulance is staffed by qualified veterinary nurses, and is equipped with medical oxygen, resuscitation devices and first aid supplies. We provide first aid as needed on site, then safely transport them to an appropriate veterinary hospital. We do not require a booking, and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We have successfully shown many veterinary clinics the benefits of using our service rather than transporting their patients themselves. This is primarily because any critical care case will require at least two members of the staff to be out of the clinic; one to drive, the other to monitor the patient. Our purpose-designed ambulance, paired with the experience of our staff means less stress all round.

What would be a profile of your ideal client/customer?
Our ideal clients are people who feel that their pet is part of the family, and who are willing and able to seek professional veterinary care of the highest standards. They are medium-to-high income earners, generally over 30 years of age.

What’s your favourite part about what you do?
Our favourite part is the fact that we are providing a huge sense of relief to the clients because they know their pet is being looked after, and will receive the best supportive care en route to the hospital. Also, knowing that because we provide the service we do, pets who would otherwise not survive the trip arrive at the receiving hospital safely.

Our least favourite part is having to discuss money issues with clients when they are upset and worried about their pet. Unfortunately running an ambulance service is very expensive, and it’s not a topic that can be avoided.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made so far (and how did you rectify it)?
One of the main services we provide is transporting critical patients from a general practice to an after-hours or specialist facility. Many of these patients require medical oxygen supplementation, and may not survive a transport without the oxygen. Our biggest mistake so far was not checking the oxygen cylinder before one such call-out, assuming it was full because we had just replaced it the day before. Unfortunately when we arrived we discovered that the cylinder had leaked, and was empty. We had to borrow a cylinder from the referring practice, and were extremely embarrassed that we couldn’t adequately provide the service we had said we could. The next day we purchased two back-up cylinders.

What is your proudest moment so far?
It was when we were able to safely rescue a dog from underneath a deck. It had been away at the grandparents’ for a week, had put on some weight, and got stuck trying to retrieve a ball from his usual hiding place. It was 12am, and the dog had been stuck for almost six hours. It took us almost two hours to dig out enough for Gareth to crawl under and gently pull him out. Once the dog was free he was so excited and wanted nothing more than to jump in Gareth’s lap and lick his face!

What’s your biggest ongoing challenge?
Juggling! Trying to learn to delegate tasks and not try to do everything ourselves. Also finding competent, reliable, qualified staff.

At what point did you know you had made it as a business owner?
We’re still not sure we have! When we are working normal hours, receiving regular pay, and are generally less stressed, then we might be on our way.

What advice would you give to other business owners starting out?

If you love what you do, go for it, if you don’t, find something you do. Learn early what tasks are worth your time and effort, and which ones would be more efficiently, effectively or better done by someone else.

www.petmedics.com.au
24-Hour Pet Ambulance Line
0403 881 998

General Enquiries
02 9412 1990

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What does PetMedics do?

A. PetMedics is a 24-hour pet ambulance service staffed by experienced veterinary nurses. We will pick up ill or injured pets from their homes, and our attending PetMedics will promptly and safely transport them to their appropriate veterinary hospital. Our ambulance is fully equipped with medical oxygen and first aid supplies to ensure the patient receives any necessary care en route. PetMedics will also transport patients from veterinary clinics to their homes, boarding kennels, or other veterinary hospitals as requested.

Q. What are your hours of operation?

A. PetMedics’ Nurses are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year to provide emergency and critical care transport.

Q. Where does PetMedics operate?
A. We service the Greater Sydney Region.

Q. Are the pets insured whilst being transported by PetMedics?
A. Yes, all patients are fully insured during transport.

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Jen Bishop

Jen Bishop

Jen was the publisher at Loyalty Media and editor of Dynamic Business, Australia's largest circulating small business magazine, from 2008 until 2012. She is now a full-time blogger at The Interiors Addict.

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