At the rate Gary Silverglat is going, his Angels Vet Expresscare clinic may one day become the St. Jude’s of animal care.
That may seem like a stretch to compare Angels Vet, located in Savannah in northern Missouri, to the famed children’s research hospital. But don’t tell that to Silverglat, who initially opened the clinic to serve M’Shoogy’s Emergency Animal Rescue, a nonprofit he founded 30 years ago in Savannah.
His strategy with the Angels Vet nonprofit clinic is based on a high-volume, low-cost approach. Today the clinic treats 100,000 animals annually at a fraction of the fees private veterinary practices charge.
No wonder pet lovers and other animal rescue operations beat a path to its door, including many customers from the Kansas City area. It has even captured the attention of veterinary clinics around the country eager to learn and duplicate Silverglat’s business model.
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“The secret is volume, but the clinic was founded on the premise that no animal should fail to receive care services because the expense is too high,” Silverglat said. “I guess we’re like the St. Jude’s of veterinary clinics by teaching and sharing our model.”
It’s no surprise Angels Vet Expresscare has such a huge following. People love their pets, and veterinary care in the U.S. is big business. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent $15 billion on veterinary care in 2014.
The average price in the Midwest for the most basic veterinary procedure — spaying or neutering a pet cat or dog — can cost $20 to $45, depending on the species and the animal’s size, according to data cited by Silverglat. Something more serious, like the treatment of a heartworm infection, can cost between $180 and $350.
At Angels Vet, the combined cost to spay a cat, vaccinate it for rabies and feline leukemia, and deworm the animal is $67. Major surgical procedures at the clinic can cost a tenth of standard private practice settings, Silverglat said.
Kathy Turner, an animal control officer in Cameron, Mo., is one of Silverglat’s biggest fans, thanks to affordable care she can obtain for the dogs she uses in the Missouri Department of Corrections’ Puppies for Parole program.
The program, made possible through partnerships with animal shelters and animal advocacy groups statewide, allows select offenders the opportunity to train rescue dogs in the program. It’s a one-hour drive for Turner to Silverglat’s clinic to have the dogs treated.
“If it weren’t for Angels Vet Expresscare, we wouldn’t have a program,” she said. “In fact, we don’t have enough dogs in Cameron for the program, so we bring in dogs from around the state that would ordinarily be euthanized.”
Similarly, the animal clinic’s low fees even help the average family struggling with veterinary care expenses, according to Jenny Hays, hospital administrator of BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Overland Park, which makes referrals to Silverglat’s clinic.
“Having an option like Angel’s Vet Expresscare for our after-hour clients allows them an avenue for treatment when financial hardships exist in their family,” Hays said.
Building the business didn’t come easy for Silverglat. He estimates he’s pumped several million dollars of his own money into his business over 13 years and continues to reap little, financially.
Silverglat is not a veterinarian. But he has what he calls “a natural passion for animals.”
When he and his wife, Lisa, moved to the rural area, they saw a tremendous number of abandoned animals. That’s when the entrepreneur, whose own background includes that of a cattle buyer, a meat packer and a retailer, decided he and his wife needed to take action.
“We kept a lot of the abandoned animals at first, but then we realized we couldn’t keep 27 animals and we needed to start a business to fix this,” he said. “So even though we started our business rescuing animals, we figured out we could save even more animals by offering low prices for veterinary services. Once people learned that they could get the same quality at much less the cost, they kept coming and coming.”
Silverglat’s business gained momentum when he partnered with Lamar Advertising, one of the nation’s largest outdoor advertising companies, to spread the word.
Lamar has donated the placement of 14 billboards throughout the Kansas City area. Angels Vet Expresscare pays for the design and printing costs. Silverglat said the clinic generates a lot of business from around the country, particularly from truckers who have their pets in tow and drive past the billboards.
Despite the competition from private-practice veterinarians and emergency clinics, Angels Vet Expresscare has managed to recruit top-notch veterinarians from around the country to tend to clients.
The clinic operates with five full-time veterinarians, two part-time veterinarians, a support staff of 30 and a handful of volunteers.
Angels Vet Expresscare’s departure from the traditional veterinary clinic model has resulted in clients bringing in about 60,000 animals annually. The clinic treats another 40,000 rescue animals at cost or for free with the goal of improving animal welfare in the region, according to dvm360, a national veterinary trade publication.
On any given day, Silverglat said, there are about 50 cars in the clinic’s parking lot, representing all demographic levels.
“It’s difficult to pull it off,” Silverglat said of his business model. “It takes a big personal investment, partnerships within the community and special pricing from (veterinary drug) manufacturers to make it work. But in the end, we figured we could do more for the animals by treating them rather than holding them.”