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Blue Heron Consulting owners speak to Rotary

By DAVE FAIRCHILD

Danville Rotary

On May 3, Rotarians Dr. Chuck Keiser and Dusty Bonner provided fellow Rotarians with an insider’s viewpoint of a local business start-up, Blue Heron Consulting. The company is an outgrowth of brainstorming ideas between college friends Stith Keiser and Dusty Bonner.

Dusty joined the Marine Corps in response to 9/11.  After receiving his bachelor’s degree, he went into active duty for 10 years. Stith created and was CEO of My Veterinary Career (MVC), which he sold to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) in 2011. After the sale, Stith continued to manage the company until 2016.

During Dusty’s military career, he had leadership roles over 500 Marines and managed over $120 million in assets annually. Those experiences fine-tuned his leadership and financial management skills.  However, the passion each had to improve the quality of care of animals, while enhancing the quality of life of veterinary medicine service providers remained strong for both.

Ten years after graduation, those early brainstorming ideas caused Stith to ask Dusty if he was ready for new career challenges. Dusty decided he was, so the pair developed a scheme to test the viability of the business concept they developed during college. Their business plan focused on improving quality of life of veterinary practice owners and their staff, while also improving the level of care for their patients and increasing the financial performance of the business. The team had two primary objectives:

• Collaborating with owners of existing large and small animal veterinary practices to help them realize their  personal goal of providing quality medical service without the distraction of recruiting, training, and motivating their supporting staff members.

• Supporting aspiring practice owners during the multitude of decisions involved with a new business venture. Using a federal grant focusing on rural veterinary practice sustainability, the BHC team guides aspiring owners through each step of the start-up or practice acquisition process.

In 2015 Dusty relocated to Danville and Dr. Chuck Keiser, DVM, agreed to be his mentor. Leveraging Stith and Chuck’s access to providers and their suppliers, “Blue Heron” quickly established 16 hospital clients within its first month. The methodology that evolved began with focusing on the “why” their clients chose to be veterinarians. The motivation usually involved a desire to improve the quality of life for animals and/or to become the best at what they do.  What it did not involve was a desire to run a business. That finding confirmed the correctness of their college brainstorming!

Providing the business operating strategies, staff recruiting, training, retention and motivation became the focus of Blue Heron Consulting. They chose the name because blue herons have long necks, and starting a new business venture requires “sticking your neck out.”

The start-up’s early experience was certainly successful, but it also evidenced an unexpected inconsistency in their early clients’ business performance. Dusty and Stith realized that a more detailed involvement in the client’s business operations was required.  BHC’s focus shifted to “how” BHC could best help their clients fulfill their “why.”

The key to acquiring better insights was clearly finding a way to get more detailed information about the clients’ operations. That skill was the core of Stith Keiser’s 10 years of industry consulting. The assessment process Stith developed involved analyzing the clients’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).  Strengths and weaknesses are internal to the business. Examples include staff competencies, motivation, training and selecting the company’s location. Opportunities and threats are external to the business, and include competitors, prices of supplies and customers’ shopping criteria.

BHC utilizes a multi-discipline team of experts to visit onsite and interact with the client’s staff. BHC team members, many of them private veterinary practice owners themselves, are fortunate to serve the industry in many roles, including several who have served as past presidents of the American Animal Hospital Association. In addition to his role of CEO, Stith teaches and speaks at veterinary schools across the country.