James Callion established Spires Vet Clinic in Omagh just four years after qualifying from Edinburgh veterinary school. Last year he was runner-up in Northern Ireland's Eircom Young Entrepreneur Awards
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What made you decide to establish your own practice so soon after qualifying?
Mainly because I was living close to Omagh and spending two hours a day commuting, and having nights away on call. This, coupled with the arrival of our baby, Thomas, meant something had to change! Also, you usually have to be at a clinic for a number of years before being offered a partnership, and I am not the type of person who could have waited for that to happen.
Omagh needed a small animal clinic, and I was certain I could grow a successful business there. Two years ago I found the perfect premises – a bungalow on a great site in the centre of town.
How did you get to where you are today?
Having grown up on a livestock and arable farm, veterinary medicine was my chosen career, as I figured it would enable me to work with animals, while providing a more stable career path than the ups and downs of agriculture.
I met my wife Alison while studying at Edinburgh, and she encouraged me across to Northern Ireland after spending a year in practice. I then moved to Willow Veterinary Clinic in Portadown, County Armagh, where I worked for two-and-a-half years.
A typical day at Spires
The clinic opens early so that owners can drop off animals booked for operations on their way to work. Routine and more complex surgery is carried out between consulting times, as well as home visits for the elderly or infirm. Treatment and routine neutering for a local animal shelter generates a regular volume of work. The clinic also covers the more complicated small animal work for a veterinary clinic 17 miles from Omagh. A full out-of-hours (OOH) emergency service is offered; this is the only down side of a one-man vet clinic!
What do you like about your job?
I am able to spend more time with my family, not spending nights away from home on call. There are also the obvious benefits of making decisions and running the clinic to my standards. Our practice ethos is to make the clients feel special by giving them a warm welcome. We want regular, reliable and loyal clients for years to come.
OOH work for small animals is quieter than that for large animal practice, and this has given me more time at weekends to spend with our small herd of pedigree Limousin cattle, which provide us with a great deal of pleasure and the rarity of a profitable hobby!
What do you not like?
I miss the safety of a wages cheque going in every month. Instead, I have to look at the bigger picture – what I started with, and what I have to show for it at the end of the year. I miss the one-in-four rota for OOH work, but I have the satisfaction seeing my business grow and knowing I have done it myself.
Why is your job important?
We are the only clinic within a 30-mile radius that specialises in the treatment of small animals; this is our unique selling point. The clinic offers full hospitalisation facilities, X-ray, ultrasound and dental treatments. We also offer full blood biochemistry analysis on site.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar career path?
Seek advice from local business support networks and go for it! Try to identify a niche in the market, and offer something different from your competitors, concentrating on client care.
It is easy to get carried away when setting up a clinic with respect to design of premises, welcome packs, logos and investment in kit. It is important not to burden yourself with too much debt initially, as this will pressurise you further down the line when you open or when interest rates start to rise.
What's the best piece of advice you were ever given?
‘A recession can be a great time to prosper.’
What is your proudest moment?
Being handed our baby boy after a caesarean section.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
As part of the judging process for the Eircom Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, a camera crew visited the finalists to watch them at work and film a short sequence to show on the awards night. Little did I know that they were going to include a number of outtakes, showing a number of ridiculous efforts at giving an interview to the camera without laughing.