'Being independent means we can tailor everything to each pet's needs' — Meet the owners of Cheltenham's new veterinary clinic

From meeting at university and working together at the same practice to becoming business partners, Alex Hewett and Olivia Crowe chat about their new veterinary practice, Regency Vets, and why being independent has helped them in their pursuit to bring the highest level of care to Gloucestershire pets.

By Kaleigh Pritchard  |  Published
SoGlos meets the owners of Cheltenham's Regency Vets, Alex and Olivia, to find out more about their journey to launching and running their own independent practice.
In partnership with Regency Vets  |  regencyvets.com
Regency Vets

Regency Vets situated in the village of Leckhampton in Cheltenham puts exceptional care above profit. Its small but experienced team provides bespoke, personalised treatments that are appropriate for each individual pet, from a practice that is designed to be comfortable and welcoming for both animals and their owners.

After an official opening in April 2024, the owners of Cheltenham's new independent veterinary clinic, Regency Vets, catch up with SoGlos to discuss the journey to opening, the cost of animal care and plans for the future.

How did you both come to the point of going into business together?

Olivia: Alex and I met whilst at university and then wound up working in the same practice together a few years later. I was there for about five years, him about two, and we worked there whilst it was still independent and loved it. Once the practice started looking into being taken over by a corporate entity, I started thinking about whether that was what I really wanted.

Alex and I work really well together, we are both calm and methodical, which I think is really important.

So I suggested it to him and he was totally all for it — so it started from there and now Regency Vets is here!

Can you explain some of the advantages of being an independent veterinary practice?

Alex: I think the top thing has to be the flexibility of what we can offer. We can really tailor everything to the customer and their pet, rather than having to follow a particular protocol that's being dictated by someone in an office who maybe isn't familiar with what we do day-to-day.

Olivia: We're in a naturally sensitive sector for people, pets are part of the family. We love offering the gold standard level of care and we can offer a full range of services here. We offer routine and same day emergency appointments, a large range of in-house blood tests, thorough work-ups, x-rays and ultrasound, full operating theatre for routine and emergency surgeries and we have local visiting surgeons for complicated orthopaedic procedures, so your pet doesn’t have to travel for advanced treatment. We also don't want people to feel guilty if they maybe can't afford that, as people can feel like they've let their pet down. Whilst we're not a charity practice, we can offer the simpler, cheaper options, too.

Alex: We want to have a trusting relationship with our clients and if someone comes in and just wants what needs doing done — and doesn't want all the extra bells and whistles — we have the clinical freedom to advise them and make it as affordable and stress-free for them as we can.

Regency Vets saw its grand opening in April after lots of hard work, renovations and preparation — were there any big challenges you had to overcome in the process?

Alex: I think the biggest task we had was finding and securing a suitable building. We were always looking to be in Cheltenham, but out of interest I'd look around at Gloucester and Stroud, etc. and there seemed to be plenty, but to actually find something in Cheltenham that met our requirements was definitely a challenge.

Olivia: After considering several properties, each with their own compromises, we're really, really happy with the building that we've got and what we've been able to do with it, thanks to our builders — Root Construction were absolutely 10 out of 10, we couldn't fault them.

Alex: There's been so much positivity; we've reached out to various organisations and people have helped us so much as an independent start-up — with their contacts and knowledge — to the point where things we expected to be big hurdles actually didn't turn out to be hurdles at all.

As a team, you've said that the main motivations to open your own practice is to build a one-to-one relationship with customers and offer fair and competitive pricing — why is that so important to you?

Olivia: We've seen the changes in veterinary fees over the last few years and for a really long time vets were actually undercharging massively. We're lucky in this country that we have the NHS, but it means that sometimes we lose sight of the fact that healthcare is expensive for us as well. If you look at our running costs, the overheads are massive. So behind every one vet, there's normally at least two nurses and a receptionist, plus maybe administrative staff.

Obviously veterinary prices started to increase along with everything else, but we've worked in numerous practices over the last few years where we've both, at times, felt a bit uncomfortable with some of the fees. So we want to offer a service that is amazing, but we also want people to come in and feel they're receiving value for money.

Alex: We should be able to be cheaper than the corporates, while feeling comfortable with what we're charging — ensuring that it's as fair as it can possibly be, while allowing us to keep the business afloat. We are committed to paying our staff a salary that they deserve, because they work incredibly hard — it's definitely a delicate balance!

One of the biggest outgoings across practices is salaries, this is exacerbated by poor levels of staff retention, if we can maintain a stable and efficient team it will allow us to keep our prices down.

Olivia: And of course there has been a lot of publicity surrounding the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigations into veterinary care pricing and clients are more aware of it than ever. We're just focusing on delivering exceptional care for a fair price and hopefully that level of service will speak for itself when people come in.

How do you ensure the level of exceptional service for every client and pet?

Olivia: First of all, our facilities are amazing. Alex and I started with spreadsheets listing the equipment we needed — along with a wish list of things that we wanted when we had the right funds — and we both agreed that we weren't going to compromise on certain things to ensure we maintained the standards of care we are used to providing.

Alex: Yes, so things like separate waiting areas for cats and dogs and comfortable kennels, as well as a full in-house lab. The other part is the client experience and we really put a lot of effort into finding someone for our front of house who is friendly, approachable, happy to see people and remembers their name — someone who really takes pride in looking after people because the customers are our lifeline, never a nuisance. And Craig, our receptionist, is exceptional at this and has been well-received by our clients so far.

Olivia: Some people have said he's the nicest receptionist they've ever met! We are very lucky to have outstanding nurses who work so hard and maintain incredible standards of care. All of us take a calm and gentle approach to our patients, if they need a bit of time to adjust to certain things we allow for that and the approach that the client sees is also carried on when they're not there.

Pets who are terrified of the vet are also treated with upmost patience — we've actually had quite a few people sign up because we encourage people to bring in their pets to familiarise themselves with the environment by having a wander and explore.

Alex: It's good to allow them to have a positive experience when visiting — we really don't want people to delay coming in because their pets are scared; and we want to make sure we're doing everything we can to alleviate that fear.

What are some of the long-term goals you'd like to achieve at Regency Vets?

Alex: First and foremost, we want to build into a busy, first-opinion practice. We've got a small team to start with but we'd love to grow this as soon as we can.

Olivia: We're also aiming to be able to offer additional services, such as laparoscopic surgery; at the moment the equipment is too expensive for us, but we'd love to be able to provide the service in the near future.

Can you share the most rewarding highlight of opening your own practice?

Alex: Getting our first patient in was a real milestone for us, being able to make that first animal feel better in our own practice was the ultimate reward from 18 months of hard work.

Olivia: For me, our open day was a highlight because you get everything prepped as best you can — we've been thinking about opening our doors every waking second of every day for months — but you never really know if anyone's even going to turn up on the day. We ended up in a situation where we genuinely couldn't fit any more people in here!

So it's been a really rewarding experience to know that people really care and want to support us — we had hundreds of enquiries over Easter weekend, which was unbelievable.

Finally, a very serious question — dogs or cats?

Olivia: Oh, no! We should probably be diplomatic here...

Alex: I feel like I know what we both want to say.

Both: Dogs — but, of course, we love them both!

In partnership with Regency Vets  |  regencyvets.com

More on Regency Vets

More from Business