Small Business Profile
The Jacksonville-based discount pet care business was profitable after only one year.
David and Patricia Watkins' discount pet care business was profitable after one year.
Husband-and-wife business owners David and Patricia Watkins have a business model that plays into the recession: They offer deep discounts on a service people need but tend to cut back on in hard times — vaccines for pets.
The Jacksonville couple launched their mobile service, Pet Shots Cheap, in 2009. The business was profitable after one year and has been successful enough in the second that the Watkinses are now opening a stand-alone operation, Pet Shots Affordable Animal Clinic in St. Johns County.
The Watkins' clinic-in-a-van is licensed by the state and contracts with local veterinarians to provide inexpensive shots, tests and other services in Duval, St. Johns, Nassau, Clay and Baker counties. Winn-Dixie and Advanced Auto Parts are among the stores that host weekend stops; the clinic also travels to other places around the counties.
Some pet owners walk over with their dog or cat because they don't have a car; many have told the couple they would otherwise have to forgo pet care. Basic physicals are free. Rabies shots are $10. The company also offers discount packages with basic shots, tests and heartworm and flea prevention. Low overhead — a van and contract veterinarians, instead of a traditional veterinary office with high-tech equipment and staff — has allowed them to keep costs low.
The Watkinses say one of their best moves was to offer free shots and other services to shelters in the region that have lost staff and services in the economic crunch. The community service has been repaid many times over by subsequent referrals from county animal staff to the mobile clinic, says David Watkins.
"We've been to some upscale areas; we've been to some beaches where you'd be amazed how people have had to cut back," says Patricia Watkins. "We give them a way to keep seeing a vet."