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July 8, 2019

Location key in couple's new Portland Back Cove veterinary practice

Matthew and Nicole Fortin Courtesy / Fortin Family Veterinarians Matthew and Nicole Fortin will open Back Cove Animal Hospital as an owner-operator practice that is certified “fear-free.” The hospital is expected to open in August.

A pair of veterinarians looking to form their own practice have found what they consider the perfect site, close to the region's vet-focused industries and in a former medical office on the picturesque Back Cove.

Veterinarians Nicole and Matthew Fortin plan to open their practice, Back Cove Animal Hospital, at 55 Baxter Boulevard in August.

Nicole Fortin currently is an associate veterinarian in Brunswick, and Matthew Fortin works in southern and central Maine. 

Zoning restrictions and space and parking requirements made finding a location for their hospital challenging, Matthew Fortin said.

They found what they needed on Baxter Boulevard, in Portland’s Back Cove. The building was previously owned by physician John Padavano, who operated the Orthopedic Center of New England, according to a news release. Padavano was planning to retire and close his practice, leaving the majority of the building vacant earlier this year. 

Dava Davin, owner of Portside Real Estate Group, bought the building and offered the 4,000-square-foot main level for lease. Because of Padavano’s practice, the space was already equipped with four exam rooms and an X-ray room. The listing attracted significant interest, according to the release.

The Fortins’ lease “speaks to both the strength of the real estate market in the Back Bay area of Portland, and also the demand/opportunity for veterinary practices in the market,” listing broker Jessica Estes, a partner with The Boulos Co., said in the release.

As for the remainder of the building, the upstairs tenant’s lease has been renewed until 2021. At that point, Davin plans to renovate the upstairs for her company.

Courtesy / The Boulos Co.
Seen in the center of this photo, the building that will house the new Back Cove Animal Hospital features excellent visibility and parking.

High visibility

The Fortins said they were attracted to the building’s high visibility, proximity to Interstate 295 and direct access to the Back Cove Trail. The reception area will feature many large windows overlooking Back Cove. 

A building with its own parking lot is also a big find, he told Mainebiz.

Renovations are underway to update clinical rooms and add components appropriate to a general veterinarian practice. In addition to exam rooms and treatment areas, that includes a dental suite for animals, a surgical suite and a waiting room that’s animal-friendly.

The landlord has provided a tenant improvement allowance for some of the renovations, Nicole said. The rest of the startup costs are coming from private loans, they said. The initial costs, including renovation expenses, additional equipment costs and working capital, are expected to be between $300,000 and $500,000.

The Fortins said they value the owner-operator model in an industry where corporate consolidation is trending up. 

“People like it when they know the veterinarian every time they go into an office,” Matthew said. “They want stability. Having on-site owners makes a big difference.”

They said they were attracted to Portland as a center for animal health businesses, including Covetrus, as well as IDEXX Laboratories in Westbrook.

'Fear-free practice'

Matthew Fortin grew up in Connecticut and Nicole Fortin in New Jersey. Before moving to Maine, where Matthew has family connections, they practiced in upstate New York, then in Charleston, S.C.

“We like the outdoor lifestyle, and Maine has that,” Nicole told Mainebiz. Portland, she added, is “a vibrant, growing community. We wanted to be part of that.”

The focus will be on providing high-quality medicine in a comfortable and user-friendly environment, said Nicole. That includes practices like the use of online portal access and online records.

The hospital is scheduled to open in August, and will serve cats, dogs and small animals. The full-service practice will offer routine wellness care, vaccines, advanced surgical procedures, dentistry, diagnostics, end-of-life care and home-visits.

The practice will also provide 24/7 online access to patient medical records and online appointment booking. It will be certified “fear-free,” demonstrating that the design of the practice and the training of the employees meets a rigorous standard to minimize patient and client stress and anxiety. 

“We want to make sure people know this is a partnership with us,” Nicole said. “We want to be collaborative with our clients to ensure best option for their pets.” She is  certified as a fear-free practitioner by a Denver, Colo., organization, Fear Free Pets.

“From a medical standpoint, stress is not good for overall well-being of the patient,” she said. 

Fear-free design elements include things like separate waiting areas and exam rooms for cats and dogs, and sensitivity to the needs of individual animals. 

“It starts with asking the right questions: ‘Does your dog get nervous? What does he do when he gets nervous?’” she explained. “Every first contact will be followed up with a questionnaire regarding animal preferences. If they’re nervous, for example, you wouldn’t want to schedule them at a time when there’s  a lot of waiting room traffic.”

The hospital will pay for staff to go through fear-free training, she said.

The Fortins plan to employ seven staffers to start, including two customer service representatives, a practice manager, two licensed vet technicians and two vet assistants. The majority of the staff has been hired. Their goal is to grow the hospital to eventually  support four full-time vets.

They are rolling out their marketing now. Signs are expected to go up on the building imminently. That alone is expected to draw attention.

“One reason we like this spot is it’s a hugely high-visibility intersection,” said Matthew. 

There’s also word of mouth, social media, local flyers, and plans for an open house with tours, food and children’s activities like a face painter.

“We live a mile from this building,” said Nicole. “We want to make it known that we’re part of the community. We feel really lucky to have found this situation.”

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