Editor’s note: The following story is sponsored by Academy Bank, a Kansas City based community bank, and is part of a series of features spotlighting some of the bank’s startup and small business partners.
When Dr. Aaron Stohs left Kansas State University in 2004, ready to practice veterinary medicine, his sights were set on a post-graduate life that was equal parts fun and flashy.
As he interviewed for jobs, he recalled, one in particular felt flat-out boring; a reminder of what he was afraid he might find as he ventured out into the real world.
“I wanted a place with young [vets], a new facility,” Stohs said, recalling the reasons he initially turned down a position with Drexel, Missouri-based Drexel Vet Clinic for an opening that promised him the kind of life he’d always imagined.
But fast-paced and glamorous positions tend to come with a cost, he cautioned.
“It turned out they didn’t really care about people — even though it was nice and flashy.”
A learning experience for Stohs, such a realization led him back to Drexel where a new opportunity was prescribed by Dr. Kenneth Hatten, doctor of veterinary medicine and founder of Drexel-LaCygne Veterinary Clinic.
“Within a couple years I purchased the clinic from Dr. Hatten,” Stohs said, recalling ways the job served as an immense learning opportunity and how it ultimately changed the course of his and his family’s lives.
“He’s like [my] Grandpa. It was neat to have that opportunity. [But after] several years, we realized there’s only so much you can do in a small town. … My goal was to get bigger,” he said, adding that running the business was a daily job with little time off.
“My [now] sister-in-law worked for me as a vet. She met my brother, they got married and she said, ‘I can’t do this. I want to have kids.’ … You’re on call for seven days and then you’re off call for 14 days. It wasn’t a very good lifestyle for a parent,” he said.
“I was like, ‘We probably should get bigger.’ We started looking at some expansions and … it just kind of happened.”
Since 2007, Stohs and his wife, Kelly, have expanded the operation into a four-clinic network, which includes Wildcat Vet Clinic in Louisburg, Paola Vet Clinic, and most recently-added, pandemic-purchased Martin City Animal Hospital.
Click here to learn more about Stohs, his clinics or team.
“There was opportunity and I thought it would make us stronger,” Stohs said, adding that such growth has enabled the network of clinics to serve the needs of animals ranging from cattle to kittens, and the chance to offer procedures and services other area clinics can’t.
The Stohs’ clinics have become known for their ability to provide care for farm animals and for practices such as animal repro — a procedure in which frozen semen is implanted in a female animal — and animal chiropractics, a rare but beneficial offering, Stohs noted.
“Horses hurt a lot in their backs. If you imagine such a huge animal and they’re running — and running into things, they hurt themselves,” he explained, adding the process is nearly identical to the human chiropractic experience.
“Long-back dogs, corgis and [similar breeds] have a ton of back issues and neck issues. We are able to fix that with a little bit of extra help versus giving them a pill and saying, ‘You’ll feel better.’”
With a team of more than 60 people — including weekly help from Hatten — the clinic’s commitment to animal health (and innovation within the space) is stronger than ever, Stohs said, adding help from community partners such as Academy Bank, which helped it survive the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We didn’t know anything about Academy Bank prior to [COVID]. We heard about PPP and we didn’t know which direction it was going,” he said, noting another bank the business had loans through started to help him through the PPP process, but abruptly stopped.
“They left us high and dry. … My accountant had a relationship with Academy Bank. They got it done and it was pretty amazing.”
Gratitude followed such relief, Stohs said, admitting he wasn’t aware of the impact the funds would hold — until positive tests began to send workers into temporary isolation.
“I paid 20 some quarantines during the [early] pandemic. That’s one full-time employee. … We could have been shut down. But thank God [PPP] was there. It was the reason we could keep growing and could be aggressive during this time versus sitting back,” he said.
“[Academy] bailed us out and they went above and beyond.”
For the bank, navigating the PPP process was like building a plane while in the air, described Jacob Nemechek, the business banking officer at Academy who worked with the Stohs.
“There were continual changes that we were able to adapt to at a quick pace,” Nemechek said. “Our PPP processing team is based here in Kansas City and if one of us had a question or issue they were always available for a quick phone call allowing us to take quick action. This made one-off situations much more manageable and allowed us to tackle issues as they happened. We strive to be the go-to bank for our community, and our PPP processes allowed us to showcase why.”
Academy takes pride in applying out-of-the-box thinking and relying on its associates’ expertise to gain an advantage over the competition, he continued.
“Aaron was a pleasure to work with, the Stohs were responsive to questions and provided requested documentation in a timely manner, making our turnaround times that much more impressive compared to other lenders in the area,” Nemechek said.
Such support helped give Stohs the confidence to expand again during the pandemic. He purchased Martin City-based Martin City Animal Hospital in September 2020.
“Coming up here I fell in love with the community. Everybody’s friendly, people come in here in a good mood,” Stohs said, adding the purchase is the first small animal clinic to be added to his lineup of facilities.
“I bought [Drexel Vet Clinic] in 2007 and then the recession hit. It was pretty lean times. … This time, I was not scared. I was a little bit hesitant, but I didn’t realize we would be growing like we are right now,” he said of the decision to expand and one of its primary causes: a rise in pet owners amid the health crisis.
“The shelters were empty. We never stopped working. We closed the lobbies for a long time, but we did curbside,” Stohs explained, highlighting ways the clinics have been able to lean on each other with growth stacking up by the day.
“If we’re busy here, you can go to another location,” he added, detailing plans for Wildcat Vet Clinic to expand to 7,200 square feet with the addition of two exam rooms (for a total of seven) and an ICU suite in 2022 while a new-build, 8,400 square foot facility is expected to open in Paola.
“I’ve never seen growth like this.”