East West Veterinary Care Center of Cape Coral was named the winner of the 2013 Southwest Florida Blue Chip Award Thursday afternoon at Harborside Event Center.
"I'm honored, I kept blushing," veterinarian Dr. Dixie Brown said when her name was called. "It was quite an interesting luncheon. Lots of very successful people. I think that's what made it so honoring. All of them were really there to celebrate adversity."
At first, when her name was called, she said she did not believe it until everyone at her table told her it was really her name, that she had won the award.
"I was super happy," she said.
The annual award recognizes small businesses in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties that have overcome adversity while achieving success.
"In general, adversity breeds character," Brown said. "I have had a lot of adversity. I believe the most successful people have."
This year East West Veterinary Care Center, Ardent Manor, Direct Access Home Health, Gatsby's Pizza and Purely You Spa were named finalists.
"I heard that we were nominated as top-five finalist, that was plenty for me," Brown said.
She entered into the veterinarian practice after graduating from Ohio State University in 2002.
"I had been an animal trainer in the film industry in my early 20s and trained animals since I was 14 and wanted more out of my life," Brown said of why she chose the profession. "And somebody said to me, have you ever thought about going back to school to be a veterinarian."
Brown began taking classes.
She purchased what she said was a failing enterprise in Cape Coral in June 2007. That's when her business, The East West Veterinary Care Clinic began.
She stared with about 30 clients and had maybe one or two appointments a day.
She also needed to immediately hire staff, Brown said, adding she had to hire someone over the weekend, so she would have another employee the Monday she opened.
"It was a very fun time," she said.
The hours also changed after Brown purchased the business from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Unfortunately a month after she took over the business the economy turned.
"We opened up this clinic and who knew the next month the economy crashed," Brown said. "The clinic wasn't very strong, but I dug in and sunk my feet in and took baby steps until it was successful."
Eight months later, the center was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for their clients if there was an emergency.
"We did that for many years and recently were able to get strong enough to get in a few part-time veterinarians," she said.
When Brown purchased the business she signed a three year lease to rent to own because she could not come up with the money to purchase then.
"Literally, the month after I bought this place everything was crashing," she said. "It was pretty sad at that point."
At the end of her three-year contract there was still a lot of money owed on the building.
The contract was renegotiated for another three years.
"They owed so much, I couldn't get a loan. I could never work it out," Brown said.
Everything fell into place after that. Although her dream of moving into a new facility was not an easy task, Brown eventually obtained financing to make her dream come true.
"It's been a growing process. I have wanted this building for almost four years," Brown said. It's been a lot of patience."
Now she is expanding the center to a fully renovated building three doors down, going from about 1,400 square feet of useable space to 5,000 square feet.
"We are excited about the new building," Brown said, which is located at 3625 Del Prado Blvd on the waterside. "People can visit by boat or by car. It is so cool."
The facility will have a new digital x-ray and ultrasound machine and new services like physical therapy.
"God willing, we will be seeing patients there in the next week or two," Brown said.
In addition to the new building, the center is also expanding their hours.
"We are now officially open seven days a week until 9 p.m.," she said, adding that they open at 8 a.m. "I am an emergency critical care vet. I know how scary it is. You don't want to wait for two days because the animal is uncomfortable."
The center, which started with two employees and Brown, has now expanded to 14 employees plus Brown.
"I foresee it doubling," she said of the number of employees.
Her practice, East West Veterinary Care Center, focuses on eastern medicine, such as acupuncture and chiropractic care and western conventional medicine.
"It's nice for me because I can put both hats on," she said adding she can pick if eastern or western medicine is a better choice to improve the animals health. "It really makes for a well rounded treatment plan."
Throughout the years, Brown explained every day to be rewarding.
"I like the interaction with people on a personal level because it is really truly their baby and I get it," she said of the animals she sees.
"Elizabeth Brown demonstrates the determination and ingenuity required to succeed in today's business climate," said Scott Gregory, CIC, CRM, BB&T-Oswald Trippe and Company vice president and event director in a Prepared statement Thursday. "Through hard work and innovation she took a business in trouble and turned it into a thriving enterprise. By recognizing her today, we hope others will learn from her experience."
BB&T-Oswald Trippe and Company and BB&T Bank sponsor the annual luncheon at Harborside Event Center each year to recognize small business owners who have overcome adversity.
Brown is a classic example of this intrepid breed of entrepreneur, Southwest Florida Blue Chip Community Business Award organizers said.
The 2013 Southwest Florida Blue Chip Community Business Award is endorsed by the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, Business Observer, Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce, Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce, Charlotte County Economic Development Office, Christian Chamber of Southwest Florida, City of Cape Coral Economic Development Office, Edison State College, Englewood-Cape Haze Area Chamber of Commerce, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida Weekly, Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce, Greater Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce, Gulfshore Business, Hodges University, Lee County Economic Development Office/Horizon Council, Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce, Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce, Southwest Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, The Greater Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce.