Gaining the healthy advantage

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One healthcare franchise is reaping the benefits of moving early to build scale and develop a national brand in a market with huge potential.

Jason Smith, founder of physiotherapy business Back in Motion, can identify with the massive growth in the preventative health and wellness sector as projected in the recent Deloittes Access Economics report Building the Lucky Country: Positioning for prosperity? Catching the next wave.

“We totally concur with the report, in fact these trends have been alive for us for about five years,” he says.

There is an aggressive growth plan for the wellness-focused business: it needs 57 more outlets over three years to reach its target of 100 clinics across seven states. In the first half of this financial year, seven practices were lined up.

Competition at the moment is the local practice with a good community spirit and great reputation. And although there will be franchised businesses entering the space within the next five years, Smith believes Back in Motion has a huge competitive, and the first mover, advantage because of the size and scale of the network.

However Smith believes is important to conduct continual market research on what’s happening in the market, and he is predicting consolidation and more corporate entities in the sector.

While the business model has traditionally provided a route for physiotherapists to tag on to the brand and become part of the franchise model with all its benefits, it is now opening up to non-health practitioners.

“I think experienced business owners are a strong prospect, if we can marry them up with experienced clinicians, either on a payroll or in a share of equity.

“It’s a chance for people outside to get in on the action,” he says.

A home-grown program, Headstart Pathway, also provides a route for physiotherapy staff to get involved in business ownership. “They can slowly move up the pathway into small equity and then into ownership.”

This had been operating unofficially for some time before its official launch in November 2013 when it was formally introduced to the 400 staff. “We had some enquiries through that, and we’ve already approved four,” confirms Smith. He believes this mix of backgrounds will give the network a particular richness.

EXPANSION PLANS

The major effort in attracting practitioners to the business has been focused in metro Sydney areas, and Smith is confident this will pay off and provide the dominant growth for the brand in the next 12 months. There is also a launch scheduled in Perth.

But as the business expands around the country there is a danger:  patient care and quality control are the major challenges as the brand develops.

“As we pursue explosive growth, the challenge is how we can keep the alignment in the services industry. Our point of difference is preventative, integrative physiotherapy and our philosophy is counter to most others. The danger is that we dilute as we grow,” he explains.

Other areas of preventive health remain untapped as franchised businesses, Smith says and he is eyeing up five allied health services in particular: osteopaths, dietitians, podiatrists, exercise physiologists and sports and clinical psychologists.

“All these services are a complementary, adjunctive fit to preventive health care,” Smith says.

His first thought is that bringing these services into a franchise network will mean adding the businesses on a one-by-one basis, incorporating them into the existing brand rather than creating separate identities.

In addition to the advantage of capturing new business arenas before any other network has the capabilities and scale to do so, extending the services suits the clients too and provides economies of scale.

“The health consumer will get benefits. We know the clients need our services, and they will get more value for money, and they are more likely to give their loyalty.”

In addition to clinic-based services, Back in Motion is taking its wellness philosophy out into the community.

One program particularly designed for the ageing population is gaining a lot of traction, Smith says, although it is only Victoria-based right now. Revita, an aged care service, will be rolled out nationally over the next 30 months following an agreement with aged care service operators.

While it is not yet a core service for the Back in Motion business, the national development will give the Revita program a strong foothold in the burgeoning care market.

Then there is the Actif initiative, run as a separate business, which provides support for workplace occupational health and safety. Currently operating in Victoria and South Australia, there will be activity interstate, Smith says, which will put the brand in the number one position in the private market.

“Even though budgets are contracting companies see a need for a healthy workforce and our job is to provide cost effective services.”

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