Back to the future with a physiotherapy franchise

By Sarah Stowe | 29 Oct 2015 View comments

How a nurturing nature makes commercial sense for the Back in Motion business.

In 2004 physiotherapist Jason Smith took the step of turning his practice into a franchise chain. Starting out in his garage as a single practitioner he looked at creating a community facility and as the business grew, took the decision to employ staff to run six other venues.

This proved to him the business model could be run without his close attention, making it an ideal franchise system. So he pressed the go button.

Fourteen business outlets were established the year after and today the Back in Motion chain stands at 45 franchisees operating more than 60 outlets. 

"To be honest, I never intended running a business. I never considered myself commercial. To find myself in a large business responsible for that business, is as much of a surprise to me as anyone else."

The franchise model has adopted a lot of the best ways of retailing and hospitality and the unique approach of physiotherapy, which by its very nature attracts conservative practitioners.

So how did the business grow so quickly?

"We grew because we brought a unique philosophy to clinical health: results for life. The traditional history of our profession is very reactive – treating an injury or managing pain. 

"Our wellness driven philosophy means we partner with our patient in a range of services for them. Health is performing at your best, not the absence of pain or injury," says Smith [pictured left]. 

Optimal functionality is the aim and a holistic approach is now the focus of the practice.

"We don't position ourselves as a physio-therapy practice." 

THE PHILOSOPHY OF WELLNESS

"We're getting older and living longer but not necessarily better. Integrative physiotherapy is about ageing with dignity.

Smith has identified additional market niches that his business can serve:

  • Revita is a new franchise concept – a specialist physio for the aged market is flourishing. The focus is retirement villages, housebound clients, and the treatments are designed to get them walking well and breathing well.
  • Occupational program Actif is going into large industries and setting up on site, delivering workplace consulting programs and early intervention treatments. This is another growth area, says Smith.

THE FUTURE

"We haven't had our best years yet. We haven't hit the sweet spot," says Smith. The business is looking to get a truly national footprint and Smith has just signed off on a three-year plan to achieve this. "We're in five states but we want to get 100 outlets around the country."

 

Smith wants to change the landscape of Australian physiotherapy but admits the natural tendency of physios to be caregivers is not always an easy match with a commercial head.

"We're a bit of both but if we come back to the first principle, delivering the best practice and have the patient's health at heart, the business will take care of itself.

"I am as passionate about physiotherapy as ever yet the business grows and the profit grows."

Back in Motion has 250,000 patients on its books, treated by 350 staff around the country."We have to be clever. We have good old fashioned principles but are very fortunate to attract business operators who are good at managing and leading teams."

THE FRANCHISEE

What Smith has found is a high level of energy among the shareholders in the practice, who are not just the franchisees but the physios too, who are encouraged to take ownership – literally.

Smith's model is to charge physios with taking a stake in the business that results in, he says "great employee retention and a career path within our footprint. As minority directors they develop confidence and grow through doing it themselves."

While physiotherapy is a highly regulated, highly qualified profession, automatically limiting the pool of talent from which Smith can draw his franchise operators, there is also the Franchising Code of Conduct for franchisees to fit in with. But the natural tendency of physiotherapists to comply with rules makes them an easy fit, he says. 

The franchisee knows how to treat the patient says Smith. What many are less confident about is employing staff, balancing the books, managing IT.

And that's where the franchisor's team steps up. Smith has invested in a support system; franchisees have access to coaching, staff training, professional development opportunities, marketing, recruitment, IT¬ there are even five accountants on the staff to help with the bookwork.

"There are only three things a franchisee has to do," explains Smith. "Thrill every patient, lead and nurture their team, and rely on us to provide the business model. "If they follow they will get outrageous results."