Action man: Back in Motion chief executive Jason Smith
Fed up with the “Band-Aid” solutions offered by his profession, physiotherapist Jason Smith has built his $26 million business, Back in Motion Health Group, on the promise of providing a long-term approach to health care.
In 1999, at the age of 25, Smith and his wife (also in the health care profession) had already become jaded by their experience in the industry.
“After a series of ugly experiences ... we were just horrified how badly clients were being treated. The industry can often look at quick fixes, not long-term solutions,” he says.
In 2000, Smith quit his job and started his own physiotherapy business from his garage. Soon after decorating the garage with some make-shift cladding and second-hand carpet, clients began booking appointments in droves.
“Within six weeks I was seeing clients from 5am until late into the night,” he says. “It happened so quickly.”
BIM’s point of differentiation is its philosophy of integrating a patient’s health profile and providing a long-term health solution, rather than simply treating symptoms and conditions as they arise.
Within five months, BIM moved from Smith’s garage in suburban Melbourne to a nearby medical centre. Two years later, after outgrowing the medical practice, Smith opened a purpose fit-out BIM practice in the Melbourne suburb of Wantirna South.
The company’s foray into franchising in 2004 was by default rather than design, Smith says.
It is commonplace for physiotherapists, after several years, to become partners in a practice he says. But when he was approached by a long-term employee for a stake in his business, he became nervous.
Instead of offering a share in the overall business, he underwent a pseudo-franchise agreement where each party took a 50 per cent share in the practice.
In 2007, after Smith had opened four practices and invested time and money into building a legitimate franchising framework, he began seeking franchisees. Within the first 12 months BIM had agreements with eight new franchisees.
Franchising in the tightly regulated health sector has not been without its challenges, Smith says.
While clients generally love the idea of having a reputable network of physiotherapists, other industry players have said the model has “bastardised health services”, he says.
Over the past few years Smith has stopped treating clients himself, instead focusing on leadership of the company. In 2009, he added some extra business experience to the table, appointing an experienced board of directors.
“Everyone needs to report to someone if they want to excel,” he says. “I needed someone to be accountable to.
“My peers say I am crazy. I pay [the board] to beat me up every month.”
Smith is in the process of expanding BIM. It now has four main businesses: its traditional physiotherapy practices, Back in Motion Connect (small, one-stop shops that are often run through medical practices and schools), Actif (physiotherapists who consult to large industry providers such as factories), and Revita (physiotherapy for the aged care services).
The company, which has projected turnover of more than $26 million for 2012-13, also has its own training facility.
Smith’s spare time is dedicated to his SOS Foundation, a non-profit-making organisation funded by the company and its franchisees that aims to provide physiotherapy services to remote indigenous communities and the homeless.
He has also published a new book, Get Yourself Back in Motion, which is due to be released in November.
Smith won’t rule out selling in the future, although at the moment there is still more that he wants his business to achieve.
“I don’t have any regrets about stopping doing the clinical work,” he says. “It means I can focus on the direction of the business.
“That said, I can see myself dying with a Back in Motion T-shirt on.”
COMPANY: Back in Motion Health Group
BRW Fast Franchise: 2012 (ranked 13);
2011 (ranked 9); 2010 (ranked 15); 2009 (ranked 13); 2008 (ranked 11)