Principled and sustainable PT business grows with help from the SBDC

Elizabeth Hampton, owner of Core Physical Therapy

Elizabeth Hampton, owner of Core Physical Therapy

 

Written by Hope Tinney

BELLINGHAM, Wash.—Physical therapists know all about living in alignment and the importance of core strength.

So, in 2004 when physical therapist Elizabeth Hampton decided to open Core Physical Therapy, she wanted to create a business that aligned with her values.

“We deliver the physical therapy care we would want for ourselves and our families,” she said, which means each client is welcomed to the practice as a fully participating partner in his or her care plan. Her practice values patient-centered service and creating an exceptional clinical experience, she said.

“During my career, I have served the homeless, the disenfranchised, the elite athletes and the privileged,” she said. “They should all be treated exactly the same.”

For that reason, she said, she doesn’t use unlicensed staff to deliver billable PT services. “If a surgeon wouldn’t want to see a PT aide for exercises, why should anyone else?” she said.

Other values include integrity, authenticity, life-long learning and humility. Early on she might have been impressed by a resume, she said, but now when she interviews potential employees she’s looking for the right fit.

Hampton began her practice as a sole practitioner, but 10 years later she has a staff of 10, including five physical therapists, and a beautiful office space in downtown Bellingham just a block from walking trails and minutes from the waterfront.

Fortunately, she’s been able to build a business that is both principled and sustainable.

From the beginning, Hampton said, she has received critical guidance from the Washington Small Business Development Center.

“They have been like my business guardian angels,” she said.

Hampton first met with an SBDC advisor when she was starting her business; has continued to use the SBDC to help her grow; and expects she’ll still be talking with an SBDC advisor when she begins thinking about a transition.

“The SBDC and Eric have been really spectacular,” she said. “When small business owners haven’t heard about the SBDC, I share my experience with them. Every business owner should really know about the amazing assistance that the SBDC provides.”

As a sole owner of a growing practice, Hampton said, it’s sometimes hard to know what to share with her employees and what to keep confidential.

“With Eric, I talk to him about everything,” she said, from budgeting to staffing to business strategy. Grimstead also helped her put together a “dream team” of advisors, including her bookkeeper, accountant and attorney. Grimstead is very much part of that dream team.

“My job is to do due diligence and I know my business very well,” Hampton said, so when she meets with Grimstead she typically has specific questions or tasks she’s trying to accomplish.

“He never tells me what to do, but he presents me with options to consider and it’s really put me in a position of strength,” she said.

When Hampton was trying to get an $130,000 SBA loan in 2011 to finance a major expansion, her loan application was so organized and thorough that it was nearly “over the top.”

When her long-time banker gave the application a cursory look and said no, she had the confidence to thank her for her time and immediately find a new bank to work with. She got her loan from Whidbey Island Bank and says her loan officer there, Lori Bellingar, has been a “key player” in helping her expand her practice.

Creating a clinic that aligned with values rather than profitability was a risk, she said, especially in this economy, but she and her team at Core PT have made it work.

“Providing excellent, evidence-based physical therapy in a beautiful setting by highly skilled clinicians with Nordstrom-style service is an investment that engaged, motivated clients are willing to make,” she said.

That kind of alignment between Hampton’s clinic and her clients, with an able assist from the SBDC, helps everyone move forward.