Thursday, January 22, 2015

Athletico (small business report)


Writing about a business start-up is much like gushing about a high school Valedictorian.  One can point to great promise.  One can point out markers of potential greatness.  But one can never be sure that the candle that burned so brightly and clearly in the sheltered halls of academe will not flicker and fade in the buffets of “the real world”.

---End editorializing---

Athletico (517-781-4999) is a business start-up on the south side of town.  Athletico’s main business is physical rehabilitation. This is usually initiated by a trip to the patient’s doctor who will diagnose an issue and write a prescription for treatment.  The script is written for a specific number of visits over a period of time and is usually paid for, at least in part, by health insurance.



Most of the medical service providers in Eaton Rapids are clustered near the hospital on the south end of town.  Athletico is no exception.  They are located in the Family Fare Plaza.

The work space is well lit by natural light.  This photo also shows the generous spacing between the equipment and the uncluttered floor space.  The bowl shaped object is on the ground because Dr Zigler had just demonstrated how to use it to improve secondary, stability muscles.
The facility is located at ground level and has ample parking, both factors that make it easy to physically get into.

The space is fronted with north facing windows.  Artists favored north-facing windows for a reason.  Because they face north, there is no reason to install shades or to have them heavily tinted.  The space is flooded with natural light that makes it seem even more spacious than it is.

The equipment is new (duh!) and is intentionally spaced far apart to make access and egress trouble free.  Many patients in physical therapy are recovering from issues that impact locomotion. The body does not always move the way the mind commands it to move.


Dr (Ph.D, Physical Therapy) Mitch Zigler is the manager of the facility.  This Athletico is his fifth successful business start-up, so he definitely has ideas worth listening to.


Dr. Zigler chose the franchise business structure.  The value of a franchise is that the franchise frees you from many of the trivial, mind-numbing tasks and decisions of running a business.  The entrepreneur can then focus their efforts on solving their customer’s problems.

Among the services the franchisor (the licenser) might supply include helping the owner get access to capital, access to insurance, legal support, market analysis, accounting, payroll services,  pre-approved suppliers with accounts already in place.  They can work with the landlord.  They can supply you with floor plans, right down to the colors to paint the walls, of how to lay out a successful enterprise.

The downside of franchises

The typical physical therapy patient walking through the door represents four customers.  The actual patient is a customer.  The doctor who prescribed the therapy is a customer.  The health insurance company who is providing reimbursement is a customer.  The franchise structure results in one more customer, the franchisor.

I asked Dr. Zigler, “How do you make them all happy?”  I figured a guy who had four successful start-ups under his belt must know some secrets.

He told me there are two things he does every time a patient walks in for a session.

He asks them “What do you want out of this session?”  A patient might be recovering from shoulder surgery and be doing physical therapy so they can get back to work.  Those are the reasons the doctor and the insurance company want the therapy but those might not be the prime reasons for the patient.  The patient might tell the therapist that it just kills them to not be able to swing a golf club or to not be able to pick up their child.

So in addition to building up the strength needed to go back to work, the therapist will enhance the therapy to ensure it works on the strength, flexibility…and sometimes techniques…needed to swing a golf club or pick up a small child.

Dr Zigler holding a gage that measures range-of-motion

The other thing Dr Zigler does is that he always measures some key physical performance characteristics before and after each session.

Physical therapy can take a patient to the threshold of discomfort.  Physical therapy is not always fun.  But most patients are willing to put in the work when they can see the results. 

And to be frank,  some patients are recovering from severe accidents.  They lost massive amounts of physical capability and the road back feels like swimming across Lake Michigan; the swimmer cannot see the far shore so there is no way to “see” progress.  It can be very discouraging.

The proper instrumentation will show progress of even a few degrees more flexibility or a few more pounds of grip strength.  That builds motivation.  Effort and steadiness of purpose leads to results.

The other benefit to all of the measuring is that it validates the patient if they have been doing their exercises between sessions.  Physical therapy is a bit like piano lessons.  Much of the improvement is due to the repetitions done between formal sessions.  Anything that improves the frequency and fidelity of the practice has a huge multiplier effect on the effectiveness of the therapy.

Another way to keep patients on-course is to supply some creature comforts that help them feel at home.  Complimentary refrigerator space where a patient can keep their sports drink cold is an example of this.

Everybody benefits when the patient stays in the therapy for the full length prescribed by the doctor.  The patient makes the maximum gains and the franchisor is happy because it improves their reputation and maximizes their revenue.

Fixed costs

Successful businesses watch fixed costs like a hawk because they know that fixed costs are what destroy businesses during downturns.

I asked Dr. Zigler for his thoughts on this.

He replied that Athletico gave him a lot of freedom in how he set up this business.  For instance, he wanted more floor space than the template so he could have extra space between the equipment.  The downside of that is that his rent is higher…more floor space = more rent.

His plan is to cultivate additional, non-PT business to utilize that extra space.

For example, he has a batting cage in the facility and one of Dr. Zigler’s passions is “imaging.”  His plan is to set up video cameras to capture the biodyamics of the athlete’s swing and then to be able to compare them to know, good hitters.

Need help with your golf game?   Mitch is a certified Nike 3G0 Instructor.

He wants to reach out to area coaches and involved parents so they are comfortable referring promising athletes to his “cage” for fine-tuning of their batting, golf swing, ball throwing, shot-putting/discus throwing…whatever. Phone number relisted for convenience (517-781-4999)

He also wants to use his space to host area instructors who specialize in physical fitness/health.  All of his equipment is easy to move so he can make large, carpeted open spaces available.

I want to offer one example to put flesh-on-the-bones of how physical fitness classes might be integrated into his core Physical Therapy business.  Dr Zigler suggested that he would like to offer “Fall Protection” classes to senior citizens.  

Fall Protection is not just about balance.  It involves strengthening all of the little muscles that stabilize our bodies.  It involves increasing flexibility.  It involves improving reaction times.  It involves repetitions of recovery actions so they will be done instinctively (like dropping your packages to save yourself!)  And if there are enough mats available, the class could actually practice the drop-tuck-and-roll moves to minimize damage due to falls that cannot be avoided.

New Businesses

A town that does not incubate new businesses will die.  Old businesses will close without finding new buyers to take them over.  Technology will make other businesses obsolete (remember camera stores?).  It is imperative that many new businesses be started to ensure the continued vitality of a town.

Dr Zigler's new business is a great addition to the Eaton Rapids business community.  It is "high end" and enhances Eaton Rapids as a health destination. It is configured to be customer friendly and will help fill some niches that are under-served.

So if you have a few spare minutes, drop in and say "Hi" to Eileen (the office manager) and Dr (call me "Mitch") Zigler.  Let them feed you a few cookies and a cup of coffee. 

Tell them Eaton Rapids Joe sent you.

Link to previous small business report.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like he's got a 'plan' that is well thought out and should work (and improve the community too)!