By Hope Belli Tinney, Washington SBDC
BELLINGHAM, Wash. – Physical therapists know the importance of alignment and core strength. So when Elizabeth Hampton decided to open a physical therapy practice in 2004, 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. Formerly called Core Physical Therapy, but now known as CorePhysio, 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 physical therapy 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, lifelong 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.
‘Business guardian angels’
Hampton began her practice as a sole practitioner, but 10 years later she has a staff of nine, including five physical therapists, and a beautiful office space in the historic Fairhaven district of 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.
For the past four years, she has worked with Eric Grimstead, a certified business advisor with the Washington SBDC located at Western Washington University in Bellingham. The Washington SBDC is supported by Washington State University and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), with additional support from other institutions of higher education and economic development.
Grimstead is one of more than two dozen SBDC advisors across the state who offer free, confidential advising to small business owners who want to start, grow or transition their businesses.
“The SBDC and Eric have been really spectacular,” Hampton 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.”
Position of strength
Hampton first met with an SBDC advisor when she was starting her business. She has continued to use the SBDC to help grow and expects she’ll still be talking with her SBDC advisor when she begins thinking about a transition.
“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, she said, which includes Grimstead, her bookkeeper, her accountant and her attorney.
“My job is to perform 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; it has really put me in a position of strength,” she said.
Focusing and moving forward
For instance, in 2011 when Hampton was trying to get an $130,000 SBA loan to finance a major expansion, her loan application was so organized and thorough that it was nearly “over the top,” she said, with massive information about financials, company history, marketing strategy, market history and projections.
When her longtime 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 move forward.
In 2004 when Hampton decided to open her own practice she was 40 years old and had been working for other people for 15 years. Her father had died several years earlier and his death had focused her thoughts about what she wanted to accomplish with her life.
She remembers thinking, “If I don’t do this I’m going to regret it when I’m older.”
Skillful, successful team effort
Ten years later, Hampton is proud of what she and her team have accomplished.
“I have an exceptional team of skilled clinicians and business staff who are compassionate, coachable and flexible,” she said. These traits, Hampton added, are key in a successful team.
Creating a clinic that aligned with values rather than profitability was a risk, she said, especially in this economy. But her team has 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 CorePhysio and its clients helps everyone move forward.