How one PT combined Pilates with PT to help her patients and grow her business
Sara Baker was studying physical therapy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham when she first heard of Pilates. After graduating from PT school she tried a few classes and liked them, but had a suspicion that there was more to the practice of Pilates than what she was exposed to in her initial workouts.
“This is not the be-all end-all of Pilates,” she thought to herself at the time.
It wasn’t until she was working in orthopaedics that she took a course on using Pilates in a health care practice and discovered exactly how Pilates could benefit health care professionals such as herself. Her interest was piqued once again, and she went online to find out more.
Sara discovered STOTT PILATES during her online search. Her in-laws lived near Toronto, and in 2003 she stayed with them to take Intensive Matwork at the Corporate Training Center.
“I was blown away by the professionalism,” she says. “I was hooked.”
Sara’s ultimate goal was to use Pilates along with traditional physical therapy modalities like manual therapy to serve her clients across the full spectrum from rehab to wellness, fitness and prevention.
To accomplish this she wanted to set up a collaborative, multidisciplinary environment where health care professionals and fitness professionals would be under one roof and all focused on the needs of their shared clients. After her training, she returned to Atlanta and began treating people in their homes, using a combination of her health care expertise and STOTT PILATES.
“Pilates really informed and influenced me,” Sara says.
In 2005, Sara was able to realize her goal and opened Inspire Health, a center offering physical therapy, clinical Pilates, STOTT PILATES, acupuncture, massage and nutrition. Serendipity played a role in finding the right space, says Sara, and her husband’s position in a health care company came into play. The company had 1,500 square feet of space available to rent, which happened to be just the amount they needed.
Initially there was no signage.
“No one knew we were there,” she says. “But the space worked and it was my opportunity to start my dream.”
They concentrated on building a brand through word-of-mouth referrals.
“The best marketing is always word-of-mouth. You can’t buy it,” she says. Sara worked on building relationships in the medical community, approaching doctors to present her clinic as an option for patients. Inspire Health grew, and they soon moved to a larger location.
They now have a staff of 20, including four physical therapists and 11 Pilates professionals with over 1,000 client visits a month. Inspire Health holds 5 to 8 Pilates classes per day, in addition to a physical therapy practice, and Sara says all of the instructors have been trained in STOTT PILATES. She even asks the medical staff to take STOTT PILATES training, giving them a discount on the education, should they choose to take it. They can also take free classes and practice Pilates themselves.
“Merrithew helped me further my goals and dreams,” she says. “It’s a one-stop-shop for education and equipment.”
Inspire Health is now a Merrithew Licensed Training Center.
Sara chose to make Inspire Health a cash-based practice, one of the first physical therapy practices to do so in Atlanta. By offering cash-based services, they were effectively removing insurance companies (and the terms of service they could dictate) from the equation and opening up the practice to a wider client base and a wider range of treatment options.
In the beginning, it was challenging.
“I had to wear many hats,” Sara says. “HR, finance, marketing, I wore them all.”
But one of the biggest challenges was letting go and trusting others to help, she says.
Finding the right staff was a combination of luck, happenstance, and keeping an eye out for the right person. “The majority of my staff have been with us for over ten years, which helps with integrity,” she says.
“You need to have a strong vision and mission to drive the direction of the business,” Sara notes. “Don’t miss the opportunity to learn from other providers, to make your business better and yourself a better practitioner.”
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