Opinion: Physiotherapist’s bold prescription for success

As an immigrant to Canada from Egypt nearly three decades ago, Nasr Salib needed to find work in his chosen field of physiotherapy to support his wife and two children.

But after seven years working at a private clinic where Mr. Salib had helped increase volume from two to 100 patients a day, he was escorted off the premises by an angry owner. His sin? He’d had the temerity to ask if his efforts had earned him a shot at partner.

So with just $2,000 in his bank account and a Renault car worth $400, Mr. Salib wasn’t sure what to do next. One thing he did know was that he loved Ottawa – it was his hometown now, a peaceful place where people of all faiths are welcome.

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As it turned out, he wasn’t going anywhere except Tim Hortons. He didn’t tell his wife he’d been fired, and instead he got up every morning, got dressed and went to “work” at the doughnut shop.

After a few days of Tim’s coffee, he went to Scotiabank without an appointment and asked to see the manager. The manager immediately asked if he had a business plan.

“Why, yes, I do,” Mr. Salib replied, pulling out a Tim Hortons napkin on which he’d sketched out ideas for his own clinic.

The bank manager laughed, but she did offer to call her superiors in Toronto and ask for a line of credit for him in the amount of $150,000. Mr. Salib replied, “No, $75,000 is fine,” afraid that he’d be turned down for the larger amount.

Rather than build his clinic from scratch (a costlier and lengthier process), Mr. Salib talked two family physicians into subletting a couple of rooms to him on Bank Street. The first Pro Physio and Sport Medicine Centre was launched a short time later on Nov. 25, 1995.

There was a problem, however: he had no patients, and he didn’t feel right about going after his clients from the old clinic. But then he got a break – one of his former patients found out about his new location and took out an ad in a local daily newspaper congratulating him on opening his own business.

After that, business exploded for the “Egyptian with the magic hands,” Mr. Salib says today with a laugh.

His operation now has 27 locations across Ottawa and eastern Ontario, including dispensaries that mix potions, lotions and other medicines for patients who frequent the clinics as well as the general population. Next on his to-do list? Expand to Toronto and Mississauga.

Pro Physio and Sport Medicine Centres has more than 350 employees, including 24 sport doctors and orthopedic surgeons, plus a physiatrist and a rheumatologist on call. And they can each own a piece of the clinic in which they work. A therapist, for example, can own 10 per cent of a new clinic, a share that can climb to as much as 40 per cent over time.

Each clinic stands on its own two feet, but the management company makes sure they all get referrals from doctors and insurance companies, a major source of business.

It also helps that Pro Physio and Sport Medicine Centres is on the right side of history. As Canada’s population ages, business has nowhere to go but up.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation says Ottawa has 103,000 seniors out of a population of about 900,000, and it projects that number to increase to 232,000 by 2031 – meaning residents aged 65 and over will make up 22 per cent of the total population, nearly double today’s rate.

“The company is very profitable,” Mr. Salib says, “and has good management and infrastructure.” What sustains him, he says, is a philosophy based on “giving clients the wow treatment, not being greedy, not cutting corners and putting God in front of me.”

His main marketing vehicle has been word of mouth, and not just by having patients spread the word – his wholesale clients (insurance companies and doctors) talk up the business, too.

Bruce M. Firestone is founder of the Ottawa Senators and a broker at Century 21 Explorer Realty. Follow him on Twitter @ProfBruce.

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