Ridgeline Owners ‘Busy,’ Energized’
By Terri McClung
This is the second in the series of interviews conducted by the Alleghany Highlands Economic Development Corporation about what it is like to be a small business entrepreneur in our area.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Brett Siebenkittel and Jonathan Eaton, owners of Ridgeline Physical Therapy, which opened last year in Low Moor.
Jonathan and Brett have been providing physical therapy in the Alleghany Highlands for over 20 years combined.
They provide physical therapy in a fun and energetic environment and enjoy guiding patients through the sometimes difficult process of physical rehabilitation.
Brett graduated from the University of St. Augustine with his Doctorate in Physical Therapy and is a native of Louisiana. Since his move to the Alleghany Highlands he has started a family and built a home.
Jonathan graduated from Old Dominion University’s Physical Therapy program in 1999 and after working 18 months in Southampton County, he moved to Bath County. He has worked for both Alleghany County and Bath County hospital systems since 2001.
For more information on Ridgeline Physical Therapy or how they can help you, call 540.862.0068.
What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture?
Jonathan: I have wanted to own my own physical therapy practice since I graduated from PT school 17 years ago and I had a couple different opportunities where it started to come together but didn’t for various reasons, economic and otherwise in other locations and then when I moved back to the Highlands and met Brett, we had talked in the past about potentially wanting to doing this if the opportunity arose and then we had the situation where we could and I said you know what, let’s do it!
Brett: Same as Jonathan, I wanted to have my own PT clinic, I am from New Orleans and tried to open a PT clinic after hurricane Katrina and just like he, I ran into financing part. Jonathan and I have talked about it for years and years and one thing lead to another and we found an institution that would loan is the money which was Highlands Community Bank and it was that bank that truly enabled us to do this. We talked to others that just did not want to do it, we had one company that does nothing but PT clinics and they told us this area was too small and would never support it. Jonathan and I told them, you all need to look at your numbers again, this is an underserved area and they said no we have looked at the US Census population and it would not support what we want to do, there was just not enough work there as a PT. I was the rehab director at my previous employment and I knew the need because we had the same need, so it worked out well that we went to Bryan Thompson at Highlands Community Bank and said “how do you feel about this” and Bryan replied with “I want a business plan on my desk now.” So they were full supporters.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an entrepreneur?
Brett: The number one thing you need to do is talk to your family because you don’t start a business, your family starts the business. Luckily my wife has owned her own business before; she understood what it was going to take and we knew we would be working 12 hours days for the first year and now we have supporting help and we can start dialing it down to a normal work day. My number one thing is family! Make sure your family is on board with it because you will not succeed if there is a breakdown.
Jonathan: The only other thing I would add is that you have to do your homework. You better understand market needs and demands and you better have your homework done to really comprehend what you are getting yourself in to.
How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
Brett: To me it depends on the complexity of the idea, in regards to a business, it took me nine years before I was able to achieve that idea of owning my own business. So if you give up quick you will fail quick.
Jonathan: The other piece of that goes along with doing the homework, you have to know what you are getting yourself into as far as financially, the risk you are taking, and how far you are willing to go; you have to decide that ahead of time or else you risk getting yourself to far in over your head and realize it you should have backed out earlier. For me it has been in the back of my head for 17 years and I was not giving up on the dream, it may not come to fruition, but I was never going to give up on it. It is a risk and you have to be willing to take it.
Brett: Another thing too, is not necessarily giving up on it; it is the realism of the idea. If something is not working you need to restrategize.
What motivates you?
Jonathan: Anyone that goes into health care better care, it is not health paycheck it is healthcare and we care about our patients and their outcomes and helping people achieve what they want to achieve. Both of us have been injured in the past and we have had to go through therapy ourselves and you realize number one, I like doing this but we can probably do it better and that challenge of figuring out what each patient needs, tailoring it and programming it specifically to the patient and not just the cookie cutter approach and figuring it out that this patient needs it this way and another patient with the same exact diagnosis needs treatment in an entirely different direction and it works. Trying to figure out that puzzle but really when I see a patient out and seeing they can do something now they could not do previously, that is a good feeling.
Brett: It is the same as what Jonathan in the same realm as healthcare; people are depending on you for something. So it motivates you because it is not about you, you are taking care of other people, that whole word “care”, that person is depending on you to get them back to work or to the prior life they know. You have to be accountable. What motivates me the most is we have fun. Work is not work unless you are having fun too. When you have four therapists that work here and you have patients coming in that are appreciative of what you do and they are getting better, it motivates you even more, it just snowballs. So, it is just success with patient care. If you have shoulder surgery, I don’t shake your hand, I make you give me a high five.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Brett: # 1, you have to be dedicated. Dedication is such a broad term because you have to be dedicated to doing your homework, look in to the market, to community need; you have to be dedicated because when you start off it is going to be a long task. There is going to be pitfall after pitfall with everything you do so you have to be dedicated to it. You have to go back to what I said earlier, you have to have your family onboard, we have told our families it is going to be some 12 to 16 hour days, 7 days a week because it is your business. To be an entrepreneur, you have to be dedicated. It can’t be something you are going to try on a whim; this is your life that hinges on it, the livelihood of your family.
Jonathan: You have to have a good sense of humor about yourself; an awareness of yourself, what your strengths and weaknesses are. We joke all the time because I don’t do social very well so outside of a clinic setting, I go home and I am home. When you get a sense of your strengths and weaknesses are that helps you as to what you need to work on, how far are you willing to go, all that sort of thing as far as your advertising, so self awareness of your strengths and weaknesses. You have to know what you are good at and what you are not good at.
Brett: I think the third thing is customer service. If you have a business you are serving somebody, you are providing a service so what makes your service different from somebody else’s. No one wants to go somewhere where they person is not friendly, not outgoing or does not give a true sincerity of oneself. You have to have customer service.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Brett: We haven’t hit it yet. I actually had a patient Monday morning who works shift work so when he got off I told him I would meet him at 7 to see him. He was here waiting on me at 7 and he said if I owned my own business what the heck am I doing coming in at 7 am? He said if I owned my own business I would see you at noon. It goes back to the three things….. Dedication and customer service, that is two of the three right there and self awareness because I am up early.
Jonathan: Hope for some freedom to do more whether it is your personal life because you can hire people to do more of the work letting you step back a little bit or the freedom to do more with your profession to take it in a direction that an institution does not want to go; depending on what kind of business you are trying to start. With therapy there are many institutions out there that basically require a cookie cutter approach where with us it is completely visualized. We are hoping at some point, we can dial down from a 12 hour day to an 8 hour day.
Brett: We have hired some help and I have been going home at 5 this week and I feel like I am doing something wrong by leaving at 5. I think pride because this is your baby, this is something you have seen through and executed. There is a huge sense of pride with that when it is successful and knock on wood, we have been open a year now and we are successful, considering we are way ahead of the business plan, we have hiring, we are growing and it is something to hang your hat on. It is that pride to say we took this idea when a national company said it is not there, a national company only opens PT clinics and here we are a year later, busting at the seams and we have already hired and doubled the therapist load. It is that sense of pride that we did it and we did it well and will continue to do it well.
To what do you most attribute your success?
Jonathan: German stubbornness, I refuse to quit.
Brett: The whole approach that Jonathan and I take and we have said it on previous interviews, you are a person, a person in our community that I am going to see at the store so I am going to treat you like a family member, like a friend, and we are not going to say just do these exercises, everything we do is tailored made and we address your needs and are truly concerned about your well being, we call people at home if they don’t show to make sure they are ok. It is that care part of healthcare.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Jonathan: When I ask a patient “how did you hear about us?” and they reply with a friend sent me saying you guys were the best in the area. That to me is very satisfying when you live in a small rural community and when you can have word of mouth be your primary market driver it means something, it means you are doing something right.
Brett: It goes along with that sense of pride, we have heard good things about you, everybody knows you, I have heard nothing but good things about you, about your clinic. It is that pride thing that makes you feel good.
In one word, characterize your life as an Entrepreneur?