Action Sport Physio is a franchise of physiotherapy and sports medicine clinics that was founded in 1987. Action Sport Physio clinics are located within the province of Quebec, with numerous clinics located in the Greater Montreal area, the West Island, the Laurentians, the North Shore, the South Shore, the Suroît, the Eastern Townships and Laval. Their clinics not only offer physiotherapy, but also have associations with many specialized doctors and generalists, osteopaths, sports massage therapists as well as a wide array of complementary services.
Action Sport Physio is currently celebrating their 30th anniversary. On April 3, 2017, I interviewed Alain Scheldeman, the franchisor of Action Sport Physio, to find out how the franchise began and how it has evolved over the years. Alain Scheldeman is also the Chief Executive Officer of Action Sport Medicine International, as well as the Vice-President of Public Relations. He is one of the three founders of the Action Sport Physio network, along with Urbano Ciccarelli and Patrick Handfield.
An Interview With Alain Scheldeman, Franchisor of Action Sport Physio
Anthony: What made you decide to become a physiotherapist? How long have you been a physiotherapist for?
Alain: “I graduated in 1983 from McGill University. So if we do the mathematics, that gives me 34 years of experience, which is quite a long time. The reason why I chose physiotherapy was because of my love for sports and wanting to be involved with professional teams. Back then, I was one of those hockey players hoping to make it to the pro level, but I quickly realized that I didn’t have the talent for that. However, I just knew that somehow, I wanted to get to the pros. Physiotherapy and sports medicine was my ticket there. I studied physiotherapy and got involved with the Montreal Alouettes right from the get go, in my first year. As a student, I worked as an assistant for the Montreal Alouettes, and I was fortunate enough to be appointed as the Chief of Physiotherapists for the team shortly after my graduation.”
Anthony: How did the idea of Action Sport Physio come to mind? How did it all start?
Alain: “When I worked with the Montreal Alouettes, it was a completely different environment with a completely different way of treating. In 1987, the team completely stopped operation. I was well known in the community, being one of the physiotherapists who had been involved with a professional team. I said to myself, “you know what? It would be great if I could offer the layperson the same quality of care that I was providing to the Montreal Alouettes, with access to the same doctors and paramedical team and in the same type of environment”. With that thought, I started Action Sport Physio with the idea that I would provide the layperson with the exact same quality of care that the professional athletes were receiving.”
Anthony: Where did Action Sport Physio start? How did it expand afterward?
Alain: “The first Action Sport Physio clinic opened in the West Island. It was a small operation, with six beds and a small office, very similar to the therapy room I had at the Olympic Stadium when I was working with the Alouettes. I was fortunate enough to have purchased much of the equipment from the Montreal Alouettes. Shortly afterward, two great entrepreneurial therapists joined me. Their names were Urbano Ciccarelli and Patrick Handfield, and they became my partners. Afterward, it just grew from there. That’s really how it all started.”
Anthony: When and why did you decide to franchise Action Sport Physio? How does that process work?
Alain: “My first clinic was really just a job, replacing my employment with the Alouettes. With my partners, we opened a second Action Sport Physio in the South Shore, and then a third clinic in downtown Montreal. At that point, we were not a true franchise. We were just partners licensing different operations. Eventually, there was one therapist who wanted to join Action Sport Physio, but their view was, “we’d like to join you, but we don’t want you to join us”. At that point, we thought, “well how can we do that? How can we be partners in one sense, but not the other?” That’s where the concept of franchising came about. We started the learning process concerning what it takes to become a franchise, because that’s not something we were taught in school. We learnt the hard way, but we managed to develop it and grow the franchise to twenty clinics and counting.”
Anthony: You’ve seen Action Sport Physio grow from the beginning. Where do you see Action Sport Physio in 10 to 15 years?
Alain: “Action Sport Physio has the potential to grow to between 30 to 40 clinics within the province of Quebec. We are well known in and around the greater area of Montreal, but I believe that there are many other areas to which we can expand and provide the same services that we do locally, to the different territories within the province of Quebec. The expansion will be done via opening new clinics, acquisitions and potentially merging up with existing clinics or networks.”
Anthony: There are many private physiotherapy clinics out there. How is Action Sport Physio different?
Alain: “How are we different? That’s a good question. That’s a question I’ve asked myself time and time again. Apart from having a great team of therapists and an excellent team of front line staff members with systems in place, I believe we lead the way at the marketing level. As you know, when a patient comes into a private physiotherapy clinic, all the risk is on the patient. For example, when the patient calls to book their appointment, they do not know whether or not physiotherapy is right from them, or whether they would need other services such as osteopathy, massage, etc., or even whether they should go directly to the hospital. They don’t know if the appointed therapist will able to help them. They may need to undress in front of a stranger, perhaps of the opposite sex. They are entering into an unknown environment. Will they be well taken care of? But one thing is for sure, they will have to pay at the end of their session. All the risk is on the patient. What we’ve created is a system that decreases the amount of risk on the patient’s part. We actually share the risk with the patient. Our system allows the patient to pick up the phone, call us and speak with a physiotherapist so that they can perform a mini-triage to direct the patient to the appropriate service, free of charge. Our patients can also take a virtual tour of their clinic to view the quality of the clinic and view the profile of their physiotherapist online so that they can become familiar with both the clinic and their physiotherapist, and to ensure that it complies with their standards. Private rehabilitation is about gaining trust with your potential clients. Also, if the patient is not totally satisfied with their quality of care, whether it be at the front desk or with their appointed therapist, we have a 100% satisfaction guarantee which allows the patient to be refunded 100% if they were unhappy with the service they were provided. We are the only group of clinics in the province of Quebec that openly offers this 100% satisfaction guarantee. Having all of these features really decreases the risk for the patients. I believe that is how we distinguish ourselves from other private physiotherapy clinics.”
Anthony: You have many years of experience. If you could go back and do something differently, what would it be?
Alain: “If I could look back and do something differently as a franchisor, I believe I would have gone out sooner to a get more mentoring on what it is to run a franchise. The franchisees have expectations, and the franchisor must deliver. My partners and I didn’t go to school to become franchisors. We learnt as we went along, and made some mistakes, some of them were costly. So what I would have done differently is studied what it is to be a franchisor in order to develop systems and operations that can be duplicated within each clinic.”
Anthony: What are the benefits and advantages of working for Action Sport Physio?
Alain: “One of the benefits of working for Action Sport Physio is that you’re part of a big family. All of our clinics are also multi-disciplinary, so you’ll have physiotherapists, massage therapists, acupuncturists, occupational therapists, osteopaths and kinesiologists, and more in some. There are lots of opportunities for learning at Action Sport Physio. We have mentoring programs and great budgets for their continuing education. We seek to get the top performing therapists, but at the quality level, not at the quantity level. We want to make sure that the service they provide is top notch. Seeing as we provide 100% satisfaction guarantee, we have to make sure they are performing at the best of their capabilities. The other benefits of being part of Action Sport Physio are your options to evolve, either at the technological level as a therapist, or at the corporate level taking up new managerial responsibilities such as VP of operations, to the possibility of owning your very own clinic while still being part of the great family; the options are numerous depending on one’s professional desires.”
Anthony: What would you say to any physiotherapists who may want to work for Action Sport Physio?
Alain: “We as owners, believe that any patient has the right to the same quality of care provided to professional athletes in order to get rid of their pain and allow them to return to their normal lifestyle. That is why Action Sport Physio exists. If you are going to work within our organization, you must share that same belief. We need to know that you will dedicate yourself to getting your patients better, offering them all options available to bring them through a complete treatment plan. I strongly believe that in order to work together, we need to share these same beliefs.”
Anthony: If you could recommend one course to take post-graduation, what would it be?
Alain: “To work in the private sector, you need to have solid base of manual skills along with self-confidence. A large part of our practice at Action Sport Physio is based on manual therapy. I would start with some preliminary courses in manual therapy before getting involved in specialized courses such as McKenzie or Myofascial courses.”
Anthony: Who was your most influential mentor throughout your physiotherapy career?
Alain: “I don’t have a true mentor in the world of physiotherapy. I have more of a life mentor. It was my baseball coach, who actually played professional sports himself. He always told me, “the day you think you know it all, is the day you should quit”. I obviously haven’t learnt it all as a physiotherapist, even less as a franchisor. I believe I’m a life-long learner, always searching and reaching out to find better ways to become a better person, physiotherapist and franchisor.”
Anthony: What qualities do you look for in a new graduate?
Alain: “We expect them to have good basic skills with potential for enhancement. However, what we are mainly looking for in a new graduate is based on our corporate core values and beliefs including empathy (someone who is a good listener, is trusting and shows compassion), ability to work in a multidisciplinary team, willing to learn and last but not least, has self-confidence. Don’t misinterpret self-confidence with someone who is conceited or vain. Everyone thinks that you need great skills out of school. If you have great skills, but show very little empathy and you can’t convey your self-confidence in finding a solution for your patient, you won’t be able to obtain his trust and thus, will not be able to retain him regardless of how good a therapist you are. Technical skills will come with time as you gain experience and take more courses. Empathy and self confidence are part of your upbringing, your DNA and personality.”
Anthony: Where do you see the profession of private physiotherapy in 10-15 years?
Alain: “Where I believe private physiotherapy is heading is very similar to the way pharmacists are going nowadays. If we go back 10-15 year and you were a licensed pharmacist, you could easily put up your name on top of your pharmacy and call it John Smith, pharmacist. At the time, that was acceptable and you made a decent living. Nowadays, this is becoming impossible, especially in Quebec, and pretty much across Canada. You just cannot compete against the big banners at many levels. They have really taken control. You’re either part of Jean Coutu, Uniprix or Pharmaprix. If you are not part of the big banners, it’ll be almost impossible to survive. I strongly believe that the private sector of physiotherapy is heading that way as well. I believe there will be 4 or 5 big banners or franchises in Quebec and they will be controlling the field of private physiotherapy.”
Anthony Teoli MScPT