I have been fortunate enough to get to know John Humphrey from Bluff Road Physio, through coaching his oldest son Asher at basketball. In that time John has been kind enough to provide advice, information, sessions and services to both players and parents within my teams. He also has put together pre and post-training stretching routines for all our boys.
As people, you don’t get much better than John and his wonderful wife Sarah, but as usual when you have those interactions with people at sporting clubs it can be rare to really get to know the story behind the person and in this case their business. In this instance, it was fascinating for me to get to know John that much better.
As a younger person, John was literally the real-life version of the song “I have been everywhere”
John was born in New Guinea where his Dad was working there as the regional veterinary officer. At this stage, New Guinea was still an Australian territory just before it became independent from Australia in 1975. This was a tumultuous time in that region as Indonesia was moving into East Timor and Western New Guinea. As a young boy, John would have been blissfully unaware of these world events.
John’s family lived there for five years before moving to Canada where his father completed his PhD in Veterinary Science. His parents were originally from Box Hill in Melbourne and they moved back to Australia from Canada in 1983 when John was eight. They originally moved to Templestowe but then shifted the North East Victorian town of Benalla.
John completed years seven and eight at Benalla High School before his Dad secured a role with CSIRO at Geelong and after yet another move John completed years nine through twelve there before going onto Latrobe University’s Lincoln School of Health Sciences. John had actually enjoyed the adventure of shifting schools, making new mates and living in different parts of the world, no doubt this would go on to help him with his future business ventures.
While attending university was ensuring John’s career prospects it also did no harm to his family prospects as in his third year he met his future wife Sarah who had attended the AIS where she had enjoyed significant success in rowing for Australia at juniors.
In his final year at secondary school, John was choosing between Medicine and Physio and even thought about engineering for a time as he has enjoyed fixing things and problem-solving. John had always had a desire to help people through injury but wasn’t hugely motivated at the thought of hospitals and medical wards.
Upon reflection, in the interview for this article, John traced his potential motivation towards a physiotherapy career back to his Grand Father, Ron Wilson, who was a talented athlete that ran at Stawell Gifts and played for both the Melbourne and St Kilda football clubs at VFL level. After his playing days, Ron went onto become a trainer at St Kilda when they won their only premiership in 1966.
John remembers stories of his grandfather as one of those legendary trainers who simply had the “knack” to fix people, a human version of the “horse whisperer”. On reflection, John attributes, at least in part, the influence of his grandfather and the stories that were shared at family events as part of the reasons he pursued a physiotherapy career.
Another influence as he was growing up was that John’s father was a vet and his mum was a pharmacist so with that sort of bloodline it was little wonder that John would pursue some form of a field in health and recovery. Indeed, by the time John had entered University he had made up his mind that physiotherapy was for him.
After University and working locally for a few years as graduates John and Sarah went to the UK for two and a half years to work before returning to Australia and settling in Sandringham, Sarah’s childhood stomping ground and near to her parents. Upon their return, John began working at Sandy Sports Medicine in Tulip Street and even more importantly became engaged to Sarah.
One fateful day Sarah had to go to the hospital when she was violently sick and put on a drip. Unbeknown to both John and Sarah, Sarah was actually pregnant with their first child Asher. While in hospital iconic local GP Dr Jim McDonald cared for Sarah and it was through this meeting and the subsequent relationship that Jim introduced John to his nephew Andrew Ronchi who had started and was running a small physio practice located at the rear of the Bluff Road Medical Centre. John jumped at the chance and Jim arranged a meeting for John with partners Andrew and Phil Brasher and they all allayed any fears John may have had about changing jobs and workplaces by outlining their plans for moving their practice to its current location and expanding the business and what John’s role would be in that.
From that meeting, John at the age of twenty-nine, just seven years out of university, married and expecting their second child took what many would consider being a bold step of going into a partnership to form a business that today is known as Bluff Road Physio. Due to the honesty, integrity and reputations of his partners for John, there was no hesitation, as they simply removed any anxiety of out of this career move for which John has been, and always will be, grateful.
John’s business career had begun.
When John started with the practice eleven years ago it was pretty “bare-boned” with one secretary, one physio and one room to practice in. The advantage it had then was that it had an established customer database and it was local to John which enabled him to draw clients from his immediate local network. When the business originally started in 1999 the internet wasn’t even around and social media was unheard of, so networking customer service and word of mouth have all been vital ingredients to the success of the business.
These ingredients have proved to be very successful with partnership now positioned across two sites, one in Sandringham and one in Oakleigh, and employing nine physiotherapists, six receptionists and two office managers.
It was four years ago when the partnership opened another practice in Murrumbeena which simply presented more challenges and opportunities. Two years ago they moved this practice from Murrumbeena to Oakleigh on the corner of North and Warrigal Roads, calling it “North Road Physio”. One of John’s partners, Phil Brasher, moved over to this practice while Andrew Ronchi by this stage was no longer a practising partner with John remaining a full-time principle of Bluff Road Sandringham. The partnership at both venues continues to grow with two new junior partners joining the team bringing their enthusiasm and energy into an already vibrant physio practice and just as importantly demonstrating future opportunities for aspiring staff members.
Marketing is predominately word of mouth and the practice has a productive relationship with the Bluff Road Medical Centre, De La Salle football Club while sponsoring the East Sandringham Football Club. All of which evolved from personal networking through the various partners. The practice also has a great relationship with Sandringham Hospital and Pharmacy, where John developed a relationship with the pharmacy owner when their children went to Kindergarten together. John has also found personal interaction at his kids Primary School invaluable with parents of students there offering important support of his practice.
To ensure these partnerships are productive, ongoing and fruitful, John and his partners reciprocate referrals from their practice back to other medical professionals. So naturally from John’s perspective time invested in networking and developing relationships within people and other professionals is key, no doubt a skill and an ability he developed from forming all those new friendships whenever his family moved as he was growing up.
On the social media side of things the partnership has engaged a marketing person to research data and devise a strategy to best promote the practice but implement all the norms through a website, electronic newsletter, and other social media campaigns, though John sees this as secondary to the personal relationships and word of mouth that has developed Bluff Road Physio to this point.
Location for Bluff Road Physio is another important factor for its success, it is within close proximity to medical practices, the Sandringham Hospital, pharmacies and a plethora of sporting clubs. This in conjunction with word of mouth ensures a steady stream of visitors to the Bluff Road Physios office.
A business involving a partnership acts very much like the board of a sporting club, company or even a small government, where each of the partners controls certain areas or portfolios for the business and they report back to each other on these areas at regular meetings. For Bluff Road Physio they meet on a weekly basis, though unlike many governments, politicians and sporting clubs they are all on the same page to ensure the health of the business and what’s in its and its staffs best interests.
The founder and man John originally met with, Andrew Ronchi, has been involved in multiple practices and has the entrepreneurial and business experience to be one of the main drivers behind the business and his input is valued by all the partners at Bluff Road Physio. While he no longer is a practising partner as he is pushing other initiatives in the United States, the partnership values his input and includes him in their partnership meetings through skype software and whenever he is in Melbourne.
At these meetings, any differences of opinions are talked through with everybody ending up with a common goal. One of the reasons for this from John’s perspective is that he and his partner’s philosophy and focus here is simple; “the business needs to suit our lives”. It’s a healthy attitude and one that is obviously generating success.
In the day to day running of the business, John identifies keep
staffing happy and retaining
them as important. Bluff Rd physio does this through a senior mentoring program and supporting strong professional development and a good balance of shift hours. John is working through further avenues currently with an HR consultant as it can be difficult to build career pathways through a private practice. John sees this as vital as to keep staff creates goodwill, retains customers and helps attract new ones due to professional, contented and happy staff.
For any business, the burden of leasing two locations paying several staff and providing the structure, incentives and career opportunities that John speaks of, can be challenging to say the least. This was made clear to John when the partnership commenced their second practice in Oakleigh and the pressure of generating enough business and providing adequate staff to make the business sustainable. The challenge, however, is necessary to ensure staff retention and the health of the partnership.
The partnership’s ultimate goal is to establish three sites and they are tracking successfully towards this.
A different challenge that John sees is the encroachment of space in their area by opposing practices, which provide professional competition in the same demographic as Bluff Road. This is a common challenge shared in many areas of business. There are also specialist providers who potentially take away business, so a key feature of Bluff Road is staff education and offering key speciality services to stay at the forefront of physiotherapy practice and ensuring consumer trust in its product.
A key ingredient according to John for their business to remain a successful business is the philosophy “of looking after the community who will then look after us”. Unsurprisingly for Bluff Road, Physio customer service is pivotal which in turn is ensured by recruiting the right people into your business and then to look after them to ensure their retention. Recruiting good people and looking after good people is vitally important to setting Bluff Road apart from any competition.
On the technology side of things, the practice has management and exercise software where John can provide his clients with videos of their required exercise by email and can then track them by an app to see whether they are doing them or not. Clients can also book online and receive SMS confirmation of their consultations.
Xero is their accounting software which works seamlessly with their management software.
John loves the partnership and what they have built-in his time there and he loves his career in physiotherapy. From his perspective, he needs the challenges of a partnership to keep him motivated and the variety of work it can provide as every day is different going into work. An indicator of John’s satisfaction in the business and this field is that John can see himself working well past normal retirement age.
Interestingly, the older market is just as important to the Bluff Road practice as any younger market, which at least for me, has been the normal perception when I think of physiotherapists. The baby boomer market who have been working most of their lives and want to keep playing golf, bowls etc while maintaining a quality of life for themselves and have the financial resource to do so are a growing market. In fact, one of John’s favourite regular customers is a 97-year-old who is still active in life.
Through the interview, it’s not hard to see that John, looking back through his time with Bluff Road Physio and reflecting on how the business has grown and has improved it services and facilities that it provides today is something that you can see that he is rightly proud of.
If you are looking for great people, great service and great facilities for your physiotherapy needs then Bluff Road Physio and North Road Physio are just the places to visit.
For more information on Bluff Road, Physio services and details go to their website by CLICKING HERE