In 2016, husband and wife team Andrew Prowse and Sammy Wilson launched Universal Practice, a Melbourne-based physiotherapy, pilates and yoga studio with a holistic approach to both body and business. Now the owners of two studios, Andrew and Sammy see success as more than just dollars and cents.
Sammy: We both come from big families, and both our dads are quite business-orientated: my dad had a manufacturing company and Andrew’s dad was into real estate. Both our families would discuss business around the dinner table, which I think demystified things for us. We learned about the different facets of running a business from a young age – that it’s hard work and there are ups and downs, good times and bad. Things aren’t predictable.
Exploring the medical landscape: East vs West
Sammy: I was a physiotherapist for eight years, working in elite sport at a reputable private clinic in Melbourne. Physiotherapy is an academic industry: it’s evidence-based, scientific and sits in a medical landscape. That’s important, because it means everything is proven to work, but as an approach to medicine it can be overly uniform. The traditional Western medical model is to treat one body part, or one illness, without searching for root causes or treating the physical as a whole.
While this was brewing in my mind, I went to India and studied yoga and meditation for three months. It was an incredible experience! Here in the West, we click in and out of wellbeing practices – we attend yoga for an hour, or we do one thing here and another there. In India, people live and breathes it – it’s part of who they are.
It was empowering and inspiring to look at where that Eastern approach began, in contrast with how we deliver medicine in the West. I thought there must be a way of bringing modern medicine and age-old Eastern philosophy together in physiotherapy – and so the concept for Universal Practice was hatched.
Fresh eyes and initial hurdles
Andrew: I was involved with small businesses back in the day, and more recently with online media, working with Fairfax Media then Domain. And I’ve played a lot of sport over the journey – I’ve been to plenty of physios myself over the past 15 years! I’ve seen good ones and bad ones… and I felt there was a need to shake up the industry. The way things were run was a bit archaic. Having fresh eyes brought about that realisation, and this in turn helped Sammy conceptualise a more modern approach to what we do.
It was difficult to find the right staff initially – people who really believed in what we were doing and could translate those values across to our clients. But we’ve developed a few procedures that help with the recruiting process now.
Putting the back end first
Sammy: One of the most important things in small business is the work you do before the doors open. As soon as you’re past day one, there’s an influx of bills and marketing and challenges that you didn’t necessarily see coming. But everything you do before you launch – your vision, your brand, your strategy, your financial forecasting – equips you to deal with all of that. The more you can do before you start, the better.
Our long-term vision was bigger than the day-to-day. The day-to-day functioning is really important, as it ensures everything is organised and there’s quality and excellence in the delivery of the service. But even from the first day that we opened in Richmond, we knew that the business was going to grow. We didn’t necessarily know what it was going to grow into, but all the back-end work we’d done led us to believe it would.
Andrew: Sammy spent about two years in development prior to us opening Universal Practice in June 2016. She spent a year working at her old practice while thinking about what it was we wanted to do, then she trekked to India (and New York after that), which highlighted the areas she wanted to move into. We’ve got a saying now, “If you cut too many corners, you end up going around in circles.” It’s been really important for us to do the back-end work first.
Community and reputation
Sammy: At the end of the day, we all live in a community – that’s our environment. We want to create positive change at a cellular level, but also right through: in our interactions with each other, with our community and with the planet. Community focus is a huge thing for us – hence we are ‘Universal Practice’.
Our reputation is important too. We strive to be industry leaders and to look after our physiotherapists in a multitude of ways, be that cultural, remuneration, personal growth or inspiration. Success for us is about so much more than the bottom line.
Hear more from Sammy and Andrew on our First Year Frontiers Podcast, where they share their highs and lows of their first year as small business owners.