Over the course of nearly four years, Justin Stiver drove from Osprey, in south Sarasota County, to St. Augustine 102 times.
It was about four hours of driving each way. But Stiver did it so he could earn his doctor of physical therapy from the University of St. Augustine.
A onetime minor league baseball pitcher drafted in 2006 by the Houston Astros, Stiver brings that kind of dedication and commitment to his latest entrepreneurial effort: running a rapidly-growing physical therapy practice, Total Therapy Florida. Part of the growth stems from Stiver's counterintuitive decision to pitch a different business model, one that focuses on a team rehab approach over one patient, one therapist.
“It’s a rewarding job. People write you cards, make your brownies and say, ‘You changed my life.’” — Justin Stiver, owner, Total Therapy Florida
"We kind of squashed that,” Stiver says, of using a single assigned therapist per patient. “There’s none of that going on here.”
Total Therapy Florida consists of a practice in Osprey and one that just opened in Stiver's hometown of Englewood, south of Osprey. The Osprey practice, meanwhile, is expanding into the space next door to keep up with demand. “It’s getting busier and busier,” Stiver says. “We’ve been insanely busy for the off season."
Total Therapy Florida’s model is different than some other physical therapy companies in other ways, besides building locations around teams. Instead of franchises, for example, Stiver aims to open more corporate-owned locations. And instead of waving goodbye after a patient’s last session, Total Therapy is doing everything it can to stay top of mind once that session is over.
Like a handful of others in physical therapy, Stiver got into the business initially as a patient after an arm injury ended his career. “I was not myself after my injury,” he says. “I started doubting myself in all these ways.”
When he went to the team physical therapist, Stiver says he could tell the therapist loved the work. “When baseball wasn’t an option for me, I decided this is what I want to do,” he says.
In physical therapy school, Stiver says he had offers to work at great clinics. But the Osprey clinic where he was working, then called Total Therapy Solutions, offered a good opportunity — a handshake agreement he could buy the practice when he was ready.
Stiver bought the practice in April 2018. He declined to disclose the price he paid for the practice, or revenues so far.
Total Therapy Florida, to underscore the team approach, holds weekly tactical meetings where employees discuss every patient. The conversations include insights on specific patients and how they handle certain equipment. The hour-and-a-half meetings are a standing appointment for his team. Unless you put it on the schedule, he says, it won’t happen.
The result of the team approach, Stiver says, is better for clients. But for it to work, the right team has to be in place — and not everyone in the business is willing to adjust to a new model. “You have to hire the right person who’s open to that,” he says.
One of the core challenges physical therapists who run their own practice face is the business side, in terms of marketing, accounting and anything that's not treatment. That's how a company like Sarasota-based Fyzical, a chain of physical therapy clinics, has grown from startup to $14.5 million in sales in five years, by finding those practices on a national scale.
But Stiver has made big strides in the non-therapy area of the business. To maintain connections with Total Therapy Florida patients, for example, the company set up a patient portal with exercise videos and a chat function for asking therapists questions. It opens up a door, Stiver says, to make it easy for patients to reach out again.
The practice’s independent wellness program also allows patients to stay connected. For a monthly fee of $50, clients can come to the clinic up to three times a week and use equipment under the supervision of therapists. "We have had such good success with the wellness program," Stiver says.
With the demand he’s built up, Stiver wants to open more locations in the area. “We’ve found people don’t want to travel much for physical therapy,” he says.
He doesn’t have a specific number of locations mapped out, but would like to open one every 10 to 15 miles. The more locations he has, Stiver says, the more people he can help. “It’s a rewarding job. People write you cards, make your brownies and say, ‘You changed my life.’”