Business Opportunities: Services versus Products

When you boil it all down, everyone needs to make a living. In order to make a living, people need to be willing to trade with you; if you’re working as a physical therapist in the United States, that means that some insurance carrier (Medicare or otherwise) is willing to trade your time, service, and expertise on behalf of a patient for their received health care.

But, what of other opportunities? In business, there are two essential ways to make money: by providing a service, or, by selling a product. Service is the bread and butter of physical therapy practice; but, what of retail? What of the main products that we could easily tap into for a stronger business practice and an expanded market share?

I know it goes against the customary nature of a physical therapist to “sell” or “push” a product. Nevertheless, I’d like for you to consider that which @Jerry_DerhamPT and I share in concert: “SELL” is not a bad word. In fact, it is a GREAT word. Why? Because selling something means you’ve provided someone with a manifest solution.

All too often, we come across this predicament: a patient needs a brace, a heel lift, a theraband, an ice pack… and these are just the easy items. All of these are retail opportunities for physical therapy practice which can and should be capitalized upon. If our customers are going to purchase these products regardless of if we sell it to them or not, why not be the ones who provide such products – the very makes and models that we prefer, recommend, and stand behind?

Not only would that make us more visible to the public, it can easily transition into a marketing resource – and – organically increase our market share.

All too often, physical therapists wish to keep their nose to the grind – go to our place of employment, do our best clinical work, get people better, clock-out, and go home. Unfortunately, gone are the days when “line staff” can afford to perceive their jobs so simplistically. We are in an era of healthcare where our jobs (not to mention our careers) are in a state of economic tussle; a business battle to gain and secure the largest market share possible for a minimalist cost. The larger the share, the more power you can leverage to secure more business (the less competitors get) – and, on it goes!

When you consider hit shows such as Shark Tank dishing out MILLIONS of dollars of investment deals for PRODUCTS, we physical therapists needs to seriously consider this market. We need to pay careful attention to our products potential in retail, even the research, development, and SALES of unskilled physical modalities (TENS anyone?). We need to innovate new products to present to the market which will only naturally improve our market positioning. We must certainly get over our own preconceived cultures in regards to healthcare industry and demonstrate understanding that regardless of how we wish of our profession – it is and continues to function as a service industry. If we wish to improve our stance in the public eye, retailing products is the natural “next step” for which we must engage en masse. After all, why fight with only half an army – why bring to the economic battlefield only part of tools we have?

Miyamoto Musashi, perhaps the most famous of samurai wrote “The Book of Five Rings“. This text is famously used in the study of military, political, legal, and economic strategies & tactics. In his writings, Musashi notes during a time when most samurai carried two swords but fought and died using only the long sword:

“When your life is on the line, you want to make use of all your tools. No warrior should be willing to die with swords at his side, without having made use of his tools.”

 Right. So, who is ready to make such an investment? Who is ready to draw both swords?