Name Change Helps Unify Physical Therapy Company's Operations as it Expands


For Mike Mulrenan, changing the name of his multi location physical therapy practice last year wasn't a superficial gesture to drive business. It was a necessary exercise in brand therapy. Registered in Massachusetts as Mulrenan Physical Therapy LLC, the Woburn-based company will soon grow to 10 sites located in New England including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire, seven of which are currently doing business as ProEx Physical Therapy. This includes its most recently opened location on High Street in Boston.

Mulrenan and his four other business partners Matt McManus, Joe Dattilo, Eric Kopp and Steve Swasey expect to invest more than $100,000 on the re-branding program, which is ongoing, and for which the company has engaged the services of Absher Design Group Inc. of Florida and New York. Mulrenan says the intent is to bring brand cohesion to an expanding business that was operating under three different names at one point- Mulrenan Physical Therapy in Massachusetts, Stratham Physical Therapy at three New Hampshire locations and ProEx at one in Connecticut.

Says the company's 39-year-old founder and president, "It's all about making the name work better for us so that we can grow the company and focus on delivering the care in the community at the clinic level."  In addition to changing its name to ProEx, the company has also centralized the business operational systems for all of its locations under one roof. A key figure in that process has been David MacDonald, whom the partners brought in as CEO in 2007 following his stint as CFO of a 25-facility health care organization in Naples, Fla.

"Part of the growth strategy was to be able to use our resources effectively and share resources, both financial and human", says MacDonald. "And you only get those efficiencies when a lot of the baseline processes are the same".  Mulrenan says the company is financing the growth mainly through internal cash flow by reinvesting its profits, which, he adds, "has presented some personal financial challenges to all the partners. But, we are very proud of the fact that we have stuck by our core value, which is that we are 100 percent clinician owned and that we were able to do this without having to give up equity in the business to non-clinicians".  Revenue for ProEx, which has 87 employees, came in at $4 million in 2008.

This year, the owners are projecting around $6.3 million. That includes revenue generated from its clinics. It also includes revenue generated from the company's athletic training contracts, under which it is providing a licensed athletic trainer to four local high schools; and two management contracts, for which it is providing business operational support to both Boston University's physical therapy clinic on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston and Competitive Edge Physical Therapy in Norwell. Although they are a private business, they don't sacrifice the quality of care for the bottom line. "They have been collaborative and supportive in our mission to maintain our high level of care while improving our efficiency", says Gloria Waters, dean of BU's Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

Mulrenan says the company has changed a lot over the years. Within a year of launching Mulrenan Physical Therapy in 2001, he began co-marketing it as the in-house PT practice of Baystate Wellness Center, a fitness facility offering specialized services, such as prenatal fitness and nutrition.

By the end of 2006, however, feeling that the wellness center's growth had stalled, he closed that business and refocused his attention solely on the physical therapy practice. "You really need to stick with a core business", Mulrenan says. "We realized that every part of the business was being sacrificed a little bit because we were being stretched so thin".

Strategic partnerships are also key to ProEx's growth: All five of its owners are licensed clinicians in the regions they are serving. And, late last year, the company entered into a partnership with Mountain Center Physical Therapy & Sports Rehab Inc. of New Hampshire, by which it acquired an ownership interest in that business and is co-managing two of its clinics, with a third set to open in May. "Those sites will eventually be re-branded as ProEx", Mulrenan adds. "I've found the right team of strategic partners", MacDonald says. "And that has allowed us to have the confidence to grow so fast and, ultimately, define the regions that we know we are going to be successful in."