The theme of this issue is “practice rescue” so we went in search of a chiropractor who overcame struggling in practice by finding a route to success.
Meet Barrett Terry, DC. Like many who enter this field, he was drawn in as a result of a positive experience with chiropractic care.
When I was younger, Terry says, “I used to have problems with migraine headaches. When I was playing high school football I’d get triggered headaches from putting the helmet on. They told me I couldn’t play seventh grade football.”
But his mother had been a chiropractic patient her whole life, so she took him in to see her DC, and after three or four adjustments, Terry’s migraines disappeared; he was able to play football again.
Later, playing baseball, he had a problem with his shoulder and had another positive experience with the same DC. “At Texas A&M, where I was an undergrad and an equipment manager,” Terry says, “I saw a chiropractor working with the athletes and saw him doing great work and I could see different athletes with various problems were responding well to treatment.” He was beginning to envision a career in chiropractic.
Originally a business major, after Terry graduated A&M he needed more prerequisites such as biology and organic chemistry to get into a chiropractic program. “Then I went to Texas Chiropractic College in Houston and graduated in August 2011.”
He went back to his home in Marlin, Texas, he but didn’t find part-time or full-time work because the community was so small. He shadowed a few DCs part-time but couldn’t find a good opportunity, which is why he moved back to Houston in 2012 and joined a chiropractic franchise there. It was a solid learning experience as a new doctor, and he got to do PI cases in an insurance-based practice.
“In Houston I was working as an associate from 2012 until 2014—about two years,” Terry says. “When I first went to work, the agreement was for a lower salary, but every three months I would be due a salary increase.” This practice looked promising, and after three months he got the agreed-upon raise. But the next time around he got pushback from the owner.
“We were seeing 15 patients a day, and by the time I left we were seeing 45. I knew we were making money, and knew the owner could afford raising my salary,” Terry says. He felt as if he wasn’t making what he deserved, but still, he didn’t want to turn his back on his patients so he stayed with the practice for another two years.
Between chiropractic school debt and renting his own apartment, Terry was still struggling. This is common with DCs new out of school. He’d found himself in what is known as “associate jail.” He wasn’t getting paid what he had been promised, and after two years he should have been making several thousand more per month than he was. His employer wasn’t honoring his contract.
Light on the horizon
Despite his misgivings, Terry was continuing to develop his skills. But then his employer hired another associate, and shortly thereafter let Terry go. “I was shocked and hurt because of all the time, commitment, and passion I had put into to growing her practice,” he says. “Of course I was a little down, and for a month or two, I was in a dark place.”
He eventually found an individual who was a The Joint franchise owner and met with him several times.
“Because of my previous unhappy experience, we met at least five times because I wanted to be sure this wasn’t going to be another bad spot,” Terry says. “But he explained The Joint model to me and the way the opportunities were established, and so I went to work for him.”
Somewhere along the line, the owner said, “If you grow this patient base, I’ll arrange for you to run your own clinic.” And after about five or six months, the clinic began to take off.
Sure enough, his employer kept his word, and after eight months Terry was made clinic director, not the owner, but he was in charge of the day-to-day operations. “As an associate, I was just thinking of base salary, but when I became a clinic director, I found that I’d have more bonus opportunities, and incentives to succeed,” Terry says.
The packages and membership model make it easy for the patients, Terry found, but there’s also attrition. “That’s where you have to go back and show them the value of maintenance chiropractic care. That’s how the Joint got started, as a provider of maintenance care,” Terry says.
That was his biggest challenge: Helping patients see that they should continue care and keep moving forward. “There were some rough patches, but I got better and better at it. That’s when we really started taking off,” Terry says.
It got to be where he was seeing 60 to 70 patients a day—he had to hire another doctor, and then another: “We were putting out ads, and I wanted to help the owner recruit new doctors. I had my reservations at first, about the Joint, but it turned out be one of my biggest blessings.” When he first came to The Joint, he was hesitant because he wondered at first if The Joint was devaluing chiropractic care.
“But the more I worked for them, the more I saw that it’s expanding the market for chiropractic. When I got out of school, 6 to 8 percent of people were seeing a DC, but now it seems like it’s almost double that number, and I think The Joint has played a role in that.”
A major opportunity
The owner, for his part, wasn’t a DC but an entrepreneur, as is common in this industry (about 20 percent of The Joint franchises are DC-owned).
When Terry first came to talk with him before being hired, he asked about future potential, and if becoming an owner was a possibility
“He said that if I helped him grow his business, he’d be willing to help me—either being an owner, or co-signing on a loan with me.” And after two years of working at The Joint he asked Terry if he wanted to buy a clinic.
“He kept his word and gave me first choice. It was a big decision for my wife and me. You don’t often take on a big investment like this,” Terry recalls. But he knew the model, having worked as both an associate and as a clinic director. With some help from his family and a loan, Terry and his wife bought the clinic in the inner loop of Houston in the West University area.
“We took over on January 1, 2017, as the owners. I’d never worked at this one so we had a mini grand opening,” Terry says. “We wanted to hit the ground running, so we made sure we had warmed up to the patients already there, and did our best to retain them, because this is always hard on the patients too.”
The second goal was to market the practice to new patients. But at this point, The Joint wasn’t a new entity— there are nearly 30 in the Houston area already. Terry had to figure out how to increase revenue, which meant getting new patients through the door.
“We’re still learning,” he says, “because we’re just three and a half months in. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Possibilities include sponsoring a Little League team, giving talks at businesses, and asking patients for referrals from family and co-workers. “My wife’s great at social media. Advertising our clinic and reaching out to patients—there’s a huge umbrella of things my wife Kayla and I are thinking about doing.”
The Terry’s have a good feeling about the practice, which has already exceeded their expectations. “But you never take your foot off the pedal.
The success so far has motivated us to do more.” They’re already looking to bring on more staff.
Looking ahead, if business continues to strengthen and their marketing efforts pay off, the Terrys are already pondering expanding to another clinic. “I was questioning my future in chiropractic at one point,” Terry says. And today things have come around to rewarding him.