July 10 this year will mark the 16th year anniversary of when I started my business, then known simply as Pilates Proactive. It’s been a huge ride to date; mostly fun, satisfying and inspiring to say the least, but as with all small business owners, there have been times where I had contemplated the simpler path of working for someone else. During these 16 years, I have experienced many personal highs and lows, thankfully mostly good things, and these have been significant in how the business has grown.
I started the business in 2002 when I was 28 years old, four years post-graduation, after an 18-month position in Broken Hill and three-year travel odyssey based in Cambridge, UK. My passion for Pilates had already been piqued with an 18-year classical ballet background but I had also seen its wonderful application to managing pain with my patients in Broken Hill and Cambridge. I acquired my first of four Pilates qualifications while living in the UK.
When I returned to Australia, I started running a few Pilates classes run from church halls and school gymnasiums in the Adelaide Hills whilst working in a local private practice. The classes’ popularity grew rapidly and very soon I had grown to seven locations and two physios working for me.
The success of these classes led me to take a huge leap of faith in September 2003 when I opened my first branch of Physio Pilates Proactive in Stirling.Rachel Combe - Founder, PPP
The success of these classes led me to take a huge leap of faith in September 2003 when I opened my first branch of Physio Pilates Proactive in Stirling. My mother was integral to helping me with this achievement and for many years working both on the reception desk and behind the scenes, tirelessly supporting me and the new business. At this stage I was working about 80 hours a week; at Stirling during the day, continuing the Pilates classes at multiple locations off-site, doing the bookwork, administration and even the cleaning over the weekend. The team had also grown to seven staff.
Crazily enough, I decided to open a second practice at Parkside in January 2006. It was my first lesson to learn about not assuming that all practices will be the same. With a different demographic and more urban pace, what worked for Stirling didn’t necessarily work as well at Parkside. I needed to learn a different strategy to build the business there but over time, got to know its unique rhythm and energy.
However what was building synonymously between the practices was a strong ethos and philosophy of patient care. It was happening through my values but also the similar values held by my staff. And something which I had never expected when you start your own business; the clients themselves were helping shape what PPP stands for to this very day.
Needless to say, I was close to burnout and in November 2007, life abruptly changed. My gorgeous mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.Rachel Combe - Founder, PPPBy this stage, my team had grown to ten staff and I was still working insane hours. In addition to my clinical and business commitments, I was regularly attending courses interstate to build my Pilates & Physio reputation and I had in those five years, attained my other three Pilates qualifications. Needless to say, I was close to burnout and in November 2007, life abruptly changed. My gorgeous mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This devastating news was felt not only with our immediate family but with my staff and clients who had gotten to know Mary so well at the practices.
This devastating news forced me to step back from the business, and for the first time, its autonomy was truly tested. There was a huge amount of goodwill demonstrated to me from the PPP community.
In March 2009, after a courageous battle, mum passed away. My world had changed irreversibly. Mum taught me so much about compassion, patience, kindness, being focussed and we had so many laughs in those early years of building PPP. She had left such a legacy with our culture.
The next few years after mum died felt like a blur and despite me not being my usual energetic self, PPP continued to grow quite independently of my limited leadership. It had become an entity of its own and was the sum of all its parts; me, the staff and all of its clients all contributing to this vision. Everyone believes in the key philosophies of passion for learning, enjoying the process of maximising movement potential and belonging to a friendly, non-judgmental community.
During this sad time, I was lucky enough to meet my wonderful husband Paul, and 2010 to 2014 were busy years on a personal front; marrying, buying our family house and having our two gorgeous children, Cate and Hamish.
While it was not planned, Paul’s redundancy from a high powered corporate job just before Hamish was born was a blessing in disguise as it allowed us to explore his potential involvement in PPP.
His skills in marketing, sales and passion for small business have, in the past three years proven to be a successful formula for our family work-life balance and Paul is now officially my business partner.
Last year was extremely busy, opening our third and fourth practices in Glynde and St Peters. I feel as though my original passion for PPP has been completely renewed over this time which has allowed me to have the huge amount of energy required in starting up new locations. My love for helping people through movement and physiotherapy is stronger than ever and I am excited about where our expansion plans are going. Four practices seem perfect – where we have some scale now, are able to offer a greater number of services for differing client needs but still small enough that we can maintain quality control which we have built such a strong reputation over the years.
We currently have a team of 18 staff; 2 directors, a general manager, 10 physios (including our clinical manager), 4 admin staff and a book-keeper; all brilliant and highly committed to PPP’s purpose. Our physios have a combined amount of almost 200 years clinical experience.
Since opening Stirling in 2003, we have delivered almost 100,000 physio consults and have had over one million Pilates class attendances. These figures are something I am immensely proud of; a huge team effort! We have helped so many people achieve better movement and less pain over the past 16 years and my motivation is stronger than ever to make a positive impact on our community’s health.
Right now, I feel like PPP is poised for really exciting times and consolidation. I am strapping myself in for a new ride, one with greater maturity, humility and more channelled energy. I am older and a little bit creakier (!!) but feel positive about where this adventure will take us. I hope I can be writing an update of this journey in another 15 years’ time.
Read more about the history of PPP: PPP History Thus Far