A south side success story

Fourteen years ago, Jason Hazelett spent more time on a treadmill—literally and figuratively—than he would’ve liked. He had just opened his own physical therapy office on Fort Wayne’s south side and things were slow.

"Back then, I was training for a triathlon, and I had no patients and no job," Hazelett says. "So I’d work out on the office treadmill for two hours, and nobody would show up."

Today, Steppin’ Up Physical Therapy is off the treadmill and on the move. What he figured would always be a small operation has grown into a company with four offices employing 35 people.

But it was no quick turnaround. It took time, an acquired appreciation for marketing, a supportive group of peers, and unwavering company values.

Being fluent in Spanish didn’t hurt Hazelett, either.

A native of Lynn, Ind., he was an entrepreneur from a young age. He started his first business mowing lawns. When he went off to Indiana University, he ran a mobile DJ service and detailed cars on the side.

"A lot of my customers were my professors," he says with a grin and a hint of Southern twang. "I got to drive Audis, Lexuses . . . . It was sweet."

Jason Hazelett started Steppin’ Up in 2004.

A summer in Mexico as part of a high-school honors program turned out to be crucial. In his first job as a physical therapist, Hazelett had a knack for putting his Spanish-speaking patients at ease. As word spread, he became the hospital’s de facto Spanish interpreter.

"That’s when I started to think I could do this because I didn’t know any other therapists who spoke Spanish,” he says.

Seeing Fort Wayne’s south side as an underserved area with a growing Spanish-speaking population, Hazelett took the leap and started Steppin’ Up. He opened his doors in 2004 at the corner of Fairfield Avenue and Paulding Road. There was much to learn—as he found out during his days alone on the treadmill.

"It clicked with me that I had to do some kind of marketing,” he says. “I had to do cold calls. I had to talk to physicians. I had to send letters," Hazelett says. "I didn’t like it because I didn’t want to be a salesperson."

Steppin’ Up has four locations in Fort Wayne.

Little by little, physicians started sending patients his way, mostly for lower back and joint pain.

He opened a second office on the north side of Fort Wayne in 2011, which he quickly outgrew. Then he opened another north-side office, followed by a fourth location on the southwest side.

Last October, Steppin’ Up moved its south-side office two miles away to a freshly renovated space at 3805 S. Calhoun St.

Hazelett credits the company’s success to its one-on-one care. Steppin’ Up’s therapists are never double-booked, and patients are eased into physical therapy by having their first session in an individualized room, then moving subsequent sessions into a more typical common area. Therapists put their hands on patients during treatment when necessary "because there’s healing in touch," Hazelett says. And as a former DJ, his final rule is perhaps no surprise.

"No sad music allowed in our offices," he says.

Then there’s the tagline that guides the company: Compassion, hospitality, results.

"Every physical therapy office stresses results," Hazelett says. "I intentionally put ‘results’ at the end because if you don’t show your patient compassion and hospitality first, it doesn’t matter how good of a therapist you are; you can’t get the best results."

Employees enjoy the atmosphere of a family business.

Steppin’ Up has established a culture of care for its employees, as well. Where Hazelett once struggled to find help, he now gets emails on a weekly basis from therapists who want to work for him.

The cliché of "running things like a family business” fits, too.

Hazelett nurses his car-repair hobby by offering to fix employees’ vehicles, with the employee covering the cost of parts. When a worker’s family had a recent string of health issues, officemates committed to prepare a month’s worth of meals for the family. Quarterly staff outings also draw nearly perfect attendance.

A happy staff and happy customers have led to a boom. The company is as busy as it’s ever been and recently received Greater Fort Wayne Inc.’s 2018 Small Business of the Year Award. The next step is unclear, if only because Hazelett keeps his attention on the present.

"What I’m doing is focusing every day to make sure we’re doing everything right," he says.

While Steppin’ Up continues making strides, Hazelett plans to remain anchored where the business first started: in Fort Wayne’s south side.

"We’ve spent 14 years down here, and I love the south side,” he says. “We’ll be booked solid at the south location, but have openings at the southwest or north offices, and some patients tell us, ‘I’ll wait for the appointment at the south location. I live on the south side, and I want to spend my money here.’ There’s a strong sense of community down here."

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