Jason Hazelett spent his first six years as a physical therapist working in a hospital-based outpatient clinic in Fort Wayne before he decided to step outside of the box.
“I left that job in 2004 at the age of 31 and put together a business plan. Honestly, I didn’t know what a business plan was, but the bank told me I needed one. I got a loan and signed a 7-year lease for office space. It was scary. My wife, Tiina, was a stay-at-home mom and we had three young children. Thankfully, she was fully supportive of this risky transition,” says Hazelett, PT, DPT, board certified orthopedic specialist. “Initially, I wore all the hats. I checked in patients at the front desk and then I’d go back to treat them before checking them out of the office. I cleaned up the room and got ready for the next patient. I would take all of the laundry home each night to wash it and bring it back the next day.”
Hazelett credits his strong faith, work ethic and knack for hiring talented people with developing what eventually became a thriving business.
Fluent in Spanish, Hazelett recognized the need to serve the Hispanic population on the city’s south side and opened Steppin’ Up Physical Therapy on Fairfield Avenue, which he later relocated to South Calhoun Street.
“Our Calhoun Street office treats a very diverse population. We don’t allow language barriers to be a problem. We have several Spanish-speaking team members and bring in interpreters for other languages, notably Burmese,” says Hazelett. “We’re continually growing. Unlike many business owners, I don’t have a formal plan going forward. I just get up every day and do the best I can, and try to surround myself with people better than me and the growth happens naturally.”
There are now five Steppin’ Up clinics conveniently placed throughout Fort Wayne, plus a separate administrative office.
From the get-go, Hazelett instituted a strict policy of no double-booking with patients.
“Many clinics double or even triple-book patients,” he says. “We don’t do that, and we never will, for two reasons. First, it’s hard for the therapist to handle multiple patients and not get stressed or burnt out and be completely fatigued. Second, our patients come to us in a time of need and deserve the dedicated attention of our physical therapists.”
There are now 63 employees at Steppin’ Up and each of the five offices has its own clinical director.
“All of our offices are set up with a gym in the middle and we have private treatment rooms surrounding the perimeter,” says Hazelett. “Every first visit starts in a private room, but honestly, some of the fun that comes with physical therapy is the open gym area. Patients get to know each other and often become friends. There’s playful banter that happens as patients root each other on throughout their sessions, which is really beneficial.”
Hazelett jokes that he doesn’t have his own office, but travels among the five locations and the administrative office. He says his Christian faith is at the center of his personal and business life, which has created a vibrant and robust culture among his staff.
“This may sound corny, but we use the word ‘love’ a lot, and that’s not typical in a business setting. It’s not that we walk around saying, ‘I love you,’ but if I’m sending out a mass notification to people and it’s about something endearing, I’ll put ‘Love you guys’ in there. Once people come in and become part of that, they naturally open up. They feel that bond. I handwrite notes to my employees regularly to thank them for what they do and we have outings at least quarterly – everything from Komet games to bowling, axe throwing and movie nights. These events are optional, but we end up with a full house. I think that’s a tell-tale sign we’re doing something right and making our staff feel like a family.”
Gloria May, who serves as chief operating officer, started out as a physical therapy technician 11 years ago, and steadily proved her value in supporting and growing the business.
“I worked at other companies prior to Steppin’ Up, some of whom said they offered a family vibe, but I never got that. Here, we hang out together in and outside the clinic. We enjoy being together because we’re treated well, and if you treat your employees well, that translates down the line to the patients and their results,” she says.
Craig Vandermaden is the chief marketing officer for Steppin’ Up and clinical director of the Lahmeyer Road office. He says he knew Steppin’ Up was where he wanted to be after completing a clinical rotation there as part of his studies to become a physical therapist assistant.
“I was in the military for five years and I’ve never had a better mentor than Jason. He’s a phenomenal guy and the way he runs a business is truly like a family. He’s created a culture of caring that mimics our business motto: Compassion, Hospitality…Results.”
Both Vandermaden and May say they also believe that the business motto is why people keep coming back to Steppin’ Up.
Local business owner Dave Kerschner didn’t think twice about going anywhere but Steppin’ Up when he needed physical therapy.
“Jason and I attend the same church, so I know him on a personal level and I know his spiritual beliefs,” says Kerschner, owner of Crazy Pinz and Georgetown Entertainment in Fort Wayne. “It’s pretty obvious that he’s taken his beliefs into his business as a culture where everybody treats you well. I was very impressed with not only the results of the therapy, but the follow-up as well. They were great about checking in with me to see how I was doing and I really appreciated that.”
For Hazelett, Steppin’ Up is more than a business; it’s a way to make a difference. In addition to partnering with nonprofits such as Matthew 25 Health and Care, Neighborhood Health Clinic and Ray of Hope to provide low or no-cost therapy, Hazelett started a faith-based initiative called Steppin’ Up Success Group.
“Every other Thursday I meet with a group of guys at our South Calhoun office. This group focuses on four pillars: Faith, Family, Finance and Fitness. We aim to help men sharpen each other and hold each other accountable for being upright leaders in their home, workplace and community,” explains Hazelett. “People often ask me how I have time to do this kind of ministry and it’s because I have a great staff who can take care of the business. I am surrounded by wonderful people who not only dedicate themselves to our business, but to the patients who make our jobs so rewarding.”
Jason Hazelett and the staff at Steppin’ Up Physical Therapy wish to thank the Community Development Corporation of Northeast Indiana (CDC) for the gifting of this cover story.
“I had the pleasure of working with the CDC to purchase one of our five buildings,” says Hazelett. “Through its creative financing, the CDC helped us build a free-standing office in southwest Fort Wayne.”
Owner(s): Jason Hazelett
Address: 10006 Auburn Park Drive (North); 12844 Coldwater Road, Suite D (NW); 4303 Lahmeyer Road (NE); 3805 S. Calhoun St. (South); 4025 Sage Bluff Crossing (SW)
Phone: (260) 888-3913
Years in Business: 18
Number of Employees: 63
Products & Services: Women’s health, pediatric rehab, vestibular rehab, Parkinson’s disease, plantar fasciitis, dry needling, headaches, neck pain and TMJ, back pain and pilates