Inspiration from a one-time small business.
By Phil Knight | Reviewed by John Lowe, PT
Nike today is a multibillion-dollar global business known worldwide. Founder Phil Knight relates in Shoe Dog (Scribner, 2016) how Nike grew from a part-time job for a few people selling imported Japanese track shoes out of their cars at track meets to its current status as arguably the preeminent manufacturer of sporting equipment and apparel in the world.
Nike’s growth to its current status was not seamless. In fact, the company nearly ceased to exist several times between its origins in the early 1960s (it was then called Blue Ribbon Sports) and the early 1980s. Knight and the other early Nike employees faced difficulties common to many startup companies such as supply chain problems, difficulty raising capital, competition, and interference by the federal government. Additionally, some barriers were internally created, poor and/or nonexistent internal communication being a paramount one. Most small business owners face many of the same difficulties Nike did.
Mr. Knight explains how Nike overcame its problems and the attendant discouragement by adapting and in fact reinventing themselves. When the company’s supply of product was threatened, the company became Nike and began making their own shoes. To expand the market of potential customers, Nike progressively expanded beyond track and field shoes into road running shoes and shoes for soccer, basketball, and eventually almost every sport. Clothing and other accessories followed. When their bankers refused further credit and threatened to call in their loans because they disapproved of Nike’s methods of growth and balance sheet, the company became creative about partnering with other businesses without losing control of the company.
Name recognition, a problem with any new business, was addressed when Nike branded itself by creating a short, catchy name (Knight wanted to call the company Dimension Six but was talked out of it), a recognizable logo (the Nike swoosh was created by an artist for $35), taking celebrity endorsements to new levels, and being innovative in product development. In short, they ascertained customer needs and desires and found ways Nike could help fill them.
Physical therapy clinic owners and managers should relate to difficulties Nike had collecting accounts receivable and otherwise obtaining working capital to fund growth or even to meet the payroll. The experiences Knight and his associates had dealing with banks and other organizations have parallels in today’s health care environment. Knight and his employees also had to learn how to run a business. In doing so they made a number of mistakes common to any startup business. The results indicate they not only overcame but learned and profited from their mistakes.
Private practice owners should find Shoe Dog to be interesting and inspirational. As entrepreneurs they can relate to Nike’s early struggles and learn from its example of how the operators of small businesses can turn their practices into success stories of their own.
John Lowe, PT, is an occupational health physical therapist with more than 20 years of clinical management experience. He is currently employed by WorkWell Prevention & Care. He can be contacted at John.Lowe@workwellpc.com.