This is a follow up story for Charm City Integrative Health. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 3 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hello again, I’m Dr. Tom Ingegno, Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. I own and operate Charm City Integrative Health in Baltimore, Maryland. My clinic provides a combination of both modern and time-test whole-body therapies to help patients thrive. We offer unique healing “stacks” which combine these therapies to maximize benefits efficiently and enjoyably.
Before March 2020, we were having a record number of patients coming in for our services. When COVID-19 hit we closed for a few months, which was scary. After re-opening, we quickly returned to business, not as usual, but at a controlled and safe pace. Almost a year to date, I’m happy to say our patient numbers and business are as solid as they ever were. What we learned here is that we may not have national recognition (yet), but we have a strong presence in our community that is eager to return to our clinic to stay healthy during uncertain times.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Since COVID, I feel like I’ve been blessed with a do-over. So many great small businesses went under, by no fault of their own. We made some difficult decisions, but overall we were able to restructure and after a small break during the initial lockdown were able to reopen. The first patients to come back were essential workers who needed not only physical relief but relief from the ongoing stress of working during a pandemic and lock-down. This was an honor to take care of those who were taking care of so many. We have always had a healthy population of western trained medical practitioners, everything from nurses to surgeons, but that population exploded. It was nice to see “traditional” medical practitioners rely so heavily on my office which for the bulk of my career was often thought of as fringe.
All of us hear these crazy success stories about how someone becomes a multi-millionaire overnight or starts a company and a couple of months later is bought out by a giant corporation. Those are great stories, but I think the majority of business owners don’t fall into those categories. Most of us are happy to survive, especially over the last few years.
In 2020, we didn’t have an amazing year but managed to hold steady. 2021 has already proven to be significantly better than last year both financially and with the number of people we are treating. It seems like this pandemic has taught people the true value of their own health and as the adage goes, “An ounce of prevention…”
Upon reopening we decided to push our memberships and unique “Health Stacks” via Instagram and Facebook ads. We didn’t have a large budget for this but investing $100 per month on some locally targeted ads put us in front of the right people. Our membership which went to zero after 2 months of being closed is now close to 40 people, a little more than our pre-covid number. This number was a mix of people who wanted us to continue to bill them monthly, (we were so grateful, but couldn’t let it go beyond 2 months as we were unsure when we would be able to re-open) and new people trying to gain control over their personal health. Our acupuncture book filled back up, and with myself as the only acupuncturist, I may soon be looking to bring on associates again.
One of the difficult decisions I needed to make was to hire new staff. I was unsure of the population of good candidates but extremely fortunate to have people reach out to me! People that have found me are enthusiastic and were already either working in the health and wellness space or school for it. They came in, learned how we operate quickly and were able to turn their attention to one of the most important things, patient-focused care. While we were gaining momentum, I still had one issue that had been bothering me for years, I am not a manager. It’s painful to admit, but the day-to-day stuff was always too dry and with our office running pretty smoothly it didn’t always seem necessary to have one. However, right before the pandemic hit our shores, I was missing things at the office. I couldn’t always be present with patients and make sure every detail was handled at the office. I needed someone who was organized and would both let me do the tasks I loved, handle the things I avoided and had to make sure I did the things an owner needs to do to keep the business running. I had one office manager that I had been talking with for almost 6 months, trying to work out how to transition him in and what exactly his role would be. He was offered an amazing position to run several practices in DE. Great for him, not so much for me. However, he put me in touch with someone who after a few conversations understood my needs and agreed to help on a part-time basis. Since then some of the “chores” I avoided were now off my plate and being handled by someone infinitely more organized than myself.
With vaccine rates increasing, restrictions being lifted, and my team all moving in the right direction, we are just now starting to put together a more aggressive plan to reach people. We have just started working with some influencers again, we’re putting together more online content, both social media, and educational outlets.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
I was “humbled” quite a few times in 2020. All of the lessons I learned were important, and some were very painful but certainly necessary. If I had to pick one lesson, it would be that change is inevitable.
Less than two months after my original interview, which was published in April, but was conducted in February, half of what we had discussed was drastically different. A state executive order had made it so only urgent or critical care could be provided at clinics. While I did know some places that stayed open, stating that they did provide critical care, we shut down because we had patients getting surgeries rescheduled. It seemed that if a physician felt that a necessary surgery wasn’t urgent enough how could any of the procedures we provide be considered as such.
In addition to this, we had no idea what regulations might be coming in the next couple of weeks and even our most loyal patients were holding off on rescheduling. I spent close to two months at home, trying to figure out how to run a clinic that is 90% service based on some kind of virtual platform. I was unsuccessful, but thanks to federal and state relief, I was able to take the time being closed to prepare for reopening. It gave me time to explore offering online classes, putting together some new services at the office, and more than anything to recover from grinding for 20 years. Due to the pandemic and closure, I’ve reframed how I think about my office; I’m no longer chasing a financial goal, but focusing on how to help the most people most efficiently. Looking at our clinic now, I have more staff who are splitting the responsibilities more evenly and our client numbers have been rivaling our best “pre-COVID” numbers. All of this has set up the ability for me to explore some other projects in the realm of healthcare which should be rolling out sometime soon.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Haha, after 2020, we’re just trying to get to next week. Seriously, I want to have more impact by reaching more people. With this pandemic, people are realizing that health should be front and center in their minds. I’d like to be able to reach people where they’re at, and while I’m not closing my clinic anytime soon, I’m currently developing some ways to reach people on a larger scale.
With this wider reach in mind, I’m currently juggling a bunch of projects. My friend, Matt, and I are currently working on a podcast, Irreverent Health, which will be launching soon. It focuses on helping people navigate the rapidly changing human optimization and will show people what is worth it and what should be avoided. We’re hoping to keep people healthy without wasting money on fads or name brands that may not offer all they are promising.
I’m also hoping to introduce some classic Chinese therapies to the masses in easy-to-use and apply at home. I’ve sourced some of the best products and I’m currently putting together online classes and step-by-step instructions to get people everything they need to know to treat themselves at home.
Lastly, I’m starting some testing on a new supplement formulation that I’m trying to keep a lid on until it’s ready to launch.
All of these were ideas that I started working on during lockdown, but even still took over a year to get to a place to start talking about. Now that things have developed a new normal, I’m looking to explore more opportunities outside my office.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Oh my god, there were so many great books this year. I have to say one of my favorite ones was Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Norton. It’s an amazing book about how, since we became “domesticated” are not breathing properly. Not only is his writing style easy to digest, but I can also tell he thinks similarly to me.
His research covers medical studies, anthropology, interviews with experts, traditional practices dating thousands of years, and self-experimentation.
If I was going to write a book about any health topic, I’d want to cover all of these bases. In many ways, our clinic behaves the same way, traditional and modern practices that are heavily researched with a bunch of self-experimentation on myself, of course.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
I feel like I should be asking the readers for advice here. All of us hear these crazy success stories about how someone becomes a multi-millionaire overnight or starts a company and a couple of months later is bought out by a giant corporation. Those are great stories, but I think the majority of business owners don’t fall into those categories. Most of us are happy to survive, especially over the last few years.
If pressured I think the best advice I could give right now is to focus on what is working. I’m often full-on ADHD when it comes to new ideas and at least five times a day the phrase, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” comes into my mind about a possible new service or product I’d like to add to the practice. I often have to repeat to myself, “play with the toys you already have.” The services that we currently offer are evidence-based, work well and people really love them. Yes, there are thousands of other cool therapies out there, but I find that when I concentrate on improving the patient experience or work on elaborating on why these services are so beneficial, that’s when people have better experience in our clinic and certainly better outcomes.
I know at some point I’ll end up buying more equipment, but now I’m resisting the attraction to something shiny and new. When I do purchase it will be because it follows the footprints of what is already working in our clinic.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
As I mentioned before, we have really been blessed with people approaching us for employment. We always collect resumes and will hold interviews, things have been changing and growing rapidly. Our staff is amazing, and they are rolling with the madness of the last two years as well. We could definitely use a few licensed professionals, especially acupuncturists and massage therapists.
If people are interested in working with us they can always reach out.
I also miss teaching a bit. After 20 years, I’ve forgotten much, but I feel that I have honed clinical skills and I’d love to share that as well. I’d be willing to mentor the right acupuncture students or recent graduates. Interested people can also reach out on our website.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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