As American families become less interconnected and interdependent, their primary challenge is providing the basics necessary to keep their elderly relatives at home. "Eighty-eight percent of [seniors] say they want to stay at home as long as possible," says Firman. As long as they have access to basic services, home also tends to be where the elderly are healthiest and lead the highest quality of life.
Paul Hogan witnessed this firsthand when his 88-year-old grandmother, who was living alone, became so weak she couldn't move from her chair to her bed. She was not expected to live to the end of the year. Paul's mother started providing basic nonmedical care, and his grandmother lived 11 more years, almost reaching 100 before passing away. "I saw firsthand what basic services, such as companionship, meal preparation, light housekeeping, errands, incidental transportation and medication reminders, can do for the elderly," he says. "Those things have a very powerful effect on an elderly person."
Senior-care franchises are being called upon to provide these basic necessities. Companies like Home Instead and Comfort Keepers have noticed that companionship, the most basic of services, is overwhelmingly in demand. Paul says companionship accounts for about 75 percent of what Home Instead provides. Jerry Clum has noticed the same need among the 8,000 clients Comfort Keepers serves. "On a national basis, companionship is the number-one service," he says. "About 40 percent of the hours that we bill out nationally are for companionship." Following closely behind, says Jerry, is a demand for housekeeping, meal preparation and transportation.
A Ripe Opportunity
Jim Woolford was one of 91 franchisees to open a Comfort Keepers in 2003. He and his wife, Pamela, were inspired after searching for in-home care agencies to provide help for his mother. Through their research, they discovered a lack of quality agencies in their home state of Washington. "We felt there was a lot of need for it out here and a lot of potential, and we were right," says Jim, 46.
Starting the franchise in February 2003 with $32,000, Jim ran part of the office out of his home and the other part from an executive suite. A retired naval officer, he had no previous franchise or in-home care experience; but with hard work and support from some of the other Comfort Keepers franchisees, he got it off the ground. A key piece of advice came from the corporate offices: Hire adequate staff to allow for growth. In the beginning, he was trying to do all the work himself. "Once we [brought on additional staff], it relieved me of administrative responsibilities, and it allowed me to do more marketing and [meeting] with the agencies that provide care for the seniors in our industry," he says. "Since then, it has just been really busy. It's been exploding." Currently, he serves approximately 40 clients and employs 55 caregivers, although the numbers change constantly. Jim offers his own advice: Be passionate. "[Potential clients] have to see in your eyes and hear in your voice that you are there to take care of mom and dad," he says.
Jim focuses on reaching 55- to 60-year-old baby boomers whose schedules don't allow them to take care of parents in their 80s. And even with 55 employees, he continues to invest a lot of his time and money in the franchise. Eighty-hour workweeks aren't abnormal, and even now, Jim says, he has about $75,000 tied up in the franchise.
But the payoff is worth it. The Woolfords' 2003 sales totaled $325,000, and Jim projects 2004 sales at $1.1 million. More than just the financial payoff, the emotional rewards are what truly get him through each day. "When we have the opportunity to bring [clients] home from rehab or a nursing home, and when they walk in the house and their faces light up, it's like thank you, thank you, thank you," says Jim. "What's that worth? It's great."