Leeza Gibbons made her name as a talk show host, but today, she has a new career: she is opening a senior-care franchise.
Gibbons is currently in the process of preparing to open her first Senior Helpers franchise. While she can't yet reveal the exact location for legal reasons, she says it will be in the South East.
Like so many others before her, Gibbons entered the business of caregiving out of necessity. When her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2000, the entire family found themselves at a loss in how to react.
"We were fumbling through it, just numb with frustration and pain," says Gibbons. "You just become paralyzed by this sense of being assaulted by all you don't know."
Gibbons was already a high-flying television personality when her mother got sick. Her eponymous NBC daytime talk show Leeza was on air from 1993 to 1999, and Gibbons had done everything from guest star on The Simpsons and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to host Entertainment Tonight.
Her mother's illness forced her to reevaluate her priorities. "I think that in my 20s and early 30s I was just on a trailblazing path… I was just moving so fast," she says. "I think that the instruction and the information that I got from [my mother's] diagnosis has been such a pivotal shift in my life and such a positive one, ironically. It taught me lessons that I don't know I could have learned any other way."
As she and her family struggled to find information and a community of support, Gibbons became invested in making sure other families didn't have to face Alzheimer's alone. In 2002, she founded the nonprofit Leeza's Care Connection, which provides free services and information to caregivers. Programs include educational seminars, support groups and social events that help build a community of caregivers.
It was through Leeza's Care Connection that Gibbons began working with Senior Helpers. The senior in-home care franchise founded in 2002 today has 277 locations. Senior Helpers caught Gibbons' attention due to its Senior Gems program, a program focused on Alzheimer's and dementia care that emphasizes a positive, individualized approach to support.
"In many ways I chose [Senior Helpers] and in other ways, it chose me," says Gibbons. "I had the chance to see from the inside out what a difference this organization makes in the in-home care industry."
For Gibbons, becoming a Senior Helpers franchisee is a continuation of the work she has done and will continue to do at Leeza's Care Connection. However, she is quick to say that she realizes Senior Helpers is a business at its core.
"This is clearly a money-making franchise. Let's make no mistake about it," says Gibbons. "I want to align myself with people who know how to win, people who do things right."
From an entrepreneurial standpoint, now is the perfect time to get into the senior care market. The home health-care sector is currently the fastest growing industry in America, according to a 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics report. And demand will likely only rise as the proportion of the American population over 90 continues to rapidly widen.
Senior Helpers is also poised for swift growth. In the last five years, the franchise reports its system-wide revenue has jumped from $27 million to $189 million. Revenue per unit has increased more than 380 percent in the same period, from $151,000 to $735,000. Gibbons says it’s a great opportunity for potential franchisees, with low costs and no need for a huge startup investment.
Economics aside, Gibbons' involvement in Senior Helpers is still one based in family. While her mother passed away in 2008, Gibbons says she continues to be guided by her as she develops her entrepreneurial skills. And, she's quick to mention, that's hands-on entrepreneurship: Gibbons is currently taking classes on how to lead a Senior Helpers franchise and is eager to learn the nitty-gritty details of owning an in-home care franchise.
"This is an extension of my family. This is an extension of work I have built over the last years," she says. "It is my intention to fill it with my soul."