Franchise Players is Entrepreneur's Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
With both an R.N. and an advanced gerontology nursing degree, plus a background managing businesses for her family, Laura Greenway-Balnar had to be the dream candidate for Right at Home, an Omaha, Nebraska-based senior-care franchise. Working on her home turf of Ontario province in Canada, Greenway-Balnar says she's found great support and people with her franchisor. She's also delighted to use the franchise business model to get back to her life's work: helping seniors lead full, independent lives.
Name: Laura Greenway-Balnar
Franchise owned: Right at Home Canada in Guelph, Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo
How long have you owned a franchise?
Since August 2014.
Before joining Right at Home Canada, I admit that I hadn’t had a good opinion of franchising as an option for owning a business. I felt that the "franchising" label wasn't always associated with a positive image. However, when [my husband and I] were approached by Right at Home, the more we heard about the opportunity, the more interested we became.
Before that meeting, I had started a business plan and organizational platform for a start-up company to support patients and their families in navigating the fragmented health-care system within Canada; and I was briefly involved with the Ontario Patient Relations Association.
The Right at Home franchise opportunity allowed me a jumpstart to my vision and pushed us approximately three years ahead in the time line of a start-up. The mission, vision and values from the corporate team, in addition to the exceptional people involved, had the greatest impact in our decision to purchase and move forward with Right at Home Canada.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
In the '80s and most of the '90s, I worked as a registered nurse in a few retirement/nursing homes, in community palliative care and at Guelph General Hospital. I ended up herniating a disc in my back and was advised not to keep up with the physical demands of active nursing. I then decided to go back to school, and obtained a B.A.Sc. in gerontology from the University of Guelph.
After graduation, I started working in a few of our family businesses, three of which were start-ups. Over the next 17 years, I worked within our family corporate entities. My mentor [her father, Phil Greenway] taught me everything I needed to know in order to develop and grow a business -- the importance of marketing, the dynamics of product development, consumerism, financial acuity, respect for employees and the need to wear many hats simultaneously.
I enjoyed my work because I enjoyed learning: One of our most interesting start-ups involved research and development on a patented water disinfection process using aqueous ozone. For the last few years, I was managing Greenway Water Technologies, the water division for our family company -- Greenway Home Products Ltd. However, I was feeling a greater pull to move back into health care, an environment which I find truly rewarding.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
Two reasons. The first was the Right at Home mission, vision and values. They believe in approaching home care from a team perspective, with a holistic, complete well-being focus on the clients and their families. For me, this was a very important foundation, needed to provide exceptional client-centered care.
The second reason was the remarkable staff from Right at Home Canada’s head office. My husband and I were approached by Mark Goliger and Dani DePetrillo, both dynamic individuals, passionate about Right at Home. In addition, Michael Martino [president and CEO] is a down-to-earth and caring individual. It feels good to work with these people.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
The franchise fee is $40,000, and an all-in cost typically ranges from $100,000 to $200,000.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I have leaned heavily on the head office for support. They have a “checklist” and allow us to move through it as [slowly as] we need to, but with supportive time lines in order to get our business up and running.The training provided by the head office is extensive and thorough. It includes two full weeks, covering caregivers, care-planning, business development and more.
Plus, after orientation, Right at Home’s head office and other master franchisees let you know they are there for you if needed. Most of my research has been in the [town of] Guelph and Wellington County, in order to get our location up and running. Then we will move on to Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo.
Moving to the other communities will take some time to learn the community culture and get to know the residents and what they need in terms of home care. The research consisted of reviewing competitors, getting to know the home-care landscape and reviewing marketing collateral.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
It was getting to know how to create a balance between having qualified caregivers available and having enough work for them. It was a challenge right from the start because we are very selective in whom we hire, and we pride ourselves on having exceptional caregivers as part of our team.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
If you love people, assisting others, and having control over your business’ quality of work, then take on this franchise. I am not familiar with other franchises; however, I feel that a Right at Home franchise is autonomous but has support in place. We have the flexibility to individualize our franchise and make it our own. Plus, we help others. It doesn’t get any better than this.
What’s next for you and your business?
There is so much opportunity for our business; it is very exciting. Our focus is to provide a person whatever they need in order to stay in their own home, safely and comfortably. Nothing is too big or too small. These could be services, programs, hardware, technology and more. For example, I see transportation playing a key role in the future of our Right at Home franchises. If an older adult wants to be at home, and they can no longer drive, we need to be able to offer support to keep them socializing and independent.
Technology will play a role, whether it is with virtual care and medical records consolidation service, or as simple as setting up a client to Skype with family once per week in order to feel connected. We have already introduced handyman services, in-home spa services and fresh meal delivery. The sky's the limit.
We will also continue building on our community support contacts, working with CCAC, insurance companies, other businesses or community groups— all focusing on supporting seniors or adults with disabilities. We all need to work together to work effectively.