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Home: Where the Money Is

[ 0 ] May. 1, 2008 | SBO Editor

In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, Mark Armstrong was a CPA working in the small-business division of one of the country’s “Big Five” accounting firms. Working with small-business owners every day, he soon recognized a common thread among them.

“I saw that they weren’t any smarter than I was, but they all shared the same trait—they believed in themselves,” Armstrong recalled. “They took a leap of faith to start their businesses. They had a sound idea and they executed it.”
Today Armstrong can count himself as a kindred soul among those believers. In 1996, he recognized that the need for non-medical home care services catering to America’s increasingly graying population was only going to keep ballooning.

With a cement-strong faith in himself and a sound business plan, Armstrong established a company dedicated to establishing a new standard in the quality of non-medical home care services provided to seniors and others in their own homes or wherever they reside.

Armstrong’s company—ComForcare Senior Services—is now among the 10 largest franchised providers of home care in the country with 85 franchisees in 25 states. Fifteen franchises have been added in 2007 and that number is expected to double in 2008 as ComForcare drives toward its goal of having 200 franchisees nationwide by the end of 2010. The company projects system-wide sales of $55 million in 2008.

“Industry demographics are very supportive of what we are doing,” said Armstrong, president and CEO of ComForcare. “They’re off the charts.”

ComForcare caregivers provide professional personal care and companionship services for seniors, disabled individuals and others in many settings including their homes, independent living facilities, nursing homes, hospitals and other locations. Services are tailored to the individual needs of each client. For seniors, that means the ability to remain at home where their quality of life is enhanced without the stress and hardship of interrupted routines and daily habits.

Care duties include assistance with activities of daily living such as meal preparation, dressing, bathroom assistance, light housekeeping, grocery shopping, companionship and more. Caregivers—who are meticulously screened, bonded and insured through a rigorous hiring process—are provided on an hourly, daily, weekly or live-in basisto senior clients.

The demographics that Armstrong speaks of are staggering indeed. The U.S. General Accounting Office reports that more than 12 million Americans require some long-term care and as many as six out of every 10 Americans have family members or friends requiring long-term care. Eight of every 10 people would prefer to have care provided at their family member’s home, according to a report from the American Association or Retired People (AARP).

More than a decade ago, Armstrong identified non-medical, senior home care as a growth industry by utilizing his own business skills as a market research consultant, a field he entered after leaving accounting. His job was to assist large corporations in identifying new markets to enter, but having possessed the entrepreneurial bug since he was a youngster, Armstrong decided to perform a case study for himself.

His goal was to find a service business that catered to America’s aging Baby Boomers with a relatively modest start-up cost and, owing to Armstrong’s Detroit roots, “something that couldn’t be outsourced to China.”

“I took the approach I used in my job and applied it to my own personal life,” Armstrong said. “I asked myself, ‘What business would I want to get into if I determined I wanted to start a business?’ I performed a market research study on myself and landed on the senior home-care industry. It was a natural.”

Within four years, Armstrong’s Bloomfield Hills, Michigan-based company had $2 million in annual sales. In 2001, franchising was implemented and the first ComForcare franchised location opened in Philadelphia in 2002.

“We determined that franchising was the best way to expand into other markets,” Armstrong said. “But franchising also gave us the opportunity to provide very localized management in our markets from owners who had a vested interest in the business.”

ComForcare’s ability to provide an unparalleled quality of care has been a huge determinant in the company’s success, but its franchise owners have helped provide the foundation for that success. In turn, franchisees benefit from an outstanding training program and ComForcare’s proprietary HealthManager software that helps them manage all aspects of their business including scheduling, billing, payroll.

“Our selection of franchise owners and our training program are very important,” Armstrong said. “We’re not a franchisor who just wants to put up numbers in terms of how many franchisees we have; we want to help people build a business.”

ComForcare franchisees come from all walks of life: Only about 25 percent have backgrounds in healthcare but they share several common success factors, including a compassionate attitude and desire to help seniors; the ability to successfully manage others, strong networking and recruiting skills and proven business acumen. Many are drawn to the concept because of past experiences in caring for an aging adult.

With a modest estimated initial investment of $53,000 to $73,000, ComForcare offers prospective franchisees a cost-effective entry into a burgeoning industry. While the franchise owner can typically handle all management and administrative duties when the business is launched, additional staffing is required as it matures. For example, ComForcare can also provide its services through direct affiliation or an onsite presence with senior facilities such as independent living centers.

“The business is designed to start with one person but the franchise owner’s job is to eventually build a team to manage all functions of the business as it grows,” said Armstrong, who added that ComForcare is not only suitable for major metropolitan markets, but also for secondary markets with populations as little as 200,000.

“This is not a hobby business,” said Brigitte Betser, director of sales and support. “Other concepts might allow you to start on a part-time basis or out of your home but we call ComForcare a ‘Bigger Business Model.’ We immediately want our franchisees to get off on the right foot.”

The staggering numbers that represent America’s senior population make it difficult to identify another industry in the franchise community with the growth potential that ComForcare has in providing non-medical home care to seniors. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population 65 and older will grow faster than the total population in every single state beginning in 2011. Twenty-six states are projected to double their 65-and-older population between 2000 and 2030.

For more information, contact:

ComForcare: 2510 Telegraph Rd., Suite 100. Bloomfield Hills, MI 48302.

Phone: 800-886-4044.

Website: www.ComForcare.com

Category: Magazine, Small Business Opportunities, Small Business Opportunities May 2008