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Senior Entrepreneurs Find Senior Care a Great Fit

Philip Moeller

Ray Corkran bought an existing Home Instead senior-care franchise in Houston nearly 18 months ago as he was approaching his 60th birthday. With 20 years of experience owning fast-food franchises, Corkran knew the business metrics of what it took to be successful. But in plunking down roughly half a million dollars for a venture that was already established, he was making an investment that went well beyond dollars.

Corkran's mother died when she was 72, and he's convinced she would have lived much longer if she had received better care at home. "My mom was ill and I lived about five minutes from her. I thought she was being well taken care of by my dad," he recalls. "But it turns out he just wasn't a caregiver. He didn't know what to do." Corkran's mom became so ill she was hospitalized and contracted a staph infection there that she was too weak to overcome, he says.

"How can an upper-middle-class family find themselves in a situation where someone gets neglected by a spouse and a son who lives five minutes away?" he asks. Corkran says he doesn't fault his dad, who is still alive at the age of 85. "He is a good man. He did the best he could."

But Corkran is motivated by a personal drive to not let that happen to others. He also found senior care to be an attractive investment niche. "The baby boomers are turning 65," he says. "Who knows what's going to happen with Medicare and Medicaid, and how we will be taking care of our senior citizens?"

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Home Instead is one of a growing number of national franchises that help to provide in-home care to seniors. The International Franchise Association says senior care is among the industry's highest-growth sectors. Further, it's often a case of seniors helping seniors, as many new franchise investors are themselves older.

Local senior-care franchisees provide fee-based care services in clients' homes, ranging from a few hours a week of companionship, cleaning, and meal preparation to 24/7 support. Ideally, seniors get to stay safely at home and family members have confidence that their loved ones are receiving top-notch care. And franchise owners are often driven by their caregiving genes as well as their desire to make money.

Michele Bonneville bought her Home Instead franchise north of Tampa last year at age 61. She had spent more than a dozen years as an account manager for a healthcare company, following a similar period as a nurse. She was retired but decided the opportunity "was the perfect blend of both of my careers."

"It allows me to do something that is a calling, and to change the face of aging" in this country, says Bonneville, who invested in the new franchise with her daughter, Lynelle. "Because we're older ourselves," she says of senior entrepreneurs in the field, "we understand the aging process, and we're more patient." Being experienced has also helped her start a new business during a very slow economic recovery. "We're old enough to know that everything goes in cycles" and that the economy eventually will get better, she says.

In deciding to get back into business, Bonneville was prudent. "I'm debt-free and I did not put myself in a financial position [with the franchise purchase] where it was everything I had saved. Also, I wanted to be in the service industry as opposed to the food industry. There is very little overhead in this business."

[Read: A Closer Look at America's Aging Workforce.]

Lastly, Bonneville had her daughter as a partner, and also the involvement of others. "I had several retired women friends who are experienced in marketing and provided me tremendous help," she says "They won't even let me pay them for their help! So, I had a whole team. I'm not just doing this by myself."

Brian Miller, chief operating officer of The Entrepreneur's Source, says the kinds of franchising decisions made by Bonneville and Corkran reflect best practices of the older investors his firm trains to become successful entrepreneurs. Itself a franchise, The Entrepreneur's Source has 230 "coaches" across North America that see roughly 7,000 people a month who are interested in a career in franchising, Miller says. The training is free to potential franchisees. The company is paid by the franchises where his clients actually decide to make investments.

Franchise investments begin as low as $10,000 and can go into the millions for larger opportunities, he says. "A lot of people think they have to have a very high net worth, but that's not the case. There are a lot of opportunities in the $100,000 to $350,000 range."

Miller ticks off what he calls the "three pillars" of franchising: 1) a franchisor with a quality brand name; 2) a franchisor that has developed a strong operating system to train and guide franchisees and create a predictable and scalable end-user experience; and, 3) a franchisee with the personality and temperament to follow the franchisor's system.

"If you can follow the system and you're not a maverick, then franchising is a great opportunity for you," Miller says. "The franchise brings about 80 percent of the discipline to be successful. The other 20 percent is what the person brings to it to develop the business."

Older entrepreneurs have long been active in franchising but new franchisees have included a larger percentage of 55+ investors in recent years. Beyond financial gain, older entrepreneurs often bring an altruistic motive with them. "Yes, they want to make money, but they want to do it in a way where they can give back to the community," Miller says he has observed.

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"The kinds of franchisees that we see second-career people being drawn to are ones involving something they care deeply about," says Matthew Haller, a spokesman for the International Franchise Association. This often involves people-intensive service industries, including business consulting, education, gyms, and senior care. Franchises that help animals have also become very appealing, the IFA says.

Here's Miller's list of five types of senior-friendly franchise opportunities and the reasons they make sense for older entrepreneurs:

1. Home-based franchises. They require much less start-up capital than brick-and-mortar franchises and have more flexible hours.

2. Business coaching franchises. Retirees use their acquired business experience and the business often can be run out of the home.

3. Tutoring/education franchises. Lower capital investment and often lower stress than something like a restaurant concept.

4. Senior-care franchises. Retirees can easily relate to the customer base and there is huge demand for senior-care services.

5. Staffing/recruiting franchises. This is a great option for retired executives who have been hiring people for many years. Staffing services also have high customer demand that will grow as the economy improves.

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