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posted: 5/21/2012 6:00 AM

Senior care franchises: Slam dunk money makers?

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As Americans continue to age, a senior care franchise that helps Mom and Dad live at home would seem to be a slam dunk way to make money. But nothing is a slam dunk.

• Rudy VanDerLaan, for the past two years has served as part owner of a Comfort Keepers franchise and talks about a long sales cycle. "It can be 18 months from the time the family notices Mom is beginning to slip" until a care decision is made, he says.

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• A 2012 study on senior care franchises published by Franchise Business Review, a Portsmouth, NH, market research firm that tracks franchisee satisfaction, notes a "highly fragmented (industry) with over 35 franchise brands and many more non-franchise businesses competing for market share."

• Recruiting, training and keeping qualified caregivers can be a challenge.

Still, says VanDerLaan, whose Comfort Keepers franchise provides nonmedical services in a territory that runs from Oak Brook to Glen Ellyn, "Senior care can be a good business if run properly."

Services generally range from meal preparation to transportation to bathing and grooming -- and are available not just to seniors but to new mothers and patients recovering from surgery, said Brian Foster who is in the process of opening a FirstLight HomeCare franchise in Plainfield-Naperville.

Once a franchise is purchased -- the FBR study says the median initial investment to open an office is $66,148 -- operational concerns quickly turn to licensing, staffing and marketing.

Finding clients who need assistance means connecting with churches, hospitals, medical practices, eldercare attorneys, CPAs and other professionals who have contact with seniors and their families and might know when care is needed.

Because home care isn't always appropriate, a handful of franchises help seniors transition to assisted living, nursing homes or other specialized housing have surfaced recently.

For example, Rick Graffagna owns an Assisted Transition franchise in Woodridge; Maryann Murnin owns an Always Better Care franchise, Palos Park, that has a transitions component. Their role is to help seniors find alternative housing.

"We're a referral source," Graffagna says. "We help seniors navigate through the housing options they have."

Like Graffagna, Murnin visits senior facilities and makes recommendations based on client needs and finances. "I will have toured 40-50 facilities," Murnin says. "I eat lunch there. Then I tour (selected facilities) with the family."

Neither she nor Graffagna charge seniors; instead, they get what essentially is a commission when a senior moves into a recommended facility.

The ultimate business question is whether an individual senior-focused franchise can make money. "You won't get rich," says VanDerLaan, the only one mentioned in this column in senior care long enough to know.

Without prompting, however, VanDerLaan and everyone else here uses "compassion," or "calling" or similar words to explain the often personal reasons behind their businesses. Sometimes, money isn't everything.

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at JKendall@121MarketingResources.com. 2012 121 Marketing Resources Inc.

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