Katie Fielmann's Comfort Keepers of Chicagoland has 747 competitors -- all nicely cataloged by the state's Department of Public Health in an April online listing that includes names, addresses and phone numbers.
That's a lot of competition.
There is good news, however: The techniques Fielmann uses to build success -- quarterly peer meetings; working the referral network; and a grandPad that brings seniors painlessly into the digital age -- are techniques other small businesses can adapt.
Fielmann's 15-year old, Wood Dale-headquartered company provides nonmedical support services -- think companion visits and conversation; rides to the doctor's office or grocery store; personal care; respite care; meal prep -- whatever assistance is appropriate to help (mostly) seniors continue to live at home.
Clearly, Fielmann has some ideas that work. So does Sybil Ege, owner of Oracle Business Planning, Elburn.
Ege voices one word that fits us all: Service. "You have to prove you're a cut above your competitors -- maybe with a service no one else provides, maybe the fact that you deliver your goods on time and your people show up on time," she says.
"Use videos, or testimonials, to demonstrate your service. The fact that you and your people speak the language your customers speak can be especially important in a care setting."
Ege is not a fan of using price reductions or coupons to set a business apart. "I don't like that idea very much. I think it cheapens the value of the service you offer," she says.
Fielmann understands the issues that lift her business in the home services sector -- and could sink it if done poorly. Consequently, she makes certain referral sources -- hospital discharge units, for example; churches; senior centers; and guardians and attorneys -- know the business' activities and track record. In addition, Comfort Keepers of Chicagoland has 130 caregivers in the field, recruited in part by benefits many larger companies don't offer and a regular training program.
There are two full-time business development officers as well.
But Fielmann has gone a step further with grandPads, a special seven-inch tablet similar to an iPad but created for seniors. Preprogrammed with applications intended to help keep seniors engaged, the grandPad is a sophisticated device that is easy to use.
The grandPad is not a computer. Users can't search the internet, but they can send voice emails; play games; check the weather; share photos and make phone calls.
I've tried the grandPad; it's conceptually right on, especially for seniors who have trouble figuring out smartphones and tablets. (Learn more at www.wooddale-219.comfortkeepers.com.)
Depending on your market, the grandPad equivalent attention-getter might be a monthly lunchtime discussion group of compatible business owners; a surprise arrangement from your floral shop; or a free Tuesday dessert at your restaurant.
Fielmann's Comfort Keepers' franchise territory runs essentially from Oak Park to Elgin east to west, to Lisle on the south, and Arlington Heights and Mount Prospect on the north.
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