Senior Helpers provides aid to a growing population of senior citizens.
By Alan Dorich
Senior Helpers’ franchisees have made it a leader in its segment, President Craig Leonard says. “That’s how you win in the World Series: When you have everybody who is an all-star playing as one team,” he says.
Based in Timonium, Md., Senior Helpers provides senior care services within the clients’ homes. Tony Bonacuse and Peter Ross founded the company in 2002, after their experiences in caring for their own family members.
“In the case of Tony, they were dealing with an aging grandmother,” Leonard says, noting that Ross assisted his ailing mother. “As they started to reach out and look for help, they saw the opportunity to be a world-class provider for help, and that it could be a great business.”
Bonacuse opened the company’s first location in Maryland, which was immediately successful. But to validate that the location was not just a one-time phenomenon, Ross opened another in California. “They were successful out there and that’s when they decided to grow and franchise the business,” Leonard says.
Today, Senior Helpers has 280 territories sold in the United States, along with some in Australia. “This year, we signed a master agreement for Canada,” he says. “They opened their first office already.”
The Promised Land
After a career in franchising, Leonard joined Senior Helpers in 2012. But he also had personal experiences, similar to Ross and Bonacuse. “We were going through a situation with my mother-in-law, who had Alzheimer’s,” he recalls.
“At the same time, I was doing Meals on Wheels in my local town, which was a tremendous experience,” Leonard says. “You get to meet seniors who love the opportunity to talk and share their thoughts with somebody.”
“Doing those two things initiated me into the challenge of caring for loved ones,” he recalls, noting that he was approached by an executive recruiter for Senior Helpers. “They shared with me their vision for the future. They needed some help, [so I joined to] help them and their franchisees get to what we refer to as ‘the promised land.’”
Senior Helpers’ ability to fill a need in its market has made it successful, Leonard says. “The aging demographic in the United States and internationally is just surging,” he says. “As people live longer, it’s an enviable business to be in.”
He adds that the company has a team environment. “The franchise community has become aligned as one team working with Senior Helpers corporate to work on providing unique services,” he says. “Everybody has gotten on board.”
“We have a really engaged owners council that is involved with every part of the process we take to the market,” he says. “We also have rewards and recognitions, honoring the franchisees for their success.”
An Attractive Package
Now is a very good time to buy a Senior Helpers franchise, Leonard says. “There is a huge growing audience that will require our services,” he says, noting that the company keeps costs affordable.
“What we’re asking someone to bring into the business is around $100,000,” he says. “That covers all of their startup costs and getting into the business. That’s a very reasonable number.”
While Senior Helpers does not provide financing, “We have relationships with banks and we have partners that will allow potential franchisees to tap into their 401(k),” he says. “It really makes it an attractive package to get into, [with] a burgeoning demand, a reasonable cost of entry and highly successful businesses in there.”
Buying the Team
Senior Helpers has an extensive start-up program for franchisees. “The day you sign a contract, you’re going to be assigned a business development manager that is going to be your partner for a full year after you’ve opened,” Leonard says.
The company also makes sure that franchisees are well educated about the business by bringing them to its office in Baltimore. “We’re going to teach you how to go after clients,” he says.
Senior Helpers also provides its franchisees with the expertise of all of its departments. For example, “The marketing department is going to work with that franchisee directly,” he says.
“We want somebody to be very, very successful when they’re franchised,” he says. “When you come in and buy a franchise with us, you’re buying the whole team.”
Senior Helpers is coping with a reduction in skilled caregivers in its market. “There is more of a demand for great, quality talent and our franchisees are finding that pool is becoming tighter,” Leonard says, noting that it works with franchisees on programs for developing caregivers.
On the recruiting side, “Our marketing department has created radio ads and print ads to drive quality candidates to interviews for hiring,” he says. Senior Helpers also provides training through its franchisee offices’ centers of excellence across the country.
“We can make them experts at doing the job,” Leonard says, noting that the company has partnered on this with the Institute for Professional Care Education. “Caregivers can take the training whenever and wherever, and we can verify that they’ve taken the program.”
Senior Helpers’ programs also include Senior Gems®, an award-winning program that teaches caregivers how to provide excellent care for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. But this training is not just available to its associates.
“We do a lot of free training and provide material that we’ll send to the public for free,” he says. “At the end of the day, we know that you’ll be a better caregiver for your loved one.”
The company also educates people who work in independent and assisted living facilities. “We give them the continuing education credits that allow them to maintain their professional ratings,” Leonard says. “We do that for free, because we’re trying to develop relationships with these communities.”
Senior Helpers also has educated people on caring for those with Parkinson’s disease and has created relationships with both the The Michael J. Fox Foundation and the National Parkinson Foundation. “What we’re trying to do is make the quality of life for those people better,” he says.
The company also focuses on care for veterans. “The Veterans Department in the United States makes it difficult for veterans to get the care they deserve,” Leonard says. “[We] allow veterans to navigate the maze and get the care.”
Leonard predicts a strong future for Senior Helpers. “You’ll see our existing franchisees become even more successful,” he says, noting that he wants to grow its average volume. “Our goal is to work with them to get to the $2 million level.
The company has plans to grow its territories in the United States by 15 percent annually. “We want to continue our international growth as well,” he adds. “Tomorrow is even going to be better for us than today. The upside is so big.”