Interview with Peter Ross, CEO of Senior Helpers

I often get asked, “what is the hottest franchise?” or “what sort of business should I buy?” and my response is typically the same … Often is depends on your interests, skills, work ethic, location, and several other factors. But when pressed, I urge people to look at changing demographics, sites or other factors that might lead to a great idea.

One industry that has been booming the past five to seven years is the home care and senior care sector and companies like Home Instead Senior Care, Senior Helpers, Visiting Angels, etc have been able to capitalize in aging America. Below is an interview with Peter Ross, CEO of Senior Helpers. Peter also offers a few ideas and strategies for growing a business. Enjoy!

Peter Ross, CEO and co-founder of Senior Helpers, checks the economic numbers every day. His company is the fastest growing franchiser of in-home Senior Care and business leaders are watching his firms, and his performance. Few companies doubled in size during the recession and Ross knows continuing that growth rate won’t be easy. But as he looks over the most recent government reports, he believes he’s seeing a few, faint signs the nation’s weak and nearly flat lined economy does indeed have a pulse and may be slowly starting to recover. The Commerce Department reported orders for manufactured goods rose 1.8 percent in February, reversing six straight months of decline and surprising analysts. The Dow Industrials rose above 8000 for the first time in two months. Reports of construction spending and pending home sales were better than expected.

But Ross isn’t ready to say the 17 month long recession, the longest since World War Two, is over. Companies continue to lay off workers at a record pace and the tally of workers claiming unemployment benefits set a record for the 10th straight week. Still, he credits his “recession adverse strategy” with keeping Senior Helpers growing, even during the dark months at the end of 2008. And he plans to stay ahead of the curve, leading the nation’s recovery.

“We know our markets, our services, out goals and we embrace and empower the franchises to get us there,” says Ross. “We are business people and we are in the business of in-home care which means you have to perform everyday.”

And Senior Helpers is performing. The company has 260 offices in 37 states. Senior Helpers reported a 50 percent growth in clients and franchises in 2008. Sales for the year hit $27M. Sales projections for 2009 are $57M. The company continues opening new offices and adding staff to existing franchises. It’s estimated 600 new caregivers will be hired this year. Ross lays out his strategy like this.

· Bold planning and investing to drive the brand. Franchise owners recently pooled their money to launch a nationwide media buy. Other marketing efforts are in the works. There is no better time to think outside the box.

· Strategic vision. This is a time to take calculated risks and take advantage of opportunities before prices increase.

· Be flexible. Senior Helpers provides a framework but then gives franchise owners flexibility in running and promoting their individual business.

· Listen for new ideas as well as concerns because the company is better as a whole.

Ross’s growth strategy is driven by the convergence of two trends: an aging population and a recession driven labor pool. Senior Helpers caregivers provide a wide range of non-medical services, from cooking meals to helping seniors with bathing and dressing, running errands to companionship. It’s all designed to help seniors stay independent.

“As large numbers of Americans get older and reach the point where they can’t safely live on their own, family members want alternatives to nursing homes,” says Ross. “The need to care for a loved one supersedes most uses for discretionary income.”

In addition, people needing work during the recession make it easier for franchise owners to hire qualified caregivers to meet the growing demand for service. Ross cites two examples of why his plan is working.

Dave Goodwin opened a Senior Helpers franchise in Yardley, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia, about one year ago. He recently hired a retired nurse to be a caregiver. “People are looking for extra money during these tough times and to find someone with that kind of experience is invaluable,” says Goodwin.

Halfway across the country, Shawn and Angie Gilson of Iowa City, Iowa were looking to start their own business when Shawn’s mother fell and broke her elbow. “After hearing so many similar stories, I knew this could be a valuable service and we opened in June,” says Gilson. “People want to help their loved ones.”

“In some ways our growth is amazing, considering we’ve only been around a few years,” Ross admits. But he’s quick to add, “It shows our business plan is sound, our franchise owners and employees are the best, and in-home care is a strong growth industry.” Ross is already reviewing his “recession adverse” strategy and renaming it “recession recovery,” just to be ready.

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