Home healthcare for aging seniors will continue to be a growing franchising niche with plenty of opportunities

According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, by 2030 the number of Americans aged 65 and older will more than double to 71 million, that's roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population. In some states, as much as a quarter of the population will be aged 65 and older.

Caring for this aging population is going to be a challenge not only for their families but for the healthcare industry. And that's why franchising has begun, and will continue, to be in growing demand.

There's already an expanding list of franchise players that offer in-home supportive care and assistance services for the elderly who want to continue to maintain some degree of independence. Among the providers are BrightStar Health Care, Right at Home, Always Best Care Senior Services, Senior Helpers, Home Helpers, and Homewatch CareGivers.

The franchising model is perfect for this market segment. Franchisees need not have any business experience to successfully operate in this field. And those with a healthcare background are even more suited for the business. That's exactly the case with Carla Shepherd in Wichita, Kan.

"I was in the healthcare industry for years and, as a radiologic technologist, had spent 15 years managing an X-ray department at a healthcare facility," says Shepherd. She says she knew how to hire and manage people. "When I saw some market changes coming our way, I began looking around for other opportunities."

It was about this same time that Shepherd's grandmother, who had broken her arm, was being cared for by Right At Home in Omaha, Neb. The family was impressed with the care being provided.

With no business experience, but a heart for caring for people, Shepherd and her two sisters �" also both with healthcare industry experience - approached Right At Home.

"We were actually only the second franchise to be awarded," says Shepherd. That was in early 2001. The siblings, who were attracted by the low overhead of the model, borrowed money and began their careers in franchising.

She says the initial and follow up support provided by Right At Home was very thorough. "They loaded everything I would need onto my computer, gave me a stack of marketing materials, and an intense two-week training course. I could have literally started the business the next day," she says. After identifying some local office space to set up shop, the three sisters were up and running in a matter of weeks.

Seven years later, the 50-year-old Shepherd and her sisters are overseeing 300 "field employees," an office staff of 10, and serve around 300 elderly clients in the Wichita area. It's both challenging and rewarding, she says. "We get to care for people in their final years, but at the same time, it is often very difficult when some of these wonderful people pass away."

Shepherd believes the franchise model works so well because the system is already tried and tested and fine-tuned. "I had no previous business experience and was able to plug right in and within six months we were breaking even," she says.

For anyone considering senior care franchising, Shepherd has some advice. "You can't get into this if you're only interested in making money. Most seniors can tell if you are sincere about what you do," she says. "If you don't care about elderly people, this is not for you."

For those who do have a heart for assisting the elderly, a could just be your calling.

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