Reinventing After a Family Crisis

When her grandmother could no longer manage by herself, former marketing executive Denise Thomas found her passion: helping the elderly live at home for as long as possible.

by Michelle Stacey
Reinventing after Family Crisis
Photograph: Misty Keasler

Being part of a franchise meant that Thomas had a ready-made “kit” that included website templates, computer programs and hiring guidelines. “Franchisees don't have to reinvent the wheel,” says Carol Roth, a business strategist and the author of The Entrepreneur Equation. They generally don't have to figure out procedures or marketing strategies on their own. In exchange for giving the parent company a percentage of the gross revenue, they get to operate under the aegis of a known brand and to benefit from the experience of other franchisees. Although it's tough to get figures on whether franchises have a higher success rate than independent start-ups, Roth adds, most experts think they do.


The downsides of a franchise: the fees you continue to pay to the parent company and a lack of creative control (the founders decide how you will present the brand, in marketing, logos and so on). If the parent company gets bad publicity, you may be affected as well. For instance, when an outbreak of E. coli was linked to several Taco Bell outlets in 2006, other franchisees experienced a temporary downturn; the same thing happened at Domino's Pizza in 2009 when a video on YouTube showed one franchise's employees fouling pizza with unsanitary “ingredients.”


A few years ago, two Home Instead franchise offices in Maryland were accused of race discrimination, with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that they'd let clients specify the race of the caregivers assigned to them. Home Instead settled the lawsuit in December 2010. Complaints about some Home Instead offices have also popped up on consumer websites.


Thomas says her business was unaffected by these dustups. To maintain excellent client relations at her own franchise, she relies on careful quality control: finding caregivers who have a genuine sympathy for the elderly (many of Thomas's hires got into the business because they'd cared for their own relatives and found the work rewarding) and doing rigorous background checks. In the end, she takes on only about 20 of the 300 people who apply for jobs each month. The next step is training her workers to handle sensitive situations; for example, how to respond if a client doesn't want help getting out of a chair but may hurt herself if she tries to do it on her own. And Thomas monitors caregivers by making surprise visits to her clients' homes.


For a first-class experience, however, matching a client with a caregiver who has a similar background is key. “We set up one elderly gentleman, a retired executive, with a male caretaker who was a retired IBM executive, and that worked out very well,” she says. “I love my clients dearly, and I have a real affinity for them. It feels good to know that I'm helping to make their last years comfortable. That's why I'm in this business.” ❦


Running the numbers


103Age of oldest client (and her caregiver was 74—the family requested an older attendant so the two would have more in common)


120 to 140Number of clients Thomas has at any given time


$70,000Total start-up costs for Thomas's first year in business ($50,000 for the franchise kit plus $20,000 for cash flow)


$18Average hourly rate paid by clients, depending on their requirements


$9 to $14Hourly wage that Thomas pays her home-care workers (nationwide, the average hourly wage is about $9.50, and nursing aides earn about $11.50 an hour)


This story first appeared in More magazine's December 2011/January 2012 issue.

Michelle Stacey is the author of The Fasting Girl. She blogs at

Don’t miss out on MORE great articles like this one. Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter!

Related story: Crisis Is Her Business

First Published November 28, 2011

Share Your Thoughts!


N.J. Parsons12.09.2011

It's nice that this "second act" woman got so much free publicity for her $2 million/yr. business.
This puff piece is hardly an even-handed look at any aspect of senior care. For-profit companies that have mastered Medicare billing codes and also attract private-pay clients from among the wealthy are vultures.
Describing assisted living as acceptable "if the house is falling apart" is a hoot. Just the folks who are rescued from squalor should move, then? Please.
Why was her grandmother isolated from friends and church, which is stated as a part of the "family crisis" in the headline? There are all levels of senior care in many parts of the country. My church is filled with seniors from group homes, assisted living and nursing homes, who get rides or use the facility shuttle bus. Group living hardly eliminates the possibility of seeing old friends or churches. What a stupid misconception to perpetuate.
In my family I have observed that assisted living has provided the senior with more socializing, not less. Hoping that an $18/hr. aide will offer MaMa her dose of social contact is not really a plan.
There are many choices out there but this dopey article does its best to kneecap any option but one of the costliest - individual home health aides. It might be profitable for the profiled woman, but it is not necessarily the best option and certainly not the most social and inclusive.
Shame on you More. I expect some reporting and some balance before you publish ad copy for franchisees.

Post new comment

Click to add a comment