The First Year: Senior Savvy

Comfort Keepers Canada franchisee Erika Ren­don has such a distinctive platform for setting her in-home senior business apart from com­petitors that it’s hard to recommend as gen­eral advice because not everyone would be able to pull it together: she launched a monthly local cable television show in Barrie, Ontario, that provides her community with useful information while simultaneously raising the franchise’s profile in her area.

Inspired by the mandate of Comfort Keepers’ Nourish Senior Life program, Rendon’s cable show aims to raise awareness of diet and nutrition in the elderly population. The show features guest speakers on various topics rel­evant to seniors, including a speaker from the Alzheim­er’s Society of Canada, who provides insight into foods that promote brain health and an osteopath with tips on bone health. Rendon hosts the show, with help from her general manager who is also a chef. They film the show in a kitchen at Amica, a local retirement residence, in order to incorporate seniors into the programming. “It’s a way for us to educate and promote healthy living with our seniors as well as any population, and that really kind of sets us apart,” she says.

The glamour of television aside, Rendon is doing well as a franchisee—her’s is one of the fastest growing Com­fort Keepers operations in Canada. Launching her busi­ness in the city of Barrie in February 2018, Rendon has built her business to include both individual clients as well as government contracts. Already, her team boasts 36 full-time and six part-time employees, including a gen­eral manager and a service coordinator.

Longstanding healthcare passion

With a background working in the healthcare field for the past 12 years, including more than four years as the general manager of a caregiving business, Rendon was already familiar with the space when she began to explor­ing franchise opportunities in the senior care category. She selected Comfort Keepers, in part, because the fran­chise had a Canadian office (Comfort Keepers Canada is a part of the Sodexo family of companies which offer health care and senior care services globally).

Since Rendon was already familiar with the health­care space, she didn’t need as much training, but says that she found good value in the support of a financial coach provided by the franchise who connected with her on a regular basis to support her as she built her busi­ness. Franchise setup included five days of training at the Comfort Keepers head office, and focused on human resources, growth strategy, as well as train­ing in payroll and sched­uling systems. Continued support includes a help­ful newsletter that keeps franchisees posted on everything from changing health care information to upcoming medical conven­tions.

Today, Rendon says that 95 per cent of her cli­ent base is over 75. Most of her clients are indepen­dent seniors who require assistance with errands such as grocery shopping and transportation. In addition, she offers more extensive 24-hour care services. Yet another clien­tele are people with mobil­ity issues, including some who are motor vehicle accident victims.

While Rendon has found success in her busi­ness, she says that the main challenges have been on the HR side, with caregiver retention. “It is probably the biggest point of contention that I have, and we continue to struggle with,” says Rendon, adding that it’s not spe­cific to her franchise. “I think it’s a healthcare-wide issue, finding and retaining great caregivers.”

She addresses the challenge by trying to offer a fair and consistent workplace to her employees. “I think first and foremost, it’s a level of respect for your employees,” she says, noting that incentivizing employees with perks such as bonuses and employee outings has helped. She makes an effort to ensure her employees feel like they are part of the business. She started offering health ben­efits to employees in 2019, a perk not always offered by the competition. To help attract more employees, she also offers a referral bonus for caregivers.

Besides raising her profile through the television show and investing in Google marketing, Rendon has focused on getting involved in her community, which helps to promote word of mouth. She serves as an execu­tive member of a committee to prevent elder abuse at a local hospital in Simcoe Muskoka. She also volunteers with the Senior Wish Association in Barrie, an organi­zation that grants wishes to seniors in the style of the Children’s Wish Foundation. Recently, the Senior Wish Association granted an 85-year-old’s wish to do the CN Tower EdgeWalk at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto!

Drawn to franchising

Rendon says she was initially drawn to franchising after discovering that she enjoyed the challenge of working as a general manager. “I loved being in charge of a large managerial group, and I really enjoyed the connections that I had in the community with the big players out there, like hospital executives. I was very good at inter­acting with other people and I thought that it was a great time for me to own my own business, be my own boss, and really make a difference,” says Rendon.

As franchise owner, Rendon’s typical workday includes everything from connecting with caregivers and families, to handling administrative tasks like pay­roll. A large portion of her time is also spent out in the community, at retirement homes and long-term care facilities meeting and educating potential clients about her services. She adds that the past year in business reinforced her decision to become a franchisee. “I like the freedom of being able to implement different areas of focus within the business.”

In terms of advice she would have for other franchi­sees, Rendon says those in healthcare franchises have to like people and want to help others. While her health care background has been helpful in starting her busi­ness, she says that being a people person is even more essential. “I think being in healthcare definitely is helpful in terms of who you should be connecting with in the community, but as long as you are friendly and you are looking to make a difference in your community, that’s most important,” she says.

Persistence is at the top of her list as general business advice. “When you first start off, a community can be a little closed off, because they don’t know who you are. We had started in a brand-new territory, so being per­sistent and consistent with who you are and what you are trying to accomplish, I think that that is the number one,” she says, adding that maintaining a positive atti­tude is also crucial.

Rendon says that one of her longer-term goals is to open a respite for people in her area recovering from sur­gery, but for now she is happy to continue growing her business. “We are committed to our clients, we definitely believe in consistency and reliability of the caregivers. And we are just happy to be in the community and help­ing those that are in need,” she says.


By Suzanne Bowness