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VOL. 129 | NO. 165 | Monday, August 25, 2014

 

Veteran’s HomeCare Franchise Aims for Place in Market

By Don Wade

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There are always adjustments to be made, such as when a middle-school-aged boy moves from Philadelphia to Birmingham, Ala.

Brian Walker still recalls that day in gym class when the P.E. instructor was taking roll. When Walker heard his name called, he answered the way he always had in his young life: “Yo.”

That dog wasn’t going to hunt, not in Alabama, where “Yes, sir,” was the expected reply.

Brian and Elizabeth Walker bought into a Synergy HomeCare franchise, the only one in the Memphis area, after seeing the need for home health care. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“I had to do a lot of push-ups,” Walker said with a laugh.

Today Walker, 35, is about five months into owning a Synergy HomeCare franchise in Memphis with his wife, Elizabeth. A U.S. Air Force veteran who is still a member of the Air National Guard, Walker moved to Memphis about a decade ago.

Now in the early stages of trying to make a go of it with this business, he is finding that daily life is full of adjusting on the fly. There is a way to do business – any business – in Memphis, and there is a way to be competitive in the ultra-competitive home health care field.

Both require emotional investment, not just financial commitment.

“I consider myself a Memphian,” Walker said. “I love the city.”

Not that he has left his past completely behind. He grew up an Alabama football fan and he still pulls for the Crimson Tide. But he’s also a season-ticket holder for University of Memphis football, which suggests he is a man of unwavering faith and endless patience. Good qualities for a small-business owner.

He gravitated toward the home health care field a couple of years ago. A good friend was seriously injured in a boating accident.

“We don’t like to use the p-word,” he said, explaining that he helped the family rearrange the house to make it wheelchair-accessible.

A few months later, Walker’s mother was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. Walker and his brother spent several months in Birmingham by her side.

“We were her caregivers,” he said. “We helped her go to the bathroom, fed her.”

All of that, coupled with the business reality that the need for home health care is only going to grow, led Walker to this point: buying into a Synergy HomeCare franchise, the only one in the Memphis area.

Richard Basch, president of Synergy HomeCare, recently told Yahoo Small Business that the business of home care is “simple but not easy.” The company began franchising in 2006 and has grown dramatically since then. It is currently researching the international market.

In the United States, recent surveys indicate that almost 90 percent of American baby boomers want to remain at home in their old age rather than go to an assisted-living facility or a nursing home.

Walker says many of his competitors in the Memphis area are primarily focused on in-home care for the elderly. And it is a huge segment of the market. But he is trying to expand his business model to include everyone from expectant mothers to younger people who might be suffering with multiple sclerosis or another disease or are recovering from an accident or injury.

“We’re trying to reach out to a lot of different avenues that are out there,” he said.

At any given time, he has a couple of dozen part-time caregivers on the payroll providing non-medical care, which includes such things as bathing, feeding, dressing and help with going to the restroom. The caregivers are not certified to provide any medical care, which would include such things as giving medication, working with a feeding tube or colostomy bag, or even trimming fingernails.

“Because if the person is on a blood thinner and you nick the skin, the person could start bleeding,” he explained.

Walker says he has a “handful of clients” at this point, but is turning a small profit. Synergy provides him and all franchisees with support at multiple levels, including a startup coach, 24/7 assistance with software, and making industry experts available as resources.

At the end of the day, though, the buck stops with Walker. Recently, he and his wife were cooking together when he saw he had a message from his scheduler. One of the caregivers couldn’t make her assignment that night and no one else was available to cover the 12-hour shift.

“I stopped what I was doing,” he said of making yet another daily adjustment as a small-business owner and covering the shift himself.

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