Prime time: aged care opportunities

By Sarah Stowe | 29 Oct 2015 View comments

An ageing population is increasingly seeking at-home care and franchised businesses are stepping up to meet the demand writes Domini Stuart.

The Health Care and Social Assistance industry is now Australia's biggest employer with a workforce of 1.3 million, or 11.4 percent of the total number of people employed. To put that in perspective, the retail trade employs 10.9 percent, construction 9.1 percent and manufacturing 8.6 percent.

It is also the fastest-growing industry, particularly in the area of aged care.

"At the moment there are 350,000 people in the aged care system," says Trish Noakes, CEO and founder of Just Better Care. "In the coming decade we're going to have 3.6 million, of whom one million will have dementia."

"There's nothing more certain than people getting older and needing help" adds Home Instead Senior Care director Martin Warner. "And everyone knows staying in your own home as you age is the preferred option."

Over the past decade, in-home care in America has risen to the top of the aged care hierarchy. It's likely that Australia will follow suit and, not surprisingly, growing numbers of would-be franchisees are being drawn by the scale of the opportunity. But, for most franchisors, a desire to make money is not what the business is about.

"We get hundreds of inquiries from people motivated by financial outcomes," says Noakes. "Every business has to be profitable but, if that's the key motivator, we're not interested. We look for people who have a passion for service provision and good communication skills as well as reasonable business acumen and a desire to succeed."

Grant Gaston, who recently took over as the master franchisor of Senior Helpers, says that some people are horrified to hear that one of the first qualities he looks for is an ability to develop the business. However, he adds that one of the biggest barriers to providing appropriate care is the fact that so many people have no idea of what's available or how they can access what they need.

"A lot of education is needed to change the current mindset and culture," he says. "We look for people who can help to bring this about by having conversations and developing relationships both with families and centres of influence such as hospitals and rehabilitation facilities."

He also looks for people who have operated a business before or, at least, have had some significant management responsibilities, ideally in a corporation.

"Of course you need to be committed to providing care of the highest quality but you also have to be able to run an efficient business," he says. 

"The heart of Senior Helpers is how well you attract potential clients, handle an inquiry, arrange an assessment meeting, talk to the family, arrive at an agreement and provide a care plan, only then how you deliver the service. If you focus too closely on the care aspect it can be at the expense of the business itself."

NON-MEDICAL CARE

One of the biggest misconceptions about an aged care franchise is that it requires a background in nursing. "People tend to forget that we provide companion and personal care, not medical care," says Gaston. 

Comprehensive training makes motivation and aptitude more important than age or background.

"Although there are no strict requirements on education or experience, every successful Home Instead Senior Care franchise owner must have a heartfelt desire to work with seniors, compassion and amiability and a commitment to owning and operating their businesses as well as the financial capacity for investment," says Warner.

Gaston has found that the biggest learning curve is compliance. "We work very closely with our franchisees to help them comply and to understand why it's so important that they do," he says. "The bottom line is that, if you comply with the system, you will succeed. If you don't, you won't."

With an entry point around $60,000, most aged care franchises are at the lower end of the investment scale but the necessary working capital is in the region of $150,000.

"To get started, you need an office in the community with a couple of staff," says Noakes. "You need to be able to cover those costs for a year as you're building your income."

Gaston agrees that franchisees need to take a realistic view of potential growth.

"We sell 20 year licences broken down into five year segments," he says. "If you're running an efficient business, the value of your territory is going to increase over that time. But, at the beginning, there will be a lag between the initial contact with clients and when they start paying for the service so you have to be able to invest in growing the business."

FUNDING

In Australia, aged care is well funded by the Commonwealth Government Community Care Packages.

"The Living Longer, Living Better program was introduced to help people to live independently at home for as long as possible," says Noakes. "At Just Better Care we sometimes get funding directly from the government, though over 40 percent of our work is from people who choose to come to us, either as private clients or by directing a funded support package to our organisation. The balance of our work comes through brokerage arrangements with over 200 organisations."

Image: Thinkstock

Senior Helpers also provides both a brokered service and private care while Home Instead operates a private fee-for-service model.

"Each franchise office operates directly with clients and their families, often based on referrals from health professionals and community based organisations, or sourced directly by the client or family," says Warner. 

"We want people to have real choice about when and where they have services, even to the very end of their life. Providing consistently great service and real choice directly builds our business. Our clients want a service they can adjust to their changing needs.  They are paying – and we are tailoring accordingly. This is in essence the basis of every successful business." 

A FULFILLING CAREER

For the right people, working in the aged care sector is enormously rewarding. 

"As a franchise owner, you get to work very closely with your staff, ensuring that they're providing an excellent service with compassion and care," says Noakes.

"I've been in community care myself for over 25 years and I never fail to be impressed by the amazing people that are attracted to this industry. And there's little more satisfying or fulfilling than knowing that you're making a positive difference to people's lives every day."

Top image: Home Instead Senior Care