Becky Bongiovanni, CarePatrol’s Co-Founder and Brand President, joins FBR CEO, Eric Stites, to discuss how the brand has grown its “social worker model” into an industry-leading system, boasting nearly 150 locations nationwide.
Listen to the full conversation here or read the transcript below.
Eric: Good afternoon. This is Eric Stites with Franchise Business Review. As many of you are aware, I've talked to a number of people and I get asked a lot about what the hot concepts are in franchising and what industries are growing, and one of those spaces is definitely the senior care space. It's been growing pretty aggressively over the last decade. This afternoon I've got Becky Bongiovanni with me, who is the [Co-Founder and Brand President] of Care Patrol. Becky, welcome.
Becky: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Eric: So, I just want to start and have you share a little bit about Care Patrol, how you guys got started and where you're at today. If you can do that for us.
Becky: Definitely. Care Patrol is a concept that my husband and I, actually my husband started in 1994. He was a home health social worker and he would be visiting people in their homes and their assisted living communities. He was frequently running into people who wanted some help with finding a good assisted living facility. The one story that we like to tell is, he was visiting a lady in a memory care community and she was completely alert and oriented and said, "Honey, help me get out of here. I don't belong here." He said, "Well, how did you get here?" She said, "This is the only place that my daughter knew about. It's right on her way to work and it was convenient, but I can't stay here. I don't have any memory problems." Shortly after that, Chuck decided to go into private practice. He and another gentleman, friend of his in the Phoenix area and they did placements for several years. I met Chuck in 2003, and in 2009 we decided to begin franchising this concept and name it Care Patrol.
Eric: Awesome. It's funny when you, I know so many people franchisees and franchisors, in the senior care space that they always have some interesting stories to tell about how they got motivated and how they became. What a scary thing when you talk about meeting someone, an elderly person who is frightened and doesn't think she belongs where she is. Fast forward, you've doing this now a number of years. The company, you're almost about 150 locations, around there?
Eric: Tell me a little bit about that growth and how that's going for you? Obviously franchising isn't always the easiest thing to do and I know as an operations person you probably manage a lot of that. Tell us a little about your growth over the last decade or so.
Becky: Sure. It's pretty exciting, pretty scary. We had just had our own business prior to that, but Chuck really got the bug about franchising because he had visited some other franchise concepts and just because he had taught me. When I met Chuck and I started working with him, he basically taught me everything about the concept and I had no experience in long term care. My background was ophthalmology and that's where I worked previously. Chuck had an office that was in Phoenix, but it covered the whole valley and when I started, Chuck was wanting to take a break and decided he would teach me and we had four children, four small children at the time and I said, I just want to focus in the cities around our neighborhood and it was, so Chandler and Gilbert, Arizona at the time.
Becky: What happened was that I was able to make the same, if not a little bit more money than he did focusing on the whole valley. So he really got the idea of the power of focus and thought, if I could train somebody who had no experience and get them to this success, we could duplicate this and replicate this. So, when we started franchising, Chuck really spent a lot of his time on franchise development sales and used me as the operations person.
Becky: Your first year in franchising, it's a big year of learning. You learn a lot about yourself, you learn a lot about people and we like to collaborate with people who have been where we want to be. So we worked with a company called Management 2000, who really, they've got a long history of franchising experience and they really helped us set our foundation and they really gave us some really solid advice that when I look back now, it was very fortunate to have that because it really helped lay a great foundation for where we needed to be.
Becky: I would say we did pretty good our first two years. By the year 2013, we had grown to 60 franchise units and then in 2014, we had some really exponential growth, we doubled in size almost. We were close to 120 at the end of 2014. Part of that is because we acquired our largest competitor at the time. There was a company called Assisted Transitions and things weren't going too well for them. So we had the opportunity to acquire them.
Becky: It was a really great experience. A lot of people told us, don't do that. That could just ruin your system and the integrity of your system, and we have a really collaborative culture and we really, we like to, we tell our franchisees, the first year you're going to learn a lot from us and then after that, we expect you to, you become the subject matter expert and you help us and you help the other franchisees and we all help each other. So we've got this great collaborative culture and the people who assimilated with us, I would say almost all of them became top performers in our system. It was because they didn't have a really good structure or system to follow and so when they came, it was almost like they had seen the opposite side of it, but when they became part of Care Patrol, they were so excited to have all the tools and support that was necessary. They really brought fresh life into our brand. It actually helped us and pivoted us to the next level.
Becky: Then I would say, in late 2017, I would say is when we felt like we were kind of reaching a plateau and we wanted to get to the next level and we have been shopped by private equity for quite a while, but we felt like the timing was right because we wanted to get to the next level. We wanted to continue the momentum. We've been very fortunate to be really top in our industry and we really feel it's because we've done the job ourselves. This was a social worker model. A few things that I feel that has really attributed to our success, that we live by our values, we follow our mission and we encourage collaboration. We reward our franchisees with recognition and get them involved.
Becky: Anyway, in January 2018, we decided to partner with a private equity company called RiverSide, that acquired us. The company that acquired us, our portfolio company is called Best Life Brands and it's a really great opportunity because they, what we loved about it is they share our vision and our goals. The mission of Best Life Brands is to help people live their best life possible. So the idea is that we have companies that are underneath this portfolio company that all meet those needs in that continuum of care, wherever people fall.
Becky: So right now, we have CarePatrol which helps people find safer assisted living. We have Comfort Care, which is an in home care company that helps people live their best life possible and we're going to be bringing on this year, some other acquisitions as well. It's an exciting time.
Eric: Yeah. It is. It's amazing when you tell that story and talk about the acquisition first and then bringing in private equity because there have been so many cases in franchising where that has gone terribly wrong. You've done obviously a great job of building a strong franchisee community and you obviously run the organization. I love that you talk about the brand you acquired didn't have a lot of that. So, that's really what got them excited about coming and helping grow the company so significantly in such a short period of time. Then also, partnering with a franchise private equity firm that understands the franchise industry. So many private equity firms don't understand franchising and they're really just in it for the money. It sounds like an ideal partnership for you guys.
Becky: Yes I agree.
Eric: Tell me a little about, let's talk about your franchisees. You guys have been, we've surveyed your franchise owners since almost the beginning, since 2011. Very strong satisfaction overall. I think you built, I should say I think, I know you've built this strong franchisee community that leans on each other, how do you, that's really hard to do. A lot of companies, quite honestly, don't do it very well. When you're looking at franchisee candidates or considering awarding a new franchise to someone, what aspects do you really look for to make sure this is somebody that you want to bring into the family, so to speak?
Becky: That's a great question. We always make sure we let people know our values. Our values are trust, empathy, accountability, mentorship, unity and passion. We want to make sure that when people, first of all, I find that there's a lot of people that, maybe they've retired from their professional careers or they're not happy in their professional careers and they're tired of working for a product and they want to make a difference. This is such a great opportunity to do this, because you are literally touching lives. We don't care so much if you know or have experience in the long term care industry, it's helpful, but it's not what we would consider one of the key factors that make you successful.
Becky: What makes you successful is your loyalty to your customers, to do what's right for them because this is a business with a heart. We have to take care of our vulnerable populations, which are the elderly and we want to make sure that we're helping give families a really great experience at one of the most crucial times in their life. They're making life and death decisions. When people start looking for assisted living, it's because there's been a decline and there are changes and people are on their way exiting the earth. It's very empowering to know that you can make a difference at such a critical time.
Becky: Passion, that's one of our values and we tell people that you've got to have a lot of passion. You've also got to have a lot of, you've got to want to run a successful business. If you're, we like to say if your missionary is a little bit higher than your mercenary, then you'll end up really not focusing on running a successful business. You've also got to be a little ambitious to make sure you're running a successful business. But we have a saying at CarePatrol that client's needs come before commissions. It's about, I think our best candidates are people that are saying, I'm tired of the corporate grind. I'm great at working, I'm a self-starter, I'm self-motivated and I'm the one that does all the work around the office anyway and everybody else gets credit.
Becky: If you're that type of achiever, you're a high achiever, but you also have this high give back factor, you just want to do something that's meaningful, those are our best candidates.
Eric: You mentioned when you started your own local and I actually wanted to comment that not only was this a new company when you started and were growing it, but you also mentioned that you had four small children, that's no small feat to ramp up this business with four young children, congratulations on that.
Becky: Well thank you.
Eric: That must be interesting when you talk to franchisee candidates about, that's a question that a lot of people ask us too as far as they're looking at a certain franchise, how long is this going to take me? I try to be as transparent with people as possible because I think a lot of people come to franchising with the misunderstanding that somehow, I want to own my own business, but I don't have the skills or the, I don't want to work that hard so I think I'll buy a franchise instead. I tell people all the time, owning a franchise business is just as hard. You put in just as many hours, but hopefully it's a proven model with a lot more support behind you so you're success will be certainly much higher most likely. Go ahead.
Becky: Here's what I have to say about that, is that you're exactly right and I think people have to be ready for the commitment. I knew, I'll tell you, it was not easy and there were plenty of days when I cried because I felt torn between my children and the business, but I knew that I was planting seeds for my future. You have to have that mindset. If you have the mindset, well I only have to do this part-time because Becky had kids and she did it, but Becky didn't work part-time.
Becky: That's how it is when you're starting a business and developing it. You have to know that there is an investment and there's a cost, up front, but, you've got to get to that point. Then the payoff comes. It is, it's a lot of hard work, but it's rewarding and I'll tell you, it reminds me of, it's sort of like when you first move out from underneath your parents for the first time. You're like, whoa, oh my gosh, look at all this responsibility. I had no idea how easy I had it. Then, once you get used to it and you figure it out, you never ever want to go back and live with your parents ever again. That's how I compare to running your own business. It's not for everybody, but for those of us that can get over that hurdle and past that hump, it's amazing. Because you create income for your family, you make the world a better place for others.
Becky: That's what I love about franchising. Franchising, it's great because it levels the playing field. If you're looking for a franchise and you want to make sure that it's a good system. One that has, they know what they're doing. But that's what the idea is, it's a proven business model, all you have to do is follow the system and then you control your own destiny. That's the American dream.
Eric: Right. I think you hit the nail right on the head when you talk about getting in with a brand that knows what they're doing one, and I often talk about, one of the biggest assets of any franchise company is the franchisee network itself. So talk to franchisees obviously that are part of that system because there's a lot of great franchises out there and to your point, if you don't align with their values and you don't enjoy hanging out with the type of people that their franchisees are, you probably won't be successful in that system. Talking to the franchisees is obviously critical. So, just to wrap things up, what advice for somebody that's looking at franchising as an option. What advice would you have and what one thing would you want them to know about care patrol that we haven't already talked about?
Becky: Advice in general about franchising is make sure that if you're out there looking, make sure that it's something that you can really wrap your heart around and that you're committed and ready to dig deep and know that it's not, nothing is guaranteed, but if you apply yourself and you're willing to learn and to change and to grow, you'll be amazed at what the outcome is for you and your family. Again, I just think franchising is amazing.
Becky: For anybody who is interested in CarePatrol, I would say call us at 866-897-1467 to reach out to us for franchise information, or you can visit our website carepatrolfranchise.com And if you're ready to be part of a brand with a heart, where you want to give back, you want to make a difference, and you want to be able, the great thing about Care Patrol is we don't, there's not a lot of overhead. You're not required to have 30 employees. You're not required to have a storefront. You can run the business out of your home or a small office with very little employees and you can really have a great experience helping people and making a good living doing it.
Eric: Awesome. Well Becky, I appreciate your time this afternoon in sharing a little bit about Carepatrol with us and I wish you the best of luck over the next decade in growing the company.
Becky: Thank you Eric. Thanks for having me, I really appreciate it.
Eric: Absolutely. That's Becky Bongiovanni at CarePatrol and as she said, if you want more information about the company you can visit them at carepatrol.com