CarePatrol is the nation’s largest senior care solutions franchise. Through more than 150 offices in 35 states, local senior advisors provide free service in helping families find a quality, top-rated assisted living, independent living, memory care, nursing homes and in-home care.
Founded in 1993, CarePatrol began franchising in 2009 and is now part of the Best Life Brands family, with private equity backing by The Riverside Company. CarePatrol is proud to have earned the Franchisee Satisfaction Award from Franchise Business Review for 12 years in a row and has earned placement on the Entrepreneur Franchise 500 list.
In an interview with Insights Care, Becky Bongiovanni, Brand President, shared her professional tenure, emphasizing the fundamentals and core values of CarePatrol in the senior care services sector.
Becky, give us an overview of your journey highlighting the inception of CarePatrol in the senior care services sector?
In 1997, I was an Ophthalmic technician, working at an Ophthalmology Clinic that specializes in Cataract Surgery. I loved healthcare and seeing the positive outcome for patients. While I loved the work, it was not enough to make ends meet, as a single mom with three children, and I supplemented my income by taking an extra job in the evenings.
In 2001, I met Chuck Bongiovanni at my local church. My close friend was his secretary, and she introduced us. He was a single dad raising his son. I learned that he also shared my passion for healthcare as a medical social worker and owned and operated a business of helping families find assisted living, which he started ten years earlier.
I’ll never forget the day Chuck asked me about my career. When I told him what I did, he asked if I would ever consider doing something different. I immediately replied, “No, I love what I do.” Chuck challenged me and asked if I had the potential to substantially increase my income in my current position, which after pondering, again answered, “no.” While my employer appreciated me, I knew that I was at the top of what I could earn. Chuck further pressed me, pointing out that I had three children and that I was professionally at an impasse, with no opportunity for growth or hope of improving my quality of life for my family.
In 2003 I began working with Chuck. I wanted to work in a small area where I could focus and make a greater impact, and in time, what we saw is that having an area to focus on made all the difference. That’s what got Chuck excited about franchising. Chuck said, “Becky, if I can take you and teach you, who really had no background or experience, and you—in this little territory—did as much as what I have, we’ve been working on in the whole valley, I really think there’s something to franchising.” In September 2004, Chuck and I got married, and in April of 2009, we decided to franchise our concept.
Our primary goal was to grow to 60 locations, and we did that by 2014, but we realized that it wasn’t enough because more people needed to know about our services. That year we were also presented with an opportunity to acquire our biggest competitor, Assisted Transition. While industry advisors told us to pass, our gut was telling us this was the right choice.
Not only did we grow to 120 locations at the end of that year because there was so much opportunity, but our brand was also elevated. In 2015, Chuck and I realized that if we wanted to continue to grow the CarePatrol brand, we would need to bring on a partner. In 2018, we were acquired and became part of the Best Life Brands Portfolio.
What was the impact of the COVID-19 on the healthcare sector, and how did CarePatrol sustain its operations to surmount the adversities of the pandemic?
It was pretty scary. None of us knew what was going to happen. Fear best describes what happened in February of 2020 when we all realized that something was brewing, and by March, the state of Washington became the first to officially shut down visits to long term care and assisted living. We knew that if more states followed with shutdowns, this could directly impact our business.
We pivoted how we deliver our services, literally overnight. While we know that meeting people in person and walking them through the process is what makes the difference; we offered a “virtual” option to our customers, so they felt safe while we were delivering solutions. Our business is recession-resistant, but this was a healthcare crisis. So it did have a direct impact on our business and a few of our locations closed. However, many of our locations were maintained and several even grew. At the end of the year, we were only down 1% YOY in systemwide revenues. We saw that the demand for our business was persistent, even in a pandemic.
While we could not meet in person with our franchisees, we decided to increase support in a virtual environment. We added twice as many trainings, meetings and marketing services than in prior years. We also provided up to the minute information on the government loans that were offered and many of our franchisees were able to take advantage of these loans. Offering franchisees, the option to defer their fees for a period of time really helped them with cash flow.
But the other thing that we did—we said: “This is a crisis, and our healthcare workers are the heroes on the front line, so we launched a pay it forward campaign by focusing on being a resource to healthcare workers, during a most unprecedented time.” If you can remember, it was hard to find personal protective equipment in early 2020.
Our franchisees came to the rescue and provided personal protective equipment: masks, gloves, gowns, and hand sanitizers. We found we were making an impact and had many healthcare workers thank us for going above and beyond in any little way that we could help them.
With continuous technological developments in the healthcare space, what is your prediction about the future of the senior care services market?
The first baby boomer turned 75 last year. Most people will need care when they are 82 years old. What I predict and what I’ve heard is that over the next ten years, we will see a lot of changes in how care is approached.
We’re going to see two different types of models emerge. Right now, senior living kind of fits anybody 55 and over. But because the population is just going to increase, especially the 85-year-olds, that segment of the population is going to double by 2039 and triple by 2049.
We’re going to see a new model emerge for senior living—one that’s a more active adult lifestyle, focusing on the younger people, ages 55-75. It’s going to be more about lifestyle, membership, and exclusivity, like a club lifestyle, timeshare, or resort. You worked hard your whole life, and now it’s time for you to enjoy it. Even though senior living has evolved, the baby boomers are different types of people.
They’re very particular. They’ve driven the economy all these years, and they’re doing the same thing as they age. So, I think we will see a higher demand for quality and special preferences because that’s what the baby boomers want. But there’s this large, growing population of 85 and older people, who typically tend to need a lot more care.
According to Consumer Affairs, in order to keep up with the demand in the United States, we’ll need to have 1 million new senior housing units by 2040. There’s a huge need for more. We will need to rely on remote patient monitoring and artificial intelligence to supplement what caregivers do because we won’t have enough people. We already saw that rise during the pandemic, but the caregiver shortage existed before.
The pandemic has just pushed everything faster into the future than we anticipated. We can use technology to aid caregivers in doing a better job. We’re going to see something that we’ve never seen before, and we have to be prepared to help consumers understand the changing landscape and embrace the changes because they’re coming.
As an established leader, what is your advice to budding entrepreneurs and enthusiasts aspiring to venture into the senior care services sector?
I’m a little biased because I’m a franchisor, but if you’re looking to get into the senior care space and you want to make a difference, I think the most streamlined path, so you don’t have to make a lot of mistakes, is going with a franchise system. Rather than trying to open your own [business], franchising is a great way to enter the space because you have a system that has proven methods and strategies.
The way that franchising is set up is that if you’re successful, the franchisor is successful. If you’re not successful, that hurts the franchisor. We have these aligned goals to ensure that our franchisees are well supported. Whether it’s our brand or another brand out there, I love franchising because you’re in business for yourself but not by yourself. I think it’s rewarding to a lot of people to know that they can be in charge of their own destiny. Franchising really drives small business in the United States, and it leads to wealth in cities and in economies.
I love franchising because it helped me achieve my personal dreams when I never saw a pathway to do that. I love it because it’s created both a business opportunity for our hundreds of franchisees. We’ve been able to impact tens of thousands of families who need help finding quality care positively because of franchising. Franchising enables people to live their dreams, take care of their families, take care of their communities and make a difference. So that’s my tip to someone out there, especially if you’re a novice.
How do you envision scaling CarePatrol’s operations and offerings in 2022?
This year, we are really focusing on updating many of our technology platforms because technology continues to be really important. We’re making upgrades to help our franchisees move quicker and focus on what matters most, which is helping older adults.
For example, we have a proprietary CRM that’s being enhanced, and we’re reconfiguring some of the functions so we can stay up to date and help our franchisees move quicker and be more efficient. We also introduced a new learning management system for our franchisees that will help them with their continued learning and any staff they bring on.
That will help them scale at the local level because we’re focusing on building teams. While this business is rewarding, it’s tough, and while you don’t need a lot of employees, you should have a handful of employees on your team that can support you to continue to grow and touch lives. By creating efficiencies with our national accounts, we have opportunities to pass on the savings to our franchisees.
When we’re working with our national accounts, we help our franchisees with billing and collections. We’re updating our processes there to streamline and help our franchisees get paid faster. We just completed a brand refresh which is so amazing because CarePatrol never really had a professional company look at our brand—it was really birthed from the founder who created the look and the feel.
It was important to us that our brand resonated with our primary customers, so we spent all of last year working on our brand refresh, and what we found out is that people who know us love us. The biggest opportunity we have is to help educate people and make sure that there’s awareness about what we do. We’re also launching this year to scale the business, consumer marketing and educational campaigns to drive awareness. We feel like these are really great things, and the brand refresh has put a new focus on our brand.
It is giving us permission to be innovative, which is one of the pillars that we’re focusing on this year. Innovation and renovation because we’re in the midst of this changing landscape, and it’s fascinating. We’ve got to be able to move with it.
Can you tell us about the recognition of achievements that highlights CarePatrol as a prominent company in the healthcare sector?
Awarded 27 new franchise agreements in 2021;
Ranked 498 on Entrepreneur Magazine’s annual Franchise 500 list;
Ranked on Franchise Business Review’s Top 200 Franchises of 2021 list;
Systemwide revenue growth of nearly 50% in 2021.