TALA SAMOA, SAMOAN NEWS, ORANGE COUNTY, CA
Athletes go from football to franchising
By JAN NORMAN By JAN NORMAN/ ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
When Tafa Jefferson was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1997, the 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive tackle expected a long career in professional football. But a year later, career-ending ankle and shoulder injuries prompted a career reset.
Within a week Jefferson, who grew up in Garden Grove, had launched a nurse registry. That seemingly swift about-face was founded on values that his parents instilled in him from childhood. In turn, that first business laid the foundation for Jefferson's current company, Amada Senior Care, a Laguna Woods-based enterprise with more than 400 employees and a recently launched expansion through franchising.
The progression was purposeful, Jefferson said, leading him and his former college teammate Chad Fotheringham into one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States.
"I'm a true entrepreneur," said Jefferson, 38, who now lives in Ladera Ranch. "My father instilled that in me."
The home-care industry has exploded with the aging population, with approximately 7.6 million Americans spending $57 billion on home-care services in 2011, according to the National Association of Home Care and Hospice.
The industry's growth is expected to continue. An estimated 70 percent of people over 65 will require home-care services at some point in their lives, said Ed Teixeira of FranchiseKnowHow LLC.
MSNBC called home health care the top business to start in 2012.
But Jefferson came to the industry long before this trend was evident. His mother, Silei, was a caregiver for the elderly who taught him the great satisfaction that comes from helping others. "I remember one of her clients, Emma Simpson. When I was 8, my sister and I would leave school and ride the bus to Emma's house. She paid me a quarter to mow her grass."
Despite Jefferson's size and athletic ability, his father didn't want him playing sports. "He was a real estate entrepreneur, and he always said, 'Sports won't be around forever,'" Jefferson said. "But all my friends played sports so my mom talked Dad into letting me play. I looked at sports as a means to an end (of getting an education). I got scholarship offers and chose the University of the Pacific because it was one of the first to launch an entrepreneurship program."
Sports also taught him hard work, teamwork and productive use of his competitive nature – traits valuable in business.
Once his NFL career ended in 1998, Jefferson evaluated his career options, and his mother suggested something in the senior-care market.
"The transition wasn't that hard; I knew I was called to do something else," Jefferson said.
He went to Staples to print some resumes then headed to a nurse-registry firm that was closing.
"I walked into the kitchen with a box of doughnuts, gathered the staff around and said, 'I'm new to this business but if you trust me, I'll find you work,'" Jefferson said. "The next day, I went into hospitals and said I had a staff and could provide skilled nurses for hospitals and home caregivers. I built a really good brand."
Jefferson earned his certification as a nursing aide because he didn't want to ask his employees to do anything he wouldn't do himself. He did his share of assignments helping patients with dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
Over the next decade, Jefferson noticed the companion trends of an aging population and growing demand for lower-cost home care for some health issues that didn't require hospitalization. Insurance and Medicare were cutting reimbursements, so he looked for ways to reposition his business to protect against cuts while still helping clients. He moved from skilled nurses to private-duty, personal-care attendants.
During this period, Fotheringham, who had been Jefferson's quarterback and fellow business major at the University of the Pacific, was building his own career as a sales representative at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. In the mid-2000s, he was offered a choice: move to Minneapolis or take a buyout.
"I went out to lunch with Tafa, and he said he needed to meet a client at his home, so I went with him," said Fotheringham of San Clemente.
"I got to talking with the man, and we had a great time. Afterward, I told Tafa that he had the greatest job in the world. He said, 'Why don't you join me?'"
That conversation led to the founding of Amada Home Care Inc. (recently renamed Amada Senior Care) in 2007. They became partners and built their business model on two revenue streams – in-home nonmedical services and assisted-living placement and consulting services. They developed proprietary software to manage scheduling and operations and to allow family to monitor remotely the care of Amada clients.
"I like the fact that they are real hands-on about coming out and meeting with us and working with us," said Diane Rosenberg, whose parents, Brian and Ruth Markley in Huntington Beach, are Amada clients. "Their operations manager has been absolutely wonderful working with us."
"We weren't thinking about franchising," Jefferson said. "All the processes we put into place were to emphasize quality service."
Fotheringham said the partners starting thinking about franchising after an attempted expansion into San Diego. They trained an employee for a year to manage the office, then he took another job. "We wanted to expand, but we didn't want to go through that again. A friend at church suggested we franchise."
In October, Amada announced its move into nationwide franchising at the West Coast Franchise Expo in Anaheim. Amada already has franchises in Washington and Colorado and six others in the process, Jefferson said.
Franchise expert Teixeira said that many other companies have had the same idea in the past 18 months. In a report, "Home Care Franchise Industry Update 2012," Teixeira said 64 home-care companies now franchise, up from 45 in 2011. Only 17 have 100 or more locations including Home Instead, Comfort Keepers, Home Helpers and Visiting Angels.
"The reduced cost of home-care services is a significant factor in its continuing growth," Teixeira said, citing a MetLife study that a year of home care costs about $22,000 versus $78,000 for a semi-private room in a nursing home.
"The franchise home-care sector continues to show strong growth despite the overall slowdown in franchise-industry growth," Teixeira said.
Amada's franchising costs are in line with competitors. Amada's initial franchise fee is $45,000 with other costs and operating funds totaling $113,000. Teixeira said other home-care franchisors' investments range from $50,000 to $180,000, plus royalties of 5 percent or less.
Jefferson acknowledged that Amada has significant competition. "But I'm very competitive. I keep a scoreboard on our competitors, what we do and offer versus them."
Fotheringham said Amada's goal is to have 200 franchise partners within five years, "assuming we can find the right people. A lot of people are looking to get into business but they're not equipped for the care side of the business. They look only at the financial side of this industry, which can be big, but we're adamant about caring for seniors first."
Jefferson added, "We believe the franchising route is the best model for quality assurance. I don't like the term 'franchisee.' When I bring on a partner, I need someone fully invested in putting people first. If we do that, success will come."
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