Having to leave a home full of memories in exchange for a nursing home or an assisted living facility is a burden no one wants to face. Yet options for aging people worldwide have been few. Today, however, millions of people around the world are finding an affordable and meaningful alternative to assisted living. Home Instead Senior Care, a franchise service company based in Omaha, Nebraska, is a worldwide leader of non-medical care for senior citizens who choose to remain at home but require personal care, companionship, meal preparation, light housekeeping, medicine reminders, and help with errands and shopping.
Established in 1994, Home Instead Senior Care expanded to nearly 100 domestic franchise offices in just three years, making it one of the fastest-growing franchise companies in the United States. Having found success in the domestic market, the company began receiving inquiries about taking its franchise concept international.
With a career in the United States and her family in Japan, Yoshino Nakajima was in search of quality in home care for her aging parents. After reading an article about Home Instead Senior Care, Nakajima, then an international liaison for the franchise industry, connected with Paul Hogan, Home Instead Senior Care’s founder, to discuss taking the franchise concept abroad. “I was very impressed with Home Instead Senior Care’s brand promise of reliable, responsive, and trained caregivers who create an atmosphere of trust for clients and their families,” Nakajima recalls. “With the world’s aging population increasing, families like mine, worldwide, are in need of these meaningful services for their aging relatives.”
According to Hogan, Nakajima’s enthusiasm and experience was just what the company needed in its pursuit of international markets, and Nakajima was brought on board. Now vice president of international development for Home Instead Senior Care, Nakajima is a true believer in the company’s mission. “Our concept is very meaningful, and it’s not just about money, but making a difference for the elderly,” says Nakajima. “Doing business internationally presents many challenges, and for us, it’s finding people with the same core values and culture.”
Nakajima first decided to target the Japanese market. Recalling her experiences with the U.S. Commercial Service as a consultant for a food franchise company, she chose to enlist the services of the Omaha U.S. Export Assistance Center and its worldwide network. “The selection of good partners, training, and the building relationships are the same key steps in the expansion of any franchise company internationally,” Nakajima explains. “At the Omaha assistance center, I received market research, export counseling, and requested partner searches that put me on the right path to entering the Japanese market.”
With help from the Commercial Service, Nakajima participated in a franchising trade mission to Japan, where the company’s services were showcased at Japan’s largest franchise show. While Home Instead Senior Care’s participation in the show created a lot of interest, the company faced a unique challenge creating a new word for companionship. “Our concept of companionship [for senior citizens] did not exist in Japan,” Nakajima explains. “We had to focus on educating a community on the expanded meaning of companionship for the elderly and how our services could help families.”
A press conference was held to introduce the new word konpanyanshippu to the Japanese community. Together with market research and trade show publicity generated by the Commercial Service, the company was able to initiate an effective market entry strategy. “Japan is the world’s second-largest economy, and its family-oriented culture and aging population showed strong potential for introducing our services,” Nakajima says. “With the assistance of the Commercial Service, we signed a master franchising agreement with Japan’s leading service-oriented provider that has generated 110 Japanese franchise offices.”
Having succeeded in Japan, Home Instead Senior Care wanted to enter the Western European market. It soon faced new hurdles. “In Japan, the public was not concerned with the price so much as the type of service, whereas in Europe, price was a major concern,” Nakajima remarks. “Instead of having to introduce the concept of companionship, we had to reclassify our services into three levels as a way for clients to save money.”
In Portugal, two men approached Home Instead Senior Care about opening a franchise in Lisbon. They had been unable to find the right level of care for their ailing parents without having to pay for unneeded services, and they wanted to help other families with similar problems. The men signed an agreement with the company in 2003 to start their own franchise and were helped through the licensing process by the Commercial Service’s Lisbon office. This experience initiated the company’s three-tiered marketing strategy for Europe.
Along with its accomplishments in Japan and Portugal, the company has signed master franchising agreements in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. In April 2006, the company signed additional agreements in Spain and Taiwan.
Home Instead Senior Care found the Commercial Service an excellent resource for learning about a country’s cultural issues and regulations.“We are now able to anticipate the challenges of new markets,” Nakajima says. “We can depend on the Commercial Service to help us with overcoming licensing issues, finding the right partners, and additional challenges we face in future endeavors.”
According to Nakajima, the company’s international success has contributed to its growth, with the development of a new technology department in its international division that has created new jobs at the company’s headquarters in Omaha. The new department saves the company time and helps ensure the quality of services.
“We are fulfilling our mission of providing meaningful care for independent elders worldwide,” Nakajima says. “Knowing the quality of life is being enhanced worldwide by our services makes me go to bed feeling good at night.”
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