Mark and Colleen Turner started their Northern Virginia Right at Home franchise in 2002. Based in Fairfax, Va., their in-home care company has grown to an impressive business in spite of the early years when Mark was contemplating selling the franchise and moving on.
Tell us about you personally and your professional background.
I am 63 years old and my wife, Colleen, and I have been married since 1980. We have three grown kids—33, 31 and 29. My middle son works with our Right at Home and he is training to take over the business. I became a grandfather 16 months ago for the first time, which is awesome and amazing. I love it.
I have a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Virginia Tech and an MBA in accounting from Temple University in Philadelphia. Most of my career was in managing consulting organizations for IT and managing and helping financial systems with software application development and implementation consulting. I worked for Big 8 and Big 6 accounting firms. I worked for Oracle for eight years and ran their financial and HR system practice for universities.
How did you learn about Right at Home?
In January of 2002, I was on a business flight and saw the franchise edition of Entrepreneur magazine. I looked at all of the franchises listed and I came upon home care. The business model was similar to a professional services consulting business in which you bill your time based on hourly services. I said, “I can do that.” So eight months later, I quit my job at Oracle and my wife quit her job as a part-time social worker and we started our Right at Home business.
You had a number of owner options in home care and franchising in general. Why was Right at Home the winner for you?
I looked at, talked to and visited Visiting Angels, Comfort Keepers, Interim Healthcare, Home Instead and Right at Home. In considering these five franchises—and my decision was based on (not in any particular order) the territory, the philosophy of founder Allen Hager and Right at Home, the integrity, the friendliness and the genuineness. Right at Home also had personal care available in addition to companionship care. Whereas, Home Instead, for example, was just a companion-only business.
Moving forward, it’s exciting to see your middle son now looking at taking over the business. How did that happen?
When Phil graduated in 2009 from college with a degree in hospitality and tourism, he was looking for a job. I said, “Hey, you want to come work at Right at Home?” He said, “No,” and went on as a sales manager at hotels for five years. When we had an opening for a sales rep, I went back to Phil and asked he wanted the position. He came on board in 2012, we didn’t know at the time if he wanted to stick with this as his career. But his role with the business has evolved over the six years to the point here he’s all in and ready to direct the company.
How do you feel, as a father, being able to build up an asset from 2002 and now have your son take over?
I hired an exit planner and attorneys and we are structuring the business as part of my estate so it is equitable across all three kids, whether Phil owns 100 percent of Right at Home or not. In terms of the family legacy and passing this on to him, I love it. I love having the business stay in the family. That’s huge. The other two siblings have their own careers and their own lives and they don’t have any interest in taking over the business. I love giving Phil the opportunity to take over the family business.
What was one of your lowest moments in the business? What was that like, and how did you get through it?
That’s an easy one. I started out of the gate really well. I was the first Right at Home Rookie of the Year Award recipient. I was in business for my first month and already had a 24-hour case and a 40-hour-a-week case. I turned a P&L profit, though I was working on a negative cash flow in my first month. So I felt like I was living large.
The problem for me was that when I started at Right at Home, I had two kids in college and one in high school. I had a big mortgage and a big house, and needed to make a certain amount of money. Even though I was making money, I wasn’t making enough to cover all my expenses. So after about year four or five, I had sunk $250,000 of my own cash into the business, and I talked to an M&A firm. I’d talked to Allen at Right at Home, and I had my résumé out on CareerBuilder. I was looking at what’s my Plan B? That was definitely the low point. And then the business just gradually turned around to the point where I was taking money out of the business, repaying my loan, and that was sufficient for my monthly bills. The rest is history.
After going through the hard time in your business, in the end, was it worth going through the struggles to have the victory that you have today?
Oh my gosh, yes. Absolutely. I still enjoy the business. I still love it. It’s a great, feel-good industry. I love providing the care to families, and it tugs at your heart. I love providing gainful employment to 200 caregivers. So that whole part of business is hugely rewarding and satisfying for me personally. And certainly from a financial standpoint, my business is worth a lot more today and has become an asset. But yes, it’s hugely worth it.
Do you have a story of a heartfelt moment in your business?
We get letters from families, and when our care clients pass, we get invited to their funerals. In the letters from the family they say, “Oh, my gosh, what you guys did for my mom.” All that is just great because you’re providing for your care clients, and their family members are often the ones to express their appreciation. We provide a lot of hospice care and they are at the end of life, or we have clients with dementia, so often it’s a spouse or adult children that are ones that are reaping the huge benefits of what we’re doing for their loved one. These family members are the ones thanking us or telling us how they appreciate our care.
If you were to talk to a prospective franchisee that was looking at opening a Right at Home office anywhere throughout the United States, what would you want to share with them?
One of the lessons I learned is to really, really focus on the quality of service and the quality of care. Assume nothing. Because I know for myself, at the beginning, we didn’t have that great service. There were referral sources that we heard from a number of years later that said, “We don’t refer to Right at Home because we had a bad experience many years ago.” So that stays with you. And we didn’t know what we didn’t know in terms of focusing on monitoring and assuring the quality.
The other thing is this is a local sales-driven, personal reputation business model and industry. It’s still about you getting your reputation as an organization out in the community. You do that as a community liaison, reaching out to your referral sources to get clients. If you are an owner that’s not a marketer or a business development person, or you are not willing to be out there in the community, then you need somebody representing your business well that is going to build your reputation in the community.