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Local franchise operation among best for vets

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Posted at 3:16 PM, Dec 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-14 15:16:11-05

CINCINNATI -- Sometimes the personal and the professional collide, and sometimes they grow together. In Jeff Bevis’ case both happened and the result is the Cincinnati-based national franchising company FirstLight HomeCare, recently chosen as a Top 100 Franchise Business for Veterans by Franchise Business Review magazine.

Bevis founded FirstLight in 2009, with his son Devin. Since then the company has grown to 108 franchises, 14 percent of which are owned by veterans from all four military branches; most have served in the Middle East, beginning with Operation Desert Storm.

“Being named one of the top franchises for veterans is something we’re very, very proud of," Bevis said. "…We really pride ourselves on having very strong systems, processes, structure that just really match well to a veteran coming out of the military, because obviously they’re [used to] working under very well-defined structure and process, too.”

“We see this award in two different lights,” Bevis said. “One is we’re very honored to be named a top franchise for veterans, but also we provide care for many veterans, especially World War II vets, Korean War vets.”

Bevis, who is not a veteran, said that when he started FirstLight the company offered the industry-standard 10-percent discount for veterans on start-up franchise fees. The current fee without discounts is $39,500. After two years, however, Bevis found that veterans were doing particularly well as franchisees, partly because they are trained in following procedures carefully, and Bevis decided to increase the discount in order to attract more former service men and women. Three years ago, he raised the discount to 25 percent.

"Veterans were so good at following the processes," Bevis said, that the discount brought these "right folks" to FirstLight. Moreover, he said, making sure that new owners had as much cash as possible to invest into their franchise, as opposed to spending it on the upfront fee, pays off for the company in the long run by getting new offices started on a solid footing.Other reasons the company may appeal to former service men and women is a veteran’s discount for buy-in that means low start-up cost as well as territory protection (the company does not allow franchisees to overlap geographically).

Bevis said he was drawn to the nonmedical home care industry because of experiences he’d had caring for elderly relatives, both in the satisfaction he gained from providing good care and in the frustration of dealing with what he felt was sub-par service on the part of paid providers. As an example, he said he and his wife had trouble finding companies that would show up on time and document the care they gave -- which can be problematic when you don’t know if medications have been given or in what dose.

Learned Care At Home

Bevis was raised in a multi-generational home in Green Township. As a teenager, he helped his mother care for his great-grandmother, who lived with his family. At the same time, he had a job at the Three Rivers Convalescent Center, as it was known then, as a part-time kitchen attendant and dish washer.

Growing up, he said, “I always enjoyed being around seniors -- grandparents and great-grandparents… But in that [nursing home] job I would serve meals to the seniors in their rooms or in the dining room and then do all the dishwashing afterward. That really stayed with me as a way to listen, talk to, spend time with seniors. In many cases they had no one else to talk to.”

He said he has been a care giver to an elderly relative four times in his life.

Following high school, Bevis went to Capital University in Columbus to play baseball and basketball (he’s 6’6’’) but transferred to the University of Cincinnati after an injury sidelined him. He graduated from UC with a degree in communications and business, and landed a job at Ryder Systems in transportation logistics.

Over the following decades – he’s now 57 – Bevis worked on the corporate side for a string of franchise companies – including Budget Rental, Thrifty Car Rental, Express Personnel, and Comfort Keepers, a home care business in which he had an equity stake until the company was sold in 2007.

“I was always kind of a fix-it guy … broken brand, broken operations, broken training, broken culture, sometimes broken all of those things.

“But I knew I wanted to get back into senior care. It was a good merge of personal and business experience and opportunity and feeling, so that’s when my son Devin and I came together and decided to form FirstLight Home Care.”

Home Care As A Business

Since about 2000, Bevis said, he had been studying home care as a business opportunity, noting that the baby boomer generation was aging and soon there would be a great need for nonmedical home care. As an aside, he said Ohio in particular has a high proportion both of veterans and seniors.

FirstLight, Bevis said, differs from many of its competitors in requiring that all care givers be employees of the company. “No contract employees are allowed. And that was something that early in the industry was almost more the norm. But if you think of elder abuse and having someone in the home caring for a senior it’s really important that you know who that person is. In addition, we do personality and cognitive testing assessments with each care giver as part of the hiring process, and that’s not something that’s not done across the industry either.”

Tim Mackin recently opened a FirstLight office in York, Pennsylvania. Raised near Florence, Kentucky, Mackin served for 20 years in the Army, including 10 years in Germany and several months in Kuwait. He retired in 1997 as a first sergeant, after which he went to work as a consultant. 

He’d been working on supply logistics at the mega-consultancy firm Booze Allen Hamilton for three and a half years, when his mother-in-law, who was 88, moved from Cape Cod to York to live with him and his wife as her health began to fail. “She moved in with us in April 2012,” he said. Later, after she was diagnosed with inoperable cancer, Mackin and his wife became her care givers for the final months of her life.

“Once my mother-in-law passed away I took some time off,” he said. “I actually resigned my position as a consultant and took some time out to do some soul searching and what I really wanted to do -- what was my passion?”

He decided he wanted to own his own business, a franchise preferably, and began to look into home care. He said he had chosen FirstLight even before he learned that the company was increasing its discount for veterans. He opened his branch on Sept. 8 of this year, celebrating the grand opening in November, with the help of his son-in-law and daughter, a licensed practical nurse, who moved back to Pennsylvania from Florida to join him in the business.

A Desire To Help People

Beth Steel, like Mackin, signed a franchise agreement with FirstLight for a Northern Kentucky office after some soul searching. The Cincinnati native covers Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties, employing 50 mostly part-time care givers for 35 clients.

“I spent the first part of my life in advertising,” as an executive at Empower Media Marketing in Mount Adams, where she worked for 22 years.

But, she said, “Over [six] years I had a series of things happen with my family.” 

Steel, who is not a veteran, said she lost both of her brothers and her father. 

“It was crazy. … My one brother was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2000. He was given three to six months to live, but he actually lived until 2012.”

Five years after her brother’s cancer was detected, her father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. And then, in 2009, her younger brother died suddenly of a heart attack.

“My whole life went crazy, and I lost my drive for doing advertising and marketing and really wanted to refocus my attention where I could be helping people and giving back. And in the process of those illnesses with my family I got thrust into this world of home care.”

She had decided she wanted to go into home care when “through a strange series of events I was introduced to Jeff Bevis through an old client of mine” with whom she had reconnected on the social media provider LinkedIn.

Raising The Bar Of Service

Bevis, she said, “has a great vision for the company, and it’s all about raising the bar in terms of the service that we provide” – including things as simple as making sure care givers have appropriate skills, such as how to help a client into a bathtub safely so no one gets hurt.

“This is an industry that is not that well-regulated yet,” Steel said. “[Bevis] knows the regulations are coming.” To this end, Steel said, FirstLight does national and local background checks, drug testing, and more rigorous training as well as detailed, written protocols that are based on medical home-care standards of the Joint Commission. 

“I feel like I can go to bed at night knowing I helped somebody every single day. I feel I can make their day a little bit better and make their journey through something that’s really just not very fun, usually, if I can just help that journey a little bit. You know, answer a question, lead them down the right path … if I can just help them in some way I’ve had a great day.

“One of the great things now is I can tell my clients that I have been in their shoes.”