The anxiety of having an elderly parent or relative leave a home full of memories in exchange for a nursing home or an assisted living facility can be a large and emotional burden on family and friends. Fortunately, millions of people are finding an affordable and meaningful alternative to assisted living. Home Instead Senior Care Senior Care, a franchise service company based in Omaha, Nebraska, is a worldwide leader of non-medical care for senior citizens choosing to remain at home, but who require personal care, companionship, meal preparation, light housekeeping, medicine reminders, and help with errands and shopping.
Home Instead Senior Care
Established in 1994, the company 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—a concept that aims to enhance the quality of life for older adults through the recruitment of highly motivated caregivers.
With a career in the United States and her family in Japan, Yoshino Nakajima, Vice President of International Development for Home Instead Senior Care Senior Care and then international liaison for the franchise industry, was in search of quality in home care for her aging parents. After reading an article about Home Instead Senior Care Senior Care, Nakajima connected with Paul Hogan, founder of Home Instead Senior Care Senior Care 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 stated. ““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 was looking for in its pursuit of the international markets, and Nakajima was brought on board to develop international markets.
“Our concept is very meaningful, and it’s not just about money, but making a difference for the elderly,” said Nakajima. “Doing business internationally presents many challenges, and for us, it’s finding people with the same core values and culture.”
Looking beyond the U.S., Nakajima first decided to target the Japanese market, but soon faced many challenges. Recalling her prior experiences with the U.S. Commercial Service as a consultant for a food franchise company, Nakajima 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 stated. “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.”
By 1999, Nakajima had made great progress in developing a market entry strategy for Japan, but required additional information. With help from the Commercial Service and its Japan office, Nakajima participated in a franchising trade mission to Japan where the company’s services was showcased at Japan’s largest franchise show. While Home Instead Senior Care’s participation in the show created a lot of interest in the concept, 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 stated. “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, Home Instead Senior Care was able to initiate an effective market entry strategy for Japan.
“Japan is the world’s second largest economy, and its family-oriented culture and aging population showed strong potential for introducing our services,” Nakajima stated. “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 the Japanese market, Home Instead Senior Care wanted to then duplicate the “Japanese experience” in the South Pacific and Western European markets. According to Nakajima, while the Commercial Service’s export counseling and market research educated the company on conditions of the targeted markets, the Western European and South Pacific markets soon created new hurdles to overcome.
“In Japan, the public was not concerned with the price so much as the type of service, where as in Europe, price was a major concern,” Nakajima remarked. “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. The men had been unable to find the right level of care for their ailing parents without having to pay for unneeded services, and wanted to help other families with similar problems. Looking to start their own Home Instead Senior Care franchise, the businessmen signed an agreement with Home Instead Senior Care in 2003, and were helped through the licensing process by the Commercial Service’s Lisbon office. This initiated Home Instead Senior Care’s three-tiered marketing strategy for Europe.
Taking Home Instead Senior Care’s new European marketing strategy to the next level, the company signed up for trade missions and the Commercial Service’s Gold Key Service that provides pre-arranged meetings abroad, enabling Home Instead Senior Care to identify and meet several potential partners whose candidate profiles paralleled the company’s ideal qualifications. The Commercial Service organizes trade missions to various locations for all types of industry, giving the U.S. business community the opportunity to connect with potential partners abroad.
For example, the International Franchise Association and the Commercial Service co-sponsored a trade mission to Ireland in 2004 that included a dozen meetings with potential international buyers for Home Instead Senior Care. On St. Patrick’s Day, the company signed a master franchising agreement with two Irish businessmen in a market predicted to grow by 90 percent.
“Trade missions are an excellent tool for finding intelligent, compassionate entrepreneurs to join the Home Instead Senior Care family,” Nakajima stated. “The missions saved us valuable time and resources that we could put towards enhancing our mission of providing quality care for senior citizens.”
Along with Home Instead Senior Care’s accomplishments in Japan, Ireland, and Portugal, the company has signed master franchising agreements in Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand—all of which have enabled the company to open numerous franchises worldwide. In April 2006, the company signed to additional master franchising agreements in Taiwan and Spain.
Home Instead Senior Care’s successful domestic franchise operation coupled with its commitment to overcoming the challenging demands associated with international development has contributed to the company’s success in the international market, according to U.S. Commercial Service Trade Specialist Doug Barry, editor of A Basic Guide to Exporting where this case study appears.
One challenge companies face in the international market is finding a good partner. Participating in a Commercial Service partner search allows companies, like Home Instead Senior Care, to save time and resources while connecting with potential international buyers in their targeted markets.
In addition, Home Instead Senior Care learned to pay close attention to the targeted market’s social customs and ways of doing business when developing a market entry strategy. The Commercial Service is an excellent resource for learning about a country’s cultural issues and regulations. Companies, like Home Instead Senior Care, have found the Commercial Service’s customized market research to be especially helpful in initiating a market entry strategy.
“We are now able to anticipate the challenges of new markets,” Nakajima stated. “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—thus contributing to the local economy. The new technology department saves the company time and helps to ensure the quality of services.
“We are fulfilling our mission of providing meaningful care for independent elders worldwide,” Nakajima stated, “Knowing the quality of life is being enhanced worldwide by our services makes me go to bed feeling good at night.”
This success story is also featured in our publication A Basic Guide to Exporting: The Official Government Resource for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses. To purchase this book, please visit the U.S. Government Bookstore.
The U. S. Commercial Service is a U. S. Department of Commerce agency that helps small-and medium-sized U. S. businesses sell their products and services globally. With its network of offices across the United States and in more than 80 countries, the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration utilizes its global presence and international marketing expertise to help U.S. companies sell their products and services worldwide. For more information, visit www.Export.gov.