Budding business owners in southeastern Michigan, many wanting to cater to an aging population, are aggressively pursuing franchise opportunities to fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams.
Franchise consultants say their clients have become more serious in the past year, encouraged by the state’s improving economy and business tax reforms.
“We had a lull in franchises, with many people staying on the sidelines,” said Mark Cory, owner and franchise placement specialist at consultant FranNet in Grosse Pointe. “With the better economic climate and positive news, now they’re ready to jump in.”
This interest is not limited to Michigan. The International Franchise Association projects more than 775,000 new franchise businesses will open across the country in 2013, a 1.4 percent increase over last year.
Local interest in service-oriented businesses that cater to seniors is no surprise, considering 10,000 people are turning 65 daily across the country, living longer and purchasing plenty of goods and services.
“Baby boomers are driving the senior care market,” said Terry Coker, CEO of The Entrepreneur Authority of Michigan. “Everyone wants to know what franchises are available in health care.”
This includes Mark Lines, 45, who opened the state’s first ActiveRx franchise in January in West Bloomfield. He spent more than 20 years in the medical device field before he began exploring franchise options two years ago. ActiveRx combines physical therapy with strength training for seniors. He plans to open up to five more locations within five years.
“I absolutely have a passion for changing the quality of seniors’ lives for the better,” he said.
Plymouth-based franchiser Handy Pro provides home modification services to seniors, as well as commercial customers who need to meet rules of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Owner Keith Paul said there are 27 Handy Pro franchises nationally, with a new one opening in Grand Rapids this month.
The company was rebranded in 2008 to specifically cater to the older demographic — a move that differentiated his business from the competition, Paul said.
“We noticed we were doing a lot of wheelchair ramps, grab bars, walk-in tubs and similar work for our older customers,” he said. “People want stay in their homes as long as possible and they need this work done all over the country.”
Cory noted Bloomfield Hills-based ComForcare, provider of non-medical, in-home services to seniors, is growing and has 12 franchises in Metro Detroit. California-based Assisted Transition, which provides senior living and care services for families, has three in the area.
Other service-oriented, non-retail franchise opportunities also are attractive, due to their low inventory and overhead requirements, Cory added.
Gary Dion, 59, opened Michigan’s first Closets by Design franchise in Auburn Hills in January. He previously owned a local tool-and-die shop and then a woodworking business for 14 years. He began looking at franchise opportunities last summer.
“I saw an opportunity to turn the switch on a high volume business with a recipe for success,” Dion said. He may expand into the Grand Rapids, Lansing and Traverse City.
The rapid proliferation of personal electronic devices, most notably cellphones, prompted Dan Di Sebastian, 54, to open a CPR Cell Phone Repair franchise in the Novi Town Center this month, with plans to open a second location in the area this year. He previously worked for GE Aerospace and Ford Motor Co.
“I knew I wanted to do something technical,” he said. “If a person’s phone breaks and they’re still under contract, but have no warranty, it’s hard for them to sell them a new phone — but they can send them to us.”
Coker said a lot of the interest in local franchises has come from older, displaced automotive engineers and executives, who want to find opportunities that can last 10-15 years, rather than job hop every few years.
Among them is Oakland Township resident Mark Arduino, 52, a master franchisee for Anago Cleaning Systems, which services commercial enterprises. He spent 26 years in the automotive sector. Today, he provides a variety of front-office services for 23 individual franchisees in Southeast Michigan.
“Even though I was trained as an engineer, I always had the entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.