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Owning a health care franchise

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Entrepreneurs looking for hot franchise opportunities may have had a tough time over the last few years of economic downturn, especially as franchise owners in some industries have struggled.

In this environment, health care franchises seem like a pretty appealing prospect. While owners haven't been immune to the recession (some have reported more stringent standards for obtaining financing, for example), they have been able to bank on a growing market for their services.

Health care has been one of the few reliably growing sectors over the last few years, and the growth is expected to continue. Illness doesn't slow down in periods of economic decline. Moreover, demand for health care is expected to rise significantly due largely to the aging of the baby boom generation.

According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, one in five Americans will be age 65 or older by 2030. And older people tend to rack up health problems, which means new markets for health care products and services.

Franchises provide some of those services, from personal fitness to eye care to medical supplies like wheelchairs and hearing aids. In some cases, running one of these businesses requires little or no medical training. In others, health expertise is important.

For example, Doctors Express offers investors and physicians the chance to own and operate urgent care centers. The company argues these centers fill a gap in the market, providing a service for people who need emergency care but don't want to wait in hospital emergency rooms.

Other franchise owners have looked to the booming market for in-home care. As the population ages, the number of elderly people needing care in their homes is expected to rise dramatically -- and with them the number of in-home caregivers. By one measure, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting a whopping 70 percent increase in employment for home health and personal care aides between 2010 and 2020, for an estimated 1,313,200 new jobs. That's considerably faster than the 14 percent growth projected for all occupations combined.

Entrepreneurs hoping to capitalize on the demand for home care can buy home health care franchises -- businesses like Accessible Home Health Care, which, according to Entrepreneur Magazine, grew from 45 units in 2008 to 102 in 2011, or Visiting Angels Living Assistance Services, which, according to its website, has more than 400 agencies nationwide. Home Instead Senior Care, which began in 1994 as a pioneer in the nonmedical caregiver market, now has more than 900 offices worldwide.

Though the startup costs are not insignificant (Entrepreneur Magazine lists opportunities ranging roughly from $50,000 to $150,000), they typically don't require a major real estate investment. Most in-home health care businesses can be run from small offices -- even home offices, as in the case of Cincinnati-based Home Helpers.

The ambitious (and well-capitalized) can also start their own home health care franchises. One success story is Shelly Sun, a certified public accountant by training, who started medical staffing agency BrightStar Group Holdings Inc. in 2002, according to a recent profile in the Wall Street Journal. Her revenues last year were $160 million, and the company plans to go public in 2015.

Last Updated: 20/06/2012 - 11:06 AM

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