Written by Bill Fishburne
Ernie and Brenda Konkoli had never owned a franchise until they bought into the Homewatch CareGivers System. Today they are beyond pleased with their decision and most of all, are delighting in being in the home health care business.
Homewatch CareGivers of WNC has clients in hundreds of homes across Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania Counties. Wherever there is a need they often can provide a qualified person or persons to meet it. The company is managed from offices on Hendersonville Rd., on the second floor, at the busy Spring St. intersection near T.C. Roberson High School. The business has grown faster than school traffic at 3:30, and Ernie Konkoli said the franchiser’s online continuing education program was a major factor in their decision to go with Homewatch.
“We believe in education,” Ernie Konkoli explained. “Homewatch University enables us to provide an enormous amount of medical education for our clients and to the family care givers that we serve. Homewatch CareGivers is the only home care agency that has a fully accredited online university in health care. When we coupled that with the other attributes of the franchise, Brenda and I knew this was what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives.”
Konkoli came to the mountains to live after a successful career in engineering and business management.
“I had started a mechanical engineering degree from Kent State University and landed a first job with TRW. In the following 34 years, we were relocated at least seven times as I went up the corporate ladder to plant manager and corporate executive. This time, when we retired, we wanted to pick the place we lived and we wanted to provide services that were needed by the members of the community. We saw this as our last move, to start a business we could love, and to do it in an area we both loved.”
Along the way, Konkoli was involved in the sale of six companies. It gave him a true picture of how the business world works.
“Six of the companies were sold, spun off or formed into joint ventures. I was a reluctant participant in those. I was a part of selling two U.S. companies to German owners, one joint venture with an Israeli company, and one with an American company. When a corporation decides to buy or sell there is tremendous restructuring going on. They achieve huge economies in order to justify the purchase price.
“It was a difficult 34 years. I’m a team builder. I love to train people. I did this everywhere I went, and I sold that concept to the buyers. The last company I was with, unfortunately, wanted us to out source operations to a foreign entity. That was against my values. When you have a foreign owned company in the U.S., they have very little allegiance to American workers.”
[quote]“As I went through that, I determined Brenda and I would do something completely different when we retired—something with people as the focus, not numbers.”[/quote]
His last stop was in Avon, Connecticut, where he ran a company that made high-precision plastic components for medical instruments. Connecticut was beautiful but the Konkoli’s knew they didn’t want to continue to live in the Northeast.
“We had vacationed in the mountains of Western North Carolina for over 25 years. We knew if we could create the right opportunity that this was the place we wanted to live.
Taking a year off before making the plunge into a new business gave the Konkoli’s time to think, investigate and plan. “We studied all kinds of business opportunities and looked specifically in senior services. We came to the realization that our strengths lay in home health care. Neither my wife or I were licensed health care professionals, but Brenda has been a care giver in many capacities throughout her life. From raising our children to volunteering in hospitals to working in and managing group homes, she has always been a care giver in some capacity.
“It’s a business and it’s a calling. And I’m gaining the calling because you fall in love with your clients and the care givers who have been doing this most of their careers. I’m doing my part working to teach them some of the business side. It’s a small business and you wear many hats.”
In addition to the climate and lifestyle appeal of the mountains, Western North Carolina’s demographics gave the region extra appeal.
“When we studied the demographics in this country and realized just how quickly the population in America and in all the Western nations has grayed, we knew there would be an exploding need for senior services,” Konkoli said.
“You will see over the next 15 to 20 years not just an explosion of new senior services but a re-marketing of existing services toward the senior market. In the mountains our senior citizen population is at least 50 percent higher than the state average. Senior population is defined as those over 65. The nationwide average is 13 percent of the population. In our area it is 50 percent higher. In Buncombe County we’re at 20 percent. In Hendersonville it is 22 percent and in Brevard it is 24 percent, nearly double the state average. And all this is before the boomers come along.”
Boomers and Consumers
“The crazy thing about society today is that since January, baby boomers have started turning 65 at a rate of 10,000 per day,” Konkoli said. “That will continue for the next 18 years. Senior percentages are going to double over the next 18 years across the entire country.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that the fastest growing population we address are the parents of the Boomers. These people are 75 to 90 years old and are the first generation that has benefitted from the major advances in medical technology. Vaccinations, immunizations, antibiotics, advanced disease prevention and treatment, joint replacement, heart surgery and even dental care. These were things that cut lives short in previous generations. There will be a huge need for home care over the next 20 years. The majority of our clientele are folks in the 80 to 95 year old age group, the parents of the Boomers.”
Konkoli said they chose the Homewatch CareGivers franchise as their new business “because you don’t have to have medical experience. The franchise enables us to learn existing systems and they have a great support system. Their full resources at your disposal anytime you need their help.