As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Carl McManus, CEO of Comfort Keepers.
Carl McManus joined CK Franchising, Inc. in January 2014. Carl began his career in public accounting in New York with Arthur Andersen and Co. as a certified public accountant. He also worked as a management consultant with Deloitte in Los Angeles. His experience includes several years with YUM! Brands in operations and franchising, and he was a director in Acquisitions and Divestitures during Taco Bell’s re-franchising process, transforming the network into a franchise business model.
He has spent the last several years working with private equity, focusing on company operations, franchise development, and strategy. Carl earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started with Comfort Keepers in 2014. We have both company-run locations and a large network of franchisees.
In my previous role with YUM Brands I had the opportunity to support more than 4000 Taco Bell franchises across the country. Working with small business owners is important to me — I am proud to play a role in supporting these dedicated, hard working entrepreneurs.
Comfort Keepers was started by a registered nurse, Kristina Butler, who saw a need for providing care and support for seniors outside of the hospital and in the home. She started this company in her kitchen, and it has grown to an international brand with over 700 locations worldwide. I am very happy to be part of that success.
In addition, I believe the work we do with seniors is vital. We give older adults the option to remain in the home they love as they age. I can’t think of a more noble goal than bringing joy to seniors and helping them live their best, most independent lives.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
As I mentioned, this company was started by our founder, Kristina Butler. She started the company in 1998.
At the time she was a registered nurse working in home healthcare. Through her work, she saw a need for non-medical help at home for her patients. Sometimes the requests she received were simple — an errand for a loaf of bread or a quart of milk. Other times, it was companionship to fight social isolation — a few minutes of conversation that ended up brightening a senior patient’s day. Other needs included assistance around the house, transportation, medication reminders, and more. Kris and her former husband founded Comfort Keepers to provide a solution. In 1999, they began franchising Comfort Keepers offices and became the franchisor, Comfort Keepers, Incorporated. In 2000, the Clums sold majority share of Comfort Keepers, Incorporated to investors, and created CK Franchising, Inc.
Kris truly found a need in the market and created a successful business to meet that need.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I’m sure there were many lessons along the way when this company was started. One of my favorite stories is about our logo, which was created by Kris’s children at her kitchen table. The Comfort Keepers story is one of empathy, caring and family — and remains so to this day.
Our goal is to not just to elevate the spirits of our clients, but to bring peace and joy to seniors and their loved ones. We talk about bringing care to clients as if they were a member of our own family. And my purpose as a leader is to ensure that the Comfort Keepers family — including our staff, franchisees, and caregivers — has the tools to be connected, supported and successful.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
The goal of this company was always to provide necessary care and support to seniors. There are countless stories to tell about the people that have been helped by our uplifting in-home care services.
We care for each client with the respect and dignity we would provide members of our own families. In fact, many of our independent owners have been drawn to Comfort Keepers as a result of their own experiences in caring for a loved one
Family caregivers that need respite turn to us for help. Adult children that live thousands of miles from their parents know that mom or dad is getting healthy meals, taking their medication and engaging in activities they enjoy. When we ask our caregivers why they love their job, they talk about the relationships and connections they have with senior clients.
And we take this responsibility very seriously. We have found that during the Coronavirus pandemic, seniors need more support than ever. And the kind of support they need — companionship, assistance running errands, someone to bring them a daily dose of joy — these are things that we have always been committed to providing.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
Our brand promise is to elevate the human spirit. This is our north star and is the concept that guides the decisions we make — both with our clients and with our network.
The right culture starts with our leadership team and our owners, and that guides how we treat our staff teams, our caregivers, and the families we serve.
For example, we start many of our meetings by asking those present, “What brings you joy today?” With this simple question we learn so much about each other, and what is important in our lives. Our owners ask their office staff how they bring joy to caregivers, and our caregivers ask their clients what brings joy.
A culture of kindness, respect and empathy needs to be present on all levels of an organization.
On a corporate level, we provide support and resources to our franchisees and operators, including programs that focus on mentorship, peer-to-peer connection and collective success. For our caregivers, we provide engagement programs and the opportunity for them to be recognized for the exceptional work they do. We also encourage diversity of thought and a culture of kindness and respect. And for our clients, we focus on elevating their spirits by helping them live a life they love, independently at home. And we create custom care plans for every client that account for their individual health needs as well as the activities that improve their quality of life.
Elevating the human spirit isn’t about making every day a party. It is about finding ways to uplift those around you, and to act with compassion and understanding. And we strive to demonstrate this in everything we do.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
From the inception of Comfort Keepers, putting caregivers first, and focusing on the needs of our customers has been the guide to our decisions, our growth, and our success. This company was started when Kris saw a need in her community. And we have grown by providing the services that families need most while building a team of purpose-driven, valued caregivers. While we use technology to improve the quality of care we provide, we stay away from making changes to follow trends. Everything we do is centered on what families need most.
Our mission statement says that our goal, “is to provide our clients with the highest level of quality of life that is achievable. We shall treat each of our clients with the respect and dignity they deserve, as though we were caring for a member of our own family.”
And we always try to put our caregivers first. They are the ones in the home, providing the exceptional service and connection to our clients.
Comfort Keepers® is united by a common purpose, which is to provide the best in-home caregiving services to aging seniors who wish to maintain their independence. Everyone from administrative assistants to home health aides at Comfort Keepers is committed to making this goal a reality.
Another example of putting clients and caregivers first — we found that families were craving more contact with their caregivers so they could ensure their senior loved ones were receiving the best care. So, we have implemented technology that allows caregivers to share updates and photographs to give families peace of mind. Knowing how their mom spent an afternoon or receiving a photo of a client and caregiver on an outing together, made all the difference.
Taking this customer-centric view ensures that we are providing the best service to the people that need us most — and that is always a recipe for success.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Comfort Keepers was founded 22 years ago, and it was tough then. It’s even tougher now with an extremely competitive industry. And operating during the Coronavirus pandemic has presented a challenge. Some families found the guidelines from state and national authorities confusing, our owners were asked to rise to the challenge of helping seniors and protecting caregivers during a pandemic, and we found ourselves in a role that required us to educate, reassure and serve the families that depend on us in an even bigger way.
For our owners across the country, the importance of supporting seniors, especially during these times when they need it most, has been their motivation, their mission and their drive. We serve a population that is considered high-risk, and we are proud of the ways that we have helped families get through this difficult time.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
As one of the leading home care agencies in the world, I can say that we are all proud of the organization that we have built. We have stayed true to our mission and our vision every step of the way, and I have no doubt that this has made us a leader in the home care industry.
Today, our clients are finding that their connection to Comfort Keepers is more important than it has been in the past. Our franchise owners across the country have stepped up to help their communities. Some have offered free grocery pick up and delivery for seniors that don’t feel safe shopping, while others are having job fairs to find empathetic, purpose-driven people to train as caregivers.
And even though this has been a difficult year, our value of elevating the human spirit remains. We recently started to spread the word about the importance of mental health for seniors during this holiday season when so many cannot see their friends and families. Even for those that are not receiving care services, we always hope to be a source of guidance, comfort, education and joy.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service-based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Focus on the customer — If new products and services are developed with your user in mind, there is always an increased chance of success. Knowing your audience and meeting their needs is always the best place to start.
- Internally, create a caregiver-first culture. Equality, diversity and integrity are the cornerstones of our culture at Comfort Keepers. Again — it is about putting others first. From the top down to the bottom up, compassion, equality and empathy guide our business — and that reflects in how we provide service to our clients.
- Don’t be afraid of technology — Being in a senior care business, many in our industry ignore the valuable ways that technology can enhance care. While some seniors are comfortable with technology, many want to learn — and others are perfectly able to navigate new devices and systems. We have found that technology is a valuable tool, as long as we meet the client where they are and adapt our care services for every family and individual.
- Custom service is the future — At Comfort Keepers, we have always seen the value in providing individualized services and care plans. Today, consumers expect services and products that are catered to their needs. One-size-fits-all is a hard sell for a service-based business in today’s world. As much as possible, customize your offerings to give your clients the best quality service.
- Avoid being reactionary — Trust that your core values will guide your business. Trends in business come and go, but staying true to the principles that guide provides sustained growth. It is easy, especially during the hard times, to look for something shiny and new. But knowing who you are as a company, and acting accordingly, helps build sustained brand loyalty, growth and success.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
For me, this person is Kris Butler. Not only is she our founder, she has been a valuable resource for Comfort Keepers through the years. She embodies the concept of elevating the human spirit, and has provided advice, guidance and leadership over the last 22 years — and will continue to do so as we move into the future.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
As our population ages, there will be more of a need for senior support services. The so called “Silver Wave” is coming — and there are opportunities for those that want to make a difference in the lives of seniors. If I could share a message, it would be to anyone interested in doing work that has purpose — being a caregiver, or working in other industries that support seniors, could be your calling. Some find this work intimidating, but it is necessary and important. And I can’t think of a better way to spend my days than to help bring joy to seniors.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find Comfort Keepers on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. We share content about senior care, wellness, and total wellbeing — mentally and physically. And we hope our content brings joy and hope to seniors and their families.