At Aveus we have the opportunity to listen to and work with a wide range of clients and prospects talking about operationalizing a decision they’ve already made, addressing the urgent requirements of a changing market, or introducing ideas that will change the world. The following story has elements of all three.
I learned about LifeWise Renovations and met the CEO Mike Dodd through his wife Kathy Dodd, a powerhouse in her own right as CEO of The Corridor Group. Mike has been in the construction business for more than 25 years and Kathy has built a nationwide consulting group for the home health care industry during that same time period. You will see why these two backgrounds matter in a minute.
Mike has owned a successful construction business in the Kansas City area for over 25 years. Over those years the company followed the typical construction model which tends to be very localized. As Mike explained, much of a local contractor’s business success is based upon having established networks for resources, talent, and critical market knowledge. It is very difficult to take a good construction business name in one market and transport it to another.
Compound that localized business model with the recession that hit the construction business as hard as any sector in the last few years. Mike estimates that as many as 60 – 70% of the construction businesses that were around prior to the start of the recession in 2007/8 no longer exist. And, the industry is not rebounding in the way it historically has recovered. Things are improving, but not as they have in the past.
Mike commented that there aren’t really good reporting mechanisms because of all the transient and self-employed people in the industry and went on to say, “The results have been overwhelming. I know from my own experience and being involved on a national level in the industry, this has been devastating.”
Mike’s own construction business continues but it, too, has been dramatically impacted by the recession. Rather than simply shrink and hang on, out of this market decline, he began thinking about where to take his business next. Mike explained, “When the recession hit our business, we had to ask ourselves: Do we close the doors or do something different? We decided we have a great business, great capabilities, we know our market and we have great partners. The time is right and we can do this: invent this new business model.”
Mike and Kathy went back to an idea they had played with some years ago – bringing home health care concepts together with remodeling and construction expertise. Many people have been talking about it and working on it for years…the ‘it’ being building and remodeling houses to support people staying in their homes as they age. Ten years ago the market wasn’t ready. Today the time is right. The first boomer turned 65 last year.
Mike sees LifeWise as still a bit ahead of the market but it’s time now to build out the concept. The idea is straightforward: develop an expertise in remodeling that helps people age and stay in their homes for a long as possible. Clear concept – the challenge is how to execute it well.
The LifeWise business model is unique in at least three ways:
- It combines deep expertise in both construction and home health care, tapping into medical resources to devise the construction solutions;
- It creates a portable franchise model that can work market to market in ways traditional construction businesses can’t; and
- It utilizes established local health care networks that can benefit from a strong construction partner in helping people stay in their homes.
Mike commented, “It hurts to say it but we in the construction business are not innovators of note. However, we are fortunate in that you’re not going to find too many businesses that have our combination of construction and health care expertise that my wife’s career and mine represent. In this concept we are able to tap both and can put the two together. If we didn’t have these core competencies – it would be much more difficult.”
So LifeWise was born in the summer of 2009. They have done substantial research and are in the proof of concept stage. Franchising the concept was an idea from the start. As Mike explained, “We believe this idea is easily transportable – unlike the base construction business. With a clear model and in a franchise environment, partnering with local health care organizations (market to market), this is eminently scalable.”
Mike expects more general business people to gravitate to this concept rather than traditional contractors. They are still developing the profile of the franchisee – but it will most likely be people that are good at building relationships and already have some local networks established. It will be someone entrenched in their market – with a desire to grow a business, and not hung up with traditional concepts of how the construction business works.
I asked about the early market acceptance LifeWise is seeing and Mike commented that one of the clear early mistakes they made was in assuming people in their 70’s and 80’s were perfect candidates. Turns out they are not. Though they have the need, they hate thinking about the topic and see it as a sign of weakness. Their children, on the other hand, get it instantly! Boomers caring for aging parents and entering this stage of life themselves not only get it but are willing and wanting to incorporate these concepts into any home improvement projects. They are the real market both for themselves and as influencers of their parent’s buying decisions.
Oh can I relate! And I wish LifeWise great success because I know so many folks who can benefit from the opportunity to live independently in their own home for as long as possible – starting with my own family, and guessing yours, too.
In this story, I see the will and vision to look beyond traditional assumptions and create something new out of adversity. What do you see?