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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the June 13, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

New in Town: Seniors

Bill Velez, a member of St. Anthony of Padua church in

Hightstown, brings Communion to seniors living at the Meadow Lakes

retirement home. And there he found an idea for a business.

On May 1, Velez opened an office of Home Instead Senior Care, a

franchise based in Omaha, Nebraska, in the Ewing Professional Center.

From that location, he offers non-medical services — including

grocery shopping, light housekeeping,

and rides to the hair dresser or doctor’s office — to folks who

have trouble doing these things for themselves.

Velez’s wife, Lynne, is a co-owner, although she spends most of her

working hours at Bristol-Myers Squibb, where she is the executive

assistant to the vice president of sales. Velez recently worked at

BMS, too, but was not an employee. During his prior career, in food

service, he managed BMS’s employee cafeterias in Lawrenceville and

Plainsboro.

A graduate of Notre Dame High School, Velez studied English literature

at Trenton State College and hotel and restaurant management at Mercer

County Community College. In addition to his work for Sodhexo

Marriott, the company that operates BMS’s cafeterias, he was director

of food service at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

Of the reason he chose to look for business opportunities in a

different

field, he says: "Corporate food service is a terrible

business."

In the mid-1980s, he says, margins were 25 percent. "Now, it’s

3 percent or less," he says. "That’s a big reason I left.

You’re working for peanuts."

From his visits to Meadow Lakes, Velez, a forty-something himself,

knew he enjoyed spending time

with older people, and filed the information away. Then his

grandmother,

a Trenton resident, began to need help with day-to-day chores, and

he began to see the potential in getting into the senior care

industry.

Researching the pros and cons of owning a business, Velez

took courses offered by the Small Business Administration at MCCC

and at Brookdale Community College.

"I discovered that starting a business from scratch is really

hard," Velez says. He took a course in franchising, and decided

that was the way he wanted to go. "I used to think when you bought

a franchise, you just bought a name, but you’re really buying an

operating

system."

Velez did due diligence, including phone calls to many franchise

owners, and decided that Home Instead, with 50 franchises around the

country, including 10 in New Jersey, offered good value for the fees

it charges. He also discovered that the franchise for Ewing, where

he grew up, was free, and he signed on for a territory that includes

Trenton, Ewing, Lawrence, Hopewell, Pennington, and Burlington County

down to and including Mt. Holly. His office is just across the street

from Incarnation, where he attended grammar school.

(Another franchise in East Windsor covers the rest of Mercer County

and southern Middlesex County and is doing well. After just nine

months in business this office employs 85 caregivers and has 40

clients.)

The new business owner knows his biggest challenge will be finding

and retaining good workers, and he says his experience in managing

$6 to $9 an hour employees in a food service setting will be a big

help. "A lot of people think money is the most important

thing,"

Velez says, "but surveys show workers rank it only number eight.

Recognition is number one, and there are a lot of ways to provide

it."

So far, he says, response to his advertisements has been positive,

drawing college students, homemakers, and active seniors. In business

just about a month, he has 15 caregivers on his roster. Nationwide,

he says, 60 percent of the caregivers Home Instead sends out are

seniors themselves.

Velez offers an hourly wage of $7 or $8 an hour, and charges clients

$16 an hour, which he expects will work out to about a 15 percent

profit. Nationwide, 90 percent of Home Instead clients pay for

the services out of their own pockets, while 10 percent have long-term

care insurance that covers the charges. Velez says he expects

the latter percentage to pick up as the long-term care policies gain

popularity.

Rates work out to considerably less an hour for overnight stays or

24-hour assignments. Clients, whom Velez plans to develop through

contacts with hospitals and nursing facilities, can hire a Home

Instead caregiver for any one of 75 non-medical tasks any day of the

week, and at any hour.

Still new in the business, Velez has discovered that what seniors

often want most is simply companionship. "A lot of senior citizens

are very lonely," he says. Often, adult children are busy working,

and there is no one close by to lend an ear.

Says Velez: "I think we’re going to be easing the guilt of many

people in the Baby Boom generation who want to spend more time with

mom and dad, but can’t."

Home Instead Senior Care, 1901 Olden Avenue,

Suite 48, Ewing 08618. Bill Velez, owner. 609-530-0600. Home page:

www.homeinstead.com Also at 379 Monmouth Street in East Windsor.

William Shea, owner. 609-448-7555; fax, 609-448-8449.


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