Goodwill Power – Special Care – Company Profile

Goodwill Power – Special Care – Company Profile – Statistical Data Included

Martha Visser

SHE STARTED HER DREAM BUSINESS — PROVIDING CARE FOR THE HOMEBOUND — WITH NO MONEY DOWN.

JEAN GRISWOLD was overwhelmed by a sense of failure when she learned that one of her husband’s parishioners had died. Griswold, an active worker in her husband’s Presbyterian church, had lined up volunteers to help the elderly woman with household tasks during the day, but even the most devoted of the volunteers was unavailable at night. That’s when the woman fell. Ill and alone, she was unable to call anyone for help.

From that point 16 years ago, Griswold has made it her mission to prevent such tragedies from happening to anyone else — and built a multimillion-dollar franchise business in the process. Working from her home in Erdenheim, Pa., she set out to provide helpers and companions to people who were infirm and unable to manage household chores and basic personal care on their own. The first woman to receive a business degree from Douglass College (now part of Rutgers University), Griswold has decades of varied work experience (including stints in education and public relations) to draw upon.

The plan was simple at first. She had zero dollars to work with. Still, she managed to hire graduate students from a local seminary to sleep in the homes of clients, paying them $30 a night out of each client’s fee of about $35 ($5 an hour).

Soon things became complicated. As business picked up, she had to install extra phone lines in her home and hire employees to monitor them. “It started in my dining room and spread into the living room, then onto the porch,” Griswold says. When the many cars parked on the lawn became conspicuous, the township issued a cease-anti-desist order, claiming that Griswold’s house wasn’t zoned for business. Special Care moved to an office building a mile away in 1985.

Eight years ago Griswold learned that she had MS. She is now confined to a wheelchair, but that hasn’t stopped her from building Special Care into a 45-unit powerhouse that earns $47 million annually. “I can’t stand, and I can’t walk,” she says, “but I still function as an entrepreneur.” Much of the company’s rapid growth stems from Griswold’s unconventional decision to waive the fee that national chains normally charge franchisees for the right to run one of their branches, says Kent Griswold, Jean’s son and a graduate of the Wharton School’s M.B.A. program, who is president of Special Care of New Jersey and Delaware. Special Care simply gives the franchises to potential operators who seem to have the right qualities — compassion for clients and a commitment to finding and training good employees. The franchisees must spring for the cost of their office space and equipment and pay Griswold what amounts to a 3 to 4 percent royalty — “around half what our competitors charge,” says Kent.

Griswold says the policy has allowed her to invest in franchisees who have helped the chain’s reputation as well as its bottom line, noting that the interview process is very thorough. “I don’t want someone who’s only out to make money.” For instance, she will ask franchisees to describe their most important priorities in life. She looks for people for whom helping a neighbor ranks higher than turning a profit.

“Of course, they do make money,” she adds. “They make a lot of money.

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