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Small Business | SMALL TALK: Advice From Small-Business

Personal Contacts Are Invaluable in Entering the Adult-Care Business


Question: I'd like to open an adult residential-care facility. My husband and I have been through the required orientation for obtaining a license but found the information very vague. Is there some more help we can get in this field?

--Adele Cadres, Los Angeles


Answer: There are many variations on adult-care facilities, from convalescent hospitals to board-and-care homes to assisted living centers and even private homes that cater to a small number of residents. You need to first decide which kind of facility you want to start, then learn as much about it as you can.

I have found that personal contacts are most helpful. Visit a number of local facilities that are similar in type and size to the one you'd like to operate. Call first and arrange to take a tour and speak to the owner at a convenient time for him or her. Listen and ask questions, gleaning as much information about the business side of the operation as you can. You will probably find that--while some may think of you as "the competition"--many of them are willing to help and will be able to direct you to great local resources.

Another good avenue for you would be to call or visit some local hospitals and ask to speak to the person who does senior placements. Most hospitals have someone on the staff who works with the families of elderly patients who need after-care in the wake of an operation or hospital stay. This person is typically very familiar with the senior-care facilities in the area and has a good idea of which patients are underserved and where the needs are in this industry.

Third, seek out some trade industry associations and professional journals that cover the gerontology and nursing home industries. Your library should carry the Gale Directory of Associations, which lists such industry groups and how to contact them for information that is specifically directed to business owners in your field.

--Donna Cozell, owner,

Home Instead Senior Care,

Santa Clarita

Learning Tricks of Distribution Q: I'm having trouble finding distributors for my sole product, a wrench used for turning obstinate handles on the shut-off valves under sinks and behind toilets. Last year my "Gordon wrench" was featured in columns written by handy-persons and as a result I sold 3,000 units. But would-be distributors have been deaf to my efforts to enlist them. I'm 77 and don't want to be in the mail-order business. Should I negotiate the sale of my company?

--Robert M. Gordon, president,

Gordon Tool Co. Inc., Los Angeles


A: I wouldn't suggest that you give up finding a distributor just yet. If this item has sold 3,000 units, there is a good chance that there is a market for it. Distributors usually take a wait-and-see attitude toward new products, unless you have a proven track record.

You have a couple of options. The first is to approach a distributor and ask if you can put inventory into their warehouse on a consignment basis. In other words, the distributor doesn't pay for the product until it sells. The risk for the distributor is minimal, and it shows you are willing to work with them. Once it gets into the warehouse, you can launch an aggressive campaign with the distributor's sales team to "pull" the product to market. For example, you can ask to ride along on sales calls. This will give you an opportunity to call on customers and learn more about how distributors work.

The second option is that you sell directly to major stores that carry your type of product, because they will either self-distribute or they will run the item through a distributor. (The distributor will take the product in because the large customer wants it.) These larger stores might take some time to crack, but the volume is worth the wait. I might also suggest that you approach Wal-Mart Stores Inc., as it has special programs for smaller businesses.

--Kenneth W. Keller, Keller & Associates, marketing, sales and management consultants, Valencia

SBA Offers Help on Business Plan Q: I need to put my 1999 business plan in place, but I can't locate references for writing the plan. Do you know where I can go for assistance?

--Terri Ferro,

My Girlfriends, Ventura


A: There are many places small-business owners can get terrific information, advice and even some hand-holding when it comes to writing their business plans. The U.S. Small Business Administration's Small Business Development Centers sponsor occasional seminars on writing a business plan and offer one-on-one counseling, as does the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), through its counseling centers. To obtain a list of SCORE and SBDC locations, call the SCORE center in Glendale weekdays between 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. at (818) 552-3206.

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