Retail industry leader now leads rapid growth efforts at the Nurse Next Door home care franchise
Cathy Thorpe brings many talents to her role as president of Nurse Next Door, not the least of which are the skills she honed as a results-driven leader in the retail industry. She served as president of a Canadian children’s retailer after spending more than 15 years with The Gap, where she was ultimately responsible for Gap and Gap Kids in Canada and Germany. She also started her own consulting business helping small and medium-sized fast-growth companies in the areas of leadership, operational excellence and governance.
The mother of two is a world traveler with a passion for language and culture. She is deeply interested in the quality of life issues that are the heart and soul of Nurse Next Door. Cathy was selected to lead the Nurse Next Door team in 2014. She’s setting the tone for our U.S. expansion efforts, and we couldn’t be more thrilled.
We asked Cathy to share her thoughts on her first year at the helm of Nurse Next Door home care franchise and the details of how she’s steering the U.S. expansion.
What has it been like during your first year as president?
Cathy: I had known of Nurse Next Door for a few years, and I had actually used them for a family member. I also had known John DeHart (Nurse Next Door co-founder) for some time. I became very connected with the brand and what it represents. I realized how it really is different from other homecare companies out there. When John asked if I’d be interested in this role, I was compelled. I was also very interested in understanding how I could leverage my retail background for the franchising industry. At the end of the day, retail and franchising are both people businesses, whether it’s someone who works for a corporation or a franchise partner. You are leading them, and you are inspiring them.
How do you plan to scale the company?
Cathy: This is our third year going into the US. If we are hitting the target numbers that we have in our plan, then Canada and the U.S. will have the same number of franchise locations in the new year. We’ll have a substantial footprint across the U.S.
How do we continue to develop the brand outside of our own country? To me, the way to do it is to make sure we really have a consistent message. And we have to make sure we are saying it in a way that everyone understands. There are powerful questions we have to answer. What is going to bring happiness to aging? What is important in our clients’ lives that they can’t do anymore? How can we help bring that back? When you see all this in action, it really does make a huge difference in people’s lives. We want to keep people at home as long as possible. That is really the point that we start from, but it is also allowing them the independence that benefits them emotionally and physically.
Did you make any changes when you came on board?
Cathy: My perspective on coming into a new organization is ‘go slow to go fast.’ My background was in retail, but I also went back to school and got a family business advising certification. I get the importance of corporate training and a corporate background, but how do you put that together with private business? What are the nuances that you need to protect? That is a big piece of it. Private companies have founders who have brought in a secret sauce, and that is what has made them successful. You have to make sure that you don’t lose that as you make changes. So, a significant part of my first few months here was coming to understand what Ken and John (co-founders Ken Sim and John DeHart) have done and their vision for the future.
I have a strong operational background, but you have to leverage what has been created, not lose what has been created. When you look at why so many executives are not successful going into these roles, it’s because they think they are better than the brand that has been created. I have spent a lot of my time making sure this doesn’t happen. When you look at this brand, it’s really growing up. That’s what I find fun is figuring out how to bring the company forward and really protect what John and Ken have created. They make it clear that their bigger perspective is to make lives better for seniors. It’s not about being bigger for the sake of being bigger or growing for the sake of growing. And they have stayed true to this over the years.
Can you say a little more about the expansion in the U.S.?
Cathy: In Canada, you’re looking at 35 million people across the entire country. That is the size of California! The U.S. is on such a different scale and represents an opportunity for a brand to continue to evolve and grow. The U.S expansion is an absolute priority for us. Nurse Next Door continues to grow in Canada, but really when you look at the opening of franchises there aren’t that many areas left in Canada, as we’re already the dominant brand. The U.S. is incredibly large, so we are looking not only at adding individual franchises but at elevating our company profile from a national perspective. Our goal is to add 30 franchise locations in the U.S. over the next 12 months.
Are health-care regulations in the U.S more complicated than in Canada?
Cathy: It’s like going into any country. You need to understand what the nuances of that country are. The U.S. does have more regulation than Canada does. It is challenging, because you have to address the particular regulations of every state, but on the other hand it does create that perspective of best practices. In many ways, Canada has learned to be even stronger in terms of best practices because of what we have learned in the U.S. It is radically different state by state.
What are the most important aspects of your job?
Cathy: I would say that it is to continue to grow the brand across North America and establish strong leadership in coaching and recruitment. I want to protect the client service that we’ve become so known for. It has built the foundation of Nurse Next Door. How do we provide that “wow” customer service across all of the franchises as we get a lot bigger? You need franchise partners who want to be business owners but who also have a depth and understanding of the brand. You need to be able to protect that experience for the client whether they are in Vancouver, Atlanta, Los Angeles or New York.
What would you tell a prospective franchisee who wants to invest in a Nurse Next Door home care franchise?
Cathy: Buying into a system allows you to accelerate your ability to grow a business so much faster. However, I always tell them that if you buy into a system and then you want the system just to bring you the business, that it’s not going to happen. You have to be an entrepreneur. You have to roll up your sleeves and make it happen. The successful franchise partners are the ones who leverage the Nurse Next Door system and follow it. They are also the ones who understand their communities and say, “I am going to own this brand.”
What kind of background do you think franchise partners need to have to have to be successful?
Cathy: We have such a diverse range of people, but there are probably some common traits. They definitely need to have people skills. It’s people who understand how to be entrepreneurial. You buy the system, but your sales are at zero at first. You grow the business one client at a time, one conversation at a time. We have so many successful partners, but it requires some sales. Our most successful franchise partners love and understand the mission of Nurse Next Door.
You need to be connected to our brand and our core values, and when you are, you really don’t feel like you are “selling.” You’re sharing stories and experiences and really connecting people to what we do. When you get those partners who truly resonate with the brand and who can articulate it in their own way, they build strong businesses.
What are your goals for the next few years?
Cathy: Our focus right now is to continue to drive our brand across the U.S. and build a healthy, robust system. We’re well on our way to becoming an admired brand in the U.S. As we establish our brand in the U.S. we’ll certainly start looking overseas. Internationally, there are a number of countries that are attractive, including Australia and the U.K.
What would you tell a prospective franchisee who wanted to know about the profit potential of a Nurse Next Door home care franchise?
Cathy: This is a scalable business, which bodes well for profitability. When you look at the penetration rates, franchise partners have a substantial number of seniors in their territories, just from an organic-growth perspective. Everyone talks about this, but it bears repeating that 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day and will for a long time, so there is natural growth built into this business.
What excites you the most about the company?
Cathy: Just what it represents. It’s just such a meaningful brand. It’s beyond what I expected in terms of making a difference in people’s lives. When you look at where the aging population is going, to be able to be ahead of that and really provide a level of happiness for those people; that is deep.
Learn more about Nurse Next Door
Nurse Next Door is different because we’re about caring, not just health care. If you’re looking to be part of a proven business with heart and to take advantage of the opportunities and support systems that the Nurse Next Door home care franchise has to offer, we encourage you to fill out this form. It’s never too early to start thinking about how you can change your life, and others’ lives, for the better with a Nurse Next Door home care franchise.