A Chance Encounter Gives Rise to Wisdom Senior Care Franchise
Carolyn Thurston grew up traveling from country to country with her parents due to her father’s career in the Airforce. She attributes that experience to how she began observing seniors and how they were a cherished part of those societies. Whenever they arrived in a new country, she found herself sitting at a senior’s foot, wanting to know about their lives. Thurston spent her high school years dreaming about being a business owner, what it would be, what it would look like—paying little attention to her studies. But she knew she loved helping people; she just needed a way of combining ambition with passion. And while she didn’t know what the business would be, a divine voice told her it would be called Wisdom. Thurston then began pursuing higher education against many odds, attending high school in England. She applied to an extension program through the University of Maryland. Earning strong grades and sufficient credits, she applied to North Carolina Central University and received her BA in Sociology. She attended Winston-Salem State University after graduation, earning her Nursing degree, which she knew would be the catalyst to owning her own business.
Black Enterprise: You dreamed of owning your own business at a young age. How did you transition from nursing to business ownership?
Carolyn Thurston: After accompanying a home care nurse on a visit, I saw her connection with her client and walked away knowing that that’s what I wanted to do. I left the hospital setting and started in-home care, but that nagging voice was still encouraging me to start my own business. I was fearful, I didn’t know how, and I certainly didn’t have the money—all these excuses. In 2005, I did the one thing I knew I could do. I completed an application for home care in North Carolina, paid $300, and Wisdom Senior Care was born.
BE: How did the idea of franchising come about?
Thurston: Franchising didn’t manifest for many years. From 2006 to 2015, I worked the business as most small business owners do. I was doing everything in the business, and I started to lose my passion, wondering if this was something I could continue to do. I was tired physically and emotionally. I went to my husband with these feelings, and he said we should pray about it. It just so happened that we attended a Valentine’s Day dinner at our church (tickets I tried desperately to give away!) and ended up seated next to a business consultant. He introduced me to a book called The E Myth, and that book opened my eyes to the understanding that I could still help people and scale my business up. I already had the experience; during those same years, I had helped over 250 business owners in NC start their own home healthcare agencies. The state of NC has a mandatory one-day course, and I was only one of three people certified to teach this course. I wrote their policies and procedures and became a resource even after they had been open for over a year.
But I wanted to do more than just help here and there. So, when I read The E Myth, I thought, this is it— franchising! We sought out resources to help guide us, and my husband discovered the International Franchise Association (IFA). We attended a conference and knew we were in the right place. In collaboration with my husband and business coaches, we started franchising in 2017 and currently have 11 franchises and continue to grow.
BE: What’s been your biggest challenge as a franchisor, and how are you managing it?
Thurston: Our biggest challenge continues to be capital, not just for us but for our franchisees. When I decided to franchise, I couldn’t get a loan from a bank. I couldn’t get a loan from anywhere! But the one thing I had was my Wisdom Senior Care business. The business and brand were successful. That became my bank. I had to utilize that to get our franchise up and going. Franchisors have a lot of responsibility. We’ve built a proven system that works. But you must stay relevant and continue to build on that. You must bring on staff to make sure that franchisees can grow. It’s about making sure everyone is growing together.
It takes capital to bring on qualified staff to teach the team personal and business development coaching. We also have to develop proprietary technology that will help franchisees scale their businesses to increase net profits. When we first started exploring franchising, we were advised at a conference that we should have at least $500,000 in capital. Otherwise, we might want to reconsider.
This experience has required much “out of the box” thinking. I started realizing that I had to change. I always have to go back to myself. Anytime I’ve had tremendous growth, it didn’t start with anything on the outside; it all started with me. Fear can be powerful. Everything I do is based on faith, and fear and faith can’t exist in the same space.
BE: Why should more Black entrepreneurs consider senior care a sound investment for themselves and their families?
Thurston: People should think about the demographics. We’re all getting older. We haven’t even gotten to the point where baby boomers are really needing care. Some of them are taking care of their parents, who are in their 90s or 100s. The market is not saturated. I think people have the illusion that it is. We are going to hit a point in time where there are a huge number of seniors that need help. There’s still great opportunity in this industry to make a lot of money.
In addition, most people of color have been accustomed to providing service. This business is almost a ministry; not only are you helping families and the client, but you’re helping your direct caregivers. At Wisdom Senior Care, we believe in not just giving them a job but providing them with a career path. In May, we’re honoring our women of color franchise owners who are creating generational wealth for their families.