Husband-and-wife team build Indiana BrightStar Care home health franchise into fifth-largest in the company
After a career as an executive and engineer for multiple wireless companies, Steve Zishka and his wife, Stephanie, decided they wanted to set down their own roots with a business in Fort Wayne, IN. Zishka had been dissatisfied with the home health company his parents had used in their later years, and he was pleased to see that BrightStar Care offered him an opportunity to open his own home health franchise that lived up to the standards of care people deserve. Read on to find out more about his story and his successes with BrightStar Care.
How long have you been a BrightStar Care franchisee?
We signed the agreement in May of 2010 and opened our doors in September of 2010. We cover both Fort Wayne territories and Lafayette.
My wife Stephanie is our Director of Nursing. She had done some home health care in the past, but most of her experience had been in the pediatric intensive care unit. I run the operations, my wife runs the clinical portion and we had a partner, T.J. Weir, who ran the sales, although he’s no longer active on a day-to-day basis with the business.
What made you decide to become a BrightStar Care franchisee?
Before BrightStar Care, I was the vice president of technical operations for a regional wireless carrier called Centennial Wireless. By trade, I’m an electrical engineer.
I had been through four different acquisitions by bigger wireless companies. During the last one, they offered me positions on the coasts, but I didn’t want to move. My wife and I had fallen in love with Fort Wayne and we didn’t want to uproot our kids. T.J. and I went on a journey looking at lots of businesses, and we stumbled across the home health care field.
My parents had both used home health care. My mother had used hospice care when she was going through the dying process, and then my father was using it after my mom passed away. We had issues with the home health company that we had hired for him. When looking for a business, we just fell in love with the BrightStar Care model. Shelly’s story and vision inspired us, and the scalability really attracted us. Being able to do everything from companion care to skilled care sets us apart in this field.
What do you like about owning the business?
Being able to call your own shots is exciting. I also really enjoy that you always go home in this business feeling like you made a difference. Sometimes in other businesses you get that feeling, but most of the time you just go through and do your job. Here, I go home every day feeling like I’ve helped people and made a profound difference, with both clients and employees.
What stood out about BrightStar Care when you were researching brands?
The biggest difference was the full continuum of care that we offer. We have a nurse that oversees every case, no matter how small, and that nurse is actively involved in coordinating care for the families that we are servicing. In this day and age, where you have to coordinate all the different moving parts among multiple doctors or caregivers, having an advocate in the home is huge. Nobody else is doing that. We’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Most competitors roll their phones to a voicemail or an answering service at 5 o’clock, and they deal with the issues the next morning.
We also guarantee compatibility. We will have a match for any client because we have so many qualified caregivers.
What support from corporate do you value most?
We have a first-class technology platform and the corporate team provides all that technology support and access and product development that we get to take advantage of. We have an advertising and marketing arm up there that does a very powerful national advertising campaign that they will be expanding in the future.
We also have the sales and operations support, and we’re assigned to a field support person that helps us if we’re having issues. It’s a pretty all-encompassing support system and structure.
Are there any favorite clients or particularly fond memories that really stick out to you?
I have dozens of letters from people who were grateful for our ability to keep their loved one in their homes. We’ve done some very interesting things that I’m proud of.
There’s one particular family that had a 10-year-old autistic daughter. They hadn’t left her with anyone other than close family members in over four years. That family called us to help out after her day program. After about a year, they felt so comfortable with us that they took a family vacation and left us in charge of their daughter 24 hours a day for a week. They felt comfortable enough to trust us with that, and I’m proud that we were able to do that.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day has evolved so much from the early days until now. When I started, there was just me, my wife and my partner with 10 field employees, and our typical day was fighting fires all day. I now have an office staff of 30 people that I’m running. I’ve got a Director of Operations, a Director of Quality Assurance, a Director of HR — I’ve got a whole layer and structure and architecture underneath me.
Now it feels very much like a normal business. I’m working on the same things that any other CEO would work on, but it took time and evolved to there. Early on, we were spending our energy and our days building the brand, getting in front of potential clients, getting in front of referral sources, doing living room visits and getting cases opened up. It was much different than what I live day-to-day six years into it.
Coming from a different industry and different background, how did you manage the learning curve?
The beauty of learning how to start a home health care business with BrightStar is that it’s very common-sense oriented. I had been through it with my father and my mother, so I knew what I expected and knew what I wanted, and we put programs in place that delivered that level of service. You use your common sense and do great customer service every day, and your brand will build. When you get a chance to make an impression on somebody, you make an impression. Everything we touch is about doing the best that we can possibly do, and that’s what we teach our staff. I thought the learning curve would be more severe than it was. It also helps that I’ve got my wife as the Director of Nursing. If something clinical comes up and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, what’s that?” she can explain it to me.
Would you say you’ve been able to meet your business goals?
I wrote a business plan before we started, and I exceeded my plan. I had shared it with BrightStar Care and they gave me some guidance that it was a little aggressive, but we were still able to hit it. It came with some trade-offs; we put in a lot of hours and worked pretty hard to get it where it is right now, but we’re the fifth-largest BrightStar Care in the system now, in little Fort Wayne, Indiana. We’re proud of that.
Knowing what you know now, if you were putting together that business plan again, would you still become a BrightStar Care franchisee?
Without trepidation. I really feel like the decision I made was the right decision. With BrightStar Care, we took the best-in-class brand and have been able to watch it grow and help it grow. I’m really pleased and excited with how it’s gone.
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