If you're looking to start a business, one of the first things to do is scope out a market that has growth potential. There aren't many markets growing faster than services aimed at an aging population. Couple that with the fact that our society travels more than at any previous time, and has more wealth and disposable income, and you can understand why Kimarie Jones started Preferred Travel Helpers.
The Englewood, Colo.-based company, launched in March 2011, has four full-time staff and 10 per-diem staff. It provides trained CPR-certified helpers to accompany individuals on their travels. "Our goal is to bridge the distance between families and reunite your loved ones at the milestones that are important to keeping families connected," Jones said.
"I have a daughter with special needs and I realized that the primary caregiver is never really on vacation, even when on vacation. Traveling has become so overwhemling that we don't even think about bringing our elderly parents to events.
"We specialize in picking up a loved one from their home, checking them in, assisting them with luggage, logistics, security issues and ground transportation. We make sure they are safe, comfortable and relaxed so their journey goes smoothly. We can also stay with them throughout the vacation to ensure everyone -- especially the primary caregiver -- is on vacation."
Jones says there is little direct competition for her firm. "There are one-person nurses who will fly with a patient, but I have not come across a company like Preferred Travel Helpers. We train our helpers in flight physiology, lifting techniques, crisis prevention, CPR and TSA issues. Our helpers are employees, not contract laborers, so they are covered for workers compensation. Any injuries they may sustain while on the job are not the responsibility of the client."
The company offers its services anywhere in the world. "Our services are national and global. Any place, any time, any occasion. We fly our helpers to the client, then accompany them on their means of transportation, whether plane, train, automobile or cruise. We and can remain with them during their journey or return that same day if possible, which helps keep the services more affordable."
Jones says the company does thorough background checks on its employees, including multi-state DMV, court records, aliases, Social Security number validations and cross-validation with the national sex offender register.
Preferred Travel Helpers is not Jones's first business. She is a former owner of a Maid Brigage franchise. The most important lesson she learned from that experience is that, "In a service business, you must take care of your employees because they are the face of your product. That's why I don't treat them as contracted labor. I treat them as employees. I already offer health insurance to full-time employees." Down the road, her new company might adopt something of a franchise model. "I envision a hub-type of organization since there are opportunities on a local level that a small business owner could benefit from such as personal concierge, taking clients to and from medical appointments, organizing a house for return from vacation and grocery shopping."
Jones also co-founded and later sold Air Ambulance Specialists, which arranges domestic and international air medical transportation. She completed a five-year contract as VP-finance for the acquiring company earlier this year and then started Preferred Travel Helpers.
When asked about her biggest mistakes in starting the business, Jones said she wishes she had gotten her website up and developed a social media strategy faster. As to her best decisions, she says that setting up training programs and hiring processes for a new industry niche prior to starting the company's marketing efforts has made a difference. And even more important than that: "The best decision was for me to take a chance on making my passion and dreams come true and getting off my butt and doing it, not just talking about it."