Oakville entrepreneur Paul Craig, a retired contractor, has seen the kind of robust growth possible in a business geared towards older Canadians.
Craig spoke about his successful bathtubs-to-shower company at Sheridan College’s Elder Research Centre on Wednesday, illustrating that there’s money to be made providing services to the growing contingent of older Canadians who want to stay in their homes as long as possible.
Initially retired after 30 years in construction and home renovation, Craig found a second career working part-time installing bathtub-to-shower conversions for Bathway.
The GTA company, based just north of Toronto, converts bathtubs into step-in-showers mainly for older people who have limited mobility.
“At the beginning I said give me all the jobs you don’t want to do in Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, Windsor, anything that’s far,” he said. “The first 100 tubs went fast.”
After two and a half years as a franchisee doing the one-hour installations for $895, Craig’s territory is much closer to home in the Greater Toronto Area. He even has a kiosk in the Oakville Hospital to bring in extra referrals.
“It’s in the very front doors, so everyone sees it,” Craig said, noting it costs $275 a day having the kiosk set up at the hospital.
At a recent networking breakfast, the elder research centre’s director Pat Spatafora said that as the population ages, there are also great opportunities for home renovation companies, real estate firms, technology developers and home care providers.
The extra investment seems to be paying off. “I’m making a lot of connections and sales are continually going up,” Craig said, estimating personal sales now generate 30 per cent of his total current business.
Craig estimates he installs about 100 conversions a year. But he’s prepared to dramatically expand in the next five years. “I could do 400 a year,” Craig said. “I have another guy that’s just as skilled as I am so I could increase to 800 a year in a snap.”
For small companies going it alone or starting a product from scratch, research and development can be expensive. But one Toronto small business company has figured out a way to get around this by partnering directly with Sheridan.
Technology company Pointerware specializes in computer software for the elderly whose sales are almost evently split between senior living homes and personal users.
The company is also one of SERC’s business partners. CEO Raul Rusingh has helped apply for grants, teach and mentor Sheridan students in exchange for feedback on his company’s program.
Rusingh said the academic working relationship definitely requires time, attention, and commitment for things like grant applications but there are clear benefits. “You get a bit of bandwidth to do some experiments and do some experimental art and development,” he said, estimating about 4-7 Sheridan students worked on the project at any one time.
“It’s also gives you new insights into ways to solve problems, other approaches and other perspectives.”
The accessible nature of Pointerware’s software has extended its reach to people with low literacy or various disabilities such as visual impairments or cerebral palsy.