It started with the pink car.
A couple of years ago, an employee of St. Joseph Health, a Catholic health agency and hospital system in southern California, saw one of Nurse Next Door's trademark flower-adorned pink cars driving around the Los Angeles area. The worker was immediately curious and sent an inquiry up the 25,000-employee agency's ranks.
It eventually reached chief administrative officer John Bennett: What's the deal with this big, bright home-care service company?
A phone call was made. Nurse Next Door, it turned out, was a Vancouver-based franchisor that offered home care services for seniors, and it shared St. Joseph Health's mission to provide vulnerable people with care. "We aligned on our core values," Mr. Bennett says.
They kept talking. Last February, they announced a partnership: Nurse Next Door would launch 26 franchise locations in the Los Angeles area to be run by St. Joseph Health. Then, in November, St. Joseph Health announced an additional 13 franchises. The deepening partnership broadens the range of services for the California agency, in turn accelerating Canada's Nurse Next Door already rapid growth in the United States.
American expansion is a top priority for Nurse Next Door, says president and chief executive Cathy Thorpe: "Canada doesn't have a lot of franchise territories left, but we have hundreds we can leverage across the U.S."
Nurse Next Door was launched by John DeHart and Ken Sim in 2001, and they began franchising in 2007. Ms. Thorpe joined in 2014 at the suggestion of Mr. DeHart after nearly 25 years in retail, much of it with Gap Inc. She saw "huge" opportunities in the home-care market.
She also admired the co-founders' approach. "They picked pink and yellow as the branding colours," Ms. Thorpe says. "It was disruptive then, and it's been disruptive ever since."
Nurse Next Door is nearing its fourth year south of the border. It now has 150 franchises across North America, 65 of which are in Canada.
Demand to join its ranks is high, Ms. Thorpe says. "For every territory we sell, we have about 100 people who apply for a franchise."
The managers at Nurse Next Door spend a lot of time making sure its partners are a strong fit. "When you look at this business, it's about 50 per cent having passion for making a difference in people's lives, and 50 per cent passion for the business. If you're too skewed on either side, it doesn't work," Ms. Thorpe says.
Mr. Bennett says St. Joseph Health had been hesitant to jump further into home care on its own, as it made up a small part of the agency's business. "We wanted a partner who had a system and structure, and who was an expert in this space," he says.
Some franchisors choose to establish themselves in new markets on their own, with small partnerships or corporate-owned locations. But finding a master franchisee to handle the expansion also works.
"They have local business experience, and will have responsibility for developing that brand in that region or country," says Lorraine McLachlan, president and chief executive of the Canadian Franchise Association.
The Nurse Next Door-St. Joseph's Health pairing was a natural fit, both parties say. As many baby boomers begin to enter their senior years, demand for care services is likely to keep rising. Los Angeles County is an enormous market, with a population of more than 10 million people.
Ms. Thorpe sees Nurse Next Door as a key player in reducing hospital readmission rates.
"Hospitals know they need to get into communities, need to be able to impact clients in their home," she says. "When you go back to the hospital, it can be for something as simple as not having transportation to get to the doctor, or 'I didn't get my prescription renewed,' and you end up back in hospital."
St. Joseph Health, she says, saw her company as an opportunity to help people stay home.
Nurse Next Door is still recruiting individual franchise partners in the U.S., but its strategy with St. Joseph Health may prove fruitful elsewhere, too. The health-care and hospital system recently merged with a Washington State health-services network that extends its reach to seven states and 100,000 caregivers.
This is likely to help Nurse Next Door's mission, Ms. Thorpe says. "We see it as our mandate to help people understand they can stay at home."