Innovation: Finding a niche with the seniors

Blue Ridge Business JournalThe following article appeared in the November 1999 edition of the Blue Ridge Business Journal.

A borrowed pickup truck, and a bunch of guys down at First Baptist lead to a flourishing moving business geared to needs of the elderly
By Terri Lorch

Linda BalentineNow, says Linda Balentine, president of Premier Senior Relocation Services of Roanoke, “There is a real separateness in our society. Families live spread out and everyone is working. Family members are not always available to help.”

Balentine saw a business opportunity in that void. It was an opportunity to step in where family could not. “We’re family when someone needs to move. Moving can be a severe burden for seniors. I believe I have a social responsibility to help relieve them of that burden.”

In addition to relieving a burden, Balentine has found a market in the Blue Ridge region eager to pay for special services. Premiere will change its name next year to Crowning Touch Senior Moving Services Inc. and plans five new franchises in Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland.

Balentine was so sure that the senior population needed special services involved in moving that she started her business in her basement. Her primary piece of moving equipment was a pickup truck – borrowed from a friend. “I didn’t have any full time employees,” she says. I’d go down to the basketball court at First Baptist and hire guys to help me move.”

She focused on meeting the special needs seniors have when they move: “We’re usually talking about people moving into a smaller space. We help people downsize. This is a time when people can really pare down and get rid of the excess. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking, ‘Do you really need three bundt pans?’ Sometimes it’s more a question of space. Someone might have to decide whether to take the armoire or the five drawer chest.” To aid in downsizing, Balentine offers her clients computer-generated floor plans to help show how furniture, rugs and housewares to determine how best to set up the new home. Virtual rearrangements can be made as needed – in lieu of dragging a sofa around a room – until the client is comfortable with the plan. Balentine believes this kind of planning helps alleviate the stress many seniors feel when they downsize.

She believes it also frees people up to be generous. “Some of these people really have been blessed and they have the opportunity to bless someone else now. I helped one client give a computer to an inner-city student, a girl who is a writer. I don’t think she would have had access to something like that otherwise.” Balentine says she has also taken items to the Disabled American Veterans Thrift Shop, “and we’ve made some trips to the landfill, too.”

Many seniors are ready to do away with some furniture, rugs, art and housewares but do not want to sell the items themselves. Balentine and Time Wilson, Vice-President for Franchise Development for Crowning Touch, saw another opportunity in this. They can now buy furniture and other housewares and offer the items online on their Estate Shoppe. Photos and descriptions of items are available via the Internet.

Balentine believes the other important service seniors need is “total unpacking.” She says, “We’ll basically unpack everything. We’ll hang pictures and mirrors, put in shelf paper, hang shelves, set up the computer – we’ll even make the bed. When we leave, it looks like the person has lived there a year. We’ve done everything from verifying utilities to connecting someone’s cable. We’ve put in night lights and arranged medicine cabinets.”

Wilson says, “it’s about taking care of these people. We don’t just want to dump them off in a new home. It’s important to them that they be oriented in their new place. We moved one man from one floor of a senior facility to another floor. When we left, his mail and change were in the exact same place on his desk.”

“When I started,” says Balentine, “I envisioned working mostly with people who had family elsewhere; but I’d say 85 percent of our clients have family in this area. I just think people are so busy that the infrastructure is not there for families to move each other. People are willing to pay to make sure that they are well taken care of when they move.”

Terri Lorch is a Roanoke-based freelance writer.

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