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Franchising offers alternative to victims of 'rightsizing'; Corporate refugees find a way to reboot careers

Many would argue that fried chicken has nothing to do with health care. Reynolds Corea would beg to differ.

He's a former outsourcing expert who was making "easily" six figures, Corea said, when Accenture Ltd. cut him loose in January 2009 after nearly 20 years.

"They called it 'rightsizing' -- they had all sorts of euphemisms for it," recalled the 50-year-old father of two college students. "But it was a layoff."

A layoff that has led Corea where so many corporate refugees have opted to go for a second career act: operating a franchise business.

Though small businesses, franchises account for some sizable economic statistics -- nearly 18 million jobs and $1.2 trillion in gross domestic product, according to the International Franchise Association in Washington. The group attributes 1 in 8 nonfarm, private-sector U.S. jobs to franchise businesses.

The franchise market is growing at an annual rate of 2 percent, said John A. Pearce II, endowed chairman of strategic management and entrepreneurship at Villanova University's School of Business.

"While that's not where all the action is, certainly there is a lot of vitality," Pearce said.

Part of the appeal of franchise ownership is the range of opportunity that it offers, said Brian O'Keefe of O'Keefe Franchise Advisors LLC, a Boston franchise consultant. The estimated 825,000 U.S. franchise businesses stretch far beyond sandwiches, coffee and doughnuts to include such inedible specialties as tax preparation, automobile care, home inspection, and paving.

O'Keefe said that his typical client "always had this longing or desire to be a business owner. They see that franchising is a great way to enter into business ownership with less risk."

As Pearce put it: "You are accepting someone else's business model, their public image, their cost structure, and you are agreeing, by and large, to follow their policy manual quite rigidly. That arrangement can be a source of great comfort."

Indeed, it was the idea of being his own boss while following someone else's game plan that hooked Corea. That came after a period of introspection during some Accenture-sponsored outplacement counseling.

What he wanted was a business that involved matching the right people with those in need. O'Keefe, the consultant, eventually led Corea to BrightStar, a predominantly home health care chain that started in 2002 as a local business run by Chicagoans J.D. and Shelly Sun, who left corporate jobs when their search for in-home care for a relative turned up horrifying results.

They sold their first private-duty home care and medical-staffing franchise in 2006, said BrightStar President Chuck Bailey.

At the end of last year, BrightStar had 198 offices in 35 states. The total by the end of this year is expected to be 275 -- with future expansion plans buoyed by the anticipated ever-growing demand for in-home medical and nonmedical care as baby boomers age.

Bailey said -- and Corea confirmed -- that potential franchisees were put through a probing evaluation not only to assess whether they were a philosophical fit for the chain but that they meet its financial criteria, including a net worth of $500,000. The buy-in fee was about $200,000, Corea said.

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