After 22 years in the senior care industry, Cheryl Frager knows you can’t pack a person’s life into a cardboard box. Big life changes have to be met with compassion and a willingness to listen. As President and CEO of Smooth Transitions in Baton Rouge, Cheryl helps seniors coordinate their move into a new residence and makes sure the transition goes off without a hitch.
So how did you get started?
I have 22 years of experience in the senior care industry. I’ve always been a marketing director. I ended my corporate career as the VP of sales and marketing for a 330-bed CCRC—a continuing care retirement community. My husband worked for Motorolla, so we were transferred all over. After we moved here I thought, “What else am I going to do?” I realized even though I worked in the corporate atmosphere, I was always the one helping families coordinate that client’s move-in. Sometimes I would pack them up, get a truck, and bring them in. Some people wouldn’t have any family to do that for them.
So one night at 2:00 am, I searched for the company Smooth Transitions and discovered they didn’t have a location in Louisiana. I called up the owner in Kentucky and asked if I could take her name for my business. She gave me two options: One, I could go up there to train with her and operate under her brand; or two, I could come up with my own name. When I researched it, I found it would have cost me $12,000-14,000 by the time I came up with my own logo, branding and marketing materials. With Smooth Transitions, I already had policies, procedures and a training manual. So even though I had 22 years of experience, I went up to train with her. I took one look at her business model, and I loved it.
What motivates me every day to get up in the morning is to help these people transition from one life stage to another.
What was that moment like at two in the morning? What motivated you?
I was working 80 hours a week at the corporate job. I really wanted to spend more time with my kids. My son was nine, my daughter was about four. I was looking for a better work-life balance.
What drives or inspires you on a daily basis?
Just helping people. Helping my clients figure out how they’re going to make their transition, and make it successfully. A lot of my clients are overwhelmed, so I don’t charge for the initial consultation. I try to find out what’s important to them. Sometimes there’s some sibling rivalry, and I’m right there in the middle of it. But the client is my advocate, so I’m going with whatever the client says. Maybe the client will say, “Dad died in that chair, I want to take that.” Even if the family says, “No, that chair is 50 years old, you’re not taking it,” if the client wants to take it, let her take it. What motivates me every day to get up in the morning is to help these people transition from one life stage to another.
What has been the most challenging part?
Pricing. Explaining the value of our service and why we price the way we do. A lot of people just want a price on the phone. Most of the time I don’t price on the phone, because I need to go out and see it. Even if the estimate is very easy, I need to know the specifics. Say it’s just a queen size bed and a recliner. Does that recliner have electrical pieces on it? How far will it be from the house to the new residence? I have a lot of details I need to work out so my team doesn’t get mad at me when they have 10 stories of stairs to climb.
So what you’re saying is—people think of your business as a commodity. But you don’t know what you’re getting into before you see the home.
Exactly, I need to see everything. And that’s what I explain on the phone to the client. I tell them every job is not a cookie cutter—every job is different. I like to meet you before this move takes place. I’m not selling you anything. It’s a free consultation to you. But I’d like to get to know you a little better. That’s the difference between us and another firm.