Delegate Chris Head and his wife Betsy were the guest speakers for the Gauntlet Business Program Entrepreneurial Showcase on March 26.
Chris Head shared a fascinating story of how he became an entrepreneur, which put him on the path to being elected as the representative for the 17th District in the Virginia General Assembly. The 17th District includes parts of Roanoke, Roanoke County and Botetourt County.
His wife Betsy told her story as well of how she, who had no interest in business initially, became his partner in life and in business.
The Heads own Home Instead Senior Care franchises in Roanoke and Lynchburg, which provide in-home non-medical care services to seniors so they can remain independent. Home Instead was named Small Business of the Year in 2009 by the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Chris Head told the Gauntlet participants that he was essentially born an entrepreneur— it was in his blood. Betsy— not so much.
He asked the group to think of the “one guy or girl in a class who was always doing something.” That was him. He started out as a child selling Christmas cards door to door as a money-making venture. In middle school he would stop at the country store on the way to class and buy candy to sell to his classmates at an inflated rate until he was stopped by school officials.
As a music education major at the University of Georgia, he read an ad in Popular Science magazine about sending in $10 to learn how to earn “the fastest $100,000 you can make.” That “got the wheels turning” on a new venture of printing a book of free coupons with companies paying to include their coupons as an advertising tool.
He and a fellow student (a business major with a dad who was a printer) actually lost $1,800 on their first coupon book. They split $185 in profits on their second attempt. When it came time for the third book, suddenly and unexpectedly all the businesses they had approached before wanted to be included. He and his friend made $5,000 each on what started out as a summer job.
The friend later dropped out, but Head turned the idea into a franchise— that was his first serious foray into the business world. He went on to attend seminary and married. He came to the Roanoke area as an employee of a large corporation. After a time, he became disillusioned with the company and began to look for other positions. He and his wife wanted to remain in the area. She suggested that he open his own business— he had been thinking the same thing.
They began to research franchises and came across Home Instead Senior Care. It sparked an interest. Eighteen years ago, in 2001, they opened Home Instead Senior Care in Roanoke, then another in Lynchburg in 2003.
In sharing her side of their story, Betsy said she and Chris had initially met in college where she was also a music major, studying music therapy.
She went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. After seminary she served as the Baptist campus minister at Longwood College and at Hampden-Sydney College. Once in Roanoke, she became the campus minister at Roanoke College.
She jokes that when they became reacquainted in grad school, she was attracted to his nice car equipped impressively with a car phone— which is what he had spent his $5,000 coupon book earnings on. She fell in love with his “I can accomplish whatever comes in front of me” attitude.
From the beginning, Betsy saw Home Instead as a ministry opportunity to the seniors and their families throughout the franchise territory.
She said, “My passion is to make sure our Home Instead staff and CAREGivers care for every client we serve as if he or she were my own parent.”
Chris Head told Gauntlet participants whether you choose the franchise experience or developing a business on your own, the main thing is “having a plan.”
The Heads say they are glad they went the franchise route— they needed the roadmap provided. Betsy, who “did not have entrepreneurship in her blood,” had to figure out how to become a business person. She took on the responsibility for operating the business day-to-day initially as Chris continued his job with Xerox. She had to approach hospitals and other facilities to gain referrals to build their enterprise. She was continually exhausted– on call 24 hours a day. Eventually they were able to hire office staff to share, and then take over, the phone duties.
Their business grew. Their next challenge came with Betsy’s battle against breast cancer.
Eventually the business expanded to the point where they could hire Chris away from Xerox. He then had to forge his own role with Home Instead.
They have faced many obstacles along the way but remained dedicated to the business that allows them to “make a difference in people’s lives every day.” They advised Gauntlet students to choose a business which resonates with them and do what they have a passion for. “Be in the lane of what God has equipped you to do.”
In describing their current roles, “she keeps the business happy, while he keeps the business healthy.” He also serves as “the Heavy.”
One of the main issues they faced in early days were the regulations, or lack of, in their senior care business. In the early 2000s, their in-home elder care business was an emerging industry, unaccounted for under state law. The state health department pressed the company to apply for a home care license, but that designation didn’t fit their business model.
That led them to Delegate Morgan Griffith. Head spent three years working with Griffith in updating and lobbying for state regulations for the industry and got involved in the legislative process.
When Delegate William Fralin retired, Head decided to run for office. That step changed their lives again dramatically. Betsy found herself “now married to an entrepreneur and a politician.” Head came in second in the Republican Primary on his first attempt but won the seat in 2011.
In concluding their talk, the Heads advised Gauntlet participants to enjoy their journeys in entrepreneurship, which will take them places they could never foresee. Betsy advised the women in the group to become strong advocates for themselves and their businesses in a world often skewed toward men.
One of Chris Head’s favorite quotes comes from Ronald Reagan, “Entrepreneurs and their small enterprises are responsible for almost all the economic growth in the United States.”
Missy Paxton from The Advancement Foundation continued the March 26 Gauntlet session with what she deemed the “Gauntlet Speed Dating Game.” Each of the 24 class members rotated through the room describing their new or expanding business and the challenges and obstacles they have encountered in the process all in three minutes.
The 2019 Gauntlet Business Program and Competition concludes in May.