With PPE Shortages, BrightStar Care Creates Fulfillment Center for Franchisees
"We’re trying to really help take this off our franchisees’ plates to allow them to focus on care and support for clients and caretakers," said Shelly Sun, CEO and founder of BrightStar Care.
Personal protective equipment shortages during COVID-19 pose a huge challenge to healthcare systems and facilities nationwide. In an effort to protect their employees and clients, home care and medical staffing franchise BrightStar Care partnered with consulting and brand acceleration firm FranWorth to create a centralized fulfillment center where franchisees can access PPE.
BrightStar Care serves more than 20,000 clients at 300 locations nationwide, and was deemed an essential business when stay-at-home orders began. With an average age of 82—one of the most vulnerable populations susceptible to COVID-19—the brand knew they needed to figure out a way to ensure their employees taking care of this population wouldn’t run out of PPE.
“It’s been a long journey,” said Shelly Sun, CEO and founder of BrightStar Care, who wanted to make PPE "available to everyone regardless of who they were caring for, to give caregivers a sense that we care and they’re protected, and to make the people we’re caring for feel safe.”
They began trying to source N-95 respirator masks on March 7, but there was a four-week waiting period for manufacturing. A PPE order worth $400,000 got impounded in Turkey and Mexico, Sun said, then their next order got redirected toward hospitals in New York and New Jersey.
“Which I understand, but our caregivers by and large are dealing with the most at-risk demographic who have the highest mortality rate,” Sun said. “We’re potentially exposing our grandparents, moms and dads.”
Sun sent out a message in her group chat with other franchise leaders, saying that although BrightStar Care has never been in the inventory business, they needed help to create an inventory management system to source PPE out to their caretakers. Franworth managing partner David Barr responded and said he could help with Franworth’s internal distribution company. Franworth’s portfolio also includes eyelash extension concept The Lash Lounge, fitness concept CityRow, medical fitness clinic Live Well and hair color brand Madison Reed.
Within a week, BrightStar Care and Franworth created a website for all 300 franchisees to access their own cart and add necessary PPE items from their temperature-controlled, centralized fulfillment center, then determine whether they needed it delivered the next day or within three days.
Sourcing reliable PPE proved to be more difficult than expected. Sun and her team screened hundreds of items that were fraudulent and not compliant with CDC guidelines. For example, counterfeit N-95 respirators are being falsely marketed and sold as being NIOSH-approved. The CDC also recommends that hand sanitizers contain more than 60 percent alcohol, so Sun and her team researched and eliminated any supply that didn’t meet that percentage. Their screening efforts proved successful, however, and they now have more than 500,000 units of hand sanitizer, a million gloves, 250,000 three-ply masks, 100,000 N-95 respirator masks, plus lab coats, goggles and thermometers.
“There’s no markup, we haven’t charged administration fees, and Franworth partnered at-cost and didn’t charge either,” Sun said. “We’re trying to really help take this off our franchisees’ plates to allow them to focus on care and support for clients and caretakers.”
Ensuring the safety of employees
To help protect their employees and try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, every BrightStar Care employee who will be caring for COVID-19 patients is required to pass a medical exam overseen by a physician to ensure that they are healthy. The brand also created a respirator program to educate and train their caregivers on the CDC guidelines for using an N-95 respirator mask, including how to take care of them.
“Some with difficulty breathing or asthma, it might be unsafe for them to use an N-95 mask,” Sun said. “If it’s not safe for them to use a respirator, they can still keep working at BrightStar, but we just wouldn’t have them in an environment where they’re at risk.”
They then separate employees who can use masks and those who can’t, assigning them to the appropriate populations. Employees have access to BrightStar’s third-party partners to test whether their masks are fitting properly for their face size. Since March 19, the brand has also required all employees self-certify that they don’t have a fever or other symptoms before coming into work.
“We came into this pandemic better prepared than almost any other brand in the space, and we’re proud of being able to put programs in place as quickly as we have,” Sun said. “We also came in with higher standards, which are not easy for our franchisees to maintain. They’ve signed up to have the highest standards applied to them, but we feel that’s right when you’re caring for a mom and dad and grandpa and grandma.”
Opening PPE supply up to the franchise community
After acquiring a six-month supply and investing $2 million in PPE, Sun decided they had the capacity to start offering PPE at-cost to other healthcare facilities and nursing homes in need. After opening up their supply chain to other healthcare workers, Sun decided to offer supply to the rest of the franchising community.
“PPE is so hard to get access to if you’re outside of healthcare,” Sun said. “While restaurants are used to sourcing gloves, those in retail and hotels are not, and we’ve seen them paying 30 to 40 percent more than what we’ve been able to get them at.”
An announcement was published on the International Franchise Association’s website on May 5 to inform franchises that BrightStar Care and Franworth are offering PPE at-cost to IFA members while supplies last.
“We’re so passionate about IFA and emerging franchisors, and we’ve got enough capacity to help them get their initial orders in order to restart the economy,” Sun said.
In three business days, they received 60 orders from franchise systems requesting PPE for their franchisees in order to prepare for reopening.
“Let’s get America and franchising back open again safely,” Sun said. “Having access to that quantity (of PPE) is going to be a critical part of the solution. We did it for us first, healthcare second, and then the broader breadth of franchising.”