BUSINESS PROFILE: Tony Rhodig and “Access At Home” improves quality of aging in the home

January 17, 2012

Tony Rhodig of Access at Home stands beside his mobile product trailer (photo Martha Martin)

Clark County is anticipating rapid growth in our aging residents.  By 2025, one in four residents will be sixty or better and people older than eighty-five will increase by fifty percent.

One local business owner is aware of the growth of the aging “boomer” population and is addressing a growing need; the desire to stay in the home.

Tony Rhodig lives locally in Washougal, is married to Lori Rhodig and he and his wife have have a 7 year old daughter.  He has a Bachelor of Science degree from Concordia University in North Portland

The first impression you get when talking with Tony about his business is that he is excited about what he does.  His business is his passion.

His business, called Access at Home, Inc., retrofits homes for people with disabilities and  people who are having trouble with mobility.   The major focus is the bathroom, which Tony describes as the “area people have the most trouble; stairs are number one, bathrooms number two” with falling being the main concern.

According to Tony, Access At Home offers a specialty item that he says is very rare;  the side-access bathtub. This is a tub where the entire side opens up which allows a person of any mobility to utilize the bath tub.

Walk-in tubs, according to Tony, are numerous, and you must still walk into it to get in.  Tony says his product goes further, and allows people with walkers or wheelchairs to still be able to use the tub.

His inspiration to find this particular product started with when he was installing a regular tub for a woman who eventually needed something different following a stroke.  He discovered a company called Rane located in Sparta Tennessee.  He contacted them, and after initially getting no response from them, he flew to Tennessee.  He walked in the door, and seeing he was serious, he says he has now become a distributor for their product.

Just what sparked the idea for his current business?

His former job was constructing Lindal Cedar home sun rooms, as well as additions.  His company at the time was called “Outdoor Expansions”.

He tells the story of a time he was sitting at a home show, and had been thinking about buying a ranch home to remodel.  A gentleman in his ’70’s was next to his booth, and started to tell him about a business in Florida he had been in, and that he would ‘love to be in it again’.

Tony inquired about it, and was told ‘Walk-in bath tubs’.

The concept, according to this gentleman, is that as people age, they want to stay in their homes, and Tony recalls his emphasis on ‘that’s what it’s all about!’

Tony was inspired.

At this time, he was attending Concordia, and part of the program requirement was to develop a business model.  He developed a plan for a business called “Accessibility at Home.”  He laughs now because the word needed to be changed; he found the word “Accessibility” misspelled nine times when he researched business names.  He shortened it to Access At Home.

The timing seemed guided by fate.  After developing the program, his current Outdoor Expansions customers started to cancel, even though he had previously been booked far in advance.  “Pretty quick I had nothing to do, I had no business.”

His direction changed and he began to “reinvent” himself.  In January of 2009, he revisited his business plan and began to work on it.  He says it took him a long time, since he didn’t have suppliers, and did not really know what to do or how to run this type of business.

He launched his advertising, and after about six months,  jobs began to trickle in.

He attempted to have a booth at the Clark County Fair, finding that having sample tubs was too difficult; there was too much damage to the tubs.  He no longer does this.

Tony reports that there’s only about four side access tub manufacturers in the region, and only two that do a good job.

He describes his products as all being made in the USA.

“The tub is made in Sparta, Tennessee; the valve set that goes on it, which is important to have a commercial ¾ inch high flow valve set, is made of solid brass in USA.  The air system is CG Air out of Canada, but the pump is made in Ohio.”

Tony recalls seeing people struggling with poor sleep and pain.  “It’s really common; you go in the house and the bed’s unused.  They sleep in a recliner.  It’s really common, they sleep sitting up.  They are really not sleeping well.  So they are sleeping in the living room.”

“I put the tub in and they are able to take a hot bath, and they soak.  They feel better, and then sleep better, and their health improves.  I have some customers who are 90 years old, and their health gets better.”

Tony also installs showers.  “I’m using the Best Bath showers, which are made in Boise Idaho.”  These showers have no curb and can be walked into or rolled into, depending upon the size.

Rane tubs is also owned partially by another company called T.H.E.  Medical and they offer tracking systems for hospitals. Tony hopes to bring tracking systems to this region.  He describes tracking as “where you have a track system and a lift.  I could take you out of a chair, totally immobile, and I could raise you up and you will just roll, like on a rail road track.   I can take you up, take you right out the door, and into the bathroom.”

According to Tony, tracking systems are all over the world, except for the US.  The reason? Countries like Europe, Australia, and Canada have managed care.   Because nurses can be injured, with muscular skeletal injuries being high on the list, having tracking systems in place to lift people saves the managed care companies “a ton of money”.

How would that be helpful in this area? “You can have a person pretty much bed ridden.  The husband and wife want to stay there [in their home].   The wife can get hurt trying to take care [of her husband].  The tracking system helps her so she can just lift him up, take him to the bathtub, and they stay right there [in their own home].”

Tony emphasizes that everybody wants to stay in their home as they age.  “Nobody, well maybe a few, wants to go to assisted living.”  His experience is that even those that maybe should consider moving are still “dead set that they want to stay right there.”

He says there is a long-term cost benefit, citing that it is cheaper to stay at home as people age.  “I’m hoping that one day the government will realize that.  It’s less money to keep ‘em in their house then it is to move ‘em into assisted living.”

He continues to learn  and expand his product line.  T.H.E.  Medical has a lift for people in hospital beds who are immobile.  It rolls underneath them on the bed and slides them off.  According to Tony, the caregiver  just has to push a button.  They don’t have to transfer, slide them, pull them, or move them, which results in no skin tearing.   Tony says he will be going to training in January for this product.

What direction is his business growing? “I’m going to start marketing to more care-givers.   Also, selling direct, will help with growth.  And I’m going to focus on the adult family homes, the six-bed.”  According to Tony, there are 1200 adult family home regionally, with at least 500 locally.

Tony plans to bring another person on for operations, to help with the installations for Access at Home.  He also has plans to bring someone on to help  with the customers, marketing, and sales, so he can focus on the institutional aspects of his business.

His long range plan is to increase his commercial customer base.   “I got to know the people at Providence Home Services, and they are a really growing business.  I was going to partner with them, but they have too much on their plate for growth right now.  So that’s put off until the second quarter of 2012.”

He also has plans to sell products direct, and is developing a small DBA “arm” off of Access at Home which will allow him to sell products to people.  “Most contractors don’t want to buy from another contractor, so I thought why not create a different arm off of the business.”

How does he work with his customers? ” Locally, I will do two appointments with each person.  I will look the site over, then go back and do a drawing.  I don’t do on-site bids.  I burned through a lot of leads doing that.”

Tony says that he subcontracts jobs to a plumber and electrician, with the remainder being done “in-house” with employees.  “I have a guy who has worked for me for quite a few years who has been taking care of most of the install work, I go in and help him, but he is so much better at dry walling than I am.”

Tony Rhodig with the side access tub inside his trailer (photo Martha Martin)

Tony uses a unique tool to demonstrate his product; a trailer that has his product set up so people can actually sit in the different types of tubs.  He looked at the cost of a showroom, which penciled out at about $150,000.

“I did a really nice trailer, which was about $24,000.  Most people in this business, you will never actually see the product.  Most people turn up with a brochure or DVD.   Having the different tubs, the benefit is being able to actually touch the product, try it out, and get the right size.”

Tony adds that his customers really appreciate his product and his service.  “I’ve had people hug me when a job is completed.”

For more information, visit Tony’s website for Access at Home at http://www.accessathomeinc.com/ or contact Tony at: 360-852-1997 or tony@AccessAtHomeInc.com