Learn more about Donna Rea at https://www.CaringTransitionsNorthDallasSuburbs.com

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

This is Valerie VanBooven with the Senior Care Industry NetCast, where leaders with three or more years of experience in the senior care market share their advice. So let’s get to it. In a few sentences, tell us who you are and what you do.

Donna Rea:

Good morning, Valerie. Thank you so much for this opportunity this morning to record this podcast with you. My name is Donna Rea, and I’m the owner of Caring Transitions North Dallas Suburbs, and my daughter, Nicole Maher, and I operate this as a woman-owned-and-operated business. What we do is we do senior downsizing. We’re a one-stop shop for everything from sorting, organizing, packing, moving, resettling, including making the bed, hanging the pictures. And then we offer a array of liquidation options, including online auctions, traditional estate sales. We have clean-outs. We also have private buyer sales for those who may live in a gated community. And we have a fabulous team who are cross-trained to do every piece of what we offer in terms of services.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Well, that is a really big job, and I could never do what you do because frankly, I couldn’t even do it for myself. So I know moving is always… No matter how old you are, no matter what stage of life you’re in, moving, transitioning, these kinds of things, when you’re taking your whole life with you or part of your life with you somewhere else, is not only an emotional time, but it’s also, I mean, obviously very stressful time, right? Isn’t moving, death, divorce, those are in the big three stressors in our lives.

Donna Rea:

Yes, it is. And if you could think about really… Sometimes, we just need to step back and realize… So adult seniors, a lot of who we interact with. They’ve lived in their home for 40 or 50 years. And it’s overwhelming to think about the closets, the cabinets, everything that they need to clean out. And so I think one of the most important parts of our process is helping them with this sorting and organizing going. I know it seems daunting, but have a buddy system and help sort of what you’re going to donate, what you’re going to move, what you’re going to liquidate. And so that process of that sorting and organizing process really helps them to empower them with knowing that donation companies can come right to your front door. You don’t have to lug stuff. Shredding companies come to our front doors now. So there’s a lot of different options in terms of being able to serve. Yes, exactly.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

That’s so nice. So nice to be able to have somebody to walk you through all of it and still feel in control of what decisions you’re making about what you’re keeping, what you’re not keeping. That’s very important for all of us, but especially when we feel like we’re losing control, to be able to make those decisions.

Donna Rea:

Absolutely. And then also, I think one of the most important aspects is empowering our clients to make the decisions for themselves. So one of the other things that we do is we do space planning. So when we have the floor plan of where they’re moving into, we’ll lay out their furniture. We’ll measure it. We’ll lay it out in their new space. And so we could show them on a tablet, “Okay, your king bed might fit, but the triple dresser and the tallboy and the two nightstands probably won’t. So let’s make choices of what’s most important to you.” And so empowering them is very, very important.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Absolutely. And that makes us all feel better when we know we’re still in control of what’s happening to us in our lives and what decisions we’re making are still ours. I think that in itself is peace of mind. So what is the best thing about serving aging adults?

Donna Rea:

Oh, there are so many things, but I think one of the most important things is they’ve worked hard all their lives, and sometimes, it is just best for them to be able to sit in the director’s chair for a change and let somebody else do the work. They’ve worked really hard. They’ve saved a lot. And this demographic, I mean, they don’t change furniture and things like the younger adults do today. So it’s just best to help them to be able to sit back, relax, sit in the director’s chair, and just let us do the work, trust us to do the work, and trust us to make sure that again, we’re empowering them, giving them dignity, and making sure that they’re in control of the change and what’s happening.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah. I totally agree with you. And this is another reason why I think your services are so important. It’s hard to listen to an adult child. It’s hard to take direction from a family member. It’s much easier to argue. But when a third party who’s an expert with a calm head who doesn’t have attachment to all these things walks in the door and says, “I think we can help,” it’s much… And I know it’s still hard, but it’s easier, I think, on the kids and the senior to have a third party, and it’s not that daughter or that son saying, “Dad, you got to get rid of this stuff, or mom.” Somebody else who knows how to speak the language and do it in a nice way.

Donna Rea:

Absolutely. And not only the sentimental piece of it, but the emotional tie to some of the things. And also with the adult children, they’re busy. We’re all working full-time jobs, and they’re busy, and it’s daunting to them to look at, “Oh my gosh, my parents’ house, they’ve lived there 30 years.” I’ve lived in my house for 10 years and I’m like, “Oh my gosh. There’s so much that’s been accumulated already.” And we downsized. So when it just happens over time and… We just have to sit back and remember, we kind of chuckle about it with our clients, “Hey, you’re moving into senior living and all three meals are going to be cooked in and served you. We probably don’t need three sets of measuring cups anymore. So let’s just take one.” But again, giving them those choices and just knowing. “Okay. Yeah. Maybe I don’t need all those pots and pans anymore. Maybe I just need a few.”

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yep. Absolutely. Yes. You’re right. And adult children are… I come from a family of folks who are very sentimental about their antiques and who gave this to who and [crosstalk 00:06:52] my grandmother put a little note inside all of her teapots as to who she wanted them to go to, or she might’ve taped something on the bottom. I love her. Those are her wishes. We’ll all abide by them. When my grandfather passes, I mean, we’re talking about… He’s 93 and they’ve lived in this house, and she’s passed on, but they’ve lived in the house since they were 20 years old. So I mean, I look at my parents who will be the people helping clean up this mess. It’s going to take an army.

Donna Rea:

A little overwhelming sometimes, yes.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

It is. So it’s services like yours that really do help all the whole family, not just the senior, so that’s appreciated.

Donna Rea:

Absolutely.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

All right. I imagine in your lifetime, and in your professional careers, there have been people or organizations that have really supported you or been mentors to you, or just you think are great examples of how organizations should be managed or whatever. Who would you like to talk about?

Donna Rea:

What comes to mind for me, and really is specifically. So we are heavily involved with the chambers in our area. And one of the things that we did, we served on the steering committee to form both chambers that we’re involved in to forum a Senior Services Alliance within the chamber. And oh my gosh, it has taken off. And this has been a probably five to seven years between both chambers. And we are a group of professionals that are known and trusted that have an array of services that we offer to our local community and seniors in the area. And all of these businesses, we collaborate every single month, and we did it every single month via Zoom. We’re still Zooming. But it’s just a collaboration of different businesses that can help seniors, whether it be placement or whether it be home health, medical, nonmedical, whether it be just everything from soup to nuts in terms of knowing how to best help our aging population navigate through the whole process.

Donna Rea:

So I would definitely say Senior Services Alliance. And then we belong to another group called [inaudible 00:09:23]. And what I love about that, again, it’s just a collaboration of senior businesses, but that organization is a nonprofit. Just recently, we had somebody that needed some sort of just a floor exercise, an elliptical or a pedal because they had some health issues and we were able to donate that, and just different things like that. And so from all of that, as part kind of our thoughts about our own philanthropy and our own giving back. And underneath Caring Transitions, we have a philanthropy program called Caring For a Cause. And so we were finding that after our estate sales and auctions and stuff, we were finding that a lot of the walkers, wheelchairs, potty chairs, things like that were left over and just basically go into donation and/or to landfill.

Donna Rea:

And so we stopped that process and we started putting those items in our warehouse. And when we marketed, we would share that if you know a low-income senior that is needing a wheelchair or walker, cane, whatever, let them know. It’s just flourished. We work with social workers and case managers, and that they call now and they say, “Hey, do you have a walker?” I placed about six pieces yesterday, and love being able to, because of the organizations in the Senior Services Alliance and be able to spread the word about the different things we can do not only to help seniors that are in need, but just all the way around.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

That is so nice. What a wonderful joy to be able to give medical equipment, which you and I both know is very expensive, to a senior in need who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford that walker or maybe a new walker or something insurance is not going to pay for [crosstalk 00:11:24] wheelchairs. They’re so expensive. And I mean, you can get all kinds of different wheelchairs, but the price doesn’t get any cheaper. So it’s just all expensive. And so I mean, to be able to donate a few of those things or a lot of those things, canes even, I mean, some of those are just amazingly… I can’t tell you… In our house, we have had parents who have moved on who we’ve donated their equipment. And then my husband has had a couple of surgeries and temporarily needed a walker, just temporarily, around the house. A back surgery.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

And to be able to share that or donate it to somebody is so nice. We have a knee scooter, which I know is really weird, but if you break your ankle, you can scoot around on your knee scooter. And I cannot tell you how many people we have loaned that to. And we’re okay if it never comes back, but it always comes back.

Donna Rea:

Yes, absolutely.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Just weird little things that help people temporarily or for a long time. So congratulations to you. What a nice thing to do. And helping your chamber be a little more senior-centric or senior-focused in some of those areas, that’s a great idea for every chamber. Every chamber should have pods of niches that are able to help each other because in that chamber, there is no way that all of you together could serve everybody in the Dallas area. There’s no way.

Donna Rea:

Exactly. And so because we primarily work in the north suburbs, just to be able to start with McKinney and then Allen Fairview down into Plano and Richardson. And so it’s really catching on, the Senior Services Alliance. I mean, we just think about with baby boomers, I mean, the explosion and the Silver Tsunami, and their services are definitely needed.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah. And you guys are in the Sunbelt, so you’re always going to have a great amount of retirees coming your way [crosstalk 00:13:43] will only grow. Awesome job on all of that. So talk about online marketing. I know this year has been challenging. I know you mentioned you guys have been using Zoom a lot. How have you been doing your marketing when some of this in-person is almost impossible? It’s getting better, but it’s been really challenging.

Donna Rea:

Definitely. So we definitely had to pivot, of course, as we all have all of our businesses. But one of the things I will say is that seniors have become so much… We’ve been a business for 10 years, and over the years, our aging adults are… They become so much more proficient with technology. They all use tablets and phones and things. So it’s much easier to reach. And then of course, targeting adult children as well. But between Google Ads and Facebook marketing and just the different platforms, we’ve just continued to do that. But because most of our business is word-of-mouth referral, and really, a lot of it is the seeds that we plant through our boots on the ground marketing, which we had to pull back on, of course.

Donna Rea:

But there was always a way… And I know we’re talking about really the marketing online, but there was always a way for us to be able to either leave some goodies on the front door of a community or things like that, to be able to drop off. I remember the last Memorial Day, we dropped off a bunch of word search puzzles and things like that. I mean, just to drop them at the front door. We couldn’t go in, but it doesn’t matter. And we were very sensitive about nothing related to food and things like that, and just to be able to do it that way. But we definitely just try to keep it up via, like I said, Google Ads and Facebook marketing and things like that, and being able to make sure we were staying connected with our communities through liking stuff on Facebook and sharing that way.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah. I would agree with you though, your best referral or your best leads, it’s always going to be an in-person referral or a professional or a client that’s usually in the past. And it’s always going to be the best. And I will also say that you’re right. We work with a lot of home care agencies across the country, and I will say that the ones who survive and thrive… or more than survive; they thrive…. are the ones who never stopped. And they were sensitive, just like you said, but there was no reason why they couldn’t, in the very beginning set a healthy basket of something for the staff, and just, “We’re thinking of you. We know how hard this is for you,” at an assisted living facility or at a senior living community. There was no reason why they couldn’t do some of those things once we all kind of got through that shocky moment of, “Don’t touch me. Don’t touch anything. Don’t accept packages from anywhere.”

Donna Rea:

Wiping everything. Yeah.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Wipe your cans of food from the grocery. [crosstalk 00:16:51]-

Donna Rea:

Yeah. We didn’t know, right?

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Right. I saw a neighbor of mine sitting outside and I say, “Hey, what you doing there?” And he said, “Wiping these cans off. My wife just brought them from the grocery.” I said, “Really?” Yeah. I mean, so we were really scared for a long time. But once that got better, it was those folks who continued to show a brave face and say, “Hey, we’re here for you. We know this is hard and we support you. We’re all in this together. And I think you can thrive.” And lots of folks did. So congratulations to you for continuing to reach out.

Donna Rea:

Thank you. Thank you. And didn’t we all get creative? I mean, [inaudible 00:17:39] communities were doing everything from drive-through, whatever. Everybody got pretty creative thinking we all had to pivot. We all had to think outside the box and we do what we to do.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

I can’t tell you how many parades we were in just for our own parents. My husband’s mother’s in a nursing home and my dad at the time, and they would schedule a drive-thru parade. We’ll be there and we’d just, “Woo hoo!” And wave and take video and pictures. Yeah. So we did get creative, and hopefully, we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel now. I know it’s not over, but it’s better. So that’s good.

Donna Rea:

And you just think about the parade, like you mentioned. I will never forget the joy on the faces as you’re driving through and you’re waving flags or whatever you’re doing. The joy just because of the isolation that they were experiencing and just to see different faces and people celebrating and things like that. I just will never forget the joy on the faces, and the people that have been under quarantine, and the isolation, just to break out of that even if it was for a couple of hours.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Absolutely. And to get outside in the sun, and to be able to come out and enjoy the fresh air for a little while was amazing at that time. So yeah. Absolutely. All right. What piece of advice would you give to other senior care providers out there?

Donna Rea:

Okay. Most importantly, be punctual. Punctuality is super important. When you set a 10:00 appointment, they’re waiting for you at 9:45. So that’s really important. And really do what you say you’re going to do, and be honest and transparent in everything that you do, everything that you do. Stay on course. Make sure you follow through and follow up on things. Make sure you stay in touch. We have a dedicated team member, Sarah. She’s on the phone all day 9:00 to 5:00, just handling. If something got broken during the move, our clients, they do not have to wait for three weeks to get something repaired. It’s done typically within the week or even the next week if something’s on back order or whatever. But it’s important to make sure that you’re following through and taking care of your clients. The service after the sale, I’m so big on customer service work. We say that we do provide outrageous customer service, and we do, and being customer-centric is so important. It’s so important. And I’m a true believer in that.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Well, thank you for being that way because it does make a difference to all of us and you don’t see that as often anymore. We all know how that goes. So thank you for being extra careful and the service after the sale. Oh my goodness. That’s so important. All right. When you have a win in life or business, how do you like to celebrate?

Donna Rea:

Me personally, I love to travel and I love the ocean. And so it’s all about traveling for me, whether it’s with my significant other or with my girlfriends. I just love to travel. That was hard last year as well, just being able to… But we got creative, take driving trips or whatever, but I love just to get on a plane. We’re not talking about exotic vacations. It’s just a matter of just seeing different sights within our own beautiful country. And whether it’s visiting family… I just got back from Kansas City visiting family. But just those little trips away are just soup for my soul. And that’s definitely the way I celebrate.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Nice. Very nice. Yeah. Getting away and just taking a little… Even if it’s a staycation, sometimes that’s all you need to just refresh and recharge. And it’s really nice after… I’m sure after your team does a big move or you’ve had a big estate sale or a big something, I’m sure it’s nice to step back and say, “I’m so glad they’re happy,” and just take a little minute for yourself.

Donna Rea:

And not only that, but it’s not just my personal celebrations of wins. Our team works really, really hard. So the way we celebrate with our team is we always do a quarterly team-building meeting. And sometimes it looks like going bowling together. It looks like getting a bunch of board games and serving lunch and having everybody… We do scavenger hunts, and for cash because everybody loves cash. And we’ll play bingo sometimes for cash and they love that. They love that team-building and they love being able to celebrate. It’s not just our winnings, but it’s theirs too because of the customer service that they provide for Caring Transitions.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Very nice. Very nice. Well, I want to thank you for being on the show, for sharing your wisdom and all that you do for seniors. That’s what this is about is letting people know about resources and letting people know about how a well-run senior care, no matter what kind of care you’re providing business, how it looks, and how you have evolved over these years and what you do. So thank you so much for being on the show. We appreciate it.

Donna Rea:

Thank you, Valerie. Thank you for the opportunity.