Dale Kelm has combined a passion for older people and an instinct for business management into a growing chain of successful senior living facilities. It all started in 2011, when Dale applied for the position of Administrator with Birch Haven Senior Living in Ashland. His work as a nurse had led to a passion for caring for the elderly, and he had discovered his desire for entrepreneurship while working for Lutheran Social Services in Eau Claire. “I always wanted to be self-employed,” Dale said, describing how in each job he’d held, he always looked for ways to improve the operation.
Owners Kathy and Jim Birchem of Elder Care Minnesota offered Dale the job. In under two years, he returned the 50-resident property to near-full occupancy and profitability. “In 2013, Kathy and I got into a conversation about what’s next,” Dale remembered. The Birchems offered to help Dale finance the purchase.
While Dale was negotiating with the Birchems, a bank holding a non-staffed Residential Care Apartment Complex (RCAC) in Washburn heard of his success with the Birch Haven independent living facility in Ashland and offered a similar purchase opportunity. It was time for Dale to build his acumen as a business owner.
Planning in 2015 led to success, growth
In 2015 Dale contacted the Small Business Development Center at UW-Superior, where consultants Dave Kochendorfer and Andy Donahue performed a full-scale analysis of the Birch Haven Senior Living operation. “We looked at where his priorities were, how he would be able to manage his cash flow, planning for how he can build his capacity for the near future,” Andy recalled.
“I’d done budgets before, but not like these,” Dale said. “Bankers would perk up when I walked in prepared with pro formas from the SBDC.” Dale was able to procure a federal loan for Birch Haven Senior Living in Ashland.
Dave and Andy’s advice readied Dale to evaluate the new opportunities coming his way, and prepared him to apply for loans to finance those that he chose to pursue. Meanwhile, a chance to own an assisted living facility in Minocqua emerged for Dale, in which he invested with two silent partners. By 2015 Dale had become an owner-partner in three senior living businesses and formed a parent company, Kelm Enterprises, Inc., with assistance from the SBDC.
Andy remarked, “Dale has successfully been able to understand his current business—the operations, financial management, marketing, the senior housing sector itself—and he knows where demand is growing in Northern Wisconsin.”
Accomplishments with the SBDC at UW-Superior:
- Business planning, including financial projections
- Sounding board
- Referrals and preparation for meetings with lenders
With SBDC’s help, turning opportunity into performance
Andy and Dale continue to meet frequently to review Birch Haven’s financial performance and plans for the future. Andy said, “He’s a long-term thinker. We help him see what he needs to do in the short term to prepare.” Dale feels that each senior housing project he’s taken on has benefited from the counseling he received from the SBDC at UW-Superior. “Any project I get, I call the SBDC for advice,” said Dale. “I’m a macro thinker—they help me with the micro.”
Dale’s future plans include non-staffed senior housing, a living arrangement that appeals to many of the older rural population of northern and central Wisconsin. “When you’re still living on the farm, and the laundry is in the basement and the bedrooms are upstairs, your world can narrow down to the kitchen and the living room,” Dale observed. He’s hard at work creating more options for people to live independently but safely.