“We realize this can all change any minute, but we have been very fortunate so far. It’s really incredible.” - Jaime Penaherrera, owner of Vallejo’s Home Instead and Merry Maids

Jaime Penaherrera

Over the last six months, as the coronavirus pandemic has caused companies in his industry to cut staff and resources, Jaime Penaherrera, owner of Vallejo’s Home Instead and Merry Maids, has seen his own business flourish.

Since COVID-19 shut the economy down in March, Penaherrera has not had to lay off a single employee. None have had their hours cut, nor is there a hiring freeze. Not a single one of their 50 employees has tested positive for COVID. Things are going so well that he and his management team often discuss possible expansion or new growth opportunities.  

“We realize this can all change any minute, but we have been very fortunate so far,” Penaherrera said recently from inside the Vallejo office that the two businesses share. “It’s really incredible.”

He attributes their success during this crisis to dedicated staff as well as their partnerships within the community. Two of those partnerships are relatively new for him but have proven to be vital - the Solano Small Business Development Center and the Solano Workforce Development Board.

Back in 2019, long before anyone had heard of COVID-19, Penaherrera attended a chamber mixer in American Canyon and met Erica Shaw, a business service consultant from the Workforce Development Board. He soon learned about the WDB’s business recruitment services as well as the one-on-one business consulting offered by their partner organization, the Solano SBDC.

Penaherrera’s Home Instead and Merry Maids operate as two separate businesses but they complement one another and often work with the same clients. Home Instead provides non-medical services to clients who need temporary or permanent assistance with transportation, meal preparation, companionship, or surgery recovery, while Merry Maids offers residential and commercial cleaning.

“For us, it strategically made sense to combine the two because people kept asking us to also clean their homes,” Penaherrera explained. “We also have employees who go back and forth. Some of them are caregivers but then they also add hours to their schedule with cleaning”

When the pandemic brought the economy to a halt in March, both businesses felt substantial impacts. Merry Maids lost 80% of its clients and Home Instead lost 20% of its revenue.

Penaherrera worked with SBDC advisors to apply for and subsequently receive a PPP loan that helped save 20 jobs. He also received an EIDL loan that helped his businesses to purchase PPE equipment. The two companies implemented strict health checks for their staff and assured their employees they would not lose their jobs if they were ill and not able to work.

“Everyone who works here understands that we serve a very sensitive population,” said staff coordinator Richelle Brown. “Even the cold or flu can be very dangerous. Our employees know, if you are sick, you do not work.

“There are clients who need help but they are so terrified to have others come into their homes,” she added. “We have one client who will not let her family come and see her because she’s so afraid they may bring something in. But she trusts her caregiver because of the processes that we have in place.”

Those were the clients Home Instead and Merry Maids had in mind when they applied for a Layoff Aversion Fund (LOAF) Grant through the Solano Workforce Development Board in April. They used the funds they were awarded to purchase 10 GrandPads, the first tablet designed exclusively for seniors. Clients can use these GrandPads to receive remote care and communicate with loved ones during the pandemic. People who otherwise would not be able to see their family can make video calls on their GrandPad and stay connected even when they are apart.  

Six months into the pandemic, Home Instead and Merry Maids continues to maintain the same level of service they had pre-COVID and are even recruiting for additional staff.

As he looks towards the future, Penaherrera is also continuing to meet virtually with his Solano SBDC advisor Onna Young.

“When I talk to her, we talk about the big picture,” he said. “Right now, we are talking a lot about hybrid roles with the two companies. When I talk to her, it’s almost like talking to a friend who is very knowledgeable. I know too that she is also working with other companies that deal with similar issues. It’s an incredible resource for us.”

Learn more about this company at www.homeinstead.com/521/

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Funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA or HSU Sponsored Programs Foundation.