Home-care service expands, flips name

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Julie Brubaker, Kevin Lake and Inga Lake outside Epaga Home Care in Kalispell on Wednesday. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

After 12 years in the Flathead Valley, Agape Home Care is expanding across Montana. The home-care service is franchising its model and rebranding under the name Epaga, or Agape spelled backward.

“We’ve always known that we wanted to expand Agape Home Care,” said Chief Operations Officer Julie Brubaker. In 2007, she partnered with Inga Lake to create the in-home, non-medical care service for people who are elderly or live with disabilities.

The idea to expand had been percolating for many years between them and General Manager Kevin Lake, Inga’s husband. The actual franchising process has been in the works for about a year, according to Brubaker. Part of that extensive process involved navigating legal particularities such as the trademark name.

“The biggest thing people need to understand is we could not trademark Agape Home Care,” Brubaker explained. Since there are multiple agencies across the country with the same name, they decided to flip the name Agape. “Agape is the Christian definition of love, so to use Epaga, it’s a reflection of our Agape core values,” she clarified.

In the first year of franchising, Brubaker said the goal is to expand throughout Montana. “We know Montana,” Inga said. After that, they hope to branch out into other Western states and beyond.

Inga said there’s “so much need” for non-medical in-home caregivers. She also recognized, “We are really good at home care. That’s our specialty. We are not good at creating a franchise, so let’s find the people that specialize in that.”

Finding the right people has been central to Agape’s success since 2007. The business was born when the two experienced caregivers met and combined Inga’s accounting background with Brubaker’s 10 years of working in a hospital setting. Kevin, who worked behind the scenes for many years, joined the office staff about two years ago and now plans to “hold down the fort” while the other two are out training new franchise owners.

They expect to spend considerable time training new owners at first, but they emphasized the franchises are “all independently owned and operated.” “They have our standards,” as well as Agape’s resources, training and years of practical wisdom, Inga explained.

It isn’t just the people involved who they feel have contributed to Agape’s success and primed the business for expansion. “The one thing that’s our niche is we have a really streamlined program” that can be easily replicated elsewhere, Brubaker said.

“I think the other thing that makes us somewhat unique…is we have a system that has proven to be successful in that rural community,” Inga added. “It’s a little bit different than, say, if we were in the big city.”

Honesty is another key to Agape’s operations. “We are really real,” Brubaker said with a laugh. “We have a saying,” Brubaker began, and Inga finished it: “We’d rather turn you down than let you down.”

Setting these realistic expectations, along with maintaining a high level of passion and owner involvement, has allowed them to serve people throughout the Valley. “We think what we do is awesome…and we’re excited to share it,” Brubaker said.

On Sept. 1 they will unveil their new look, logo and name as they embark on their next mission to line up new franchise owners.

“We have different people inquiring throughout the state. We don’t have anyone that has yet purchased a franchise from us,” Inga reported.

Despite the changes, they promised that it will remain business as usual for existing local clients. “There’s no change in ownership, in anything except the name,” Brubaker insisted. “Our vision is that it makes what we do here available in a broader area,” said Inga.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at bserbin@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4459.

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