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Family-owned Business Grew as Service for Veterans

Posted on in Membership

By: Dorothy de Souza Guedes, VGM Education

The Corcoran family begins many first-time client conversations with a simple statement, “Thank you for serving our country.”

Daniel P. Corcoran and his wife Diane started a company 11 years ago with the idea of giving back to veterans in the state of Michigan. Although that business, now called Vets Access LLC, has grown to include their three sons, a daughter, and additional employees and contractors throughout the country, the Corcorans remain focused on their original mission.

Daniel was injured while serving in the Navy in Vietnam from 1967-1968. Vets Access has been verified as a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB).

“I like helping veterans because they’re my brothers and sisters,” said Daniel. “A lot of people forget them.”

Vets Access provides ADA-approved home modifications and specialized accessibility products. Much of the work the company does is contracted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide access ramps and other specialized medical equipment to the residences of veterans with disabilities. Vets Access also provides specialized medical equipment and modifications to the general public.

Accessibility

Vets Access LLC is 100 percent owned by Daniel. An entrepreneur at heart, he had a variety of businesses on the side throughout his life. He credits Diane for keeping his business together since its inception in September 2005. That’s when he began what was then called Corcoran Painting and More as a side job to his full-time work with the U.S. Postal Service.

Moving into the accessibility market kind of fell into the senior Corcoran’s lap, his oldest son, Dan Jr., said. Daniel and Diane were at a trade show when a couple of women from the VA asked him what the “and More” stood for. He replied, “Whatever you want it to be.” When they asked him if he could install an access ramp, he said, “Sure.”

He didn’t know anything about ramp installation, so he did research. That first ramp took him one week to build – but he learned a lot.

By 2008, Vets Access was Daniel plus two of his buddies when two things happened: they began receiving more ramp installations as a preferred contractor with the VA office in Saginaw, Michigan, and the recession put Daniel’s sons out of work.

Family Business

The Corcoran brothers were always close growing up in Montrose and Flushing, Michigan. After middle brother, Dave, took a job with a cousin’s fire suppression company, his brothers, Dan Jr. and Darren, joined him.

Dan Jr. occasionally worked with his dad’s painting business. “Dad was out there to help his fellow vets,” Dan Jr. said. “It was his way of giving back -- and I loved the idea.”

The brothers worked in fire suppression in various roles for about 13 years until the recession caused the housing market to crash. All three were laid off in 2008. Daniel, who had retired from USPS in 2007, welcomed his sons into his business. With five paychecks to cover by the end of 2008, the Corcorans knew they had to expand beyond ramps. They asked their VA contact what other services Vets Access could provide.

“We jumped on everything else that we could,” Dan Jr. said.

Dan Jr. did the math on grab bar and handrail installation and thought, “I can make a living at this.” He got his builders license so that he could be the second license holder at Vets Access.

The family members have found a way to play off the strengths of each.

“We all wear multiple hats,” Dan Jr. said. “When it comes to business development, we all kind of wear that hat together.”

Now Dan Jr., CEAC, CAPS, manages the residential side of the business as residential contracting officer. Middle brother, Dave, is in charge of marketing and is commercial contracting officer. The youngest brother, Darren, is chief operating officer. Daughter Are’annah Rose became involved in marketing and social media for Vets Access earlier this year.

“I foresee the next five grandchildren taking part in the business,” Daniel said.

The team has grown beyond the Corcorans to include Becky, their bookkeeper/accountant/receiving/billables/payables staff and 11 staff in Michigan plus three or four contractors to handle commercial work out of state.

VGM Collaborations

Although Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design are not a requirement for homes, the Corcorans dissected ADA guidelines to learn where ADA could best be applied on the residential side. Their thought process was if ADA standard was good enough for commercial, why not for the home?

Noting a disparity in training and professional knowledge among people hired to install ramps to provide residential access to people with disabilities, in February 2014 the Corcorans proposed a collaboration with Accessible Home Improvement of America (AHIA) and VGM Education. The result was a plan for a series of courses that would be the next steps beyond AHIA’s Certified Environmental Access Consultants (CEAC) program. The first online program available is the Certified Ramp Technician (CRT) Prep Program. Since June, more than 80 students have enrolled in the program.

“We’re happy that CEAC combined with the CRT program can bring it all together,” Dan Jr. said. “Working with everybody at VGM, between AHIA and VGM Education, has been great.”

But, that wasn’t Vets Access LLC’s first collaboration with VGM. Several years ago, the Corcorans approached AHIA with a problem: Michigan law required a commercial elevator license for installation of stair glides and vertical platform lifts (VPLs). That meant any customer who needed more than a ramp had to pay for a highly-trained and expensive commercial elevator installer to install the needed stair glide or VPL. The Corcorans were outsourcing those jobs.

The Corcorans met with the VGM Government Relations team who opened their eyes to another option: getting the law changed. Tim Van Antwerp from Van’s Medical Equipment was an integral player in this process.

“Three years later it got passed,” said Darren. “I never would have thought it was something VGM could have done. Tom (Powers) was great to work with.”

More recently, Vets Access has partnered with VGM Forbin for a website overhaul that has helped them place better in Google searches, which generates leads.

“We’re getting calls for Best Bath products that we’re not marketing but are on our website,” Dan Jr. said.

The Future

Vets Access LLC has been expanding the commercial side of the business under Dave’s direction. The family expects that business to continue and evolve as new opportunities and needs arise.

“Dad has taught us to be professional and also to respect our veterans,” Dan Jr. said. “No matter how big the business grows, veterans will always be part of its mission.”

And, the brothers are pursing another opportunity. After the CRT program had been developed, it became clear to the brothers that they needed to separate educational development from product installation. The three formed Cor Education in May 2016; Dan is in charge of product development, Dave is in charge of marketing, and Darren is the COO.