"Shelley Walta needed a job.
Michelle Julien needed a grandma.
Todd Pliss saw an opportunity.
Pliss paired the Simi Valley women through Rent-A-Grandma, a Los Angeles-based employment agency he founded in 2010. The agency places older women with families in need of everything from child care to domestic help to cooking to pet-sitting.
After he launched Rent-A-Grandma, put up a basic website and passed out a few business cards, he heard from Fox News.
"They did a segment on us and the phone started ringing," Pliss said. "We got slammed. We got calls from all over the U.S."
He also got about 600 requests from people wanting to open franchises. A Rent-A-Grandma is opening soon in Virginia, two have opened in Texas this year and Pliss is considering franchises in Florida. His business has been featured in national media outlets such as AARP magazine, ABC News, Fox Business News, Huffington Post, Business News Daily, CNBC and National Public Radio, to name a few.
This month, Pliss met with a producer for some of Oprah Winfrey's programs about the possibility of a reality show involving Rent-A-Grandma, he said.
"They seemed pretty serious," Pliss said. "We'll see."
Walta, 48, was laid off from her job in 2005, and separated from her husband. She needed a job, so in 2011, she answered an ad on Craigslist, where Pliss was advertising, and drove to Woodland Hills for an interview. Walta had worked as a receptionist but most of her skills were those she had gained as a mother to her children.
"I told him about how I've been told I'm a domestic goddess because I can do cooking and sewing and gardening and everything around the house really well," Walta said.
It was exactly what Julien, 40, needed. The Simi Valley first-time mom and her husband both work, and she wanted reliable care for her 2-year-old, Ryan. She wanted someone mature, rather than a young baby sitter.
"I worried about Ryan being unsupervised, and him being a 2-year-old, I was afraid he would get into something he wasn't supposed to and the teenager wouldn't be paying attention or watching TV or on the phone," Julien said. "With Shelley, I'm very at ease. I know she's watching Ryan and he's not going to get into the cupboards and get detergent and pour it all over the place."
Some families' preference for the dependability and knowledge of an older woman is the marketing hook Pliss saw when he first got the idea for Rent-A-Grandma.
The nice thing about Rent-A-Grandma, she said, is taking age out of the interview process.
"People know you're older before they even interview you," she said. "You don't have that hurdle to jump over."
Grandmas make $15 to $20 an hour, depending on the type of work, Pliss said. Rent-A-Grandma takes 12 to 15 percent commission before the Grandma gets her fee.
Pliss has placed about 75 Grandmas since opening the business but said many more have been placed through the website, which serves anyone in the world.
"We're trying to automate it as much as possible," he said.
As Pliss' business expands, he also is planning a Rent-A-Grandpa branch, based on the men who have called him.
"They'll call and say, 'I want to be a Grandma,'" Pliss said with a laugh. "I say, 'What part of 'You're not a woman' don't you get?'"
Pliss said "Rent-A-Grandpa" will probably be more of a handyman service. He expects to launch it sometime this summer.
That's awesome, I mean besides the cookie (well okay, that looks awesome too). I thought this story very inspiring...