You’d be forgiven for thinking that anyone who started a new business 18 months ago might be feeling somewhat ‘on edge’ in the second half of 2020.
Not Mark James, Franchise Owner and Managing Director of Right at Home South Liverpool. Happy and relaxed after a well-earned week off with the family, Mark talked to us about his franchise journey.
“Most of my career has been in hospitality. I was General Manager of a number of Malmaison hotels, the last of which brought me to Liverpool in 2007. I really fell in love with the city and I knew that was where I wanted to settle down and start a family. Running the hotel was a great job, but when I was approached by Apple to join their retail division, I didn’t feel like I could turn down the opportunity to work for one of the most successful companies in the world. I’m glad I didn’t, because it took me on a seven-year journey, that included a stint working in China, but I was delighted to still be based in Liverpool where family life was all going according to plan; happily married with two kids growing up fast.
Both Malmaison and Apple are great companies, but they are big companies, and I always felt like there would be a ceiling to what I could achieve career-wise, if I wasn’t prepared to regularly relocate for new roles and challenges. With roots firmly and happily planted in Liverpool, I started to wonder if I could take the plunge and start a business of my own.
That thought quickly developed from a musing into a mission; and I knew that the timing was right. I was in a good position financially, but I can’t say the thought of maybe having to go 18 months without an income didn’t worry me. And while I knew where I wanted my business to be based, I didn’t know what I wanted that business to be.
I’m really into cycling and for a while I was seriously considering selling e-bikes, which was a fast-emerging new market, but the closer I got, the more I realised just how tough it would be to go into business alone. 90% of businesses don’t trade past their third year, which is quite startling, but when you look at franchising, you essentially reverse those odds of success.
Once that statistic sunk in, I immediately started looking at franchising! I literally bought a copy of What Franchise Magazine and my research began. With a catering background, food seemed a natural place to start, and I looked at all the popular choices like Dominos, Subway etc. McDonald’s was really appealing, but it was way too big an investment for me at the time. What started to become clear, the more I looked, was that I really wanted to do something where I could make a difference, to give back locally, be a permanent part of the community, but also to be scalable.
I stumbled across an article on Right at Home. Care wasn’t an area I’d considered, but reading it made me see how many boxes it actually ticked for me – doing something rewarding, something that benefited others locally, running a team, very scalable, but also fairly recession proof.
Just after reading the article, Ken Deary (CEO of Right at Home UK) pops up on one of my favourite Podcasts: ‘The Bottom Line’ with Evan Davies. Between the article, the Podcast and finding out the national office was also based in Liverpool, it felt like there was an element of fate intervening, so I just picked up the phone and spoke to Kate (Kate Dilworth, Franchise Recruitment Manager) and asked if I could come and see them.
Sometimes you are just drawn to people, and I was drawn to them. Their commitment to providing quality care and building a strong ethical business, really resonated with me – coming from brands like Malmaison and Apple, I understand how quality can, and should, drive your business. For me, it fitted perfectly with what I now knew I wanted, and I immediately warmed to Lucy (Lucy Campbell, COO Right at Home UK) and Ken and Kate, so that was it for me, I wanted to jump into the process of joining.
On Kate’s advice, I attended a bfa Prospective Franchisee seminar, which I thoroughly recommend for anyone thinking of joining a franchise. It was a whole day, but very enlightening and actually really impressed me even more that Right at Home would be so happy to put themselves forward and be judged by an independent body and have their business assessed like that.
In terms of the recruitment process, I felt that they were choosing me as much as I was choosing them – it definitely wasn’t a case of me just picking a franchise brand and swapping my money for an operations manual. You’ve really got to convince them that you’re good enough to deserve a territory. Perhaps the most valuable part was getting to go and visit existing franchisees in their offices and meet their teams. I went to five different ones, all at very different stages of growth, and that really gave me a perfect overview of what I was hopefully going to be coming in to.
Despite that though, I was still very green when it actually came time to start the training around care. Two weeks in National Office – and there is SO much to take in. Compliance, regulation, recruitment and retention…
If some people get to this stage and think ‘I could just do this myself’, well I thought the exact opposite. There is so much more involved that it appears from the outside. There is absolutely no way I could have dealt with the complexities of the industry if I’d tried to do this on my own.
I’ve got a background in hospitality and I’ve worked as a chef, so it is plausible that I could have opened a restaurant, but for someone without the background, there is so much that you have to get right that you simply aren’t aware of; no matter how often you eat out. The importance of the kitchen brigade, who are like the engine room of any restaurant; all the front of house staff, the management team, but then also all the marketing and the finances and the actual business of running it. If you only have experience of one part of it, then you have a mountain of things still to learn – and the same applies with a care business. Also, to keep the analogy going, you very quickly learn that just as the Head Chef is the rock star of the kitchen, your Registered Manager is the rock star of your care business.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have found Rachel (Rachel Woodruff, Right at Home Liverpool Registered Rock Star Care Manager) who was actually the second person I interviewed. Like I had been, she was just at that exact point in her career where she needed a change. Rachel having so many great contacts locally was completely invaluable, in terms of helping me build a team and introduce ourselves to the community and to agencies and such-like.
In this business you need to realise you are entering into a really important partnership with your Registered Manager – at the start I probably believed that my own passion and enthusiasm and business acumen would be 90% of what was needed to make this a success, but looking back over the last 18 months, it’s only enough to get you halfway.
With a career in hospitality and retail behind me, I knew that recruiting and retaining good staff could easily be the biggest headache in my new business, so I was determined to try and get this right from the start. I wanted to make Right at Home Liverpool a place that people really wanted to work. Carers in this sector often cite their reasons for leaving an employer as lack of respect; poor communications; poor conditions and bad pay. We want our CareGivers to feel appreciated, valued and part of team that is all working towards the same goals – that they have a career, not just a job. I’m proud to say that we’ve had 97% retention rate since we opened, and across our office team we haven’t lost a single person. When we got ‘5 Star Employer’ status this year, that was really big moment for us all.
I can honestly say, though, that Right at Home really is that kind of organisation from top to bottom – one built on respect, openness, encouragement and a commitment to succeed through doing the right things. This was especially evident during the COVID crisis, where the National Office have really led by example. Right from the start, the communication has been excellent and they have gone out of their way to ensure we all knew what was going on in the industry and what the Government’s latest guidance was – that would have been a full-time job for us own its own! They gave advice and support, not to mention a substantial amount of quality PPE for our teams to use, and they made sure that we all felt part of a team that was going to come out of this even stronger.
The Right at Home franchise works on the basis that the franchisor supports us, to support our people to give the very best care possible to our Clients – and if everybody in the chain commits to that, to the best of their abilities – then everyone wins.
The future looks really bright for Right at Home South Liverpool – 18 months in and we’re already providing 120 care visits a day and I can see us doubling in size by this time next year. Yes, I am building a financially successful business here, but there’s a huge amount of personal satisfaction that comes with it; much more than selling 120 iPhones a day could ever bring. It’s everything I wanted it to be, and without a doubt the best decision I could have made.”