It’s 10 weeks into lockdown and Right at Home Maidenhead owner Scott MacRae is in a good mood and feeling pretty optimistic for the future – this is obviously what it’s like when you’ve picked your perfect franchise…
Far from being sheltered from the effects of COVID19, Right at Home franchisees and their teams have arguably been on the frontlines, delivering essential homecare services to vulnerable adults and older people. Scott’s current optimism steams from a belief that we are starting to come out the other side of it now, and recognition of how well the franchise has come together, to continue providing the best homecare to all its clients.
Scott’s journey into franchising is not an unfamiliar story. He had enjoyed a successful career as Sales Director for an electronics firm, but always had a feeling that he could, and should, be doing something much more personally fulfilling and of value to others. Around his 50th birthday, Scott was given the chance to step down from his role and take a generous package – it seemed like the perfect time, and opportunity, to broaden his horizons and make a meaningful change.
All the available employment roles just felt like he’d be doing more of the same, but in a different office with new people. Nothing really jumped out. Could he perhaps start a business up himself – he had money he could invest?
Aware of his skills, but also aware there were many things he didn’t know about actually running a business, franchising looked like a very promising option. With the best part of 1,000 franchise opportunities in the UK alone, finding the right one felt like a mountainous task at first. However, determined to stick to the plan of being able to make a positive difference by doing something that offered more than just financial reward, Scott soon found himself evaluating the franchise brands operating in the domiciliary care sector.
Right at Home UK was not yet an established brand, but it was certainly making waves as the one to watch. While other brands promised the chance to be part of the biggest or fastest growing franchise network, Right at Home UK promised the chance to join the best. When Scott met with franchisor Ken Deary, he could tell straight away that this wasn’t an empty promise or clever marketing – this was the driving ethos behind the brand: the right people, doing the right things, for the right reasons.
Scott found the interview and application process fairly straight forward but was surprised at the lack of ‘hard sell’. It soon became clear that rather than being sold, Right at Home franchises were awarded to the best people, rather than the first people to apply who had the funding. This gave Scott a lot of confidence that, if he was successful in joining, he would be amongst a reassuringly high calibre group of people with the same commitment and ethics. Needless to say, Scott was successful and eight years ago became the proud owner of Right at Home Maidenhead – then the 13th office in the UK network.
Today, Right at Home is one of the most highly regarded, rated and decorated homecare operators in the country, with more than 50 local franchisee owned offices. It remains family owned and prides itself on the values that differentiate it from others in the sector.
What do you remember being the most challenging aspect of getting Right at Home Maidenhead up and running?
“So much of it is really quite exciting – finding an office, working on the marketing plan and starting to recruit. However, recruiting your Registered Care Manager is the hardest part (this is a legal requirement for every homeare provider). You’re looking for a partner really, someone who is going to really step up and bring homecare knowledge and experience to your business. Their salary is actually your biggest cost at that stage, so you are putting a lot of faith in them being the right person to help you manage and lead a team of carers. You learn so much about the care side during initial training from the national office, but you are still relying heavily on the Registered Manager while you find your feet.”
How did it feel to become an employer and leader?
“I’d managed people before, but they weren’t my employees as such. It’s a big responsibility, but you have the chance to build up a great team from scratch and actually help them grow and develop in their own careers – it’s much more than just filling vacancies. You’re looking for people who have the right blend of being great at caring, but also diligent and who work well with others. Whether it’s office staff or the carers themselves, you want everyone to be there for the right reasons and be united in the goal of really helping local people live more comfortable independent lives at home.”
Presumably nothing could have prepared you or your team for what we’re going through right now with COVID19 and the lockdown restrictions?
“Well I certainly can’t pretend I saw it coming, I don’t think anyone did. What I can say, is that I am very glad to be part of this franchise network, rather than an independent. I’m sure our national office team was as caught off guard as everyone else, but they jumped into action impressively quickly. To begin with, and this really highlights the difference between being a franchisee versus being on your own, they picked up the phone to everyone, asked how we were, and assured us that there was a plan, and that they were going to support and guide us every step of the way, and that we would get through it.
The biggest issue in terms of being able to help our carers get out to support our clients was lack of PPE. There was plenty of low quality stuff available if you were prepared to pay astronomical prices and join a very long queue for delivery, but to their eternal credit National Office stepped in and secured a very large order of quality supplies (at their own cost) and distributed it out to the entire franchise network. This meant that both carers and clients could be confident they were taking all the right steps to keep safe from spreading or catching the infection.
Of course, even with the PPE, it was far from business as usual. The information coming from Public Health England was changing constantly and it would have been a full-time job just to try and keep up with it, but Ken and Lucy (Ken Deary CEO and Lucy Campbell COO) made sure we were updated around the clock with what we should and shouldn’t be doing. Then there were all the financial aspects – the available grants, small business relief, furloughing, bounce back loans. Honestly, if I was doing this on my own, I would have easily missed a lot of this really important stuff. Having that support from the franchisor, meant we were free to focus offering top quality care and going above and beyond to make sure our clients and CareGivers were being looked after safely.
Also, it might not seem like a big thing, but all the support was delivered in a deliberately calm and reassuring tone. The team seemed very aware of how stressful the whole situation could be, regardless of how experienced the franchisees might have been, so the mental wellbeing of franchisees was paramount and crucial in keeping everyone together and feeling positive. Ken said right at the beginning that he believed that the network would come out of it stronger than it went into it. That’s a brave statement, but it gave everyone across the organisation confidence; and it looks like he’s going to be proved right.”
With a large network it must be quite an effort for any franchisor to communicate effectively with their franchisees – what procedures do Right at Home UK have in place?
“This is an area where I think Right at Home really stands out. Clear, regular communication is a very big thing across the board, so there’s no ‘them and us’ – it’s one big team with shared goals and purpose, albeit made up of individual business owners. We have a Franchise Advisory Council set up which is there to act as a kind of go-between if need. I’ve actually just taken on the role of Chairing it this year, which I took as a rather flattering vote of confidence from my peers! I’m sure in some franchise networks this would be a full time peace keeping job, but normally for us it’s a two hour call every couple of months where ideas are shared and my fellow council members and I actually get to help shape the direction of the business and feedback to the rest of the network. As I said before, Ken and Lucy are very approachable and they really listen, so it’s very functional and friendly, however if a franchisee wanted to raise a concern anonymously for example then they have this platform to be heard. The other great benefit of being in a franchise network without hundreds of other franchisees, is that you are so much more than just a number and your opinions really matter – I think it gives the support we pay for so much more value than perhaps it would elsewhere.”
What else makes Right at Home such a great franchise opportunity?
“Our territories are much larger than with other homecare brands, so there is plenty of room to grow without having to buy additional territories – although quite a few of our franchisees have, so there really is no limit to where your ambition can take you.
As a Right at Home franchisee you have the opportunity to build a very successful business that can bring you a secure financial future, but it’s not done by cutting corners – it’s done by doing everything properly.
Right across the board, there’s not a single person simply paying lip service to the notion of quality – Right at Home means quality in terms of the way the franchisees are recruited and supported, quality in terms of how the franchisees support their staff and carers, and quality in terms of the care given to the clients, which is the foundation of the whole business.
We have a one-hour visit minimum policy so that carers can build relationships with their clients, get to know them and really help improve their lives. Especially now, clients can be particularly lonely, and they deserve to be cared about and given hope. I don’t think any other company really competes with us when it comes to CQC or homecare.co.uk ratings and our client testimonials are genuinely heart-warming.”
Talking of hope, how are you feeling about the future and what would you say to someone wanting to become a Right at Home franchisee?
I’m feeling very positive. Ken said we’d come out of this stronger and in better shape than before, and my business is stronger and I’ve actually lost quite a lot of weight, so he was right on both counts!
In many ways I wish I’d done this 20 years ago, but sometimes it just takes until the time is right for you. Some people embrace the notion of having their own business, some people need a little push. The thing about care is that it’s a lot of hard work to get everything right, even when you’re part of a franchise. The sheer volume of policies, procedures, insurances, legal aspects and training required is enormous. I think a lot of people get involved because they hear it can be profitable and it’s a growing market so they think it’s worth a shot – well it’s not the sort of thing you can take chances on, it’s people’s lives.
Even with the Right at Home ‘recipe’, and the comprehensive help and support you get from National Office, it’s still a good three years before you have the recipe spot on for you and your business. That means anyone wanting to join the network needs to be resilient, driven, committed and in it for more than just financial opportunity.
I still get involved with the marketing, recruitment and inductions, overseeing payroll and making sure everyone gets paid, plus I’m out at BNI breakfast meetings every week to help build my introducer network. I’d say it’s a busy leadership role now, but you’ve got to be the sort of person who will roll their sleeves up at the drop of a hat – there’s a good chance you might find yourself out there delivering hands on care in the early days if you find yourself a member of staff down.
Truthfully, if you aren’t in it to do good, then you won’t inspire those around you to do good and you’ll genuinely struggle to find quality people to come and work for you in the first place. I feel like I got lucky and picked the right business, now more than ever. It’s not for everyone, but it could be for you.”