Radfield Home Care franchisee Jackie Gillen has been on the front lines of the battle against coronavirus
“No one would have thought in a million years that something like this would happen,” Jackie Gillen says.
“Luckily, I’ve always been very risk-averse, so I worked out some worst-case scenarios and we’ve managed really well. Our priority has been to protect our clients and staff, but no one can pretend it hasn’t been a challenging time.”
Looking after the elderly and vulnerable
Radfield Home Care’s Wakefield & Dewsbury franchisee has been on the front lines since the coronavirus crisis began, delivering almost double the usual amount of home care services to the locked down elderly and vulnerable in her West Yorkshire community.
Joining the award-winning franchise two years ago after many years’ experience in the social care sector, Jackie and husband Mark have kept their 50-plus clients safe by bringing in every possible precaution regardless of cost.
“We had to deal with a lot of regulation changes and paid £10,000 for PPE equipment, which is four times our usual annual budget,” Jackie says.
“But we were absolutely determined to offer the safest possible service and up to now, it has paid off. Our sector is doing really well. We have not had the issues suffered by care homes.
“We were meticulous about following the guidance and acted quickly to get things in place. We brought in extra staff to support the increased service and went above and beyond to keep morale high and the clients safe and happy.
“For example, one of our care professionals even cooked a home-made lasagne and spent the evening with one of our clients who had to place her busy social life on hold during the pandemic. It’s outcomes such as these that make delivering care really rewarding in these times.”
Home care: A fast growing sector
Despite the continuing trauma of COVID-19, home care is still a fast-growing franchise sector and it’s easy to see why.
The UK population of over-65s is set to account for a quarter of the population, with almost half spending their remaining life expectancy in poor health.
But despite the rise in demand, local authority funding has decreased, leading to a 20 per cent drop in local authority care and resulting in more people turning to private providers. Proof, Radfield Home Care says, of the value of the private care sector when times are hard.
Jackie and Mark didn’t need convincing of that when they began to look around for a business of their own in 2018.
Between them, they had over 40 years’ experience in the social care and supported housing and living sectors, dealing with a wide range of client groups, particularly the elderly, and felt that running their own care business would give them the chance to make even more of a difference to people’s lives.
“We previously worked for employers where we had limited decision making power over the quality of the service we provided and by being in complete control we could be sure that what we offered was outstanding,” Jackie says.
“We both enjoy working with people and have a commitment to treating them as we would want to be treated ourselves. We understand the importance of maintaining independence and choice and being empowered to live your life as you would wish in your own home and community.
“We had lived in the Wakefield and Dewsbury area for 15 years and our sons Tom and Sam are at local schools. We wanted to give something back to our local community and be an employer of choice, offering great career opportunities as we grew the new business.”
Radfield seemed like a family
So two years ago Jackie and Mark decided to explore the home care franchise sector.
“We knew nothing about franchising,” Jackie admits. “We went to a franchise exhibition and talked to franchisors, looking for one that had the family values that have always been our drive and inspiration and are at the heart of everything we do. We were taking a big step and we knew we had to get it right.
“Radfield Home Care was one of the last we visited - and we knew instinctively that we had found what we were looking for. It was a smaller company, which attracted us because we didn’t want to be a cog in a huge machine. Radfield seemed like a family.”
Which in fact is exactly what it is. Brother and sister Alex
Green and Dr Hannah MacKechnie had been brought up in the Shrewsbury residential home for the elderly run by their parents and knew all about caring for the vulnerable and giving them the best possible quality of life.
As a GP, Hannah met many elderly patients who she felt were not getting the care they deserved and she realised there was a gap in the market for a care service that provided clients with kindness, dignity and respect.
In 2008 Hannah and Alex, a financial adviser and active community ambassador, returned to Shrewsbury and founded Radfield Home Care, named after their parents’ care home.
A year later they began to develop a branch network that in 2016 became the Radfield Home Care franchise, which now has 15 locations, ambitious plans for future growth and won the 2019 British Franchise Association HSBC Emerging Franchisor of the Year Award.
Part of a winning team
From the beginning, Jackie and Mark felt they were in safe hands.
“I’m a great believer in gut instinct and I just knew that it would work,” Jackie says. “Although we had both been in the welfare sector for many years, we had never run our own business and there was a lot to learn and the Radfield support system was fabulous. You’re not treated as just another number - they make you feel part of the team.
“Working in the care industry for so long, we understood the importance of high-quality care services and it was clear Radfield was the franchise for us. We both share family values and putting the client at the centre of any decision. Radfield’s experience and support was also a big attraction.
“We had direct access to Hannah and Alex and whenever there was a problem we got advice on what to do and were guided through situations that were new to us.
“One of the best pieces of advice we were given was to get top people on board who know about the home care sector. For instance, doing rotas and working out care coordinating is specialist work and it’s sensible to have top class staff to take on these responsibilities.”
No health care experience needed
That’s advice echoed by Radfield Home Care, which emphasises that franchisees don’t need previous health care experience. Their role is to grow the business through marketing, networking and brand awareness activity and franchisees have come from a variety of backgrounds, from finance and marketing to sales and IT.
“They don’t want just anybody to come in as a franchisee, even if they’ve got all the money in the world,” Jackie says, “Because if they don’t have the right mindset and the right values they’re not going to care so much and that could affect the company’s reputation.
“Their core values are very much based on family values, treating people the way you’d want to be treated yourself. That’s what is driving us and is something we are passionate about - to provide a really good care service, the kind of service you’d be happy for your family to use.”
The company tells potential franchisees: “You will have in-depth training and support to develop your knowledge of the sector, plus a registered care manager who will be responsible for managing the health care side of the business.
“Operating in the private marketplace, franchisees benefit from a secure business model that enables them to deliver a high-quality care service and generate healthy financial returns.”
A Radfield Home Care franchise costs approximately £30,000. Working capital of around £40,000-£50,000 is also required to support the business through to break-even, usually within about 12 months of operation.
For this investment, franchisees get a 20-day training programme, tried and tested business model and professional support team. Radfield has also pioneered home care technology that utilises remotely accessible cloud-based care management software, which provides a transparent, safe and cost-saving service.
The company stresses that home care has the potential to transform clients’ lives and to encourage them to develop relationships, meet friends and remain part of their community. Carers must be friendly and sociable, as well as being top-class professionals.
Going the extra mile
Jackie and Mark’s team of 30 carers are DBS checked, selected after a vigorous vetting process and chosen for their compassion and professional experience.
“We all go that extra mile whenever it’s needed,” Jackie says. “We haven’t needed to do a lot of marketing. Existing customers recommend us and we also get referrals from the professional sector - social workers, hospital discharge teams, etc.
“We have a variety of clients. The most common work we do is helping people in the morning - helping them get up, sorting out their medication, preparing meals, etc. Some need visits four times a day, especially those with mobility issues. Others may still be independent, but feel socially isolated.”
Two years on, the Wakefield & Dewsbury franchise is a thriving business that has been consistently operating at least 50 per cent above target.
“Our secret? We build care packages around individual clients depending on their wants and needs,” Jackie says. “We are regarded as one of the top providers in the area.”
As the franchise grew, Mark took on an overseeing role while Jackie runs the day-to-day operation and finances, meeting regularly with care manager Gemma Bristow to review business plans and future strategies.
“But one thing will never change,” Jackie says. “Our clients come first. To them we are family, we are proud to care and we will always be on their side.”
Jackie Gillen’s 6 tips for becoming a successful franchisee
1. Do your homework. Research and speak to as many companies as possible in the sector you have chosen. Work out how they operate and exactly what they’re offering. Check their accounts and finances and get the views of existing franchisees.
2. Follow your gut instinct. Companies often look comparable in terms of what they’re offering, but try to get a feel of how they treat their franchisees. Will you be valued and will you fit in? A franchise is very much a partnership and there’s always a risk it might not work out.
3. Overestimate how much cash you’ll need. Don’t rely on the bare minimum, as you never know what might happen in the early days of a business. For instance, people may owe you money, but you have to have enough cash in the bank to pay your staff. Having that back up of extra cash avoids putting yourself under unnecessary pressure.
4. Work out your worst-case scenario and plan how you would cope. I’m very risk-averse and don’t presume that things will always work out as hoped. For instance, the current pandemic has had a massive effect on many businesses, which never thought that something like this would happen in a million years. That’s why it’s so important to maintain a good cash flow and keep money in the bank to tide you over any unforeseen circumstances.
5. Roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. Although the majority of franchises succeed in comparison with other startup businesses, there’s no guarantee it’s going to work. It’s not handed to you on a plate and there’s still a lot of work you have to do as the business owner. Lead by example and show this to your staff, your clients and the stakeholders you’re dealing with. That’s very important in building the brand.
6. Don’t deviate from the model. Follow the advice you’ve been given by the franchisor. When buying a franchise, you’re buying something based on experience. Sometimes you might think you could do things better, but a franchisor has got more knowledge than you in the particular sector. They’re giving advice for a reason, so listen to it.
An award-winning journalist and author, Tony James specialises in business and sport.