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The man making the difference

Franchise insider Dan Archer brings US success Visiting Angels to the UK to change attitudes towards the delivery of senior care

Having a couple of decades’ experience of the franchise industry under his belt, Dan Archer knows a thing or two about how the business model works. He talks to The Franchise Magazine about introducing US brand Visiting Angels to the UK, running the pilot franchise and how he’s setting out to change attitudes towards the delivery of care

You have a 20-year long history in franchising – why this industry? What makes it so special?

I’ve worked with over 500 franchisees and I like to think that what we’ve worked on led to their success and helped them realise their dreams. A lot of people with a franchise wouldn’t have run their own business in any other way. So helping people do that is so satisfying. I absolutely love it!

It’s easier to be entrepreneurial with the help of good franchising. It takes the brakes off and allows franchisees to run a good business. Plus, here, it’s an industry that’s in very good health.

How much of that is down to the British Franchise Association?

Franchising is all about sharing best practice and the bfa does exactly that – it facilitates learning among its membership. I’ve learned a lot from the companies that I’ve worked for and even more from my relationship with the bfa [Dan sat on the board of directors for six years]. It’s given me exposure to hundreds of different franchise structures and ways of doing things – all of which have contributed to my being able to run the business I run now.

You’ve worked with many brands, but currently with a care franchise – why care, and why now?

I’ve worked across the industry but I’m doing this now, in care, because of a personal experience. And not a good one. We really struggled to find reliable care for my nana and so after that I wanted to make a difference.

Franchising is very good at disrupting markets, because you get the enthusiasm of a franchisee. The care industry is one that desperately needs disruption. There’s an awful lot of the same thing being done; 95 per cent of care is done the same way it has been for the last 20 years and it’s not necessarily the right way. So if you’re going to think differently and behave differently, it’s good to have franchisees along for the ride – for their enthusiasm and input. You need to have those values from someone who wants to share your cause and make the same difference in their local area.

You’ve introduced care brand Visiting Angels to the UK. What does your experience bring?

Visiting Angels has been in franchising as long as I have, and in the US there’s an awful lot of shared knowledge and best practice that we’ve been able to translate straight into the UK.

One of the things the bfa has allowed me to do is to see how franchisors harvest the knowledge of their franchisees. There’s more of a sharing network in some businesses than others, but one thing that struck me about Visiting Angels is there’s very much a sharing culture and shared best practice. We’re bringing their great knowledge of private duty and social care, plus the skill they’ve got in recruiting and retaining caregivers, which is the great challenge for anybody in this sector. To that I’m adding my expertise of franchising and the UK care sector. To resort to cliché if I might, it’s a marriage made in heaven! The reality is we were both the right people to be working together at the right time in order for the brand to come to the UK.

I’ve started the business here in the UK and I’m running a franchise myself, the way a franchisee will run it. I’ve learned from it, so all challenges they’ll face, I’ve stood there and faced them. I know what day one in the business feels like and understand how the model needed to be modified for the UK. We’ve gone out and built the business in the pilot area from scratch and it’s more proven now than it was 18 months ago and it will be more proven in 18 months’ time.

Tell us about the brand – what’s different?

One of the frustrations I’ve got with care in the UK is that everybody talks about the good quality care they provide, the person-centered care and caring for their clients, and the elderly, but very few people talk about the people who are delivering that care. It’s impossible to run a good, effective, quality care provider without focusing on the people that deliver the care – and that’s the caregivers. And we do... for us, the most important people in our business are the caregivers

We’re what we call ‘carer-centric’; we think of the concerns and needs of a caregiver before anything else, and that enables us to provide a different standard of service. We pay better – our model is predicated on being able to pay a caregiver what they deserve for the excellent work they do. We reward people for loyalty. We reward people for developing themselves – we allow people to learn and grow within the business and that allows us a level of stability in our care team that very few providers have. So, whereas the average turnover of care staff is close to 50 per cent, ours is circa 20 per cent.

We’ve been very adept at finding good people and keeping them. That enables us to deliver consistency and continuity of care because
we’re not always trying to find new caregivers
to replace ones who are leaving.

Why hasn’t it been done before?

It sounds so obvious, doesn’t it? But there’s a fundamental disconnect in care conversations between that which is delivered and the cost of said care. If we’re clear on how well we’re rewarding the staff, it justifies and vindicates the charge for that service. Families don’t want someone on minimum wage who could earn more elsewhere, they want someone who is well-rewarded to supply proper care to their loved one. And it takes good-quality people to give that care. We’re holding a conversation that some in the sector, I would suggest, are
not brave enough to have.

Our mission is to become the care industry’s employer of choice by 2022. People should want to work in care, and for Visiting Angels. We need people within communities at a local level who can make that difference.

You have to look for people who want to differentiate themselves. We talk a lot in this sector about ‘making a difference’, but for us it’s thinking differently about the people who provide the service. For that reason I’m looking for franchisees who are a bit iconoclastic – they want to be slightly revolutionary in the way they operate and how they think.

If you are carer-centric you have better retention, which means you spend less on recruiting caregivers, less on training. You’ll provide a more consistent, better quality service to your clients. That’s not difficult if you think of it in those terms but nobody else really does it.

One of the things that Visiting Angels in the States does well is recruitment and retention – they’ve won award after award for being a top employer in the US. Those mechanisms they use, that excellent customer service everyone associates with America, we’ve learned from and started using it in the UK – and it’s bearing fruit.

There are two approaches to care. There’s what I would call the older approach – set yourself up as a care provider, go to the local authority, they send you work – you will spend all your time recruiting and training caregivers, and it becomes a logistics job, working out the way to get caregivers from A to B to C. Our way of doing it is very different. Because we put the caregiver at the heart of what we do, it’s easier to find care staff. Because the issue of holding on to good staff is resolved, we moved the focus in the business away from recruiting and logistics into retention and a sales effort. You’ve got to be brave enough to think differently, act differently, be the difference and do it for a longer period of time and most providers aren’t. There are providers where all of their work comes from the local authority. So they have one client and, by dint of that, they could lose one client – which will kill their business. We are at 36 clients in a year and a half – 36 clients who’ve chosen to use us.

It’s a safer business because we’ve put the work into finding individual clients rather than going to the council for care jobs like everybody else does. Franchisees don’t need hundreds of clients, they’ll run successful businesses based on a smallish clientele. A £1million turnover is possible with only 100 clients.

What sort of investment does the opportunity involve and what support do you provide?

Financially, they are substantial. There’s a cost associated with social care because there are elements you need in place before you can be registered that have to be paid for, so there’s a working capital requirement. Investment is around £70,000 to £100,000. Funding is available – but we’re looking for people with personal capital investment capability of between £30,000 and £50,000.

They’ll be supported by a guy that’s running a business the same way they do. I’m keen to stress this: I’ve walked in their shoes. It’s really important that the people who join at this early stage work directly with me in defining what this business will look like over the next 10 years. It means some prospective franchisees are going to want to join in five years when we’ve got 50 franchisees or so – which will be great – but I’m sure there’s a group of people that wants to be closely involved at that early stage.

Apart from me and my team and the knowledge we have – which is 25 years of experience of the care industry – we’ve also got the US business. All franchisees will be partly trained there and supported in part by the US team. We have webinars, training sessions, the Visiting Angels University – which each franchisee goes through – monthly conference calls... Plus, they’ll get me – I’ll be sitting with them once a quarter, reviewing the business plan, walking the streets of their area helping them to understand how you communicate the difference that is Visiting Angels.

How successful is Visiting Angels in the US?

They’re massive and they’re America’s choice in homecare and a very well-established brand... When I brought the company to the UK I didn’t know how well that brand would translate – but it does so immensely well. People refer to our caregivers as angels: “Can you send me an angel?” So its been accepted quite readily by the UK market. The feedback we get from clients is amazing; the relationships we have with caregivers are underlining why our approach is the right one.

What are you looking for in a franchisee?

Again, it’s that element of iconoclast; someone that’s questioning the status quo, that looks at the model of care that’s been delivered time and time again and says: “No. There has to be a different way.” People who not only understand why it’s important that you put a caregiver at the heart of what you do but can also then be the difference by actually making sure it happens on a daily basis.

Also, it’s useful if they’ve personal experience of finding care for a loved one. It’s difficult to talk theoretically about problems in the care sector, it’s far easier if you’ve seen it first hand. In the first eight weeks of care for my nana, we had 12 separate caregivers. One day, they didn’t turn up, she tried to get out of bed on her own, fell, ended up in hospital and didn’t come home. We couldn’t get the care provider to deliver care any other way because they couldn’t and wouldn’t see an alternative. So personal exposure to that can be very valuable. I share my story because the families I talk to identify with it. I want to prevent others from experiencing that themselves. A visiting angel is exactly where and when they say they will be.

I also want to attract a ‘people person’ – it’s a people business. They need to have resilience and persistence to make sure things are done, and done differently, and are able to communicate the difference. It’s really important. We are fixing the recruitment and retention issue that the care industry is subject to and we need people who can communicate the difference that’s going to make to a family. The practical difference it makes is that I have clients in Sheffield where 100 per cent of the care has been delivered by the same caregiver. We operate an initiative that’s very well received by families called ‘choose your caregiver’, where the final decision on whether that person delivers the care is with the family. They’ll say yes or no to that person, and from our point of view if someone has chosen a particular person, that’s who they’ll get.

Where are you looking to expand?

UK-wide. But it’s about finding the right people more than the geography. The advantage of getting into the business in the relatively early years is that there’s flexibility; we’ll modify the territory according to where they might see potential, more than we’ll be able to when we have a full network.

What’s in the future?

Our five-year mission: to become the UK’s care employer of choice. The way to do that is to think differently about what it is to be a caregiver, to make it an attractive career choice, reward people that provide care but feel under-rewarded. But also offer a career choice to those who might have otherwise ruled it out – I know that we’ve recruited caregivers that wouldn’t have worked in another organisation because they didn’t want to do short-term visits for a minimum wage, not get paid for their travel time, and so on. They’ve been able to come into our business because we address those concerns. So that’s opening up a potential caregiver market that’s not been tapped previously.

Franchisees will enable us to meet that mission – I genuinely believe that to change the perception of a caregiver in society, we couldn’t have done it in any other structure. Franchisees who buy into what we are saying will see it’s the right way of doing it.