How Home Care Franchise Owners Are Navigating Industry-Wide Challenges

The home care franchise model calls to mind the old idiom of “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” That’s because the business model relies on having a network of strong franchisees for its overall success.

For the franchisees, or owners, that make up these networks, this means navigating challenges in service of the larger organization.

Broadly, the franchise business model allows an individual or franchisee to buy the right to sell products or services under the brand of an established company. Ongoing franchise fees are a crucial part of most franchisers’ business models.

In the case of David Robinson, owner and care coordinator of Always Best Care Senior Services of Greater Boston, building strong and strategic referral relationships has been one of many hurdles to clear.

“I wasted a lot of time going to different nursing homes, assisted living [facilities], hospitals or doctor’s offices that were never going to give me referrals, or would only give me one,” Robinson said during a panel at Home Health Care News’ Franchise Forum. “[I had to figure] out who I could get multiple referrals from. I worked extremely hard my first year. I did about $104,000 [in revenue]. The second year, we went up to over $800,000.”

Roseville, California-based Always Best Care is a home care franchise company that operates across 224 territories in 30 states and Canada. The company is backed by PE firms Gemini Investors and Plenary Partners.

Currently, Always Best Care of Greater Boston employs 500 caregivers. In addition to traditional home care services, the home care business offers free assisted living placement.

At Synergy HomeCare Northeast Metro, one major challenge has been finding dedicated caregivers, according to owner and CEO Brian McDonald.

“How do you find the right caregiver,” McDonald said during the panel. “I didn’t want somebody who could go down and work at Walmart. You’re looking for people that care. They have to care enough that they’ll drive through the snow — weather the storm, so to speak — to [care for] someone who may not want but needs our help.”

Synergy is a Gilbert, Arizona-based non-medical home care franchise that operates roughly 380 franchise locations nationwide. The company offers companionship services, in addition to personal assistance, housekeeping, live-in care and 24-hour home care services.

Synergy Northeast Metro currently employs 80 caregivers.

At a time when the demand for home care services continues to grow, recruitment, which has always been an industry-wide problem, hits even harder.

Furthermore, McDonald noted that agencies need to recruit in order to continue growing.

No doubt the biggest challenge faced by franchisees today is the impact of the COVID-19 emergency.

Learning how to react quickly to change as it happens is one of the biggest skills Robinson has picked up during this time.

“You have to be ready,” he said. “We bought the proper PPE. We deployed that just as quickly. Our nurse went out and saw everybody — talked about how to wear the PPE and stay safe.”

Last year, the health care sector was plagued with PPE shortages. While many had trouble sourcing PPE, being part of a franchise network helped Always Best Care of Greater Boston.

“We had people at the franchise center who were specifically looking for PPE,” Robinson said. “In those early days, you couldn’t find it. The hospital didn’t have it, so they were sourcing PPE for us. We’re running a business 24/7. It’s not like I had extra time to go and find PPE. It was really helpful to have somebody doing that.”

Part of navigating the public health emergency was avoiding taking on more than what the agency was capable of at the time, according to McDonald.

“We never took on any positive clients … because we needed to conserve our resources for current clients that may catch covid from a caregiver or from a loved one,” he said. “I think circling the wagons really helped us during the pandemic, especially when it was peaking about a year ago.”

Since getting into the home care business, both Always Best Care of Greater Boston and Synergy Northeast Metro have seen major growth.

At Always Best Care of Greater Boston, one of the key growth drivers has been hiring at least one new caregiver daily.

“One new caregiver a day is five a week. It’s 20 a month. It’s 240 a year. Over 12 years, that’s how we got to over 500,” Robinson said.

On its end, enhancing its online presence has been the key to growing Synergy Northeast Metro’s business.

“Synergy has done a great job on the website,” McDonald said. “This helps with SEO, driving people to our website. As the baby boomers continue to boom, their adult children are the ones going to their phones. So much of our business is being driven from the internet.”

Looking ahead, McDonald is most excited about the exponential growth opportunity happening in home care.

“When I started this, [baby boomers] were turning age 65 or older at a rate of 10,000 a day,” he said. “Now they’re turning 75 at a rate of 10,000 a day. They’re starting to get into our [client] demographic.”

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