Radfield Home Care is arguably one of the fastest growing domiciliary care providers in the country, having opened 12 franchise offices in just three years.
The family business, formerly named Radfield Residential Home, ran as a care home for 26 years before being transformed into a home care company in 2008. It then started franchising in 2016.
Fresh from winning the Emerging Franchisor of the Year accolade at the bfa HSBC Franchise Awards, brother-and-sister duo Dr Hannah MacKechnie and Alex Green (pictured centre) discuss their inspiration for moving into the home care sector, their ethical approach to franchising and their ambitions to embrace technology, retain a quality workforce and expand their network across the UK.
Congratulations on being crowned the winner of the Emerging Franchisor of the Year Award 2019. How do you feel?
Hannah MacKechnie: It is a fantastic achievement for us and something we are extremely proud of. We deliberately spent a long time developing the model and support systems to ensure it provided a truly rewarding, ethical and supportive opportunity for our franchise partners. Being awarded this accolade proves the commitment we made to doing it the right way has paid off and our franchise model really is a great opportunity for people wanting to enter the sector and give something back to their local communities.
What will this mean for the business going forward?
Alex Green: It gives future franchise partners reassurance that they are joining a network that has been accredited by the UK’s leading franchise association as a unique, rewarding and successful franchise opportunity. It is also another accolade that our clients can depend on, alongside our numerous care awards. All this will help the Radfield Home Care network to grow nationally, providing more care and support, more local jobs and more community engagement.
Radfield is a family business that started out as a care home, where you both lived. What was it like growing up alongside those residents?
Hannah: It was completely unique. It was like having a big extended family with lots of extra grandparents all living at home with us. The care staff were also very influential in our lives. It gave us a lot of freedom in our childhood, but it also exposed us to how care can be in a small, family environment. It was lovely to have that inter-generational upbringing.
Hannah, you went on to work in the care home yourself. Did your family inspire you?
It was a completely natural progression. I was always helping out – we both were – in the home. And then when I was old enough it was a natural next step to start putting me on the rota. So I worked there through my teenage years and beyond.
You then went onto become a GP and it was there that you saw a gap in the market for home care…
I worked in hospitals in New Zealand for a few years and then completed my training as a GP back in the UK. I was working in practices in Shrewsbury and London and it became clear that there was a real opportunity there. I would get lots of families coming in trying to find good care for their relatives and it didn’t seem readily available. At that time, the shift away from residential care was starting to happen, so more people were choosing to stay at home, and that was the point at which we decided to get involved.
Alex, you previously had a career in finance and the community charity sector. What made you make the move into home care?
I’d done everything I wanted to achieve in the roles I had previously and I thought it was time for a change. Setting up your own business is always an exciting venture and merging Hannah’s medical experience with my knowledge across finance and community organisations seemed like a good fit.
How long did it take you to get the business idea off the ground?
Hannah: It started when our parents were looking for succession planning for the residential home. They reached out to both of us to see whether we were interested, so that was the starting point. We initially looked at expanding the care home business and that’s when we did our market research and realised it was very clear that the shift in the market was starting to happen, and over the last 10-11 years since we’ve been trading, there has been a dramatic move away from residential care. People prefer to stay living in their own home and then they tend to go straight into a nursing home, or even stay at home and receive end of life care.
Could you tell me about how the business is set up now – how many franchises does it operate?
Hannah: We currently have 12 franchise partners and more in the pipeline, which is great. We have a national office team of 10 people and we’re in the process of recruiting more people to grow that team. So we’re building a strong national office support team for our franchise partners, which will allow us to provide the same level of service with our early franchise partners as we would if we were a much larger network.
Who would you say are your main competitors?
Hannah: In the franchise network, the business that’s most closely aligned to our model is Home Instead, which is obviously a much larger company, but they focus on caring for the elderly in the private marketplace. Obviously, there is a wide range of other franchise brands out there, many of which are American brands. There are also a lot of independent providers that operate locally and often deliver a very high quality service.
How have you seen the home care market evolve since you launched in 2008?
Hannah: The emergence of the franchise brands has been the biggest change that we have seen.
Alex: There wasn’t a national awareness of home care brands when we first launched. Bluebird Care was just launching as we started and they went straight into franchising, whereas we waited for longer. Home Instead was also coming into the market at that time. One of the other big changes has been recruitment. When we first started, the focus was on client attraction and now the focus is much more on carer attraction. Because of the growing demographic, more and more people need care. Yes, there are more competitors out there providing care, but the focus is on who can recruit well, treat their staff well and retain them.
Hannah: There has also been a big shift in the way technology is used in care. In the last few years, there has been some excellent technology solutions breaking into the sector and that’s fantastic to see. We were saying years ago ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could move to a more paper-light system?’ It’s taken a long time for the sector to embrace that type of technology and see the potential, but now that is really starting to break through.
What do you make of technologies that are used in the home to facilitate caring, such as AI?
Alex: There is a lot of evidence around using AI systems with soft toys to help people with dementia reduce anxiety, as well as virtual reality. Then there’s a lot of smart home technology centred on keeping people safe using alerts to make sure their lifestyle isn’t disrupted by a fall and things like that. I think these types of technologies will grow with time, but it’s still early days. To actually bring in an integrated system into someone’s home that really helps them is quite a complex thing to do.
Hannah: There are a lot of companies out there innovating to bring technologies through and it’s exciting to see, but I don’t think any yet provide a truly joined up service offering, and I think it will be many years before technology – if it ever will – truly disrupt the home care market because the human element is so important.
Going back to the subject of recruitment, what is your group strategy? And how do you retain your staff?
Alex: Our recruitment strategy is to communicate our values, being very clear about what we stand for as a company. In terms of retention, it’s very much about treating our carers as family. This runs through the whole business. Care is an undervalued sector in society, so challenging that has been something we have done from day one. We created our Caring for Carers Pledge that sets out how we value our carers and provide a supportive and rewarding working environment for our entire workforce.
Hannah: We have become Living Wage accredited in many of our branches and that is something we are really keen to push through the entire network where we can. Some areas are more challenging because of market forces, but it’s about recognising the hugely valuable job that people in the care sector do, which is unfortunately undervalued by society.
You were awarded the B Corp certification in 2016. That must have been a proud moment…
Hannah: It was. B Corp is a global movement celebrating ethical business and as soon as we became aware of it we felt that it was a close alignment to what we are trying to achieve. Also, having external validation that we have met that standard of being an ethical business is a fantastic communication tool for our franchise partners who are looking at which company to go with. We are currently the only home care company that has been awarded this accreditation.
Social care and government organisations are increasingly promoting home care as an effective alternative to care homes. Will there still be a place in the market for care homes in 10-20 years’ time?
Alex: I think the market we have seen in the elderly care sector has shifted. Twenty to 30 years ago, people were choosing to go into a residential home before their care needs had actually got to the point where they needed to be in a care home. It was a choice that they made to be more comfortable and have companions around them. That has shifted so people tend to stay at home to the point where they need to be in a nursing home once their care needs have developed or they require end-of-life support. So I think there will always be a need for care homes because it can be a challenge keeping someone at home safely. We can go an awfully long way to keep someone at home for a very long time, but there comes a point where, for some people, they would be better supported in a nursing home.
Hannah: We are seeing a change in the market around more of the supported living services and expanding on the model of sheltered accommodation and making them more of a chosen destination, with greater facilities and activities. I think we will see more of that American-style model coming in where those facilities can be more adaptive, so you can actually stay in that place, but the care can come to you. There will be opportunity alongside housing schemes for home care companies to be the provider of choice.
Have you thought about entering the live-in care space?
Hannah: Yes, we have. We have always been a little bit hesitant, just because of the issues around minimum wage, so it’s not something we have jumped into as we want to be very sure about the legislation around that. It’s something that in time we will look at and I think it will align very nicely with our model.
What do you think of the introductory care schemes that are popping up online?
Hannah: We are concerned because of the lack of regulation. Being a regulated service and knowing what role the CQC has in keeping clients safe and ensuring recruitment practices are followed really robustly, that’s what concerns me the most about these unregulated companies that are building their models to skirt around the regulation.
Alex: The benefit of a regulated home care sector is that you have an intermediary between the carer and the client. If there’s a problem, the client can come to the intermediary, who is regulated and has a duty to perform certain actions if something goes wrong. Without that, the client is left on their own to deal with potentially very difficult problems.
Hannah: One of our core values is around advocacy and I think that’s something that gets overlooked, especially with these matching services. Often we look after elderly clients who are quite vulnerable, who don’t have family close by, so we will advocate for the client if they go into hospital for example. Matching services will not be able to provide that continuity of care and those additional extras that are fairly intangible, but have a huge value add.
What are your ambitions for the next five to 10 years?
Hannah: Our ambitions are to continue to grow throughout the UK. So at the moment we have quite a wide geographical distribution of our franchise partners, from Yorkshire down to the South coast, so it would be great to fill in some of the gaps. We are also focused on bringing in high-calibre people as franchise partners who are quality-focused. We want to bring in like-minded people that buy into those values and communicate those through their business.
Alex: We are constantly learning because we are bringing in organisations to help us, so we work with consultants who work with some of the biggest names in the care sector to help us grow. We will continue to learn, improve and develop the offering we provide to our franchise partners.