Secrets of a Franchising Granddaddy

Posted by Pete Gilfillan and Nat Truitt on May 28, 2021 1:07:00 PM

Have you heard of the "Silver Tsunami"? As Baby Boomers age, they will need more and more help.

On this podcast, we discovered that the average distance between a parent and their adult child is 260 miles.

What happens when parents need help and care?

Eric Little from Right at Home joins Nat and Pete to talk about how his franchise helps care for aging loved ones and how they are helping franchisees succeed. 

We also hit on Porsche driving instructors, baseball coaching, and multitasking.


Pete:                Well, good morning, Nat. A little cold out there today, yes?


Nat:                  Yes. I was walking to work, and I forgot to check the temperature. And then I'm like it feels like winter's here already, it's still only October.


Pete:                Well, when you have 26 degrees, and we've already had a couple of light snows. Yes, I think we're on our way to winter, that is for sure.


Nat:                  Winter is coming.


Pete:                Speaking of winter. I grew up in Minnesota, right? And my mom is still there. And I was thinking about this a little bit; this is a big week for her. She's lived in her house for over 20 years. And basically, she's decided to move into assisted living.


Nat:                  Oh, wow.


Pete:                But what's amazing to me is the industries around helping her, helping her through the move, and just overall support. Because I was reading the other day, a lot of people as kids with their parents getting older, live in different states.

And that's something that's kind of unique out there today. That more people are not by their parents anymore. And the reason I bring this up is because my mom's Minnesota, I'm out of state. And bottom line is that there's some cool companies helping her through this all this stuff.


Nat:                  Yes. I always kind of feel like it takes a village to help busy corporate executive, executives like yourself, it's like you've got your kids. You're kind of like sandwiched between your kids, sandwich between your mom. Especially when you're out of state, I don't know. I think you have to really find some good resources to help you manage all this.


Pete:                Yes. One that's really cool that I didn't know about until last year, somebody told me about it, is you can have like an advocate.

So kind of a senior advocate where they help, whether they're going to the hospital and they need somebody to go kind of check them out. To just helping them with their daily lives, in terms of paying the bills and kind of stuff. So almost an on-ground quarterback, which is very cool.


Nat:                  Yes, excellent. I know a lot of people have caregivers coming in, which is kind of coincidental. Because we also have a great guest today, Eric Little, with right at home. And he's going to talk a little bit I think about his caregiving company.


Pete:                Yes. So let's bring him in, let's get right into it. Good morning, Eric.


Eric:                  Hey, what's going on, Pete.


Pete:                Oh, this is good, great to have you here. Now you are the chief development officer of franchise development for right at home, right?


Eric:                  That's right.


Pete:                How long have you been there?


Eric:                  I guess about 12 years, yes. A little over twelve years.


Pete:                Okay, that's very good. So how long is right at home plays in the in-home care business? How old are they? How long has right at home been around?


Eric:                  Well, it's interesting this is our COVID year, but it was also our 25th anniversary year. So we've been open for 25 years and had all kinds of big stuff planned for this year. We've been franchising for 20, and so we had all of that set; we were going to have our annual conference, we were going to celebrate it. And now all we have is a logo.


Pete:                That says 25 years, yes absolutely. Yes, I think we're all having a little bit of that kind of year; 2020 will be one to certainly remember. So when we talk about the income in-home care industry, I mean it's a huge industry when we talk about kind of helping people. How big an industry is it?


Eric:                  Well, it's interesting, because it's very fragmented. And those industry numbers aren't readily available out there. We've looked, but there's just, everything gets lumped into healthcare, right? And so we're part of the healthcare industry which is billions and billions of dollars.

But I'll tell you there's over a hundred companies that franchise in the space, as of right now in 2020. And then there's a whole bunch of other companies that are independents as well. So I mean it's a big industry, and it's only going to get bigger just based on the demographics.


Nat:                  You guys are one of the granddaddies in the industry, aren't you?


Eric:                  You mean that in a positive way, Nat?


Nat:                  Yes.


Eric:                  Yes. We're actually if you look at the system-wide sales, there's all different ways to measure it. But we're number two on the list when it comes to system-wide sales. And so I mean that's one of the things that really sets us apart, is just we have such size and scale now that we have a lot.

I talk about building an information machine, right? If you build a machine that can collect and disseminate and organize information for everybody. The machine just gets smarter and smarter and smarter as it grows.

And so now we've got about 500 locations here in the U.S. that are operating today, and we've got another 150 or so outside the U.S. So you've got eight countries worth of people feeding this machine, and it just gets better and better and better over time.


Pete:                Yes. So when you talk about a big part of your business as seniors, right? And that population, the baby boomers continue to be the fastest, I think one of the fastest-growing demographics, is that right?


Eric:                  Oh yes, absolutely. I mean it's one of the only businesses where you can literally just pull out a census report and say, wow, this is going to be a good business, right? Because you look at the growth in that population, and the birth rate has actually gone down, right? So that's declined a little bit.

And so you go from the baby boom era, where there was an average of four kids per family born, and you look now, and it's about half that, right? So what would have happened in that scenario was all the baby boomers had all those brothers and sisters, and they said, you know what, I think we'll just have two kids, we're good.

And so interestingly, that little scenario there plays out over and over again. And so what's happened is the baby boomers, and this is what people don't really unless you think all the way through this, you don't really realize this about this business on the surface.

If the baby boomers had three or four siblings to help out taking care of mom and dad when they age, and then they grew up and had half as many kids, there's half as many people to take care of the boomers now, right?

So we've had all the success, and we operate in 46 states, and we've got almost half a billion dollars in system-wide sales. And we're not even taking care of the baby boomers yet, right? So I mean it's just going to get better and better and better.


Pete:                Yes, because the older baby boomers, I think, are in their mid-70s right now.


Eric:                  Yes. So that's an interesting stat. As you mentioned earlier, I've been here 12 years. And so when I first got here, we were all about the 10,000 people a day turning 65, and we had lots and lots of success with that.

But the reality of it is we're not taking care of the boomers yet, right? Most of the boomers are still healthy. But what we know in our business, based on the data, is the sweet spot for us is the 75 and over category, right? Because obviously, as you age, you have additional needs.

And so if you look at 2021, that's when the boomers turn 75, that's the first year the boomers will be 75. And so for us, we really see that kind of hockey stick getting ready to happen in 2021.


Pete:                And I also think that one of the stats out there that you see is that more and more kids live away from their parents in different parts of the country. Where before, we live in the same city, and so now I need somebody to kind of help out mom and dad as they get older.


Eric:                  Well, yes, it's interesting. I don't know if you've seen this or not, that's where the question came from, the comment came from. But the AARP actually studies this. And so it's uh 282 miles is the average distance that an adult, that's what we call them.

Adult child lives from their aging parent. And so that's not a hey, I'm going to go check in on my way to work and get mom out of bed, right? You got to hire somebody for that.


Pete:                Yes. And I've got a mom that lives out of state too, or I live out of state. However, you want to look at it. And I was just talking to Nat a little bit about this idea. There's industries that are advocates for them, my mom is moving into assisted living place, and essentially there's companies that help her move.

I mean it's pretty cool, all the support. But I need that because I don't have time to drive back to see my mom and help her out as much as I'd like. So let's talk a little bit about right at home. So right at home, you kind of talked about you are number two in the industry, in terms of the way you guys look at it.

So I want to go through kind of your competitive advantages; what makes you guys so special? So if I'm looking for somebody to take care of my mom, what are the three things that kind of separate them? So let's do this one at a time, what's the first thing that separates you guys from everybody?


Eric:                  Well, I think the first thing, and it's an important one, is I talk a lot about the founder of our company, his name's Allen Hager. And Allen is a long time, was a long time a healthcare administrator.

And so what's interesting about this, it's not so much about Allen, but it speaks to the fact that we are really the only one that has a foundation in healthcare, right? All the other ones I've ever come across that are franchising in senior care didn't start from a health care place; they started from a franchising place.

So what I tell people all the time is, we're good at franchising because we've been doing it for 20 years, and we learned along the way. But we didn't get into this because we're franchising people; we got into this because we're healthcare people. And so we really understand where we fit along the healthcare continuum, right? So we understand that, and this is really undisputed, it's one of the few things that everybody agrees on from the politicians to the clinical people, that home care actually does bend the cost curve down for health care expenses, right?

So we keep people safer at home, we make sure they're taking their medications, and they don't screw up and pick the wrong ones. So for us, I think that the number one for me is that that foundation and healthcare, we're the healthcare company that happens to use franchising as our growth strategy.


Pete:                That's awesome. You guys do different levels. So when you go into a home, some companies that play in your space don't do like nursing and stuff like that. You guys offer the full range to your customers, is that right?


Eric:                  Yes. And that was going to be my number two, so I'll take that, thank you, Pete. So we do offer the full range of services, and so everything from companion care, which is just cooking, cleaning, running errands.

To personal care, which is a lot of hygiene surfaces, so helping them get dressed and helping them brush teeth, and those kind of things, do their hair. And then not all franchisees offer nursing, but they have the flexibility to do so.

And so that's one of the interesting things about the business model as well, is most of our franchisees are okay with just the first two, we've got about 20% or so that will provide nursing care. If they do, there's a process we go through with them, and there's training they have to go through, and there are licenses they may have to get with their state.

So there's insurance changes, so it is more complex but from a consumer's perspective. If you don't want to have multiple companies coming in for all those different services, it's a great value add.


Pete:                That's great. So you add a lot of value to the customers, all right. What's the third one? What's the third thing that separates you guys?


Eric:                  Well, I mean you asked about it from a consumer's perspective and all, this will cover both the consumer and the business side of it. Which is we're right at home is a company where it's easy to belong, right? And so whether you work in the corporate office or whether you work in one of the franchise units out there, there's just a really strong culture.

So I know that probably everybody who's been around the company for as long as I have probably feels that way, and that's because you don't stay that long if the culture's not good, right? So I think that trickles down to the unit level as well, and how we communicate with the franchisees, and how they communicate with their employees.

So I think that when I think about our system, it's a very diverse system out there in terms of the folks that work for us. It's very collaborative, so I mean this company, perhaps more than any other I've seen really, is we listen to the franchisees, genuinely listen to the franchisees. It's not just hey, let them be heard, and then we're going to do whatever we want.

It actually is very collaborative, we've got a strategic leadership council now. So we used to have a separate franchise advisory council from our ad council, right? And then we merged those two bodies together here in the last year. So there's so many ways for them to collaborate now, and so that's the third one for me, is just the culture of the company.


Pete:                So let's talk a little bit about that relationship, that culture between you and the franchise partners, right? So we just went through a crazy seven months, and it looks like we're going to go through another, it's going to be here a little bit longer.

So I always like to ask how did you help your franchise partners through the last seven months? Because this has been just a wild storm that we went through?


Eric:                  Yes. That's a great way to put it, wild storm, that's exactly what it's been. And so I when this first hit, I mean there was no playbook, nobody had a playbook for this, right? Nobody knew what to do; you had to figure it out. And so I always joke that our CEO loves a good crisis, and man, he thrives during those kind of time.

He really does; I mean, he is. When this stuff happens, if there's something bad that's going to happen to you, like you just want him on your team because he's like, okay, here's what you need to do, we need to do this and this and this. And so that's what we did, I mean, we sprung into action.

The very first thing that we did was we started meeting twice a day for an hour and a half. So we put together a COVID committee, and so each department head was on there, and all the senior leadership team was on there. And twice a day, literally we come in first thing in the morning, okay what'd you hear last night?

And it was like there weren't a lot of defined roles at that time; it was just okay; who heard what? And then we'd talk about it, and then we go do some stuff for a few hours, and then we come back at three o'clock. Okay, what changed since this morning? And that's how fast things were coming in the beginning.

So we did twice-a-day meetings with that team, probably through the summer, and once on weekends, I think, once a day on weekends. So we do once on Saturday, once on Sunday, and then twice a day during the week. So that was the first thing we did. Beyond that, I mean there's just so much; I've got them all up here on my screen.

So if I look away, that's why it is. But I mean first thing we did was, the second thing we did was buy PPE, right? So we needed to buy masks and gloves and all of that, and we bought way too much, and I mean I don't know how into that you look. But there were all sorts of scams out there; franchisees are like, who do I buy from you?

I've got all these people emailing me. And so we went through sourcing with those folks and experienced some of the challenges there, and so we just bought a bunch of it. And one of the things we did is those first few rounds, we just all got together as a leadership team and mailed it out to the franchisees, right?

Just put together boxes and figured out a warehouse here in Omaha and just did it. Then later, we spun up an online store, right? One of the other really interesting things that we did, is we did, we used to do like these quarterly or maybe monthly every once in a while kind of town hall meetings.

Well, we started doing those once a week. I mean the preparation for those, I mean with that many franchisees, you can imagine with a corporate office, there's all kinds of resources that are poured into making this thing perfect, and making it interesting, and making sure we're content-rich.

Well, we didn't have time to do that, right? We had to get out there and over-communicate with our franchisees, and so we did. And all of a sudden, you know, on zoom, you can see the number of attendees, all of a sudden we're like holy cow, they're all on here.

In fact, the first one, we were like, oh, we saw it filling up, and there are certain limits, I guess on the maximum number of participants, so we started kicking people in the corporate office out of the call so that we get all the franchisees on. And then I mean there's a whole bunch more; the last one I'll leave you with is we really believe in over-communicating with the franchisees.

We already had that philosophy before. We started four private Facebook groups. And so the idea behind those was to give franchisees and their specific office staff and clinical staff a place where they could share information back and forth. So all of those really were COVID related, and there's a lot more, but it's worked out really well.


Pete:                Well, congratulations on stepping up as leaders and partners and communicating, right? And I think that's the key thing to getting through, working through it. So how are the franchisees doing? How have they weathered the storm? Is COVID-19 been good for their business, or tell me a little bit about that?


Eric:                  Well, and I think as it relates to the response, one of the things that's happened that I don't know if I was necessarily anticipating it, we still do those weekly town hall meetings, right? And so the attendance, we don't have all of them on there anymore, but the attendance at those is still really high.

But we're out of, it's no longer just COVID stuff that we talk about, right? It's just more stuff that we would want to tell them if we had the opportunity to talk more often. So that's one of the big benefits of our business has been the engagement with the franchisees has increased significantly, right?

When COVID hit, we went down as a system about 12%. And I'll tell you, like one of the things we didn't have at that time and in February, March was we weren't looking at our hours build every single day. So hours in our business is the metric, right? We track the number of hours of care and that our franchisees bill.

And so we weren't looking at daily hours, we weren't looking at what days were busier, we weren't looking at what weeks and months were busier. And all of a sudden, we had to build it, right? We had to build this dashboard that told us how our franchisees were doing because we wanted to know like how bad is it, right?

And so you can see in the graph, I mean it goes right around mid-march; it just goes straight down, right? And then from there, it starts to make the, so half of it's a V, and then the other half of it is kind of a U, right? A really wide U., And so just in the last month, we got back to where we were before COVID.


Pete:                Do you see people are less interested in moving into an assisted living place? And just want somebody to come into their house because they're afraid to go into these assisted living places? So I got to think that's good for your business going forward.


Eric:                  It is. I mean, one of the things that was important to us though getting back to the culture comment I made earlier, we did not want to appear to be trying to profit off of this thing, right? So we were very careful.

Immediately we had franchisees saying, hey, I'm going to go out there and say you'll be safer at home, and we said don't you dare do that because you can't guarantee that that person is going to be safer.

But the reality is if you're at home, and you're not around 50 other people, or however many are in that facility, it is going to be better for you, right? The chances that you're going to be safer are higher than if you're in a shared community. And it's not really going to be anyway typically.


Pete:                Yes, but you're lonelier. Okay, got it. So, unfortunately, or fortunately for you, as we're going to kind of finish up here. We're going to ask you five success questions. So you're the first one we've ever done, so this is a whole new opportunity that you get to experience as being a guest, all right.

So the first question is, all right here we go, and we're just going to go through these fast. What's the best piece of advice you have, [Inaudible 00:19:08.15] all right, and let me get my microphone in the right place, all right, very good. All right, what's the best piece of advice somebody's ever given you?


Eric:                  The best piece of advice somebody has ever given me; I've had that question a lot over the years. One of the answers I usually give, I don't know if it's the best, but it's definitely up there. I had a college professor; he was a marketing guy years ago. And I was having a one-on-one conversation with him.

It was one of those classes where I was in there with 300 people; he didn't know me from anybody. I went after the class one day to talk to him about career advice, and he said Eric, figure out what you love to do and then figure out a way to get paid for it.


Pete:                Awesome, great advice. All right, what's your favorite book?


Eric:                  I'm a big baseball coach. So I'm just going two, I'm just going to give you one. One of my favorite books that I happen to be reading it right now it's called the lens, and it's by a guy named Travis Dougherty; he was a basketball coach in Indiana. Just a real, he's a real collaborative guy, real teamwork-oriented guy.

He coached my son's baseball team, and so this book, the lens, is just something I've really enjoyed reading. What I found is that when you coach kids in baseball, a lot of those same lessons with bigger words transfer into the corporate world.


Pete:                All right, very good. What's your top productivity hack? What productivity hack do you have that you can share with people?


Eric:                  Productivity hack; I don't know if I have a hack for productivity. I tell my son that multitasking is just doing more than one thing poorly at a time. Productivity hack? I don't know.

I just do a lot of Google drive stuff, so between coaching the baseball team and presentations for work and all that. I use those public drives a lot.


Pete:                Okay. What would be the one thing you would share with business owners that would help improve their success?


Eric:                  Yes. How long do I get for this one? We could have a whole show about that. One of the things that I'm a big fan of is having a long-term perspective. And I think sometimes business owners don't give themselves a break, right?

They get into the business, and at least in my case, most of them have never owned a business before. And so what I try to explain to them is that you're going to step your toe, you're going to make mistakes. Give yourself room to do that. And one of the ways you can do that is by having a long-term perspective.

And so people make fun of me for my boat analogy, I'm going to use it anyway. If you're navigating a boat, you can't look right in front of the boat to get where you're going; you have to look up on the shore, right?

If you're looking right in front of the boat, the water is choppy, and it's moving around, and you get distracted by that. But if you look on the shore, that's directly where you need to go, and I just think that that's great advice for business owners. have a long-term perspective, both when you're looking for a franchise and while you're running it.


Nat:                  That's some gold right there, Eric.


Eric:                  I believe it is, but there are plenty of people that made fun of me, for that matter.


Pete:                Now do you do? I know you teach racing, right? Porsche racing, is that right?


Eric:                  I am technically certified as an instructor, I have never been what's, the right word. I'll just say it this way, I have never actually instructed anyone because I haven't found the courage to get in a car with somebody who's never done it before and not be driving myself.


Pete:                How about if Nat and I come down and we can be your guinea pigs from that standpoint?


Eric:                  I would do that. The challenge is when the kid's 18 and he's like yes, let's go racing, and I'm like yes. Going fast is fun, but you have to be able to stop too.


Pete:                Well, yes, and I think that analogy of looking further down the track when I went through some driving schools. You know you look further down the track, again it's not in front of you, it's out there. All right, last question, do you create goals for yourself?


Eric:                  Do I create goals for myself? Yes. Actually, one of the things I'm working on right now. I have the benefit of being able to work with an executive coach.

And so one of the things I told him that I wanted to do on the last call was I want to build out an accountability sheet for myself, right? So there's sort of three categories for me that I want to focus on right now. So you want to hear about those, I don't know if it'll be.


Pete:                No, we don't necessarily want to hear that. But there's some great systems out there. I just know the way it's going to go here.


Nat:                  That's definitely, though.


Eric:                  It was going to be good.


Nat:                  Yes. I mean thinking about taking that long-term vision and then having, and like an executive coach, I mean that makes a lot of sense that that's a big part of your success, is that you're in it for long term. And kind of taking care of those short-term and long-term goals.


Eric:                  Yes. I mean, I had some good training about a year ago that talked about some of the stuff, and just leadership and how others perceive you and those kinds of things.

So I think it's important that you're intentional and thoughtful about your purpose and how you're living your life, and it's really hard to do that by just blowing from day to day; I think you have to have an intentional approach to it.


Pete:                Yes, I think that's right. Well, I mean, congratulations on all your personal success and right at home success, it's going to be fun to watch you guys continue to move forward with that kind of stuff. So thank you so much for being a guest with us today, it's been very enjoyable. And thanks for what you shared with us.


Nat:                  Thanks, Eric.


Eric:                  Well, I appreciate you guys as well; I miss seeing you. Haven't seen you in a while.


Pete:                Yes. This new world of zooming, so that's why. All right, so let's go rock and roll.

Topics: Franchise, How To Build Wealth, entrepreneurship, becoming a franchisee, Podcast

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