How to run a care-at-home franchise

Paul Barry opened his first Bluebird Care office two years ago in Chichester with his wife. They have since opened two further Bluebird Care offices in Reigate and Sutton and acquired a fourth in Epsom/Kingston
Worked for IBM Business Consulting, responsible for developing and managing the consulting streams for Banking and UK Risk Management, and as an investment banker
Key tips:
Be prepared for a tough first year - it's all-consuming at first but gets easier
care home zimmer Paul, can you give us an outline of a typical day?

Paul Barry: There is massive variety in my daily routine. I tend to have a monthly and quarterly routine. 

So each month I do a business review office by office looking at what’s working best in terms of care workers and marketing to customers, where we need to improve what we’re doing in terms of IT systems, the financial impact, what needs to improve from a service-delivery perspective. 

And that tends to work on a week-by-week basis. Then quarter by quarter we’ll take a more strategic view, which results in a number of projects, maybe knitting together IT systems or doing something different on the PR and marketing front.

So my days vary enormously – and I absolutely love that.

FS: How much more difficult is it managing multiple offices?

PB: I think that depends on your background and outlook. I probably had a greater skillset for putting in place a team and managing and incentivising that team. 

Once we had one office running, for us it was a natural step to open more offices

My skills were best served not by being an operations manager in a single office, but by identifying the very best operational team and giving them the best resources. And then I want to find the best care workers and marketing techniques, and that can just as easily be served working across more than one office as it can a single office.

Once we had one office running, for us it was a natural step to open more offices. But others might look at it differently and just want to focus on being an operational leader in one area. It’s horses for courses.

We’ve had to develop our own operational and organisational model for running multiple offices, so we have our own accounts function and marketing person and therefore we needed to invest in a different way.

FS: What are the biggest challenges in this sector?

PB: That’s very easy for me to answer in that my previous roles have involved managing small teams, so the numbers may have been big in terms of investment banking and consulting, but we employ over 180 people now. 

Nothing I’ve done before has prepared me for employing so many people in terms of HR processes, from hiring to training, incentivising, disciplinaries where needed. 

FS: How supportive has the franchisor been?

PB: There’s always a natural tension between franchisees and franchisors because you have loads of ideas and I’m a relatively creative business person. Sometimes you need to contain them because you’re working within a franchise model. 

However, I’ve found them very supportive and I’ve heard a lot of complaints about franchisors and business meetings. We both want Bluebird Care to be the most recognisable name in UK care homes, so we’re trying to put that in place.

FS: Has anything surprised you, or anything that might be a bit different? What’s the big lesson that you’ve learned from this?

PB: The franchise buying process was a more difficult than we expected – and I’ve advised a lot on mergers and acquisitions.

If you acquire something and you want to take it in a different direction, that often needs a cultural change, which is very easy to put down on paper; it’s very difficult to make it happen in practice. 

Otherwise we were quite well prepared. Everyone we spoke to in the network was very open about how it was going to be very difficult for the first year. 

It’s a great sector, but it’s tough in the first year. The hours are long, the commitment is massive and if you’re not prepared to put everything aside in your first year you will be ill-prepared. 

About The Author

Adam Bannister Writer
Adam Bannister writes for all titles in the Dynamis stable including, and as well as other industry publications.