Diversity in FranchisingFranchisee Success StoriesNovember/December 2020

The First Year: Making a Difference

Right at Home Canada franchisee Ash Walani’s career is off to a successful (and memorable) start

By Kym Wolfe

When you’re starting a business, you know there are going to be ups and downs in the first few years, and that there will be some unexpected challenges thrown your way. That’s what makes the start-up process so interesting and memorable.

Ash Walani’s first years in business certainly were both interesting and memorable:  he signed on to operate three Right at Home Canada franchise territories in mid-2018 (Caledon, Newmarket, and Richmond Hill, Ontario), had a busy 2019 as he ramped up staffing and sales, then suddenly it was 2020 – the year COVID-19 arrived in Canada.

Right at Home Canada provides home health care services focused on seniors and others who need assistance with daily living activities. When COVID-19 hit, the immediate concern was ensuring staff and client safety. “Being a health care business, COVID hit us hard in every way. We had to be fluid to adapt to the new realities. We had to ensure they had proper PPE and training. The franchise head office team was on top of it all – they kicked in around-the-clock meetings, new policies and practices, and provided daily updates,” says Walani.

Right at Home Canada offers shared services to franchisees, including a team of schedulers that Walani chose to use short-term. “On my own if would have been impossible to keep up – it was stressful, but I never felt that I was alone.”

Franchising with a purpose

Walani had searched for more than a year before choosing to invest in a Right at Home Canada franchise. “I’ve always been entrepreneurial, and I was searching for a business that had the potential to be profitable, but also one that had a social and personal purpose, something that involved community engagement,” he says.

He followed the advice he now gives others who are weighing their options: “Study it, ask many questions, and know what you are stepping into.” He chose a franchise system because he believed it would be difficult to compete in the home health care market as a small independent. He chose Right at Home Canada because it’s a fully Canadian company that offered a ‘family’ feeling, and a level of autonomy that allows him to put his own stamp on his business, but benefit from the framework and systems that the franchisor has in place.

“I did the two-week initial in-class boot camp training, and it’s been non-stop ever since. With Right at Home, you get very good training to develop business strategies, but you need to do the work to apply what you have learned. This is a fast-paced business, and the franchise offers continual support – online, by phone, and hitting the pavement alongside you – I feel like they’re always there when I need it.”

While some franchisees have health care or senior care experience, Walani doesn’t, so he hired staff with that expertise. “It would be beneficial, but honestly, the way this franchise is built and with the training provided, it is not required. The head office team knows the Canadian health care system, and their combined knowledge and support system is absolutely priceless, especially when something like a pandemic hits,” he says. “If I was an independent business, I doubt I would have had the fortitude to survive.”

Walani’s priorities in his first year were focused on staffing and sales. “To be successful, you have to go past the low-hanging fruit. The first three or four months, I spent most of my time pounding the pavement, going to hospitals and doctors’ offices, getting out to places in the community where I could meet seniors and their family members. My vehicle is wrapped, so I spent time driving every day. I could tell it was arousing curiosity, I could see people snapping the contact information with their phones. I also hired a business developer and a care plan manager, who was the first point of contact for clients.”

About 90 per cent of Walani’s clients are families, the balance are a mix of insurance companies, retirement homes that need short-term assistance, or other third parties. They can connect with his locations directly, through the Right at Home Canada website, or through the central 1-800 phone number. “We have a very systematic and cohesive relationship that works well,” says Walani.

Ready to grow

One of the challenges in year one was managing cash flow. “Funnily enough, fast growth can be quite challenging because when clients kick in, they kick in quickly,” he says. “There was an immediate need for payroll, and I would advise any new franchisee to have a contingency for that. But it was a good problem to have!”

The majority of Walani’s workers are personal support workers (PSWs), but there are also registered practical nurses (RPNs) and registered nurses (RNs) on the team. Initially, he did all of the hiring himself, but as the business has grown, he’s started to delegate some of that work. “In the beginning, you need to work in all the areas and know the whole business. But you need to delegate or you will limit your growth. You can’t grow the business if you are always in the day-to-day grind. The nice thing about being the owner is you can choose what you like to do. I still do a lot of hiring because I like to know the staff.”

By year two, Walani had recruited close to 80 staff, many of them working part-time. “Prior to COVID, there was a lot of mobility and some staff worked for other employers. We are stricter about that now, and moving to have dedicated staff that work only for us. We need to screen them [by phone] each time they go into a different home, and we’ve been using the franchise’s shared services to assist with that. Now we’re looking at how we can take some of that work back and start doing it ourselves – but in the meantime, it’s a good thing that option was there.”

As with any human services business, the most rewarding part for Walani and his staff is the impact that they’re having on people and their quality of life. “Most seniors want to stay in their home, but they or their families realize that they need some help to do that. Whether it’s light housekeeping or companionship, or assistance with bathing or getting dressed, we really do want to make a difference and give families peace of mind,” he says. “We get to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and we do it in a personalized way. We offer a boutique service, with our care planner as our concierge. It is absolutely humbling to see the gratitude we get from families whose loved ones are in our care.”