The Goal-Scoring Franchisee
“I came away from that two weeks training thinking, wow, I'm glad I chose Caremark.”
When asked for advice by new Caremark franchisees, Robert Johnstone (Managing Director of Caremark Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire) has two magic words – think ahead. "You prepare yourself for challenges by thinking about them. I think three to five years in advance all the time". He attributes this forward-looking mindset to a long career in international retail – but as a teenager, ‘football daft’ Robert was also a promising centre-forward, getting interest from major clubs before taking his humble village team to the Scottish Cup. And it’s easy to see the ambition and tactical focus of a striker when he says, “I think we're the fastest-growing Caremark franchise ever, but Caremark would have to confirm that!” Robert’s targets might be different now, but he’s still keen to score goals.
The moment the idea of working in the care industry occurred to him was quite unexpected. “I remember one Saturday listening to my wife and her mum talking about their work in the care sector - 'my wages are rubbish, I'm always rushing around, I don't have enough time'”. Robert sat quietly listening with a glass of red wine and thought 'I could run a business better than that!'.
This seed of an idea began to grow further after his extensive career in retail, encompassing just about everything from delivering TVs in Birmingham, to setting up the first-ever branch of Next in Moscow. When a final spell back in the UK ended in redundancy, he found himself looking around and thinking ‘what am I going to do?’. Initially Robert – now an impressively youthful 62 – thought he’d be happy to leave things there. “At first I said, I'm just going to retire. Yeah, I've got a reasonable pension, I can downsize my house, a little cottage out in the country. And that’ll be me.” However, he and his wife Tracey quickly realised he wasn't cut out for a sleepy country cottage retirement. He seems allergic to boredom – he always takes his work laptop on holiday.
So various ideas were considered – “We sat around for probably over 18 months, looking at different things” – before the idea of homecare franchising was crystalised as the ideal choice. This initiated a typically thorough search for the right fit. “I found about ten different companies that all offered homecare franchising, I wrote to them all. I spoke to six of them, and eventually met face to face with three”. In the end, Caremark was Robert’s top choice among them all. Alongside Caremark’s unbeatable management service fee, it was the great rapport with the team that made the key difference. “It was a better fit in terms of Caremark’s vision and their approach - how they saw things in the future. It really resonated with me”. In his own words, Robert is a “very decisive person” once he’s made his mind up, so it wasn’t long before he and Tracey found themselves directors of their new Caremark business.
It's also clear that he and Tracey embody a useful blend of Caremark skills. Robert is very proud to give back to his community and to be a great local employer, however, “I'm not the carer type of person”, he admits with a smile, “…but my wife is!”. Together, Tracey’s caring experience and his business experience have aided their journey – “Tracey found all the initial clients, and she helped me with all the understanding of the care sector.” Although, as he is keen to add, Caremark’s comprehensive training and ongoing guidance means that experience in either field isn’t by any means a requirement.
Enthusiastic about both learning, and sharing his learning, Robert is an active business development mentor to some franchisees – while himself seeking advice about care sector issues from others. There’s a wealth of know-how within Caremark that’s of huge benefit to franchisees, and it shouldn't be left unused, notes Robert. “In a business like this all the other franchisees go through the same as you're going through, but some of them have been going a bit longer, so you can pick their brains about how they dealt with something. You've just got to ask the question and reach out to people”.
It was also Caremark’s knowledge capital that helped Robert truly appreciate – even after signing the franchise agreement – the real difference in quality that the company delivers. The training course involved some real studying – and this just further demonstrated to him that Caremark was serious about being the best. “I came away from that two weeks training thinking, wow, I'm glad I chose Caremark. It was good fun - but it also pushes you a bit and challenges you, which was good. I was actually a bit put out at first because it's not an easy ride, but that training really stood me in good stead.”
This was back in 2018 – how are things looking in 2021? “We're way past break-even and making some money. And that's great. Watching the bank account grow is just a fantastic feeling. Anybody that doesn't tell you that, I'm not sure why they're running their own business!” – so even the work-loving Robert has no excuse not to put his feet up on holidays to Italy, plus a cruise trip coming up soon. It's not all plain sailing though… “Recruitment can be a challenge.” he freely admits. As well as finding the right people, you need to be prepared for the swings and roundabouts of staff being suddenly unavailable, or simply moving on – but then that’s why it makes good business sense to be a fair employer and have better retention than your competitors.
And the future is bright – asked what the prospects for even further market growth are, “Huge” is the verdict. Robert also has plans to expand the way technology can add value and help clients when a carer isn’t on duty. Always looking ahead, the next goal is in his sights already.
Robert is clearly proud of creating an outstanding business that provides excellent care. He’s a ‘bluntly honest’ person rather than a show-off, but the fact is the vast majority of feedback for his Caremark office has been overwhelmingly positive – “We get inundated with 'thank you's’ and 'well done's”. He’s never regretted choosing Caremark, whose business model and ethos pair perfectly with his own tremendously high standards. As he puts it, ‘it’s a no-brainer’, with quality making the difference. “If this business was anything like the one that my wife and her mum spoke about that Saturday night,” he says, “I’d have to sell up and do something else!”
Jakob Pii, Point Franchise ©