Jeff Bevis, Co-Founder and CEO of FirstLight HomeCare — an FBR top-rated low-cost franchise brand and a top rated franchise for women— talks with our CEO, Eric Stites about First Lights "culture of care" and how the brand manages to rank as a top franchise year after year.
Listen to the full conversation here!
Eric Stites: Good morning. This is Eric Stites with Franchise Business Review, and I have the pleasure today to be talking with Jeff Bevis who is the CEO of FirstLight Home Care. Welcome, Jeff.
Jeff Bevis: Thank you, Eric. Good to be with you.
Eric: Thanks for taking a few minutes this morning and joining us. I guess where I'd like to start is to have you share a little bit, for those that may not be familiar with your brand. Just tell us a little about the FirstLight story, how you got started and where you've gotten the company to today.
Jeff: Sure, thanks. Well, my son and I founded FirstLight in early 2010. I've been a caregiver four different times in my life, starting when I was a teenager, caring for a great grandmother who lived with us, the last few years of her life.
In kind of mirroring the caregiver experience with now, unfortunately, 30 plus years in franchising, that kind of dates me but, the combination of those two things, Eric, to me, really led to our decision to start FirstLight. We had been, as I said, caregivers four different times through my life. My son had helped with grandparents, also in his adult life.
We were never really satisfied. We had different services, different companies that we would contract with as well, and again, being in the franchising world, also saw the offerings through, the franchise companies. So, my son and I had always talked about wanting to be in business together.
The stars aligned and in early 2010 decided to start FirstLight because we thought we could do it, do it better than anybody else out there and with a strong focus on client satisfaction, caregiver retention, and lower caregiver turnover.
What we now clearly define and call our culture of care, that we could really create a new company that had a higher-level focus on service and bring kind of a new level of service standards to the industry.
So, it's been a lot of fun, certainly a labor of love so far, every day. We've grown at a pretty rapid rate. We appreciate the fact that we've had extremely high franchisee satisfaction scores every year, for the last seven years running.
We have been acclaimed as one of the fastest growing home care brands in North America the last three years, have made INC 5000 list last three years. Just made the Forbes top 10 list. So, we really feel honored to have been named and recognized in those types of, accolades.
But, again, most important to us is really that providing a whole new level of service, care, quality to families and their loved ones. And then also be able to be a real growth engine as far as job creation in many, many markets as well.
Eric: Yeah. It's funny I get asked a lot from people that are looking to get into the franchise sector, what are the hot industries. What's a good business? I mean, one of the industries I commonly talk about, is the senior care space, the home care space.
It’s interesting, I mean, obviously this explosion has been going on for a decade or longer now. And really shows no signs of slowing down any time soon, given the numbers in the population. But it is interesting because a lot of people never realize, that there's franchise companies in this space.
You don't necessarily think of franchising, getting into the senior care space. And there are lots of companies out there that provide this type of service to both seniors and others that need home care.
You talked about how one of your big motivations was really to do it better. And so, I guess if you can just explain a little bit more about what it is that really makes FirstLight stand out from other companies, both franchise and there's obviously a lot of non franchise companies in this space too. What is it that's unique about the FirstLight experience?
Jeff: Sure. Well, several things we said from the get go. With the focus on client satisfaction, we wanted to just know and make a claim as having the highest level of client satisfaction in the industry, but be able to have the numbers that back it up. So, for instance, we were the first company industry, going back into 2010, to survey clients on a monthly basis in every single market.
Our industries lagged in that area quite a bit from just even core metrics or core survey process. So, we wanted to make sure we had the client satisfaction numbers to back up that type of a claim.
We know, for instance, now, each day what our client satisfaction rating is, in every office, in every market, every month and also how we're trending through the entire system.
We're at 96.2 percent nationwide, year to date, for instance. So, we also measure the caregiver turnover and the caregiver retention metrics because that has a direct correlation to client satisfaction, too. That also is something that brought a whole new standard to the industry.
Fortunately, more and more of our competitors are measuring client satisfaction. Now measuring caregiver turn over as well so that those are positives.
But I think some of the things that help us stand out is our experience level. We've made a conscious effort in the team that we've built at the franchisor and support levels, Eric, to be unmatched in our industry as far as hands on experience in home care, hands on experience in franchising, and many of our folks have a combination of actually both.
So, we know we can make the claim and back up the claim of having the most experienced management team in the industry. Which correlates directly to our owners not having near as much trial and error, as maybe other franchise owners or certainly independents, because they're able to leverage our experience, and it lowers their startup costs.
Because of having that lower trial and error, making mistakes that actually costs them money as well. I think that has correlated as well to our hours per week, hours of care per week, which is the big metric in our industry, is running easily 50 to 60 percent ahead of the industry average.
So that means our folks are getting up and running quicker. They're building their hours, building their client base, building their caregiver teams much faster than the rest of our industry.
Eric: That's great. I think that probably the second most popular question I get asked a lot is not specific just to the senior care space. Candidates will look at a certain concept and they'll be like, "Well, you know, uh, why can't I just do this myself?" And it's interesting.
I mean, when you rattled through all those metrics, and all those systems, and processes, and services that you guys have fine tuned over the years. That's obviously the value of getting into a franchise, and being able to ramp up much quicker. And learn from others and mistakes, before you.
Eric: So, tell me a little bit, and this is kind of a sore subject. But, most of our listeners, probably have no idea about this, but our former editorial director did an interview with you about three and a half years ago, a woman named Molly Roe. She was so impressed after that interview that she ended up buying a First Light Home Care with her husband Steve, and left us.
Jeff: We really weren’t trying to rob you of an employee.
Eric: Yeah, that's OK. We forgave her and you a long time ago.
Tell us a little bit about your ideal franchisee candidate. Because I know you've got people in your system that come from a whole bunch of different backgrounds. So, what's kind of that common thread that makes this business a good business for someone?
Jeff: Yes, it is a wide diversity. In Molly and Steve's case, Molly being public relations and really a writer, then Steve being an accountant and a finance background, they are good examples.
Less than 20 percent of our owners come from any type of healthcare or healthcare related background. We get a lot of folks that think, or kind of assume that home care is a healthcare background. You have to be a nurse or be in some way related to healthcare. And that's just not the case at all, at least from what we see.
The many backgrounds of our owners, really, Eric, gosh, it spans the gamut from financial background, banking, telecom, IT, education, or financiers, like Steve Roe. I think the common thread in all those backgrounds are a couple of core fundamentals. They all have a passion to serve. And what we see as a servant leadership core, many, over 95 percent, have had a personal experience caring for a family member.
So, they have gone through this adult child experience trying to care for someone themselves and either struggled with it, couldn't find care, couldn't find the right company, couldn't find the quality of care, and then, in doing that found, this industry as an opportunity.
So that's a major common thread. But beyond that, we look for strong presentation skills, strong communication skills, strong organizational skills, and just being able to relate to people. I know it doesn't sound like rocket science, but core fundamental characteristics, those really characterize your ideal franchise owner.
Eric: Yeah, interesting. I think it's probably one of the my more diverse sectors in franchising. Like you said, you can teach your systems and processes, and train on all the services. But, that core part of being people focused in that servant leadership, I think that kind of hits the nail on the head as that's a part of people that you really can't teach.
Eric: Some come to the table with that. So, as a franchisee, you know one of the things that we like to do at Franchise Business Review is open candidates' eyes as much as possible to all the opportunities and franchising.
But we're also very forthright in saying, running a franchise business is tough and owning your own business is tough. A lot of people think business ownership is a piece of cake. So, what are some of the, I guess, challenges then? Some of the toughest things that your franchisees have to deal with on a day to day basis?
Jeff: Sure. I think it's probably a couple of things, and we try to prepare people for this as much as possible coming into the industry.
Probably the toughest challenges are the need for care. And to our earlier topic of servant leadership, people want to help, they want to serve, they want to help respond to family or a senior, or a loved one's need. But we can't be all things to all people.
So, I think one of the biggest challenges of a FirstLight owner is focusing their time and effort, and resources to where they can really help people the most.
A lot of time that relates to even affordability and families that can afford the care and need the care versus, maybe, with someone that needs the care, but doesn’t have a mechanism to actually pay for it. So, as black and white as that sounds, I think that's one of the toughest things that we've seen here people having to grapple with, coming in.
The other component is recruiting as it relates to especially building and keeping a strong quality team with caregivers. And in a job and unemployment environment right now that's a pretty tight labor market, it is not hard to find a quantity of people as far as applicants, but it continues to be a challenge to find quality.
And that is especially folks that will match up well from a culture of care and background, and availability to meet the FirstLight caregiver requirements which are a little bit higher than the rest of the industry.
It's primarily in adapting to or seeing how they can face the challenges of having an overwhelming demand for our type of service, but then also trying to match that demand well with the right people to provide the right level of care.
Eric: Yeah. Obviously, that people part is critical. And that leads me into the next question which you highlighted at the beginning of the interview about the metrics that you do and customer satisfaction, franchisee satisfaction and the awards that you've received.
FirstLight has been on our top franchises list from the beginning. Most recently in our guide that's coming out next month, you hit the trifecta.
For low cost franchise opportunities, top franchises for women, and also strongest leadership. You are on all three lists and as I said, you’ve been on our awards list for years. You know, I'm sure you could take some credit for this.
What do you think is unique within your culture, that really drives that franchise owner satisfaction?
Jeff: Sure, appreciate that. Well, I do think it is kind of our mantra, where it starts with non literal approach to every franchisee's support standpoint, we will do whatever it takes. Meaning visits or calls, evenings, weekends, holidays, we just make ourselves available 24/7, as harsh as that may sound. And some of our team may not always like that either. But we all pride ourselves in walking the talk.
We think that the franchisees are going to be available and try to help their clients anytime with any need. We need to take the same approach. So, our support is very, open ended in that regard and we don't turn away in support requests for any reason, at any time.
We also have taken the approach from day one, we basically over support and over train. What I mean by that is we take the first 3, 6, 12, and 18 months, of a new owner coming on board and we make sure we're actually going through a process of 16 week coaching series.
We're on the phone with them at least once a week for the first four months. More often if necessary. But even from a structure standpoint, we don't leave anybody unattended.
So, they can't get off the rails, or get off track, or if they're met with a challenge and for whatever reason don't feel comfortable calling us trying to get help, we're proactively reaching out to them to try to build that confidence and build that trust with our support team too.
Because we make that heavy investment upfront in both time and resources, and people, I think that has led to that stronger feeling of confidence and integrity across our systems that our owners then feel about us as a support network overall. As you mentioned, we always value the Franchise Business Review satisfaction rating. We kind of see that as our report card. So, our entire team also has in their annual goals, our Franchise Business Review satisfaction rating. We take that to a regional level to match our support structure, that that's our number one of our goal. Everything we do has to help support the franchise owners.
Eric: That's great. Well, I think you got the perfect formula, because it's working really well.
Eric: Yeah, it's good to live by those metrics, both on the customers' side, as well as on the franchise owners' side. So, for somebody listening that may be thinking about getting into a franchise, or specifically getting into your franchise opportunity, just walk us through the investment requirements.
And then the typical ramp up. How long does it take to become a franchisee and how long does it take to get the business up and running?
Jeff: Sure, sure. And from an investment, working type requirement, we run 97,000 to roughly 125,000. That's depending a little bit more on the market.
We have 33 states that require some form of licensure for our business. Nine states are a little bit more intensive. We do give guidance throughout the process for everybody in any state, whether it's licensing required or not.
But that, licensing requirement often times, Eric, means it's a little slower start up, usually by maybe a couple of months. So that's where we have the compensation, Eric, made up in the investment side.
From a process and startup ramp up time standpoint, our franchise driven process typically takes between 10 and 11 weeks. So, we're not trying to make it painful on candidates, but we are by design taking a very targeted, strategic kind of filtered approach to make sure we bring on only the very best people as potential franchise owners.
So, once they go through that 10 or 11 week process, then we have new owner training, which is a 55 hour of prep work that they do, webinar and conference call. Then they come in and go through a week of classroom training with us in Cincinnati. Then we have about 15 hours of post training webinar and follow up phone work that we do with them before actual in market, on site visits start.
So, it's usually about a 90 to 110 day process from the time the franchise agreement is signed to when they will open. So, going through that, pre training work, the classroom training work, the post training work, and getting up and running, and allowing for some time in there, usually 30 or 45 days, from a licensure compliance standpoint.
So, it can be up and running fairly quickly. We have had folks that have done it in a shorter period of time. A lot of it depended just how, kind of how ready they are to make that type of a change.
Eric: Right, right. I imagine, unlike many industries, there's not really much seasonality to it. I mean the need for care is pretty consistent year-round, is that true?
Jeff: Very, very true, yes. In fact, we probably see a little bit of a spike, so maybe a little bit of a seasonal uptick, right after the holidays.
It's a direct result of families getting together. Maybe seeing mom, or dad, or grandfather, or grandmother, for the first time in three, four, five, or six months and their condition has deteriorated. And they realize, "Oh gosh, you know, he or she should not be living by themselves any more. They shouldn't be on their own. They need some type of help."
So, we do see an uptick after holidays, and that's been consistent for all seven plus years now, so almost predictable.
Eric: Yeah. Interesting. That makes sense. So, Jeff, you've been in the franchise world a long time. Any advice you have for people that are looking at franchise opportunities? Any words of wisdoms from the top?
Jeff: Well, I think, across the board, Eric, I would encourage folks to research. Take a deep dive into different brands, different sectors even, because there are certainly a lot of different franchise choices out there and you want to make sure it's the right fit for you, or for your spouse, or business partner, however you're approaching, starting a franchise.
Even if it is in home care or for that matter any sector, I would caution them to make sure they realize that all the companies are not the same. In our sector especially there are big differences in the types of companies, the backgrounds, the experience levels, the tools, the support.
So, if they talk to one company and think that it sounds appealing, but maybe for a reason look at one or two other companies in the same sector, just make sure they do a really solid comparison, and kind of level the playing field because not all companies are the same.
And again, just kind of the last point being, make sure it's the right fit for them from a culture, philosophy, focus, experience, and background standpoint because that makes all the difference.
You're going to work really hard. Probably work harder than you've ever worked in your life before. And you want to make sure that's the right fit and, and you're feeling, that it's the right reward overall.
Eric: Yeah. I think that's great, great advice. We tell people that all the time, there's a lot of great opportunities out there in franchising, but take that time to make sure it's the right fit for you. Because again, it's hard to unwind, I guess, a business once you're into it.
And making sure you have that good cultural fit both, at the corporate staff level, so it's going to be giving you all the training and support, as well as within the franchising network, I think it's important. And I think that's great advice to take your time and explore that.
**Jeff, I want to thank you for all your time that you've given us today. I think it's been insightful. I know people can read more about your company and your reports on our website at franchisebusinessreview.com. And I know that you also have a lot of franchise information on your website at firstlightfranchise.com for anybody that's interested.
And again, just thank you so much for taking some time to share with us today a little bit about your opportunity. And I wish you guys the best of success.
Jeff: Thank you, Eric. My pleasure. Always good to talk with you. Thanks again.
Eric: That's Jeff Bevis, CEO at FirstLight Home Care.