Jeff Huber, President and CEO, Home Instead Senior Care

Jeff Huber, president and CEO at Home Instead Senior Care, talks with, FBR’s CEO, Eric Stites about the brand’s beginnings back in 1995 and how it has since grown to more than 1,200 units around the world. He also discusses the deeply personal roots of the business, the criticism the brand faced when they first began franchising and much more. You can listen to the entire discussion here:

Read the Full Transcript

Eric Stites:  This is Eric Stites. Today, I have the pleasure of talking with Jeff Huber, who is the President and CEO of Home Instead Senior Care. Welcome Jeff.

Jeff Huber:  Eric, thanks. It is always good to be with you. I appreciate the invitation.

Eric:  Yeah, thanks for taking a couple of seconds today to share some thoughts about Home Instead with us. Home Instead Senior Care is one of the largest senior care companies out there in the franchise world, but I know there’s people that are listening today, that probably haven’t heard of you.

Can you just give us little background about how the company got started and where you got to today?

Jeff:  Sure. Today, Home Instead Senior Care is the world’s largest provider of homecare services for seniors. All of our services are designed to allow our clients to remain living comfortably and safely in the security of their own home, wherever they call home.

We have about 1,200 franchise locations in 13 countries around the world. This year we will provide about 80 million hours of care to our clients. We have a particularly heavy emphasis, and focus, and expertise on the area of dementia and Alzheimer’s care.

We continue to advance our mission of enhancing the lives of aging adults and their families, but we didn’t start out that way of course. Actually, we started nearly 25 years ago here in Omaha, Nebraska where we’re headquartered, with a very personal experience and first‑hand need for our service.

Lori and Paul Hogan are the members of a very large family. He had five brothers and sisters. His mother was 1 of 12 in a family and their grandma ‑‑ Grandma Manhart was in her late 80s. She was living alone. She was in failing health and rapidly declining.

The family had a big family meeting and said Grandma may only have months to live. Whatever we do, we are going to make them as comfortable as possible. They made a big decision. They were not going to move her into a nursing home, which, at the time, they thought was really the only other option.

They exercised the first option, which was to move her into the home where Paul grew up, his mother’s home. He had like 50 cousins and Grandma Manhart had like 60 great grandkids. Most of those folks lived within an hour’s drive of Omaha.

Despite all of that help, they were still having a really hard time putting together a schedule when people could be with Grandma Manhart and help her do the things she wanted to do like go to daily Mass or prepare meals or take her to her hair appointments and those kinds of things.

It just caused Lori and Paul to wonder what do other families do who are faced with an aging loved one and don’t have the resources and family that we have. That was a big part of the idea.

What they found was when they were able to put together that kind of support system around Grandma Manhart and allowed her to be connected to the people and the things and the activities that gave her meaning in life, rather than rapid decline, her health turned around. She lived for another 11 years and actually had a very fulfilling life in the end of her life. That was the seminal idea for Home Instead Senior Care. Paul fortunately had a background in franchising. He was working out of college for another home‑based franchise in the cleaning industry here in Omaha so had an understanding of franchising, had an understanding of home services.

His mentor at that company had said to him at one time, “If I were ever to think about another business I’d really focus on the aging, senior demographic.” Those two things came together.

With Grandma Manhart as our very first client, Lori and Paul struck out on their own. That was 1994. We began franchising a year later, really ahead of schedule. Some friends and family approached Paul and said, “Hey. I love what you’re doing and we’d love to be among your first franchisees.” Fast forward to today where we have 1,200 around the world and provide 80 million hours of care.

Eric:  Wow. It’s a great, great story. It’s amazing. To your point of Paul’s family and all the cousins and [laughs] as large as it was, still couldn’t provide all the care that Grandma needed. Obviously, it’s a service that is desperately needed for a lot of people.

In franchising, it’s become probably one of the biggest and fastest‑growing segments over the last decade, the whole senior care space. I’m just curious – what do you see that’s unique about Home Instead that really makes it stand out from all the other brands that may be out there? I know there’s also a lot of mom and pops in the industry as well.

Jeff:  Yeah. I’ll talk about what’s unique in a second. Your question caused me to remember. In the early days, when Paul would talk about this business and franchising, he got a lot of criticism and said, “Franchising is for retail and it’s for fast food. This kind of service can never be franchised.”

Your comment about it being one of the best franchising sectors right now is just a testament to Paul’s vision for how this business could work, and actually franchising as a model. Because this is such a deeply personal business, really having that local franchise owner who cares deeply about the clients and their families and of course their caregivers has made it successful.

Getting now to your question about what’s made us unique is that recognizing the deeply personal roots of our business has to remain at front and center for us. It is all about relationships, certainly between the client and the caregiver, but with their family, with what we call our key players at the local level, and of course our franchise owners in here.

Maintaining an intense focus on all the different relationships is one of the things that makes us unique. I would also say we’re by far the largest, most successful, have a global footprint, so in this industry, bar none.

That does a couple things for us. One, it gives us a level of collective intelligence and experience with 75,000 caregivers in homes today all around the world, 80 million hours of care. That is just an incredible, vast database of knowledge and expertise and experience that we are able to leverage to improve upon the care experience in any one home.

We also see that as a unique responsibility that we have and as a platform that we have to take our leadership role as the largest, and then do something really significant with it to benefit all seniors everywhere.

We could have a podcast on this alone. The world is really facing an incredibly unprecedented, historic demographic shift. Never happened in the history of the world where, for the first time in the history of the planet, there are more old people than young.

That inversion, as I like to call it, the inversion of the aging pyramid, is creating all kinds of challenges on just about every system you can think of, certainly the healthcare delivery system, pensions, transportation. You name it.

We know, because of the efficacy of home care, that we can be such a big part of the solution to what is really a crisis. It’s an opportunity as well. There are significant challenges. We want to use our platform to help bring solutions.

That leads to things in innovation, thought leadership. We’re real involved with The World Economic Forum. I serve as a governor on The Future of Healthcare. Paul is on the very highest level of thought leadership when it comes to dementia, serving on the World Dementia Council. We do a lot in the Alzheimer’s space.

Those are a few of the things that make Home Instead unique – our size, our deeply personal, relationship‑driven focus and our commitment to thought leadership and providing real solutions to what I argue is maybe the greatest societal challenge the world has ever faced.

Eric:  Yeah. No. The numbers are staggering. When you look at the population and how it’s growing as far as the number of elderly, it does. It puts strains on everything. You guys are doing an incredible job, I know, in [laughs] many different areas beyond just the core services that you provide.

I want to jump back a little bit because you talked about the relationships that you have with your franchisees as well as your caregivers, as well as the end client – both the person that’s receiving the care as well as their family. Relationships are so important in franchising but it’s so hard to actually master that.

Home Instead has been rated number one in the senior care space in Franchise Business Review’s research for years, and number one overall for a number of years as well. [laughs] What’s the secret sauce that so many other companies look at you and want to emulate that but can’t? I’m just curious if there’s something that you can point to that really makes a difference in the system.

Jeff:  [laughs] Yeah. Everyone’s looking for a silver bullet. What I would say is there is not a single silver bullet that has led to the success we’ve enjoyed and the relationship we’ve enjoyed with our franchise network. It’s a combination of a number of things.

First and foremost, I’d say we’re just extremely deliberate about it. This really comes from the values of the founders, which has led to a culture that now transcends globally, about relationships and just putting a relationship first.

If we have a relationship with our partners, we can work through whatever challenges and opportunities we have and make significant investments in time. That’s played out in a number of different ways.

Of course, we have our Franchise Exchange Council, which is a really formalized place where we have deep conversations about challenges and opportunities that we face together as a network. We participate heavily in state owners’ meetings. Our franchise owners like to get together and do some planning and talking and strategic thinking at the state level. We participate heavily in those.

We have a program we call PerforMax, where we benchmark our system on a number of operational and financial metrics. Then we provide certainly lots of training around how to improve upon those.

Then we get together in what we call performance groups, groups of 10 franchise owners. We facilitate all of those. That’s a huge investment we make to improve upon the operational and of course the financial outcomes of our franchise owners.

We have an annual growth summit which is really the leaders of the organization. Then we make a significant investment to get the top owners together to brainstorm and to talk through things. We have a convention. We get our international partners together.

It’s really about facilitating lots and lots of conversation, all guided by a common mission that transcends. We’ve created a really compelling vision, which we try to transcend down through the organization and then translate that into concrete action and results.

You and I have talked about this a lot in the past, about having a very strategic communication plan and thinking differently about communication, not just getting a newsletter out but how we use great communication. At the heart of any good relationship is good communication. You have to be strategic and have a plan about it.

I also say we make really significant re‑investments in the business constantly, trying to keep our franchise owners cutting edge with new tools and resources to be successful in their markets and of course measuring franchise success. I’ve got to give you a lot of credit here, Eric, and Franchise Business Review because we use those results as, OK, this is our last best performance. How do we improve upon it?

I’m always talking to our team here like, “How do we get 5 percent, 10 percent better?” How do we use this data to help us advance the company forward? That is one key input that we have in helping to not only create our strategic plan but advance our communication goals with the network.

Again, it’s not any one thing. It’s just a combination of all those things. I guess over time, starting from the founders, it’s just been built into our DNA to make sure that we view our franchise owners as key strategic partners in advancing our mission and really creating a spirit of unity.

We’re not going to have challenges. Over 25 years in a rapidly growing, very dynamic industry –the speed of change is only increasing and the magnitude of changes are only increasing. Having a deliberate focus on working, collaborating together, communicating well with one another, is just going to be even more critical.

Eric:  That’s a great lead‑in to my next question is when you look at the senior care space, the industry as a whole, and if you’re looking at it from an investment standpoint, a business standpoint, it’s a very attractive model, probably one of the most profitable businesses that’s out there. You guys obviously lead that in your unit‑level economics. The numbers are very appealing.

I know that there’s so much more behind it than just the financial side of the business. I know it’s not an easy business to run. Can you just talk a little bit about the pros and cons from a day‑to‑day franchisee standpoint? What are the best parts about the business and what do you hear from your franchisees as far as what are the most challenging parts?

Jeff:  The best parts about the business are just the outcomes that we’re able to deliver to our clients and their families. We are truly making a difference in people’s lives. It really is a mission‑driven organization. Collectively, they’re making a difference.

We can prove that when we’re in the home, our clients’ usage of the healthcare delivery system goes down dramatically. Not only are we making an individual impact but we’re making an impact to help improve the overall healthcare delivery system. The nature of the relationships, it is a very relationship‑driven business. Relationships are one of the things that give people the most meaning and satisfaction in life. Having a deeply personal relationship‑driven business is among the most satisfying things.

We like to talk about how there are great rewards that show up on financial seeds, but there is an incredible reward that just can’t be captured anywhere in a spreadsheet. That’s very, very real, but hard to quantify.

Among the challenges, there is this huge demand and growing demand. To do this business right and well, there are incredibly complex relationship‑driven dynamics at the local level. To do that at scale is challenging.

You have client‑caregiver dynamics. You have family dynamics. You have people with significant health and aging challenges. Trying to provide really personalized care at scale, that’s the big challenge for us. Go ahead.

Eric:  I was going to say, “What does that look like on average?” Describe the size, number of caregivers for an average franchise owner and the size of the business that they’re operating.

Jeff:  Average is one of those numbers that is a little funny to talk about. I would say the average size of our franchise would be probably 100 to 150 caregivers and about as many clients.

On average, we’re in the home about 25, 26 hours per week. It’s a really fairly intense amount of care that we’re providing. To be able to operationalize that scale, we’ve recognized that we have to make significant investments in the leadership development of our franchise owners.

In the early days, it’s a much easier business to manage when you have 25, 40, 50 clients and caregivers. Really, to be able to manage at two, three, four, five, in some cases, five, six hundred clients and caregivers, that really takes a different level of leadership.

It takes a true team, a care team, to be able to provide that sort of personalized care at scale. For the franchise owner, that’s a different level of sophistication and leadership. We’ve made big investments in helping our owners grow personally and professionally with the business as the business has grown.

One of my personal wishes, for the legacy of Home Instead, that is, not only this is a great business, but it’s a great place to be if you want to grow professionally. I want us to have a reputation and a legacy of growing great leaders throughout our network.

Eric:  That’s interesting. [laughs] It’s another great lead into my next question, which was basically, “Who is your ideal franchisee candidate?”

If you can talk a little bit, too, about how you’re at 650‑plus locations in the US and Canada. How much more growth do you see, new territory versus existing territory? I know you’ve got some franchisees that are probably getting ready to retire themselves. Who is that ideal candidate? Where do you see the growth opportunities for them?

Jeff:  From a pure franchisee’s standpoint, my first comment would be – and you know this, but it bears repeating it – that franchise system, it all comes down to leadership at the local level. That is the big variable in the equation.

The systems, the tools, the support, the marketing, those should all be pretty much universal. The big variable is going to be, “Who do you have as a franchise owner?” and their leadership and commitment and culture fit.

One of the things that’s really made us successful is recognizing that, and then being really careful and selective about who we bring on board to plant the flag for Home Instead in that local market. That person is going to make most of the difference in the success of our brand there.

I like to say it’s pretty easy to sell franchises. It’s another thing to really grow a quality brand through franchising. That requires really careful attention to who you bring on board.

We’re looking for people who are a great culture fit. We have a unique culture that begins with that original founding story of it being deeply personal. We look for people who have a connection, have a heartfelt desire to want to work with seniors and make an impact.

Yes, it is a great business. If their first line of inquiry is about, “How much money can I make?” then that’s not going to be a great fit for us.

Yes, we want them to be financially successful. First and foremost, we want them to be focused on leading teams that provide incredibly great care for our clients and their families.

To date, it’s also a much more sophisticated business than it was. We’re looking for a track record of success and business acumen, that service mind I talked about.

We’re looking for people. Our model is really about owner‑operators. For us, the game is not about, “How many stores can I put up, etc., in the market?” We’re looking to take managers in all those places.

Our model is really about providing local leadership to care teams locally. We really want our franchise owners to enjoy great personal lives. We do want them to be the primary provider of a leadership locally and grow teams. That’s who we’re looking for.

Eric:  That’s pretty clear. That’s a strong leader. As you said, finding that right person, whether you’re hiring somebody or bringing on a new franchisee, it’s so critical to your long‑term growth.

Jeff, before we go, any insights or last‑minute pieces of advice for somebody that’s looking at franchise opportunities, whether they’re considering Home Instead Senior Care or other franchise opportunities, what advice would you have for candidates today?

Jeff:  I get hit up all the time for advice. “I am thinking about a franchise. What do you think of this franchise?” I would say, for somebody who’s looking at franchise opportunities, you have to consider who the franchisor is. You’re going to have a relationship with that franchisor. What’s that going to look like?

Yes, we all have franchise agreements. They’re just a necessity of a system. That’s important to understand. Understand, “What’s the financial picture?” and all those kinds of things.

First and foremost, is the franchisor and the network of franchisees, is that really someone ‑‑ or a group of people ‑‑ that you really want to have a relationship with? That fit has got to be right. “Whatever opportunity they’re looking at, examine that first and foremost,” would be my first piece of advice for someone looking at franchising.

For our industry, we’re really at the very front end of this opportunity. I talked earlier about this massive demographic shift, unprecedented. The oldest, the front edge of that is really only in the early ’70s. We don’t really enter the picture traditionally until the late ’70s or early ’80s.

There is a very bright future in this marketplace. It’s growing. It’s dynamic. It’s got a lot of personal rewards. Of course, it’s got financial rewards for people who care deeply about providing quality care to their clients.

Eric:  That’s great. I want to thank you for your time today and sharing all these insights. I wish you the best of luck here over the next couple of decades. You guys have done some amazing things. I expect to keep seeing more. [laughs]

Jeff:  Eric, I just want to say thanks to you. You really provide an incredibly valuable service Franchise Business Review. Really, we use it intensely. It helps us to get better.

You help elevate franchising in general. It’s a big driver for our economy. The more we can have quality business people out there, that’s just good for everyone. Thanks for doing your part as well.

Eric:  Absolutely. I appreciate that so much. Thanks, Jeff.

That’s Jeff Huber, President and CEO of Home Instead Senior Care. For anyone that’s interested in learning more, certainly, you can find out more information on

Also, visit the Home Instead Senior Care website at Click on the Franchise Opportunities link. Thanks, Jeff.

Jeff:  Thank you.

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