Trevor and Sam Brocklebank turned their backs on lucrative careers in IT consulting in order to establish Home Instead, a franchise that has transformed the care sector in the UK
Ten years ago, Trevor and Sam Brocklebank had paid off their mortgage, had a healthy balance in their savings account and lived a comfortable life. After a substantial stint in the red, they’re steadily rebuilding their financial fortunes – having started Home Instead Senior Care, the Brocklebanks are feeling rich in an altogether different sense.
Care was a complete departure from the career to which Trevor Brocklebank had become accustomed. After a brief stint in the army and studying for a degree in computing, accounting and physics atLeicester Polytechnic, now De Montfort University, the Warrington-born petrolhead set his sights on a job in the automotive industry.
Having written to all of the car companies, at 22, Nissan offered him a job at its burgeoning business in Tyne and Wear. “When I started, there were less than 80 of us in a couple of portacabins,” says Brocklebank. “By the time I left, eight years later, we were making 100,000 cars a year.”
During the course of his seven years with Nissan, he travelled all over Europe, backwards and forwards to Japan, and was promoted through the ranks to eventually become senior controller, which meant he was responsible for purchasing and logistics of the prototype development programme. An ambitious kinda guy – Brocklebank was the youngest senior controller in Nissan in the world – he began to get bored. “At this point it was just tweaking and fine tuning, and whilst that’s a very important part of the ongoing development of the company, I’m not a tweaking and fine-tuning sort of person,” explains Brocklebank.
Departing for Mercury Communications, which is now part of Cable and Wireless, he thrived in his role as deputy director of purchasing and supply. There was certainly plenty for him to get his teeth into as the company had some archaic practices, he says. “Mercury had a very modern brand image, but was actually a very traditional ex-government- run business full of hierarchy, traditional processes and very inefficient ways of operating,” explains Brocklebank. “We saved about £10m in the first year, although I think that’s more reflective of how badly things were being done rather than what a great job we were doing,” he adds, modestly. “Everywhere you looked there were just massive opportunities to save money.”
Before long, his feet began to itch once more. “One day I realised that all these sales guys coming in to see us were probably earning twice as much money as me and only working half as hard. I thought: ‘someone’s got this wrong – and it’s not them’,” says Brocklebank. He moved into a business development role with Mercury, which saw him putting together propositions for the manufacturing industry, which, given his background with Nissan, was a good fit.
He was so strong in the role that he was headhunted by arch-rival BT, where he stayed for just 18 months, “which was about 17 and a half months too long,” he says, deadpan. “This is going back 20 years, so things may have changed, but back then it was such a badly organised business: things we promised customers didn’t happen, installations didn’t run to schedule.”
Having grown tired of corporate life, Brocklebank decided it was definitely time to go it alone. “I’d spent ten years working to get this big salary and corporate expenses account. Then I got there and suddenly thought, ‘this isn’t for me’. The thought of spending another 20 years doing what I was doing was unbearable,” he says.
Meanwhile, his wife Sam had been carving out a successful career of her own and was working for Deloitte, the professional services firm, as an SAP consultant. “We thought with my commercial background and her technical skills there must be something we could do,” explains Brocklebank.
In the meantime, Brocklebank was given some equity in a CRM consultancy that was starting up, as the founders couldn’t afford to pay him for consultancy work. It was a pivotal opportunity for the wannabe entrepreneur emerging from corporate land. “It was almost like an MBA in running a small business,” he says. “A year later we sold that business to a dot com company and that really was an invaluable experience for me.”
Armed with his start-up business nous, the Brocklebanks set up a business called Mezenet, which became the UK’s leading provider of business intelligence solutions for large corporates using SAP, including the likes of the BBC, B&Q and Unilever. Their first experience of working together as a couple was entirely positive, says Trevor Brocklebank. “I think working with your wife is either absolutely superb or it’s a nightmare. For it to work you need to have complementary skills and mutual respect,” he explains. “I married Sam because I want to spend lots of time with her, but if you’re both off doing different careers the only time you have together is with the kids, so working together is actually a real plus.”
What was a challenge for Brocklebank, however, was acclimatising to an environment where there is none of the infrastructure of a big corporate. “All of a sudden, if I had an HR issue, I had no HR department to sort it out. Or if the office needed cleaning, I’d better get the hoover out and do it myself. And suddenly, I’d have to become an expert in finance and IT and all the other issues,” he explains. “Although technically at BT I’d had a P&L, I never worried about payroll being made or invoices paid; everything all just magically happened in the background,” he laughs.
After four years, in 2004 the company was snapped up by a French company called Unilog. Trevor was doing a year handover to Unilog and simultaneously studying for an MA in business coaching, whilst he considered his next move. “I was working in Paris, they were paying me a huge salary and I was working four days a week. It should have been fantastic – the mortgage was paid off and we had the money from the sale of the business – but it’s just like selling your soul. Once you’ve had the freedom of running your own business, it’s very difficult to go back into a corporate environment.”
After a three-month foray into business coaching also failed to offer the satisfaction Brocklebank was hoping for, he and Sam began considering franchising as an option. “Franchising has always intrigued me,” says Brocklebank. “The business model is great: you have all the power of a big corporate system, but with the flair and passion of a locally owned business. Over the last 20 or 30 years, Sam and I had looked at a number of franchises, but never found the right one,” he explains.
When an appealing master franchise opportunity was advertised in the Sunday Times, Brocklebank went to see trusted franchising expert Iain Martin to ask his view. “We came to the conclusion that it was a great idea, but didn’t really make a difference. Corporate IT is great fun, there’s lots of travel and it can be very lucrative, but you have to question how much difference you’re really making long-term. I wanted something I could be proud of, whereby I could leave a legacy of having made a difference, rather than just having made money.”
Then from his bottom drawer, Martin produced another master franchise opportunity: Home Instead Senior Care. The prospect of running a business that offered superior care to older people appealed to Brocklebank. “In one of those serendipitous moments, my grandfather had been ill and the care he’d got had been rather shocking. The more I looked at what happened with my granddad, the more I thought ‘there’s got to be a better way of delivering care.’”
The Home Instead franchise, that had begun in the United States and now operates in 17 countries around the world, offers clients the opportunity to have high-quality care in their own homes. This would often save them the trauma of having to relocate to a care home.
Taking on the franchise would mean sacrificing their lucrative careers in IT consultancy – but it was a cross the Brocklebanks were willing to bear. “For me, making a difference is far more important than how much money you can make. We were in the very fortunate position of having the mortgage paid off and money in the bank so we could afford to ask, ‘what do I want to do?’ rather than ‘what do I have to do?’ Money is important when you haven’t got any, but I think where a lot of people go wrong is they don’t realise they’ve got enough and keep pursuing it.”
The burden of buying into a franchise in the care sector weighed on the Brocklebanks’ minds. “When things used to get stressful in the IT business, we would take the team out for a drink and say, ‘look folks, it’s not life and death, let’s put this in perspective’. When you’re in the business of delivering care, it can be life and death. That was a huge additional stress, particularly in those first few years of Home Instead,” admits Brocklebank.
After due diligence was completed, the couple received their licence to provide care on February 6, 2006. Unlike lots of franchises, upon gaining the master franchise, the Brocklebanks were forbidden from selling any franchises until they’d proven the model worked in the UK and they could hit the company’s stringent quality targets. “The first year was really running a pilot, running our own care business and understanding how it really worked. Then we started franchising in 2007.”
Even then, franchisees would have to meet very exacting standards. “Because we’re first and foremost a care organisation and a business second, we have to find people who have got a real passion to provide quality care. We get a lot of people applying because they look at the ageing population and think it’s an opportunity to make lots of money. We’re not interested in people who want to do this to make money. Profit is the reward for what you do, but it’s not the reason you do it,” Brocklebank explains.
It’s handy he has such a laissez-faire attitude to money as the couple saw their savings dwindle and had to remortgage their house while the business got off the ground. “About two and a half years in, our bank manager came to see Sam and I. He said: ‘Mr and Mrs Brocklebank, three years ago you had no mortgage and quite a lot of money in the bank. You’ve now got no savings and quite a large mortgage. What’s happening?’” the entrepreneur laughs.
Brocklebank admits that the one mistake he made was underestimating how long it takes to set up a franchise business – and how long it is until the readies start rolling in. “You’ve really got three lifecycles to go through. You set up your own pilot and make that work. You’ve then got to recruit the franchisees and their businesses then need to be successful. It’s only then you start generating a significant income stream,” he explains. “I really underestimated those three lifecycles and the cumulative impact of that. Sam and I ran out of money so we spent a year to 18 months, literally just hanging on day by day.”
The early uncertainty was worth it: these days Home Instead Senior Care UK has 150 franchises up and down the country, provides over 3 million hours of care and employs 7,000 caregivers. It’s won its fair share of gongs, too. It’s currently the British Franchise Association’s (BFA) franchisor of the year, and was voted the number one home care provider by national body CQC.
One of the secrets to the Brocklebanks’ success is undoubtedly their modest approach to business. “We’ve got 150 owners out there, so our job now is much more one of facilitation,” he explains. “Collectively, they’ve got much more experience and knowledge than we have at the national office so our job is to share that best practice and good ideas. I think a lot of franchise companies go wrong because they think they’re the experts in the centre and they’re there to tell their franchisees what to do. I think it’s the opposite. It’s got to be a far more collaborative approach.”