When Hannah Drury’s dying stepfather asked her to take over his franchise she didn’t hesitate. Two years later, she hasn’t just doubled the size of the business but she’s also been named Franchisee of the Year by the bfa
Death is a constant companion to franchisees in the care sector. By its very nature, caring for the elderly and people suffering from chronic conditions means that they will face the cold reality of mortality sooner or later. However, it was a loss in her family that set Hannah Drury upon the path to becoming the award-winning operations director of Caremark Sutton, the homecare franchise.
When her mother and stepfather, Debbie and Simon Binner, originally launched the business in 2013, Drury had no intention of joining them. “I honestly thought that it would be boring,” she says. However, that changed when her stepfather was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. The illness slowly deprived Binner of the control of his body as the nerves to his muscles shut down, leaving him unable to lead the company. Looking for a way to ensure the franchise survived, he asked his stepdaughter to take over.
Drury said yes without hesitation. And it wasn’t long after joining the business in February 2015 that she quickly reevaluated her initial impression of it. “It was the complete opposite of boring,” she says. “There’s never a dull moment: there is always stuff going on and you meet a million different people with amazing stories. We do incredible work every day and I’ve learnt so much in such a short time.”
Fortunately Caremark went out of its way to help her prepare for taking on the role of franchisee. “They were supportive in every way,” she says. Not only did the franchisor have monthly meetings with Drury to check her progress but it was also always available on the phone if she had any questions. “They even let me go on the franchising training free of charge because of the circumstances, which was something they wouldn’t normally do,” she says.
Going on this training in April 2015 enabled her to see the business as a whole. “I learned to cover every angle and aspect of the company,” she says. This included learning about the necessary documentation and how to provide care for all potential patients, whether they were old or suffering from chronic conditions. Empowered by the theoretical knowledge, Drury returned to the franchise to get more hands-on experience. “People can tell you how to do things but you truly only understand it when you actually do them,” she says.
The training and the support of the franchisor enabled Drury to quickly establish herself as Caremark Sutton’s franchisee in all but name by June 2015 and she officially took over when her stepfather passed away in October the same year. “My memories of this period are really quite foggy,” she says. “I had both two children and the business to care for. When you have responsibilities like that you go on auto-pilot. You just plough on. At least, that’s what we did.” The loss of her stepfather also meant that she no longer had him as a sounding board to bounce business ideas off. Luckily she wasn’t completely alone. “My mum’s been a massive support to me,” Drury says. “She did take some time off to recover but she’s just getting more involved now really.”
Another challenge was the fact that her franchise was still fairly new. “There was a massive amount of startup work to be done,” she says. “We just needed to put in basic administration stuff to ensure we had a strong foundation to grow upon.” Recognising this, Drury spent a lot of time setting up processes regarding staff and clients. Unfortunately, these processes hadn’t been managed as well by Binner as they could have been during the first years of the franchise. “He had been ill for most of it,” Drury says. “He’d also taken over two companies in the local area so it was all really chaotic. We had to focus on creating solid day-to-day structures.”
However, creating these systems wasn’t the only challenge Drury had to face in her new role. She was also tasked with finding a way to boost the company’s recruitment and retention of employees. “Staff are both our biggest asset and our biggest problem,” says Drury. This is hardly surprising given the care sector as a whole has long struggled with massive skills shortages. According to the Office of National Statistics, there were over 120,000 job vacancies left unfilled in the social-care sector between March and May this year. Bridging this talent gap has been a key priority for Drury ever since she stepped up to lead the franchise. In fact, it’s been even more important than marketing to attract new clients. “We actually have to turn clients away,” says Drury. “So the only thing we market for is new staff.”
But recognising how vital it is for her business and her clients that she finds the right carers, Drury is understandably picky about the people she employs. “We look for people with true passion, empathy and who really care,” she says. In order to boost the recruitment and retention of high-quality workers, Drury has launched several schemes to make the business more attractive for potential employees. These initiatives include discount cards at restaurants and stores for successful referrals, mobile-phone insurance and paying for carers’ mileage. “So we do everything we can to ensure that we hold on to the good ones,” she says. And these efforts have certainly paid off: in the two years since Drury took over, the company’s staff numbers have doubled from roughly 25 to about 50 carers.
And this success has not gone unnoticed: over the years Drury has scooped up several awards. For instance, in 2015 she won the Caremark Achievement Award. “That was basically to celebrate a good handover from Simon to myself and the fact that the company was still growing,” she says. But that wouldn’t be the last accolade the company secured. In 2016 Caremark Sutton picked up a regional award from the franchise due to its continuous success. And at this year’s bfa HSBC Franchise Awards Drury was not only named Young Franchisee of the Year but she was also given the prestigious Franchisee of the Year award. “I was quite shocked actually,” she says. “I don’t know what it will mean for the company yet but it’s obviously really nice to get that recognition since it has been a crazy journey.” Her achievements are even more impressive considering that Drury has made a success out of the company while simultanously studying for a degree in psychology at the Open University.
It’s been two years since her stepfather asked her to take over the business and sent her on this wild ride. And even though it has been challenging at times, she hasn’t regretted saying yes for a second. “It was the best decision I’ve ever made,” Drury concludes. “It’s been incredible. Simon always used to joke that you’d learn more working a week at Caremark than you would doing a business degree. And he was right. It was a massive opportunity and I’m really grateful to him.”