When it comes to franchising, you could say Ken Deary has been there, done that and got the t-shirt. But, as he eyes up 130 franchises for Right at Home UK, he doesn’t look like hanging up his boots anytime soon
From being an award-winning McDonald’s franchisee to presiding over an award-winning homecare franchise, success has never been too far from Ken Deary. And it’s evident who the managing director of Right at Home UK credits most for his rise to the top. “My mother basically gave up everything because she wanted her eldest son to go to university,” says Deary. “Her determination has driven me from day one.”
Growing up in Liverpool during the 1960s meant university was more of a dream than an expectation for somebody like Deary. As a result, he struggled to adapt to life as a student at Leeds. “I was a little uncomfortable in the early days at university because everyone seemed so privileged,” he says. But Deary soon acclimatised and went on to secure a degree in economics, before landing a graduate job at Royal Insurance, which later became RSA.
It’s safe to say his experience of work was fairly limited up until that point; holiday jobs had included stints as a binman and a postman. But the experience they gave Deary was nothing if not invaluable. “Those jobs were great because they really taught me about hard work and working at the coalface,” he says. His passion for sport also instilled him with the necessary drive to succeed. “I wasn’t good enough to be a professional but I loved sport,” he adds. “Coming from a working-class background with a driven mother makes you very competitive and I wanted to do as well I could in life.”
Despite qualifying as a certified accountant shortly after joining Royal Insurance, Deary ascended its ranks to become a senior operations manager. But, after 12 years with the insurance giant, Deary found himself itching for a fresh challenge. “As I spent more years working for someone else, I increasingly had this yearning to work for myself,” he says. However, having just become a father, it was clear Deary couldn’t just launch himself into starting a new venture from scratch. That’s why he turned to franchising. “I wanted to replicate the money I was earning but at the same time be my own boss,” he explains. “And franchising gives you those opportunities if you’re with the right franchisor.
He found it in the shape of a certain fast-food brand. “This was back in 1993 when franchising wasn’t as mature as it is now,” says Deary. “But the one franchise that really stood out was McDonald’s.”
Following a rigorous interview process and nine months of unpaid training, Deary took over the brand’s Southport franchise. And with a successful career at a FTSE 100 firm behind him, he was confident of making a successful transition to the world of franchising. “I am one of those people who just bounces back if you knock them down,” he says. “I knew, given the right opportunity, I would make it work.”
His faith was well-founded. In an 11-year career with McDonald’s, Deary turned the loss-making Southport branch into one of the most successful in the area and opened a further three units across north-west England. And his achievements didn’t go unnoticed: not only did Deary become the first McDonald’s franchisee to be named bfa Franchisee of the Year in 2002, he was also handed a McDonald’s Golden Arches award, which is given to the company’s top 30 franchisees around the world. As Deary reveals, the bfa award would come in handy further down the line. “It was fantastic to win that award but I didn’t realise how important it was until I later became a franchisor,” he says. “It has helped me immeasurably.”
Suffice to say, Deary has nothing but fond memories of his time with McDonald’s. “It gave me a great grounding in franchising,” he says. “It taught me how to get the best out of a franchisee but also what not to do with a franchisee.”
But, like RSA before it, McDonald’s was never somewhere Deary could envisage spending his whole career. “It’s a great brand but it never quite gave me that feel-good factor,” he says. “I wanted something that got me out of bed and made me feel like I was making a difference every day.”
When a local care home went up for sale, Deary saw an opportunity that seemed to tick all the right boxes. “Although being successful in business is important to me, I also have a very big social conscience,” he says. “Things have to feel right for me – and care just felt right.” Having seen his mother-in-law battle cancer for 20 years and his own mother suffer a stroke, Deary already had experience of what working in the industry entailed. “I understood quite a bit about care,” he adds.
Running the home for four years gave Deary an insight into the state of the care sector in the UK. It opened his eyes to the opportunity of delivering the same service to people in the comfort of their own homes; something that was largely the preserve of the public sector at the time. “Domiciliary care in the UK was being provided in the main through the government,” says Deary. “The private side of care hadn’t grown that big.”
Having started to look more closely at ways that he could deliver private homecare in the UK, Deary came across an advert for Right at Home, the American homecare franchise. “They were looking for a master licensee for the UK,” he says. “With my grounding in franchising, my understanding of the care sector and the fact that I wanted to deliver care in people’s homes, it all fitted together fantastically.”
Before he knew it, Deary was meeting Allen Hager, who founded Right at Home in 1995 following a career as a hospital administrator. “Allen saw that people were coming out of hospital and needing support to live at home,” explains Deary. “He realised there was an opportunity there.” You could almost say that Hager and Deary were like two peas in a pod. “I got on fantastically with Allen,” says Deary. “I thought he had the same principles in life. He also wanted success for his franchisees, which is very important to me.”
Deary acquired the master licence for Right at Home UK in 1999 and launched the pilot in Preston the following year. While he could see how the franchise would translate well to these shores, a little tweaking was still in order to make for a smooth transition. “Our system is very regulated in the UK,” says Deary. “So although the overarching principles are there, a lot of the detail has to be different.” Thankfully, the US team afforded Deary the flexibility to make the necessary adjustments. “They have been very mature about that,” he adds. “They recognised that we needed the space to change the model for the UK.”
On the face of it, Lancashire wasn’t the most obvious place to assess the appetite for private homecare. But, as Deary explains, proving the concept in the north was a clear indication that it would work in the rest of the UK. “I guess it may have been easier if we’d have done it in the south but we wanted to test it in a more challenging area,” he says. “It was important to us that it worked there.”
Since then, the challenge has been finding franchisees who can deliver the Right at Home model in all parts of the country. The first franchisee to come on board was Tim Haigh, who acquired the Sutton & Epsom franchise for Right at Home UK in 2011. Suffice to say, he possessed all the attributes that Deary now looks for from each and every one of his franchisees. “He is very professional, he’s ambitious and he’s absolutely dedicated to ensuring his clients get the best possible service,” explains Deary.
And while Right at Home’s franchisees are busy taking care of their clients, head office is always on hand to offer its support. As well as providing all of the necessary training and collateral to help make their business a success, Deary says his door is always open to franchisees seeking some advice. “We never want to be the kind of company where you’re too big to have access to the senior management team,” he says.
It was in recognition of this support that Right at Home was named Emerging Franchisor of the Year at the 2014 bfa Franchisor of the Year Awards. It has also been a finalist three times in the Smith + Henderson Best Franchise Awards, which are based on independent franchisee surveys. “That’s really important to us because it shows how together we are as a franchise unit,” says Deary.
From signing up its first franchisee in 2011, Right at Home has swiftly grown to a nationwide network of 36 franchises, which Deary hopes to take to 130. Suffice to say, finding the right people will continue to be key. “We only want to grow with quality franchisees,” he says. “That will mean recruiting six to eight a year.” Yet with the homecare sector going from strength to strength in the UK, he is nothing but optimistic about Right at Home’s future. “The demographics and long-term sustainability of the business are all very positive,” he says. “This is a sector that’s going forward.”
And it’s not just his company that Deary has high hopes for. After a 22-year wait, he’s finally close to getting his hands on a Liverpool season ticket. “I’m not a betting man,” he says. “But I’m going to put a bet on us winning the league next season.”