HomeWell’s Franchising Inc.’s CEO Crystal Franz and SVP of Franchise Development Brandon Clifford recently joined Lance Graulich on his podcast “Eye on Franchising.” Together, they discussed HomeWell’s new “Zero Initial Franchise Fee” buying option and the franchise’s proven support system for franchisees.
The following responses have been shortened and paraphrased for brevity; please visit Eye on Franchising for the full podcast.
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Q: How did you get into franchising?
Crystal: I started in hospitality, working in marketing at a hotel for my first job out of college. It was an independent hotel, and we were constantly getting flagged by hotel chains like your Marriotts and Choice Hotels, and it piqued my interest. And so, after a few years in operations on the hotel side, I actually moved on to franchising at Choice Hotels International, and that’s really where I got my feet wet in franchising, working in marketing and brand strategy. I spent seven years there and then did a little stint in an advertising agency, but I knew that corporate franchising was where I wanted to be. I met with the chairman of our current company, Bruce Haase, who was franchising for a smaller brand called WoodSpring Suites. We rebranded that, launched it, changed the operations—kind of overhauled it and did a full 180. And a lot of what we learned there we were able to apply to HomeWell later when Bruce bought this company and brought me on again to do what we did with WoodSpring. And that’s what we’ve been doing for the last four to five years.
Brandon: A lot of people, throughout their whole career or even when growing up, want to own their own business. I grew up in an entrepreneurial household; my father always owned his own businesses, and it was kind of a model for me to determine my own worth and create my own salary and then create opportunities for myself and my family. Once I got out of college, I bugged him about wanting to get into business myself. So, I did the normal sales route out of school and actually worked for a big franchise company, 7-Eleven. After that, I ended up in the restaurant world, even though I had never worked in food service. I grew the restaurant from one location up to three, which was great for a while. But, like everything else, it comes down to fit, right? When I was 25, fresh out of school and joining the workforce, newly married, and with no kids—owning a restaurant was a great fit for me. I loved it. But, 15 years later, with four kids—not such a great fit anymore, right? So now it’s time to do something else. I’ve always been intrigued by the franchise model, especially coming from working with franchisees at 7-Eleven and having seen the ability for someone to get plugged into a system and really be taught how to be a good business owner. And so, I actually set out to find a franchise or get involved in franchising. When transitioning out of my restaurant business, I was doing some franchise consulting, working with many different brands. At the time, I knew nothing about home care. Then when I started learning about home care, especially from a P&L standpoint, I thought this was great. I was used to inventory and spoilage, and with home care, it seemed so much simpler.
You can put up huge numbers with very few clients. You can make a big thriving business for yourself and your family and feel good about it. At the end of the night, when you put your head on your pillow, you know that you made a difference. You know that you helped people live longer, healthier lives at home. So I started working actually pretty closely with HomeWell, and then, after a few months, I was asked to meet with Bruce Haase, the chairman of the board, and Crystal. I was a little skeptical at first because I had never worked for anybody else. Still, I remember Crystal telling me not to worry because the position would be very entrepreneurial. So, anyway, I took them up on their offer, and it has ended up being a great fit. Over the last three years, I’ve just felt really good, Lance. When you’re inspiring someone to bet on themselves and invest in a business, especially in an industry in which you’re making such an impact in the lives of others—it feels good.
Q: People are coming to you who have some entrepreneurial experience and others who have never done anything like it. So, I always have to ask the question—how do people become entrepreneurs? Is it something that they’re born into? What is the secret sauce for business ownership and, specifically, HomeWell?
Brandon: At HomeWell, I love that we open the doors of entrepreneurship. The thing about a franchise that I love is it’s built for people who are those corporate analysts or just thriving in their day jobs who want to get into business ownership. They understand how to take a recipe and build upon it to make it better as opposed to an entrepreneur driven to build things from scratch in an attempt to do things differently.
Crystal: We find a lot of our successful owners are just like you had mentioned—we have franchisees who were born into an entrepreneurial family with entrepreneurial spirit oozing out of the household, and many of them do very well. But we also find a lot of folks with the corporate background—the ones who have put in the time and given their all to everything but don’t really have anything very tangible in their bank accounts or even in their soul to show for it. We think we are the answer to that. So, to answer part of your question from earlier, “why HomeWell?” We’re able to get people out of the corporate rut they’re in when they’re putting in hour after hour day-in and day-out and not really reaping what they sow.
We also offer a simple business model that you can really sink your teeth into without worrying about things like inventory or other factors. In this industry, there is also a very little ceiling. With a typical business, such as a restaurant, you have hours during the day when you’re open and closed, whereas in home care, you can have clients 24/7, and it’s just a matter of acquiring enough caregivers. You can make money in your sleep, which appeals to many of our owners. However, I can’t stress enough how important the emotional tie is to this work. Obviously, you’re starting a business to make money, but there is something to be said about knowing that you’re doing something great for your community. In this particular business, you’re very entrenched in your local community and market. To network with your chamber of commerce, nursing facilities, hospitals and the seniors in your community—that’s something that really makes you feel good about what you’re doing and investing in. Plus, the demand is there. In 2040, for the first time in history, we will have more seniors than youth, and these people are going to want care, and they’re going to want it in their homes.
Brandon: And that age group—the baby boomer generation—have been planning for their senior years. This generation saw the state of many nursing homes their parents were in. Back then, around thirty years ago, a nursing home was sort of the standard for senior care—for when you reached the age where you could no longer take care of yourself. And they saw what happened to their parents and what it was like for them living in nursing homes, and now, I think they’re more adamant about living in their own homes when they get older and avoiding nursing homes.
Crystal: I’ll also add that I think the pandemic has put a spotlight on home care and spread awareness of it. But we still have a ways to go in spreading awareness of non-medical home care.
I think there’s also something to say about the Gen Xers. They’re the sandwich generation, as they’re taking care of both their children and their parents simultaneously and getting burnt out doing it, and that’s when they discover home care. But to know that that’s an option makes them want to plan that much more for when they reach that age where they need help. So, when we’re looking at future statistics like the growth of the senior population leading up to 2040, the demand for home care is unlimited, especially because of its growing awareness and both baby boomers and Gen Xers are planning for it.
Lance: I love that. Unfortunately, my dad passed a couple of years ago, and that was my first immediate experience with home care. And to be clear to the viewers—so there aren’t any misconceptions about what we’re talking about here—this is non-medical home care.
Brandon: It’s very holistic care. It’s like the ultimate resource for the adult child. Crystal highlighted the sandwich generation just now, and I think sometimes, it feels like they are the clients—it’s the adult child with three kids and a job. They’ve moved three times in the last twenty years because of their career, and now, suddenly, their mom slips and falls. They live on the other side of the country, and they’re wondering how they can take care of their mother. They can’t throw away their career, and they have bills to pay and children to take care of, but at the same time, their mom clearly needs help. This is a problem. For our owners, they want to solve that problem for the adult child. Yes, we want to provide the best care for seniors, but we also want to provide the support for their families.
Crystal: And the “non-medical” is important here because you can have insurance cover to have nurses come in and administer medication and all of the health check-ups, but insurance only covers so many hours. And then you’re left with this big swath of hours where your parents still need help and attention. Those things, unfortunately, are often not at the forefront of our minds until they must be. So, what’s the solution? Home care.
Q: Let’s talk about the investment. So, two things: What is the investment? And who exactly are you looking for? Give me a sample–a snapshot of who your current franchisees are now—your top franchisees.
Brandon: According to our FDD (Franchise Disclosure Document), the range is between 100,000 and 250,000 for a single territory. But something that we do a little differently here at HomeWell versus some other home care brands out there is that we typically look to partner with franchisees who are empire builders and understand the scalability of this business. Our network has many owners who operate out of a single office covering three or four territories. Beholden to Crystal’s point earlier, there is no set number of hours or amount of square footage like you’ll see in retail concepts. That’s the thing about home care; you can scale it to be as large as you want. So, while the investment might be like 200,000 or something like that for a single territory, we attract a lot of owners who were looking at other franchises like a gym, and that’s like a million-dollar build-out. They see our model, and they’re like, “wow, for just half of that—$500,000—I could acquire two to three territories. Also, just with $225K, I can deploy $150,000 for marketing over the next year in working capital and achieve the same kind of revenue and return as I would have gotten on the gym without spending a million bucks.
Q: Tell me about your new buying option—the zero initial franchise fee?
Brandon: Our traditional franchise offering is a $50,000 franchise fee that secures the territory based on about 300,000 total population and/or 40,000 seniors. We try to get it based on the demographics; it’s hard to get it right on that number, but it’s pretty close.
Over the last three years, we’ve really focused on opening the doors of entrepreneurship to people who wouldn’t do it on their own; we let them know that we have solutions—we have systems. So, that said, we noticed that the initial franchise fee often becomes a hurdle for them.
“No matter how much you have saved in your 401k, no matter how much you have in the bank, writing a check for 50 grand is a big deal for people. So, as a company, we started looking at ways to remove this barrier, and we came up with a new offering that we just launched in July. In this offer, we’re waiving our initial franchise fee. Instead, we have our $5,000 training fee, and then you’ll pay a 10% royalty rate until you reach $1.5 million in gross revenue. Instead of giving us that $50,000, you can instead invest it into your business.”
Lance: And I know the margins are higher than selling chicken wings, right? It becomes a really low-cost investment. I know because I happen to know you have several franchisees who started with you when they were in their 20s, right?
Brandon: Yeah, we have several people who started under the age of 30. Actually, our biggest franchisee in the whole system was 23 when he opened his business, and now he’s in his upper thirties. And we have had several more in their twenties sign with us in the last three years. I joke with them all the time about how homecare, we’re serving a lot of seniors, but it’s really a young man’s business or a young woman’s business because it requires a lot of energy. It’s not selling wings, so there is no inventory. There’s no spoilage, and P&L is simple, but it’s a people business. Right? You have to hustle—you have to have that mentality.
Q: So—the top 10% of best franchisees in the HomeWell system today—who are they? What did they do for a living before?
Crystal: A couple of them have home care experience. And so, those handful of folks are in our top 10%, but a lot of other ones are also in our top 10%. It’s not so much what they’ve done in the past; it’s their mentality. One of our top owners—they’re winning awards left and right. They always say, ‘we have no quit in us, we don’t know how to quit, and nothing is going to stop us.’ And they actually worked in sales before.
Brandon: A lot of our owners, current owners, they’ve reached like director level or higher in a large corporation. They’re at a point where they’re managing a team of around 15 people, whether a sales or operations team or an HR department—whatever it might be. But the point is that they’re at the top of their department, and it’s hard for them to move up in that corporate structure. And so, these people see that for the last 15 to 20 years, they’ve been building companies for other people. It’s kind of like a natural progression to that point when they realize, “why don’t I just build a company for myself?” But the thing is—they don’t want to reinvent the wheel; they don’t want to have to do all that brand work and come up with a unique selling proposition. To these people, a franchise makes the most sense.
Brandon: Now we use Zorakle, and we focus a lot on their emotional intelligence—that’s a big KPI that we look at because this is essentially a people business. It’s people helping people. At the end of the day, our franchisees need to have the ability to put on a suit, sit across a table from a board of directors of a hospital, and clearly articulate the value that non-medical home care can provide within the care continuum; however, they also need to be the kind of individual who has no problem coming back from that meeting, changing into a polo or t-shirt and meeting with their staff or caregivers. They need to be understanding and willing to sit across the table from a caregiver who has called in sick several times. Maybe their HR manager doesn’t know what to do with them, and they come in, and instead of writing them off, they get down to their level and try to understand what’s going on in their lives and see if it’s fixable. So, all that to say, it’s emotional intelligence and empathy—these qualities can enable owners to thrive.
Lance: So, it sounds like it’s really about having the right attitude, the right personality, and the guts and grit to get out there and do it.
Brandon: Right, and you don’t want to be a micromanager. If you want to scale your business and tap into home care’s potential, you don’t want to be a micro=manager.
As an owner, you have to accept that you’re not going to know all your clients and all your caregivers. However, you will know your director of sales, HR manager, and care manager—you will know the nucleus of your business. And you need to let your managers take care of their side of your business.
Lance: It’s about empowering people. Both of you have a lot of experience with that. We always tell people at the beginning of the franchise process to trust the process; it will all unfold, and you’ll know whether you’re the best fit.
Crystal: And I think that’s the full answer to the question of our top 10%. The best-performing franchisees are the ones who follow our lead. You see, we know these people are joining our franchise for a reason. They can go and do a start-up, but if they’re looking at franchises, it’s because they want the blueprint, and they want what we have to offer. So, take us up on that. Our team at HomeWell—we are so invested in the success of our owners. We all know our owners personally and how their business is performing because we are that invested. We have the tools, resources and training to guide you on how to run a business. So, the top 10 percent of our owners have taken our guidance.
One of the differentiators of HomeWell—particularly in franchising— is that while we give you the tools and help you need, we also give you a lot of rope to determine how you want to do things in your local market. In past franchises I’ve worked for, it’s been very prescriptive. It was “you’ve got to do X, Y and Z; otherwise, you’ll be penalized.” HomeWell is not that—you have multiple revenue sources you can tap into, and a certain one may make more sense for you in your local market versus another HomeWell franchisee in another state. So, we give you all the options and how to make the most of them and let you figure it out. We let you determine what’s best for your business, bring it back to us, and together, we’ll figure out how to do things to help you reach your goals.
Brandon: It’s a personal business because it’s very much a local business, which is why it’s so suitable for franchising. For example, when people decide on how to care for their mother, they want to see that this is a reputable company with the knowledge and expertise, but they want to know the owner. They’re not just going to hand over the care of their mother to anybody. So, as a HomeWell owner, how do you convey the value of your agency’s care and be a personal connection? But, at the same time, you’re also the face of your business. So, because of that, we know that it requires freedom but also some help from us. So, we do a lot to feature our owners and let them tell their stories.
Lance: Many prospective business owners forget that it’s not just a brand you’re joining—it’s a community. At HomeWell, I imagine the best practices of the top franchisees is something talked about and shared quite often—it’s not just what you’ve learned from corporate. There’s a collaboration, and that’s the beauty of franchising.
Crystal: I think you’re tapping into one of our key differentiators. I can say this with a lot of confidence: having worked in many other franchise brands, I have never been a part of a franchise system as wonderful as that of HomeWell. We try to psychoanalyze it and figure out why that is the case. Are we just really good at picking great people? But ultimately, I think it’s because we’re bringing in people who are altruistic. They want to help others. That’s innate in them, which is why they’re getting into home care anyway. So, we’ll have owners call other owners for help when they’re experiencing issues. Franchisees will welcome other franchisees to fly in and learn the ropes from them. It’s that compassion to help others, not just clients but other owners. There’s not really a great sense of competition amongst our owners.
Brandon: Under Crystal’s leadership, we’ve done that strategically—from our Masterminds to our ongoing communication and business coaching. If a franchisee is facing some type of struggle, we can connect them with another franchisee who experienced a similar issue. We try to be a connector at the corporate office, and it’s our main role. As a franchise company, we’re here to guard the brand, ensure consistency, position ourselves for the future, and look at where the industry is going 10 to 20 years from now. We’ll defer to our owners for their insights into what’s happening in their local markets because they’re the ones out there—they’re the boots on the ground.
Crystal: That is a big strategy for us—empowering our owners to tap into our resources and owner network. We have our annual conference each year when we speak to our owners to inform them about what we’re doing and what is coming up. We get feedback from our owners, who say that often the most valuable thing for them is just the time to sit at a roundtable with one another and just talk. So, we’ve intentionally created more opportunities like this, such as our regional meetings. For these, we’re essentially just hosts. We bring everybody in from a certain region, throw out topics and let them discuss, and they’ll talk amongst themselves for hours about these topics. Again, we get some of our best feedback from them during events like this.
Lance: I love it. It’s the classic “you’re in business for yourself, not by yourself,” and that’s what franchising is all about. So, in your Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) and for those of you listening, this document is one that every franchise brand creates, containing 23 items. Item number 19 is the earnings claim. For HomeWell, you actually list all the revenue for all the franchisees in your earnings claim. There were a lot of things that jumped out at me, especially franchisee number 30. The 2022 FDD shows that just one territory achieved $3,467,000 in revenue—that’s extraordinary. And it also shows that he just opened in 2020. So I know extraordinary numbers are coming out of HomeWell, and anybody interested in pursuing HomeWell, you’ll see the FDD at some point. You’ll be able to talk with existing franchisees who have experienced enormous revenue growth through the pandemic. So what do you two have to say about that?
Brandon: It’s not a super anomaly, though—that’s the crazy thing. When we came together collectively about three and a half to four years ago, Bruce Haase, our Chairman, charged us with finding the best talent, and we thought, “what can we do? “How can we be a disrupter?” And since then, it’s been great to have the board’s backing regarding initiatives. If it’s going to help our company and help our franchisees grow revenue, that will lead to more royalties for us and allow us to grow. He’s often like, “don’t leave it on the chopping block because of budgetary concerns—bring it to me.” As a result, we’ve been able to do things to position the brand in the right way to find the right owners. We’ve spent hours and hours diving into those Zorakle personality tests, seeing who our ideal franchisee is today, and from there, what do we want the system to look like in the future to help us continue to craft and develop this persona—we spent a long time doing that. It’s like that old adage about how luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. We spent 2019 preparing HomeWell for the future of home care, and then the trigger moment happened when the pandemic hit in 2020. I remember turning to our owners and saying, “home care was meant for this. You are going to help get the country through this.” I think they latched onto that. So, all that to say, it’s a combination of things from finding the right owners to our business model, the current state of the industry and the perfect timing.
Crystal: In addition to investing in finding the right owners, we looked at our competitors. We did a huge dive into their offerings in search of opportunities that would help us stick out and improve our care. During that time, we completely rebranded our company. We took many of the things all of us (corporate office) learned working for larger brands and franchisors and brought them to HomeWell, a franchise in an industry that was sort of antiquated when it comes to things like branding, messaging or positioning. And we heavily invested in it, completely rebranding HomeWell a handful of years ago. And then, we systematically took every function of our support system for franchisees and broke it down to build it back up stronger. To Brandon’s point earlier, we were about 80% there when the pandemic hit. So, we were almost fully prepared and in the right place at the right time. We had about 20% left in our rebrand and were just putting on the final touches. And so the plan we had set out to do just a few years—we’re already there. We’ve accomplished those things, and now we’re figuring out how to pour fuel on the fire and expand our footprint even more.
Lance: I love it. Well, final words for today. Brandon, you go first— any final words of wisdom or thoughts?
Brandon: If there’s one thing we’ve done well and been very intentional about doing in the last three years, it’s the white glove treatment we’ve given to our franchising candidates. Each candidate is treated like the most important person our representative is talking to. When they sign with us, we focus on ensuring that the feeling of being prioritized doesn’t stop.
We treat the franchise recruitment process seriously; we’ll get to know you, and you’ll meet our family—our franchisees and senior-level executives. When you sign an agreement with HomeWell, we want you to be 100% all-in because we’re 100% all-in on you. You’re going to have a dedicated person walking you through the process all the way up until opening your doors. Then you’ll have a franchise business coach who will talk to you weekly or whenever you need it throughout the life of your franchise agreement.
Crystal: I would just say that if you are someone out there looking for a change, something that you can call your own, and have a potentially huge windfall, financially and emotionally—HomeWell is for you. Give us a shout because, at the end of the day, you’re not just getting a business but a family. And I know that sounds a little hokey, but it’s true. The system is wonderful—I truly cannot say enough great words about the corporate team; they are so invested in the success of our owners. At the most cynical level, I tell people that if you’re not successful, we’re not successful. We’re only getting a small piece of the pie that you’re bringing in. We need you to succeed for us to succeed, but truly it’s past just a need; we want you to be successful. We want that for our owners, and we don’t take it lightly that people are betting on us. When they sign that franchise agreement and choose HomeWell, we take that commitment seriously throughout their entire lifecycle of ownership all the way to their exit. Brandon helps many people figure out their exit strategy because that’s important to us too.
Do you want to build a business that makes a real difference? At HomeWell Care Services, our franchise owners are equipped with the tools, resources, and support to achieve their entrepreneurial dreams and invest in their communities. Take the first step by downloading our franchising kit today.
Our easy-to-read Franchise Kit is a starter packet for all potential franchise owners to help you understand our step-by-step discovery process. You will learn more about the overall investment opportunity, HomeWell’s ongoing training and support, and how we address the needs of your specific market. Ultimately, this guide will help you determine if HomeWell is the right fit for you.