Using EOS and a mission-driven culture to propel franchisee growth
Seasoned franchisors know that everything in franchising comes down to the journey – and the lives that are transformed by the businesses they’ve built along the way.
But when it comes to achieving success in the franchise industry, is there something more that franchisors should know about growing their brands into thriving franchise systems? As it turns out, there is. And perhaps no one is better suited to share those secrets than Dustin Distefano and Jerod Evanich, the co-founders of A Place at Home, who transformed their small senior care business into a 25-unit franchise system in under half a decade through an entrepreneurial operating system (EOS) built on a foundation of strong values and vision.
“We [started A Place at Home] because we had a need within our families,
and saw that there was a service out there that people can remain at home and independent. And we thought, what a great service, what a great industry. We wanted to be able to start something that we'd be proud to be able to provide to our families and to the community,” Distefano recalls, adding that he and co-founder Evanich ultimately became the solution to their own problem when they founded A Place at Home nearly ten years ago as a one-stop shop for people seeking in-home senior care in the Omaha, Nebraska area.
Growing a Place at Home
Since then, A Place at Home’s services have expanded beyond in-home senior care to include staffing, care coordination and placement services that connect clients with senior living alternatives. The company has also transitioned from a small local business to a successful, thriving multi-unit franchise system – a decision Distefano says he and Evanich didn’t make lightly.
“When we put all this together, we saw that we were coming into a pretty competitive market here in Omaha, Nebraska. But we were thriving. We were winning Best of Omaha. We were growing – and we wanted to decide, what is that next step of growth? I thought to myself, why do what everybody else is doing? Let's find a different way. I don't always want to be walking in other footsteps. And so if there is another way, if there's a different way, let’s do it,” Distefano recalls.
After funneling everything they had into the new franchise system, the partners opened their first three franchised locations in 2018 – no small feat for the determined entrepreneurs, who had bootstrapped the business from its inception.
“We started with $5,000 bucks when we started this thing. When we went into franchising, we went for a round of investment because we knew we were going to need $100,000 to adequately launch and franchise. We got told no. Again, we figured it out. And today, now we have 25 locations,” Distefano says.
Identifying the pain points … and growing from them
For the co-founders of A Place at Home, a key part of that growth was identifying the weak points in their business model – and developing a mission-driven EOS that not only strengthened them, but established a stronger foundation for the entire franchise system.
“We had to get our house in order – we had to make sure that our business could sustain itself,” Evanich recalls.
To make that happen, Evanish and Distefano switched mindsets – making sure they were fully engaged in the role of franchisors, while taking a step back from the day-to-day tasks of managing the business, allotting those tasks to others after spending a year and a half organizing EOS meetings and getting the entire corporate team aligned with the company’s franchising goals.
“We had to work on the business to perfect the areas in which we were going to franchise. And then we had to put our attention on franchising. So, it's putting on the franchisor hat versus the location, the business in which you've you've grown,” Evanich says.
Part of developing that strong foundational EOS, according to Distefano, was adopting a franchisor mentality by “blocking out the noise” and “growing a thick skin” – something that allowed the pair to focus on franchise sales, growth and development. It also involved learning to step back and allow new franchisees to set their own business goals while over-supporting them in their efforts.
“You let your franchise owners make their goals. Our job at headquarters is accountable to those goals. If they're short, what can they do better to get to where they want to be? We don't make your goals – you make them. And if your goal is to get a Friday off every single week, we'll make that happen. But here's what you have to do to get to that,” Distefano says.
For the team at A Place at Home, that approach has paid off.
A mission-driven, supportive culture
For Distefano and Evanich, success isn’t an individual achievement. Instead, it’s a system-wide effort that involves everyone in the franchise.
“At A Place at Home, you have to be bought into everybody's success. We don't want individual franchisees – we want you to be bought in, and that's number one. …” Distefano says. “Are you coachable? Because if you're not coachable, this isn't for you, because that's how we're gonna get buy-in for these systems.”
Although the corporate team at A Place at Home emphasizes the importance of allowing franchisees to set their own goals, coaching is still a critical part of growth in the franchise system – and it’s something the partners take seriously when they’re working with franchisees.
“We do a meeting with our owners to get their goals set with them. And then they take it to their teams, and their teams then enter their scorecard, so it just trickles all the way down,” Distefano explains. “You see it working for all their schedulers – they have a vision of what they need to accomplish in the quarter in the year. The recruiters know what they need to accomplish, and everyone's on the same page. So it's been very well received.”
Part of those coaching sessions also include teaching franchisees to feel more confident about delegating tasks when they have too much on their plate – a tactic Evanich says can offer significant benefits, including helping franchisees reach their goals as business owners both financially and in their daily lives.
“We don't want our owners working 60 hours. We want them to be able to hire people around them that can facilitate some of those other tasks,” Evanich says.
Mapping the journey
To make sure franchisees are properly supported to meet their goals as business owners – and that they’re fully aware of what’s expected of them – Evanich and Distefano have developed a detailed procedure that guides franchisees through every step of the onboarding process.
“We have different checkpoints that we take all of our owners through, and it starts before they even become an owner. We call the entire process Care Track,” Evanich says, explaining that the process starts before prospective franchisees have even signed a contract – asking them, “Are You Care?”
At a Place at Home, making sure prospective franchisees will fit with the company’s culture and values is critical – and it’s something Evanich and Distefano work hard to validate from day one.
“That initial phone call where they say, ‘Well, I want to be part of the senior industry because I hear it's booming and I can make a lot of money.’ That is usually a red flag,” Evanich says. “[If] someone's coming to us saying that I want to make a difference, that they've had experiences within their life that have led them to this industry – now those are the things that we want to hear. But it starts, again, with the first step of Care Track,” Evanich says.
That process begins with a brief “Spot-On” profile after the initial introductory call, allowing the co-founders to gain insights into who a candidate is, how they think, and some of the characteristics that will determine whether they’re a good fit for the brand’s culture and values. Next, Care Track shifts toward brand education and compliance.
“We teach them all about who we are – our brand. We get into the Franchise Disclosure Document and make sure they have a firm understanding of everything that goes into the business, from fees and initial investment and potential earnings. We are very transparent about that,” Evanich says.
Next, the team at A Place at Home moves into the validation phase, where candidates are able to speak with existing franchisees about their experiences with A Place at Home, before moving into a phase called Care Launch – a task management system that provides prospective franchisees with a detailed list of everything they’ll need to do before opening their franchised business.
“We have adapted and grown Care Launch from the day we opened. But essentially, using a task management platform going through about 215 specific steps, each one of them with other sub tasks, we reverse-engineer their launch process to the day that we have that [contract] signing. And we have every single expectation set forth as to who is doing what, when does it need to be done,” Evanich says.
Staying the course
Although pre-opening support for new franchisees is a key part of the franchisee onboarding process at A Place at Home, the support offered to franchise owners doesn’t stop once a new location opens.
“Now they've learned everything, they've opened the doors, but this is a critical time. … We want to make sure we're right there by their side and that they're actually implementing everything that they’ve learned. We call that Care Coaching,” Evanich explains.
For franchisees at A Place at Home, Care Coaching involves making sure key performance indicators are tracked, goals are established and a plan for success is laid out.
“When we implement our KPIs and a scorecard and goals, what are they going to be focusing on in that next quarter of their business life? Breaking it down into chunks just like that – what is that three-year goal, that one-year goal? What are they going to do? How will we make that happen? So that's when that foundation is laid through that Care Coaching,” Evanich says.
The next step in the process, called We Are Care, focuses on providing additional support to more seasoned franchisees – something Evanich says can make or break the success of a franchised business.
“This is a time when we really make sure that they are making those calls, that the KPIs are in line, and that their growth is set – because at this point in the process, if they don't have the right support staff, they're gonna have a lot on their plate. And we want them to be able to take Fridays off, we want them to go on vacation. We want them to be able to work on the business, not in the business,” Evanich says.
Finally, veteran franchisees eventually become eligible for Care Pro status – a title reserved for franchise owners that have succeeded in reaching specific checkpoints, levels of revenue, customer satisfaction scores, and operating in every service line.
Living their values
The mission-driven culture that makes up the foundation of A Place at Home is based on the values and vision established by Evanich and Distefano – and it’s something the franchise system’s co-founders continue to believe in as their brand grows and thrives.
“Our value set – compassionate, accountable, respectful and ethical – is something that has been a part of our decision-making process since pre-franchising and goes into our hiring process, it goes into our You Care process. That's where the care is coming from,” Evanich says.
For Evanich, those values have played a key role in the franchise system’s success over the last four years.
“I think it's just generally that if you do well by others, then others will do well by you. That if you can help enough people get what they want, eventually, you'll get what you want. … People know that we have their backs. We're not going to ask them to do anything we haven't done ourselves,” Evanich says.
At a Place at Home, that mission-driven culture and strong value system has paid off tenfold – not only for the brand, but also for its franchisees.
“We're lucky that we have such fantastic owners that continue to live this culture. And they believe [in it.] I want to say it's more than bought-in. They're living A Place at Home,” Evanich says.
To learn more about franchising opportunities at A Place at Home, visit aplaceathomefranchise.com.