Visiting Angels Franchisee and Senior
Published May 11, 2021

Putting Others First Is What Puts Visiting Angels on Top

Why building a system of people who love people translates into a winning franchise business model

Visiting Angels is an FBR Hall of Fame Award winner and is consistently named Best-in-Category in the Senior Services sector. David Ritterling, vice president of Visiting Angels, talked with FBR’s founder and CEO Eric Stites about the relational leadership model that that emphasizes serving others that is a foundational part of their success, and how their franchisee satisfaction results from their FBR survey helps maintain that culture of building strong franchisee relationships and identifying the franchise candidates that will be successful within the Visiting Angels culture.

 

Eric Stites: Visiting Angels has been on our awards list now for over a decade. Congratulations on being Best in Category again in the senior care space.

Franchisee satisfaction is not always that easy to obtain. What do you think you’re doing that’s unique in the way you deliver the franchise experience for your franchise owners?

David Ritterling: That’s a really good question. Myself, I had been a franchisee for 16 years and I’ve been on the director staff since 2004. I think what’s really shaped this through the years is our desire to be very interpersonal. I call it relational leadership, where we look for people that love people. We look for people that, certainly, they want to be entrepreneurs, but I think what sets us apart is the fact that we have very little turnover on our leadership team. Our owner, Larry Meigs, is still privately held. Many of us have been working together for probably in the area of 15 to 20 years, so we have a very cohesive team.

We’re all highly committed to that relational leadership model that says you’ve got to love the people around you. That has to do with making sure that the caregivers that go into a home are caregivers you’d put with your own mom and in the same way treating our franchisees like we’re family. We look at our franchisees as family members.

That culture goes into each and every organization. It did mine. We look at this as a relationship with people serving people. The better the relationship is with us, the better we can serve not only our care recipients, which are the seniors, we can serve our caregivers, which are loving on them, and then, we can also serve our franchisees, which are delivering that literally all over the world for us: Canada, UK, Mexico, South Korea, and all across the U.S.

I believe that culture of putting others first — I call it the law of reciprocity — that is a core value that helps us to maintain the relationships at a higher level, which translates into a great business model.

I believe that culture of putting others first — I call it the law of reciprocity — that is a core value that helps us to maintain the relationships at a higher level, which translates into a great business model. It translates into people that have similar goals of service doing something under a great brand.

 

Supporting Franchisee Through the Challenges of 2020 and Beyond

Eric: 2020 obviously was a historic year in so many ways, especially in your sector. Can you tell us a little bit about how you adapted and changed and supported franchisees through that process?

David: It was a very interesting time. I would say the fact that we already had a very close knit group of people, and we have many events through the years. We have business builders, in a good year, where we can gather around and invite everyone to come to in three different locations around the country.

We’ve had a history of having a great conference. We have probably some of the industry’s finest people in our operations team that are working hand in hand with our franchisees. That’s in a normal year.

This last year was a challenge, because all of a sudden, we were relegated to staying in place and all of the things that the virus brought with it. What we found out was, it enabled us to literally increase our contact with our franchisees.

We’ve actually grown our relationships through this time. When you’re in the middle of conflict or something that’s gone on and you have a common goal, I believe we handled it well.

We went to monthly virtual meetings with all of our franchisees. We established on the operations team some protocols to work together to be able to communicate and develop programs that we could deliver to our franchisees in record time and developed programs that could be done through the Internet, educational programs that were focused on the virus, how to handle that, how to take good care of our care recipients.

That was quickly developed through Karon Austin and the operations team, being able to just deliver that. I would call it industry leading information that we got out quickly, capably, with CDC guidelines, all of that.

We were able to deliver the message quickly, using an online virtual forum and with enhancing the amount of time and the frequency of the visits. We’ve continued that and probably will continue that. Literally, every month, we circle the wagons with all of our state franchisees on a call like this, and we’ve leveraged the virtual environment to increase that.

What that has brought us, just to take that to the next level, is you’re not sure what’s going to happen. Is the business at risk? Is this something that we’re going to have a problem staying viable in doing what we do?

What we found out was enhancing the communication, enhancing the cooperation, enhancing the commitment of our team and our franchisees, and we have had a better engagement. We’ve put together an engagement team. That’s worked well for us.

Our numbers have held well. In fact, we’re seeing a lot of growth happening in the industry. We’re happy with how technology’s engaged our ability to enhance our relationships.

Eric:  Yeah. Obviously, 2020 and now 2021, very unique in many ways, and I just can’t imagine for those small business owners that aren’t with a franchise organization trying to navigate that.

Obviously, being part of a franchise organization, a lot of franchisees have seen the value of what being part of a franchise group is all about, especially, again, when you talk about a group like yours that’s been award winning for a long period of time. I’m sure your franchisees are very appreciative of that.

David: I think so. The feedback we’re getting is very good. I always say this affectionately: This is a team sport, and it does take a lot of people to be working on the things that are happening.

Our operations team has been focused on so many areas, veterans, what’s happening with Medicare Advantage, and government programs. We’ve been focusing on what the CDC has been doing. It takes an operations team, like we have, to be able to bring that information together, organize it, and deliver it.

I’m pleasantly surprised at how adept we were to do that. The island theory is the more you think you know, the more you find out you don’t know. That’s exactly what we were up against this year and in the past year. We learned a lot about each other. It made our team stronger, our franchisees stronger.

You’re so right, having like-minded, focused, committed people working together in one direction made all the difference in the world, and this was not a time to be a single owner-operator trying to figure it out.

 

Using the Data with Franchisees and Candidates to Build Better Relationships

Eric: Let’s take a little bit of a different perspective. As I said earlier, you have been on the top of our awards list for years, and best in category many, many times.

As far as the value of the survey and working with FBR, not every franchise organization sees the value of what we do, and I’m just curious to hear from your perspective, the value.

You were a franchise owner before you became a franchisee. You know both sides of that equation. How do you value the feedback you get from the FBR survey and from your franchise owners?

Then, the net follow up to that would be, how do you then engage your organization to keep getting better and better based on that feedback?

David: What I really value is that with FBR, it’s about what our franchisees think of us. A lot of times, a lot of franchises will think about, “Well, how can I influence those who want to buy a franchise?”

I think it begins — the same way I talked about in the law of reciprocity — it begins with the understanding of what our immediate team is thinking. If we have a strong franchise network, we’re going to be able to be strong, as we advance, reach out and add new people into our culture.

The benchmarking that we get gives us an insight to the satisfaction levels, things that we are doing great and things that we’re not doing as well as we’d like to do.

As we meet strategically as a team, we have an operations team, which is very strong and viable industry leaders that have done this. We have a great executive team that works hand in hand. We all share the same goal of serving the franchise group.

The benchmarking that you’re providing really allows us to get the real information. Sometimes, people aren’t as happy as we thought they were. Sometimes, they’re happier than we thought they were.

The benchmarking that you’re providing really allows us to get the real information. Sometimes, people aren’t as happy as we thought they were. Sometimes, they’re happier than we thought they were.

You guys are able to break it down to specific areas that help us refocus on the trends that are happening. What’s happening in resales? Are people wanting to get out of the industry? Are they staying in? What are their biggest challenges?

Then, we, as a team, can structure support that addresses those specific issues. It has been a great relationship with Franchise Business review.

It’s been information that has been so helpful for us to see the trends, to see how things are changing, and to know what we need to do better to respond to them.

It’s been information that has been so helpful for us to see the trends, to see how things are changing, and to know what we need to do better to respond to them.

Eric: When you have that data, how do you approach it from the franchise development side? How do you help candidates understand what it’s like to be part of a franchise organization? A lot of people want to be small business owners, but not everybody is cut out to be a small business owner.

The most successful brands, we find, do a really good job of painting the reality of business ownership for their candidates: the good, the bad, the ugly, and not overselling. You talked about loving people as a big part of that, but I guess how do you really use that satisfaction data with your franchisees?

They think you’re great. We think you’re great, but it’s also a lot of work to run your business, and so how do you set those expectations with folks coming in that, “This is a great business, but it is a lot of work, too.”

David: It’s true. It’s a matter of integrity when you’re delivering your open house or your discovery day. I think that we’ve been very, very clear about who fits here, who will do a great job in this, and be able to be real honest with people.

We do a very, very good job of profiling. We use a profile system that gives us not a personality basis, but I would say, sort of business DNA. We’re able to measure behavioral, we’re able to measure where your hemispherity is…Are you a creative person, or are you going to follow a process? How easy will it be to work with you and your occupational interest.

We do that in tandem with a series of meetings where we just get right down to talking about it at an open house — everybody’s asked to attend one — we just lay it out there. Here are the fun things about doing this, but here are the challenges with that.

If this is conducive to who you are and consistent with what you want to do with passion, we’ll get you there. If this is just an interesting business model for you, then we recommend you look at something else, because the people part of this is the key, and unless you love the people, you’re going to burn out.

We have a very, very solid system in which we have benchmarking for profiling that we’ve done. We can basically tell you, “Are you gifted to do this?” If you’re not, it’s just a matter of being real honest and saying, “You know what? This may be something that’s going to challenge you, and you may want to look in a different direction. By the way, looking at this profile, you’re very gifted in these things.”

We try to send them in a direction that would be best for them. It never works, just to sell something to someone. This is really about finding their best version of themselves and launching them into something that at the end of the day, they look back and say, “I cannot believe I changed my community. I cannot believe I changed my financial situation, and I cannot believe that I left this sector better than when I started it.”

That’s what we want to see. There’re always people that want to buy these, but we want to find the right people that are going to build this and be happy doing it. I think we’ve done a good job of that as our scores indicate.

There’re always people that want to buy these, but we want to find the right people that are going to build this and be happy doing it. I think we’ve done a good job of that as our scores indicate.

Replicating Visiting Angels’ Success

Eric: Lastly, I would ask you, the franchise world is pretty competitive at the franchisor level especially within certain segments. The senior segment is one of those areas that is very competitive. There’re a lot of other organizations out there in this space that get our ranking every year and they’re like, “Damn. How did Visiting Angels get on the top again? What are they doing?”

What advice would you have — whether they’re in the senior space, or other categories — for franchisors —  smaller systems or growth systems coming up — to make that difference and get their scores up with their franchisees? What do you think the biggest differences are?

David: Well, you have to care first. I think that you have to let people know that it’s about them. You have to build their team and focus on investing in the things that they need. Of course, you find that out through FBR — what areas should you be investing in.

I believe your franchisees need to know that you’re consistently wanting to help build what they’re doing. I think that’s where you have to go. Of course, we’ve got the industry’s lowest royalties. We’re on the Internet very strong. We have probably the best recognized brand name in the industry because of our commitment to a long term strategy of media exposure.

I’m fortunate to be one of the ones that does the TV commercials, and we continue. We don’t go on and off. We don’t turn the switch on and off. We are always at 100 percent.

We’re always committed to the market. We’re committed to digital. We don’t waver with that. We’re not in and out, in and out, in and out. You know exactly where we are. We continue doing that, and we continue doing that at the same pace.

Guiding other franchise companies, I would say, be consistent in the delivery. You do that with ad co-op programs. You do that with consistent royalties. You do that with consistency. That creates a long-term relationship they can count on. If you’re up and down, all around, in and out, it’s very difficult to strategically commit to where the company’s going.

I see a fair amount of that. I think that we’ve been consistently doing the same thing, maybe changing direction slightly to respond to Google reviews, which we’ve done a great job on with our engagement team. We’re able to adjust to the changes in cable TV. We’re able to adjust to media changes and what’s happening.

That would be my counsel to franchise companies. Be consistent. Choose your direction. Go there, and do it because it’s great for your franchisees, and maybe not as great for you.

Eric: Perfect. Anything else you want anyone to know about Visiting Angels? 

David: What I’m proud of Visiting Angels is that we have a like-minded company started in 1998 with 10 or so franchises. Larry Meigs, our CEO, still owns his franchise in the Philadelphia area. We’ve not been sold to a group. We still are privately held.

Change and commitment to the leadership…I’ve been with the company as a franchisee from 2000, and I was hired on in 2004 to help motivate and guide. Now, I’m in the role of senior vice president of Global Operations. We’ve worked and dovetailed so well together.

I work in the development department. I’m on the operations team. I’m on the advertising team, still doing TV commercials. That was my background. We’re really working well together. We’re in a lot of different lanes, and we have very little changeover. We’re in a great position that most of us have worked together between 10 and 20 years together, and we keep adding great people to that.

I never thought that I would be, number one, coming out of the military, being in business. I never thought that I would be in business. To look back 20 years later and have been involved with influencing the future of global home care in Asia and Europe, I’m absolutely blown away by what’s happened in our franchise company.

To me, it’s a God thing. It’s a big thing for me. It’s a spiritual calling. For me, I found myself far beyond what I ever expected to become doing this serving people around the world. I absolutely love it.

Eric: I want to congratulate you and your team again. You’re doing amazing things and best in category, once again. Keep going, and I’m excited to watch your success over the next decade.

David: Thank you so much for caring about us, how we’re doing. Our whole team — Jerry Capaccio, our senior vice president of development; Karon Austin, our senior vice president of operations; Scott Parish; Dan Drennen, who you work with and, of course, Larry Meigs, and so many other executives I can’t even mention. We rely on this information.

We wait with baited breath to find out where we came out. We’re so happy to project FBR as a franchise necessity for success. Thank you so much. 


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About the Author: Ali Forman

As the Marketing Director, Ali’s role is to educate franchise companies about and inspire them to participate in FBR’s research in order to grow and improve their brands. Ali lives in Maine with her husband and two sons.
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