My big idea: Amrit Dhaliwal's care home franchise Walfinch

Amrit Dhaliwal's friends said he was crazy to enter the home care business. Now his company Walfinch home care is set to become a £20m business in 2024
BizAge Interview Team
Amrit Dhaliwal

Hi Amrit! What's your elevator pitch?

Hi! I'm Amrit Dhaliwal, Founder and Chief Executive of the Walfinch home care franchise. My business changes lives and delivers a growing income. You could do this too. It's a franchise, so we support your business, and we have 150 years combined experience in home care. If you want to help turn home care into something to be proud of, I can show you how.

Why does the market need it?

I've been in home care for 12 years, initially as a franchisee with a big, established home care franchise. I loved helping my local community, but I saw that the home care sector was a decade behind in technology and systems. Most home care business owners came from within the industry and many were not technology-minded. Carers arrived at clients' homes with clipboards, and information was kept on paper in filing cabinets. Visiting their offices was like travelling back to 1975. The systems were cumbersome to operate, information could be lost or unreliable, and communication could be very slow, so it was risky.

I decided to set up my own home care business, Walfinch, as a franchise, but with the focus on full automation and paperless systems, that made for improved communication and administration. That ultimately means better care. Coupled with recruiting the right senior care experts, it made our home care business scalable, so it became attractive to people from other backgrounds. It clearly worked – our franchisees include former bankers, marketing professionals and accountants as well as people from the care sector.

Where is the business today?

Walfinch was founded in 2019. Financially, we have grown over 50% year-on-year for the last three years and we are on track to be a £20million business in 2024. We already have 30 franchisees across the country and are attracting more.

What made you think there was money in this?

My grandad from India was staying with me, and it prompted me to research home care. I could see that the demand was huge, and it still is. There were almost two million requests for adult social care to English local authorities in 2021-22. Future demand is assured by demographics: it’s predicted that 57 per cent more adults aged 65+ will require care in 2038.

I was attracted by the combination of nursing, recruitment and management. But when I researched home care providers I saw that many were not charging properly.

I realised that if you set the profit margins correctly, and used the right systems you could create a scalable business which would attract people who wanted to make a difference while making a profit.

I also checked the competition. Some were very good, but many were just doing what they had done for years, with little ambition to grow or improve. That's why Walfinch has a big advantage. Unlike some 20-year-old franchised care brands, which look backwards for data, we can use data generated today, by the latest systems, to build business forecasts.

What's your biggest strength?

My experience as a home care franchisee. It means I have walked in the shoes of our franchisees, so I can understand the challenges they face and the rewards they get from home care. I understand the business and emotional experiences they go through, and I can support them with empathy, to build a business that succeeds.

What is the secret to making the business work?

In care, your company is a lifeline for your clients, so it must be all about consistency and persistence. As the CEO I now rarely go out on care visits, but I would if it was that or a client not getting a call. As a franchisee, occasionally I had to. The care teams must do this – and they must see that the CEO would do it too. You need to be at the helm even when you are facing difficult times in your life. But you also have to make money. A care company that is struggling financially might cut corners, and in care that can literally be fatal, to both clients and the company.

I find it easier to think of the company as separate from myself. I always consider how it's aspirations can best be met. What's best for the business is not always best for you, but you have to do right by the business. No excuses!

Also, you must keep on learning. Even at the top there's new things to learn, so I always have a mentor or a coach.

How do you market the company?

I never used to believe that care providers needed public relations, but now I have seen how it can help grow Walfinch and help me transform the image of home care I've changed my mind! Now I speak at business events and conferences frequently. It raises our profile and attracts new franchisees, and I learn a huge amount from networking.

We also do hyperlocal marketing, by creating online posts, stories and videos that our franchisees can use. We have some great human stories to tell, and as a growing business, we have some exciting business stories, so we get them out there. We are unusual in the care industry for our level of online marketing.

What funding do you have? Is it enough?

I invested £600,000-£700,000 in getting Walfinch started and building the brand. I think you need to invest at least £500,000 if you are to attract the right people to make your business a success. I am the sole owner, and coming up with that kind of money yourself can be tough, but it is a huge motivator to make a success of it! And, yes, we do have enough money.

Tell us about the business model

I chose to make Walfinch a franchise, because if you want to bring people with fresh thinking into home care, a franchise makes it easier for them. Care has lots of regulations and inspections, so as a franchisee you get support with meeting regulations, recruitment and building a business. It would be risky to enter the care sector for the first time any other way.

I also created a strong financial model that all our franchisees follow. It begins with the aim of each franchisee making a gross profit of 50%, and everything else is worked out based on that. The Homecare Association (to which many home care providers belong) has calculated that providers need to charge a minimum of £28.50 an hour for local authority-commissioned care, just in order to pay their carers the national living wage (anything less is illegal). But for private care, which we and many other home care providers now focus on, you need to charge clients and their families at least £32 an hour. This should allow you to pay your carers at least £12 an hour, so you get better carers, and thus better-quality care. With this model you can make 18%-25% net profit. I tell our franchisees that if they need to make a profit of £6,000 a month, they put that aside right away and work back from that.

What were you doing before?

I owned two restaurants before I turned to home care. Those hospitality and staff management skills were invaluable, and I learnt how to gather and use business data to help our Walfinch franchisees grow their businesses.

Are there any technologies you've found useful?

So many. We have systems to track payments from clients and their families, record shifts completed by carers, and collect data that can help maintain care quality, and ensure that financial targets are met. Our carers are equipped with smart phone apps designed to make client details easy to access, to make observations and activities easy to record, and to allow carers to communicate quickly with head office, the rest of the care team, client's families, GPs and social services. We also use tech that rewards carers for suggesting friends and relatives who join Walfinch as carers, which helps recruitment.

I'm lucky – I am interested in technology and can evaluate its use in care, so that helps the whole Walfinch network, but I believe all care providers should appoint a technology officer.

What is the future vision?

I want Walfinch to be a £100million business within five years, with over 100 franchisees. What's more, I want to transform the image of the home care industry, so carers and providers are recognised as the professionals they are, and I want to make home care services something that everyone can be proud of. It's a challenge, but I am confident that it can be done, and I'm looking for other ambitious people to join me.

Written by
BizAge Interview Team
April 8, 2024
Written by
April 8, 2024