Jeremy Fellows was a college football coach for more than a decade before he ventured into business. After he and his wife, Nichol, moved back to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to be closer to family, Fellows worked as a VP of one company and then as president of another before finding his true passion with FirstLight Home Care. The couple was first introduced to the home healthcare industry when Nichol’s elderly grandfather was in need of a caregiver. The compassion and companionship that individual provided their loved one was enough to inspire the two to get involved.
“Our servant personalities, Nichol’s medical background as a nurse and my business background all came together and led us to become FirstLight franchisees in January 2017,” Fellows said. Now an established business owner in his community, Fellows looked back on his first year of franchise ownership and shared his reflections and advice for others considering franchise systems with 1851.
Fellows said that the competitiveness for employees in the home healthcare industry was something he didn’t gain a grasp of until he was in the midst of establishing the FirstLight franchise. “I’m a coach at heart, so for me, running a business required the same mindset of putting people first and making sure they feel supported,” he said.
Fellows quickly realized that not every business in the industry felt the same way. “We able to tap into resources right away because of our level of care. By being fully invested in our caregivers on top of our clients, something FirstLight said was necessary for success from the beginning, it started this reciprocal effect,” Fellows said. That word of mouth led to people leaving other companies to come join Fellows’ staff.
Fellows acknowledged the stellar support he received from FirstLight Home Care’s accessible business development staff through his first year, but said there were still some things he had to learn for himself. Due to his franchise’s accelerated growth early on, Fellows had to learn on the fly how and when to bring on new team members. “Our success was happening so quickly that we were trying to keep up without the proper support staff and office personnel in place. To accommodate and support business growth meant I had to learn to hire the people at the right time.” Fellows said FirstLight was a valuable resource he was able to draw upon to get a better feel for when to take on more clients and employees.
When asked about what he would have done differently in his first year as a franchisee knowing what he does now, Fellows pointed to employee preparation. “In-home care is an integral part of our business. I wish I would have spent more time preparing employees who came from office settings for what the industry was when we first started. Our business is around the clock and due to on-call times, employees operate outside regular hours,” he said. To remedy that, Fellows established a shadowing program as part of the employment process so that candidates fully understood the breadth of the role and what was expected of them before signing an employment contract. “We are recruiting a different type of person now than we were at the beginning,” he added.
Modifying his franchise’s recruiting practices, Fellows said, has led to some of his proudest moments as a FirstLight Home Care franchisee. “The times that I’ve been able to walk into a client’s home and say thank you to a caregiver, seeing their reaction to support and appreciation is moving. The quality of service we provide to our clients thanks to the dedicated caregivers in our employ makes our product what it is. We’ve built a great team.”
For Fellows, the major takeaway from his first year of operation that goes beyond just his specific industry is to be fearless. “People get nervous to take on their first client or call on others. Don’t be apprehensive about customer interactions, networking and recruiting. You have to just jump.”
Fellows said the best advice he can give new franchisees is to be active, put in work and invest in their own success. “If you think you can buy a franchise and things are just going to happen, you're going to struggle. The support that is there is great, but things don’t just fall into place. You have to treat it as your own and grind as a business owner.”