The founder of Australia’s largest home and healthcare franchise group says she sold the business to a like-minded global company to strengthen her organisation’s position in the evolving aged care market.
Trish Noakes announced late last week that Just Better Care, which she founded in 2005 and currently has 31 franchises, had been acquired by Caring Brands International. The global operator, which is the parent group of Interim Healthcare in the US and Bluebird Care in the UK, has 50 years of experience providing community-based aged care, nursing, mental health and disability support services.
Ms Noakes said Just Better Care would maintain its local caring focus with customers and funders but benefit from the strength and resources of an international group running 500 successful and highly-respected franchises.
“If you are not a big business now, or at least in the future, it will be difficult for organisations to survive. This will give us a much bigger platform and one that we will continue to grow on and that’s the security I was looking for, for Just Better Care,” Ms Noakes told Australian Ageing Agenda.
Ms Noakes was approached by Interim Health Care earlier this year and told they were looking to enter the Australian market with a franchise group. It had purchased Bluebird Care, which has 200 franchises in home support services in the UK, 12 months ago.
Impressed by the US provider’s reputation, size and longevity – it began operating in 1966 and has over 300 franchises – Ms Noakes began discussions with CEO Kathleen Gilmartin.
“To me it was really important you have the same value system. Kathleen is fantastic. She is really intelligent and runs a great business. I thought the synergies were so good there,” Ms Noakes said.
Ms Noakes said this was not the first time she had been approached by a prospective buyer, but in the past she had determined they were not the right partner for Just Better Care.
“With this arrangement I can look the owners all in the eye and say this is good for your businesses. I believe it will be an enhancement for our staff and our customers. I am looking to build the business so it gets stronger and stronger because of the need and opportunity ahead.”
The obvious benefit for the business and franchise owners was to be part of a bigger group but there was also the opportunity to work with organisations in the US and UK, which are experiencing similar issues around an ageing population, workforce, quality and consistency in service provision and tight financial markets, that Australia is facing, she said.
Business as usual
Going forward, Ms Noakes will become a board member on Caring Brands International and represent the Australian group as COO along with a counterpart at Bluebird Care representing the UK group, while Ms Gilmartin heads up the international group as CEO.
Ms Noakes said while her title has changed from CEO to COO, she would continue running the organisation as usual but now work with the international board on higher level strategies.
“The team and I will present to the board what we think we should be doing… but the running of the business, the culture of the business, all those things that have always been there remain the same and I continue in my role with those things,” Ms Noakes said.
Just Better Care will continue its growth strategy – in 2012 it was named by business magazine BRW as the country’s 10th fastest growing franchise and the fastest growing franchise in the home and community health care sector – and has plans to open 12 more franchises in the next 12 months, Ms Noakes said.
She said being part of an international group made Just Better Care more appealing to those wanting to buy a franchise.
For her counterparts in Australian aged care looking at selling or merging their business, Ms Noakes said the most important thing was a good match between the two parties because the result was a partnership akin to a marriage.
“Have I got the right partner to move forward with? That is key. If I got that wrong, the effect it has on so many lives. I think this is sometimes an issue. Looking at some of the mergers happening at the moment, I am wondering how it is really going to work out,” she said.
For more on forming partnerships and undertaking mergers and acquisitions, see our recent feature on viability and sustainability: