Career switch: from retail to care


Carolyn Dailey had a big career switch in her mid 30s, exchanging a background in retail for the care sector in part because she needed a better work life balance.

As a franchisee of Bluebird Care, which won this year’s’s Top Franchise Award for Innovation, she has been able to bring her retail expertise and a focus on customer service to a different sector and has contributed considerably to the evolution of the award-winning franchise.

Carolyn trained as an optician when she left school and qualified in contact lens fitting and as a dispensing optician. She worked for Specsavers for 10 years rising to director level.

As Specsavers is a franchise, Carolyn had experience of the franchise set-up. She had moved away from Suffolk, where her family is based, for a couple of years and was looking to move back and to get a better work life balance than retail offered.

She has three children, the eldest of whom has Down’s Syndrome. She says: “After training and working in the same career for so many years, I knew it was going to be difficult to make a change. Optics was pretty much everything I knew, but I wanted to improve my work life balance. Optics and retail are a Monday to Sunday operation. I was 36. If I was going to make a change it had to be at that point.”

It was just after the recession and Carolyn had seen the impact on retail. She was looking at a sustainable business which could see her through another recession if one were to occur and which offered the same kind of hands on role she had at Specsavers. “I wanted someone where I could make a difference,” she says.

Her experience with her eldest son had also shown her how important quality care is. “It definitely changes your perspective and it drew me to the care industry,” says Carolyn. She felt that she could use her family and work experience in a relatively young care franchise. So she hit upon Bluebird Care and in December 2013 she set up her first franchise office in two rooms in Newmarket and then expanded to the Fenland office 18 months ago.

Retail vs care

Carolyn recognised the different challenges she faced in the care sector. For instance, the fact that the industry is regulated, meant she had a lot to learn about the regulation process. She gradually built up the franchise and within three years she had a turnover of over 1.2 million pounds.

In addition to building her own franchise, Carolyn has also got involved with the evolution of Bluebird Care’s business model. She has been part of the franchise’s marketing working party for over a year and has been heavily involved with a recent brand refresh. The group looks at marketing best practice as well as strategic planning and diversification of the business.

Carolyn’s interest in customer service from her retail background is also something she is keen to improve in her franchise. “The biggest gap in the care industry is a general lack of customer focus,” she says. “We offer a bespoke service rather than a product as in retail, but I think the customer aspect is similar.”

Changing the wider perception of care is also important and she works closely with the local community. “Care is not really marketed. You rarely see it in adverts as a career option,” says Carolyn.

Improved customer focus also means changing care workers perception of the industry. To this end Carolyn has implemented the franchise’s career pathway – 70% of her franchise’s core team have used the pathway. She says it is important to identify talent and nurture it. “We want to reward loyalty. It is part of our family ethos,” she says. It’s a bigger task than at Specsavers since she now has 60-70 team members in the franchise.

Employee benefits

She acknowledges there are cost challenges for the care industry, with local authority budgets being cut, but says that by 2020 there will be a deficit of carers and that the need for carers is only going to grow. For that reason, she has focused on what she can do to provide a good employment package, including a bonus scheme and recovery breakdown as well as career progression, to attract and retain staff given high churn rates in the sector. “People in the care sector have not really had employee benefits as they have in the retail industry,” she says. Unusually for the sector, her franchise offers secure, salaried roles rather than zero hours contracts.

Carolyn has also entered several awards, winning the Fenlands Enterprise Business Awards and being given the Spirit of Bluebird Care Award last year in recognition of her work on branding. This year, Carolyn nominated her registered manager who has been selected as a finalist. “Hayley has always worked in the care industry, but had only reached a supervisor level. I could see her potential and suggested she get the leadership training she needed to apply for registered manager.”

Carolyn is keen to see all her staff progress, but thinks it is especially important to show women can have a career and family and give them a greater sense of self confidence.

“It is one of the biggest challenges,” she says. Her children are now aged 12, 10 and six. She took only six to eight weeks of maternity leave with each of them due to her work commitments. For the last year her husband has been in the business, working on the recruitment side which helps with their work life balance and with school pick-ups. While Carolyn works long hours, she has more control than she had at Specsavers over when she works and can work from home.


Carolyn says she has used Bluebird Care’s recent innovations to her business’ advantage, including Bluebird’s career pathway scheme which focuses on career progression for care assistants.

She implemented the franchise’s PASSsystem quickly around two years ago. Its software provides near real-time care record information via a mobile phone app to care assistants and their office teams. Carolyn says it has really cut down on paperwork and improved communications between managers and care assistants.

Her franchise is also looking to pilot a new rostering e-system.

She has also innovated herself, introducing a fledgling programme to provide mentoring and support for the vital first seven weeks after a care assistant starts work. This has boosted retention rates, given many care assistants drop out in the first three months. Her husband has also built his own database tracking system.

“I do not like to stand still,” she says. It’s an ethos that has driven Bluebird Care and is behind its winning entry for the’s Top Franchise Awards.

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