-By Kristy Attard
DIAL-AN-ANGEL® spread its wings on the 15th of March 1967 out of one woman’s personal struggle and determination to make a difference. Mother of three Dena Blackman fell extremely ill and was told by her doctor that she needed to go to hospital. Dena replied, “How can I go to hospital when my husband works full time running his own business and I’ve got three kids under the age of six? There’s no possible way.” The doctor advised bed rest instead, which was hard for Dena, having to run a household. Dena had no family support and had to recover as best she could and manage with her kids at the same time. “My goodness – I wish I could dial an angel,” she said while she was vacuuming. “The idea was just born from that,” reflects Dena’s third daughter and DIAL-AN-ANGEL CEO Danielle Robertson.
Dena wrote down all her thoughts on butcher’s paper because the name DIAL-AN-ANGEL just kept niggling at her. She really believed in her idea for a family and homecare agency. Her friends were less than encouraging, questioning who would use such a service, but she was able to confidently reply, ‘Well, I could have used it because I didn’t have any family support and I really would’ve appreciated someone even just for a few hours a day,’ relates Mrs Robertson. It got to the point where Dena’s husband was fed up with constantly hearing the name DIAL-AN-ANGEL. “My Dad turned around to her one day and said, ‘Look, I really think you either start it yourself or shut up about it.’”
Dena, who was a pharmacist, was thinking about how her business idea could become a reality. Her six-year-old daughter piped up with this gem: “Well Mummy, you go to the bank each Friday to get money out. Why don’t you go and ask the man in the bank?” Dena went that very Friday to see the bank manager. “He thought the idea was brilliant but what he said was, ‘you need to take the paperwork home and get your husband or your father to sign it as a guarantor.’” Dena’s husband was less than enthusiastic about the business venture and her father had passed away. The bank manager was terribly sorry and said that he could not lend money to a woman with no collateral, no backing and no income. He was rolling up the business plan and chatting about how bank managers’ wives were in the same boat, being transferred all over the country with no family support services. A light turned on in Dena’s mind – She said, “Look, perhaps you could take my ideas home and ask your wife if she thinks the idea is sound. If I were a man how much money could you lend me on my own recognisance? He replied, “I am only authorised to lend up to $200 without it going to an area manager and then the responsibility is mine if the debt is bad.” The idea was a winner. “He rang Dena on the Monday morning and said ‘Come and sign the papers; the money is ready for transfer into your account, my wife Bunty thinks it’s a bloody brilliant idea!’” The advertisement went into the North Shore Times on the next Wednesday 15 March and before Dena had even recruited her first Angel, she already had 22 clients.
From humble beginnings, DIAL-AN-ANGEL now has offices in 10 locations nationally providing professional home and family care with a personal touch. Angels perform a variety of roles including neonatal care, eldercare, domestic cleaning and garden maintenance. Respecting and valuing the Angels is a company priority. Mrs Robertson wants them to realise that the work they do, such as child minding and domestic cleaning, makes them an asset to the entire community. As a former Angel, Mrs Robertson says the most rewarding part of the job for her was doing cleaning and childcare, “particularly cleaning. Going into a really messy, dirty home and making it sparkle, you’re standing with your back to the front door and just as you’re about to walk out you can see that house absolutely shining. You think, ‘gosh I’ve done such a great job.’” It’s “chuff-factor” when the kids you look after ask for you to come back. “It’s very satisfying being an Angel. It’s hard work but it’s very rewarding and it’s not about the money, it’s about what you can give back.”
It takes a special person to be an Angel. They have to have that ‘X-factor’. “A lot of it comes down to alert, sparkling eyes and common sense. It is someone who is willing to roll up their sleeves and tackle any job with enthusiasm.” There are Angels aged from nineteen right through to their mid-seventies. “We’ve got some fabulous senior Angels, so age is not a barrier. We have several male Angels as well as female Angels.” Many male Angels do care of the aged and disabled, home entertaining help, gardening and handyman tasks. “They have self respect for what they’re doing as a professional occupation; it’s a very rewarding profession.” Every client is phoned for feedback after an Angel has been to his or her home. The company recognises and rewards any Angel who has given more than the booking requires with its ‘Angel of the Month’ and ‘Angel of the Year’ awards. “We really look after our Angels; we pay well above the award and we simply take only the cream of the crop.”
Over the years, DIAL-AN-ANGEL has been busting misconceptions surrounding the care of family and home – misconceptions like ‘it’s only for the wealthy’ or ‘the staff might not be reliable or competent.’ “We are absolutely selective in our recruitment, making sure we register only top quality applicants as Angels.” A police clearance is mandatory for all applicants before they become Angels. Anyone wishing to work with the elderly or the disabled also requires a senior first aid certificate. Those likely to come into contact with children need a Working with Children check. The process of recruiting Angels is stringent. “Out of a hundred people interviewed we might only register 10 as Angels.’”
Mrs Robertson often handles many of the care enquiries herself. Almost every client says that they don’t want to put their parents in a nursing home, so DIAL-AN-ANGEL provides personalised options for care. These range from someone who calls in for three or more hours a day to provide companionship or who will undertake domestic cleaning and shopping. Mrs Robertson understands how some elderlies may be resistant to care from strangers. They may be worried about having someone they don’t know in their home, fearing they could intimidate them or steal from them. “Over the years we’ve built a very fine reputation of excelling in our field of home and family care. It’s a matter of reassuring them that we have fully screened quality carers and perhaps even introducing them personally to their carer while another member of their family is present.”
Sky’s The Limit
Although Mrs Robertson grew up with DIAL-AN-ANGEL, she never anticipated that she would take an active role in its operation. After leaving school, she studied hospitality management and undertook practical training in the Hyde Park Plaza – a boutique hotel. Disliking the back-to-back shifts, she resigned from her position as a trainee manager. Not knowing where to go next, she asked her mother if she could spend three months at DIAL-AN-ANGEL while she pondered her future. “There was no real position for me at first but that was 25 years ago,” laughs Mrs Robertson. “It’s been an interesting journey actually. I’ve been the CEO since August 2003 when Mum decided to take a step back. I’d been 17 years in the business so as she said, “only Prince Charles has had a longer apprenticeship for the top job…”
The DIAL-AN-ANGEL National Conference is held in Sydney on the closest weekend to the 15th March annually. This year it runs from 16th to 18th March. Guest speakers are invited to make presentations to motivate and engage franchisees, managers and senior staff. “It’s a very exciting and busy time for us.” There is an open forum for the franchisees and this year – a special Gala dinner. “It’s really a celebration of my Mum’s achievement,” explains Mrs Robertson. “There aren’t very many people who can say they’ve run their own business successfully for 45 years and have had such a seamless transition to the next generation.”
DIAL-AN-ANGEL plans to undertake accreditation from the Attendant Care industry Association (ACiA) as many government departments broker their services to the company. In the next five years, DIAL-AN-ANGEL plans to expand its services into Tasmania and New Zealand provided that suitably motivated and experienced franchisees can be found. Mrs Robertson is an active member of the ‘Make Care Fair’ alliance, which aims to expand existing government rebates to support at-home childcare and additionally aged and disability care.
Over the past 45 years, DIAL-AN-ANGEL has helped multi-thousands of families from all walks of life. The company has moved further into the corporate sector, where businesses of all sizes assist their valued staff with specialised home help services. This means that their employees can concentrate on their work duties without having the concern that one of their family is ill or needing assistance at home. “Basically we can build our services to suit a family’s needs… they know we’re professional and reliable.”
Even with simple domestic cleaning assistance or gardening, busy people still want to spend quality time with their families. DIAL-AN-ANGEL also helps busy ‘singles’ who prefer their disposable income to be used for activities they have no desire to undertake on their precious weekends.
“I think many people know of us – they have heard our name many times over the years, they know our reputation, that we provide quality staff.” DIAL-AN-ANGEL is proud of its enviable reputation for providing a professional but personal service, with Angels that genuinely care about the needs of clients. “I think that being in a family business is very different to being in a large corporation; it’s a very personalised service.” Clients sometimes have very specific and unusual requests for help, like needing someone to watch over ostrich eggs till they hatch! “No matter how challenging the booking, we will certainly stretch to fill the requirement. We pride ourselves on helping our clients find exactly what they’re looking for even though it is not always easy.”