Inside Franchise Business - - Cover Story -

Founders Josh and Lisa Thomp­son of The Farm Wholefoods have learned the value of lis­ten­ing to cus­tomers while in­tro­duc­ing city folks to coun­try good­ness with their store in the af­flu­ent in­ner-city Sydney sub­urb of Potts Point, which rubs shoul­ders with its head­line-grab­bing neigh­bour Kings Cross.

When it launched three years ago, The Farm of­fered lo­cals a raft of bulk-packaged foods in a light and airy space. “The food space is dom­i­nated by clut­tered health stores, and we wanted to pro­vide a beau­ti­ful of­fer,” says Lisa.

Josh’s big Ital­ian fam­ily, his grand­par­ents’ farm in Mol­ly­mook on the New South Wales south coast, and Lisa’s ru­ral Vic­to­rian up­bring­ing in­spired them to cre­ate a busi­ness model that de­liv­ers ba­sic foods and en­cour­ages clean eat­ing habits.

To­day the same venue has more of a cafe feel: the back area for­merly hous­ing pantry ba­sics is now the kitchen, a gra­band-go cabi­net near the door of­fers easy snacks, and ta­bles and chairs of­fer cus­tomers the chance to en­joy a leisurely healthy meal on site.

This fol­lows the dis­cov­ery that the lo­cals didn’t want to have to serve them­selves from big bags of su­per­foods to cre­ate meals at home, they were far more in­ter­ested in the con­ve­nience of cafe meals in the pleas­ant sur­round­ing of The Farm.

“Cus­tomer feed­back showed they liked the am­bi­ence of the store and wanted to en­joy the space,” says Josh. Two years on and the of­fer is clear: fresh, fast, ca­sual meals - and treats (or­ganic choco­late and gluten-free cook­ies).

“Not com­pli­cated”

The cou­ple col­lab­o­rated with nu­tri­tion­ist and whole-foods cook Jacque­line Al­will from The Brown Pa­per Bag to de­velop the cafe menu, cre­at­ing a se­lec­tion of nutri­ent-rich dishes for break­fast and lunch. Think in­no­va­tive smoothie bowls as well as a mix of sal­ads, sand­wiches, burg­ers and sides, all with a core fo­cus on in­gre­di­ents that sus­tain and nour­ish the body. Ev­ery­thing is made in-house daily with fresh in­gre­di­ents.

“It’s not com­pli­cated food - it looks amaz­ing, but it’s sim­ple and nu­tri­tious,” says Lisa.

While the cafe is open from 7am to 4pm, a de­liv­ery ser­vice has been in­tro­duced so a com­pact din­ner menu is now avail­able.

While the cou­ple clearly thrives on be­ing busy, the flex­i­bil­ity of work­ing for them­selves al­lows them to man­age their grow­ing busi­ness around their young fam­ily. When the shop launched they had a new­born; now, as they un­veil a fran­chise model, their sec­ond child is just five months old.

Josh and Lisa opened a sec­ond store in Cam­meray, then added a Neu­tral Bay out­let and are now poised to un­veil an out­let in the res­i­den­tial sub­urb of Baulkham Hills. It will be the brand’s first fran­chise, and will have a dif­fer­ent look from the ex­ist­ing out­lets. That’s where Josh’s de­sign tal­ents have come into play: “It’s been good to en­twine these into the new life,” he says.

While the lay­out and style of the stores have changed, the essence of the brand re­mains - raw in­dus­trial with touches of green. There may be more tweaks to suit lo­cal de­mo­graph­ics as the stores con­tinue to roll out.

Next will be an­other cor­po­rate store open­ing in Bris­bane in July.

“Fran­chis­ing was al­ways the plan,” says Lisa, ex­plain­ing that open­ing up the busi­ness model to keen fran­chisees boosts the cap­i­tal needed to fur­ther grow the brand. There are plans to open up to 15 out­lets along the east­ern seaboard.

“The de­mo­graphic is not main­stream, it’s a smaller pop­u­la­tion,” says Lisa. “We have to be care­ful where we go and how we place our­selves.”

It’s all rock’n’roll now for Josh and Lisa Thomp­son as they ex­pand their healthy food store into a fresh,

fast and ca­sual cafe fran­chise, writes Sarah Stowe.

All as­pects

As the cou­ple ex­pands in­ter­state it in­tends to run the first out­let in each state as a cor­po­rate store. The head­of­fice team of six works across all as­pects of the busi­ness now, each team mem­ber able to fill in the gaps at stores and to help with store open­ings.

Ideal fran­chisees will be owner­op­er­a­tors and have a pas­sion for the busi­ness, with some food or re­tail ex­pe­ri­ence.

The cou­ple wants to be chal­lenged.

“We want fran­chisees who are not stuck in their ways but who will push us as well,” says Josh. “We want broad-minded peo­ple.”

Lisa’s IT back­ground has en­sured that tech­nol­ogy is at the heart of the busi­ness, with POS and re­port­ing tools cru­cial to in­di­vid­ual store per­for­mance and to the net­work’s growth.

“So much is au­to­mated in IT,” she says. “We scru­ti­nise re­ports con­stantly.”

Strong sys­tems and vis­i­bil­ity of fran­chisee fi­nances will help keep the brand on the right side of work­place com­pli­ance, she be­lieves.

As fran­chisors, the pair adds to this a strong so­cial-me­dia pres­ence, mar­ket­ing cam­paigns, and an un­der­stand­ing that com­mu­ni­ca­tion is the ma­jor fac­tor in a suc­cess­ful fran­chise re­la­tion­ship - not just be­tween fran­chisee and fran­chisor, but fran­chisees and their staff mem­bers.

Lisa and Josh are cog­nisant of the need to un­der­stand the nu­ances of the fran­chis­ing re­la­tion­ship and the bound­aries set by the Fran­chis­ing Code of Con­duct.

“Not a lot re­ally phases us,” says Lisa. “We’re re­ally cu­ri­ous. That’s partly why we cre­ated our own chal­lenge.”

We want fran­chisees who are not stuck in their ways but who will

push us as well.

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