A LITTLE BIT COUNTRY...
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).
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.
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.