Recently, Eden Exchange spoke with Ann Richardson, who is a Director at Old Macdonald’s Travelling Farms (OMF), a unique franchising company with a well-established name. Anne discusses how the business has grown its brand, its history, why experiences with baby farm animals are a benefit to the community and franchisee opportunities available.
Eden Exchange Hello Anne, thank you for the opportunity. Can we start by asking you about your professional background. What your current role is and how you came to be a part of the franchise?
Ann Richardson I started out in administration and education. I’m now a Director at Old Macdonald’s Travelling Farms. The Old Macdonald’s Travelling Farms (OMF) concept commenced in 1989. It combined my expertise, with my husband Terry’s twenty five years of experience in commercial intensive farming in England and Australia. Old Macdonald’s Travelling Farms became a franchise in 1991.
Eden Exchange What can you tell us about the business? Specifically, what it is? How does it work? How did the business come about?
Ann Richardson Coming from a farming background, we observed at The Royal Queensland Show the huge level of interest shown by the public in the animal nursery. This was a non-contact nursery, with caged animals on display. After some further planning, we decided to introduce to ‘city dwellers’ a hands-on ‘country-life’ experience delivered to their door, with an educational component to compliment it. With our combined backgrounds, Terry developed the equipment and husbandry requirements, while I set up resources for schools, booking and administration procedures.
The OMF Franchise concept has been set up as a hands-on experience for all of the community, from ages 1-99, and across every section of society. We take baby and small farm animals to any venue, anywhere, anytime. Over the years, this has included The Royal Sydney Show, The Royal Adelaide Show, The Royal Perth Show as well as Movie World & SeaWorld amusement parks.
Our ‘bread and butter’ is from childcare, schools, aged care, fetes, agricultural shows, shopping centres, clubs, pubs and parties. We have attended weddings and christenings. Nothing is too big or too small. We see ourselves providing an educational program, with nostalgia for the public.
Eden Exchange We understand that the business has been around for 30 years. What has that been like? Have you had any notable moments with the franchise? Special events or appearances?
Ann Richardson As in most businesses there are moments that have been challenging but these have been part of the journey.
The opportunity to be part of the Money Show with Paul Clitheroe was a golden opportunity. We had just started franchising at that time. The enjoyment families obtained from our visits to Camp Quality has also been notable. Apart from this, dressing up in Middle Eastern traditional attire and being part of Movie World’s corporate functions were also highlights for us.
Another memorable achievement has been putting together the entire animal nursery for the Royal Sydney Show for four years. This included fourteen different animal displays and two large interactive enclosures at the new Homebush venue. Public reaction was incredible, with 10,000 people going through the gates every hour on the first day. This re-afirmed everything we do here.
Attending a medieval wedding at Coomera, where a three-day old baby lamb we provided carried the rings and let out a ‘baah’ as the rings were exchanged was also a great moment. There are so many lovely moments we could relate, where do you stop?
Eden Exchange What is your current long-term goal for the business? After 30 years do you have any new milestones?
Ann Richardson For the business, our short-term goals are to open up areas in NSW and locally. Our long-term strategy is master franchising overseas. For this, we are looking for dedicated and interested franchisees and interesting people who want to help us get there.
Eden Exchange We understand that your business works best in community locations such as fetes and fairs, special events, shopping centres, schools, day care centres and retirement villages. Are there any other locations and businesses that frequent your patronage?
Ann Richardson We also appear at sports clubs, real estate openings, hotels and restaurants. Any organisation can use us, whether for promotion or events. For example, Christmas with the baby deer or events with carols are very popular. The list is long and there are endless opportunities not yet explored.
Eden Exchange You have received a fair few endorsements over the years from some notable faces in veterinary and animal husbandry. Has that made a significant impact on the business? Do you find that support from certain industries and organisations helps?
Ann Richardson I couldn’t tell you the value in dollar terms, but they help in many ways both for branding and community awareness. We have connection with Dr Harry’s show and he loves our travelling farms. His name and practice being associated with us has been a mutual benefit for both of us.
Eden Exchange Travelling with a small farm seems like a lot of work. How involved is the franchise in the day to day and do you need any skills or requirements to be a franchisee?
Ann Richardson Any livestock business is constant work. If people enjoy animals, it’s a breeze! We train our franchisees in ways to make life easier for them. Husbandry techniques are taught to franchisees through our training program and it is a requirement in some states to have a TAFE Animal Care Certificate. More work means more income in a small business.
Eden Exchange We understand that the farm animals are raised as pets from birth. Is that handled by the franchisee or is that something offered as a setup feature with the business. In other words, are you required to pick your animals from birth or are they already domesticated?
Ann Richardson Many of our baby animals are sourced from surplus livestock from farmers and small holders or because of rejection by their birth mother. Initially, Franchisees are provided with enough animals, both babies and small animals for a presentation together with a list of network of suppliers. Franchisees help each other with obtaining livestock. Our animals are not trained, they are part of our family therefore they respond to us as your dog would to you. It is a relationship build out of loyalty and bonding rather than ring master and animal.
Eden Exchange I remember a travelling farm visiting my kindergarten when I was little. It was an experience for me and I remember it fondly. What are the benefits of exposure to baby farm animals and what benefits does it offer the franchisee who cares for them?
Ann Richardson Understanding how to care for different species, observation, touch, stroke, feel, sounds and interaction are all factors important for everyone. It has been proven that exposure to small animals has a calming and educational effect on the young, elderly and disabled.
Research has shown that exposure to the natural ecosystem order helps small children understand the hierarchy in nature and the responsibility we have to care for nature. We also know that children learn social skills with small animals and understand that animals communicate differently. A child will learn patience in communication and how being friendly and nice will lead to a positive reaction and respectfulness as they learn communication beyond the verbal.
The franchisees themselves have their own agenda. They may want their children to be exposed to animals, a job for their kids, or in many cases a complete alternative lifestyle.
Eden Exchange Your website suggests that there is a long-term opportunity with the business. Do you find that travelling farms are more seasonal or location sensitive? Do you find that business is booming all year round?
Ann Richardson We have found that our franchisees have stayed with us for at least five years and at the most fifteen years. States vary slightly in when they are their busiest, sometimes this can be because of climatic conditions. There are occasions where they are overwhelmed with the requests for their business, which usually means they end up adding an extra float to cope.
Eden Exchange How does the franchise maintain its bottom line? How much do you charge for an event and where are the majority of the expenses with the business?
Ann Richardson Our franchisees can always go out and find their market. We are not reliant on the passing person booking them! There are always markets, and even shopping centres. where you can promote. Each of these in turn, can produce a number of bookings from leaflets distributed.
We normally charge an hourly rate, which can vary across Australia. Some expenses are static and are not dependent on earnings i.e. insurance, registrations of vehicles and floats, even purchase of animals and feed. It is always more beneficial with our type of business to spread the word and seek out referrals. Getting involved in your community more intricately leads to opportunities for events and appearances that help improve the bottom line.
If you only have bookings for twenty presentations, then the cost per presentation is much higher than if you have two hundred bookings. However, vehicle costs will automatically go up with number of presentations, but income and profitability will equally increase!
Eden Exchange What about the business excites you the most? Is it a love of animals or is a love of community?
Ann Richardson Safe to say I wouldn’t have stayed in this business this long if I didn’t love the work and the animals. Without a love of animals, we would not have the love for community. Both are vital, and I have poured a lot of myself into this business over the years and I love to see new franchisees join the team and share the values we have based our business around.
Eden Exchange In your experience, is there a particular type of person that would suit a franchise of this type best? Are their particular personality traits and skills which work well with a travelling farm?
Ann Richardson Honesty, integrity, drive and initiative are high on the list. We have had franchisees from many walks of life, from a bank manager, childcare owner, farmers, sales manager, laboratory assistant, builder, greenies, marketers and administrators. Currently there exists a wide variety of people, all wanting one thing a ‘Tree change!’, an alternative life for their family. We are looking for people who have a desire to achieve in their own business dreams and want to ‘have a go’, in these uncertain times to secure their own family income stream.
Eden Exchange Does a potential franchisee require any prerequisite qualifications and experiences before becoming a franchisee?
Ann Richardson We train our franchisees in all aspects of their business in order for them to succeed. It is a requirement in some states that our franchisees hold a T.A.F.E Animal Care certificate and a First Aid Certificate and they need a clean driving license for towing horse floats and driving whilst carrying animals.
Eden Exchange Aside from being surrounded by baby animals all day. What rewards can a franchisee expect from the business and what is their incentive to stay with the business?
Ann Richardson Incentive for many franchisees is to have their own business for the first time. They like to feel they have created a sound business for themselves, one that can be grown to its full potential and split into multiple areas. The financial rewards that results from this also go back to the franchisee.
Eden Exchange For anyone out there considering a franchise, what is the enquiry process, and what should be their steps before considering enquiring? Any advice for a potential franchisee?
Ann Richardson Make sure they have discussed it with the whole family. This is a Franchise which needs to include all family members
- Do you have a you a suitable ‘backyard’? You need small acreage on which you are allowed to have livestock
- Do you have a backup plan? Do you have you family members or friends that will help you if you need help?
- Do you have the the facility to obtain finance – any assets etc?
If you feel passionately that this is the what you really want to do, please go to our website – Franchising / Franchises for Sale – and follow ‘Procedures’ You need to fill out a Confidentiality Agreement, (no obligation), to receive sensitive information on OMF. By insisting all applicants sign this document, we are protecting the person who eventually, we believe should have the franchise!
Thank you for your time. It has been a pleasure.