Recently, Eden Exchange spoke with Donna Hughes, who is a franchisee for Old Macdonald’s Travelling Farms (OMF), a unique franchising company with a well-established name. Donna discusses her time with the business thus far, its history, why experiences with baby farm animals are a benefit to the community and why you should consider a franchise with the business.
Eden Exchange: Thank you for this opportunity today. Can we start by asking about your professional background, what your role is in the business and how you came to be apart of the franchise business?
Donna Hughes: My professional background was originally in office work administration type roles, but I didn’t really like this. Then I married and had my daughter. During this time my husband Phil worked in the mines. I started working part time at the RSPCA, then later transferred to the Cat Haven. After that I bought the Old Macdonald’s Travelling Farms WA North Franchise in 2008.
My role as a Franchisee covers every facet of the business, from working around the farm, conducting presentations, and of course the office work. I now have staff working for me.
I became a part of the franchise after I went to an Old Macdonalds Birthday party for a friend, and asked the owner there if he had any work as I had just finished at the Cat Haven. He could only promise work in the Northern Perth areas, which was probably not going to be much help, but I went along as ‘a trainee on site’ job at Whiteman Park. I realised then that I loved the work, but the work was going to be very sporadic, as he lived in Roleystone in Southern Perth.
Eden Exchange: Can you explain how the business came about? What exactly the business is? How it works and who is the target market?
Donna Hughes: The best way to describe the business from a public point of view is, we are a fully interactive farm display, where we bring a lovely array of baby farm animals to all kinds of venues.
Our target market is family oriented events, but we also visit nursing homes and corporate events with adults as well. Birthdays vary for all the family, primarily young children, on occasion we appear for teenagers, 21st birthdays and 80th birthdays.
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?
Donna Hughes: Yes there is! We are finding that we’re seeing significant interest in marketplaces. So now we are conducting market appearances more than ever before.
Eden Exchange: Travelling with a small farm seems like a lot of work. How involved is the franchisee on the day to day and do you need any skills or requirements to be a franchisee?
Donna Hughes: I need to explain that when you come into this business, it isn’t just a job it isn’t just even work, “it is a lifestyle”, where you have a huge responsibility to staff (optional), the animals welfare and husbandry. The franchise is a full-time twenty four seven business. You need to be multiskilled and be able to think outside the box to succeed.
You need to love animals and be organised. Everything needs to have a place within the farm i.e. equipment storage, animal housing, food storage etc. Being responsible is a big part of what we do.
You also need some upper body strength to be able to lift fencing and move animals around, lift cages in and out of the float. When I am trialling new staff, this is the first requirement to be employed, that they are able to take out and put the fencing back in the float. If they cannot do that they wouldn’t be able to do the job.
I would recommend having some basic bookkeeping skills and be able to handle people and animals.
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?
Donna Hughes: When I first started, I was given a small number of animals that had been brought up within the farm of the existing franchisee. It is a requirement that we provide enough farm animals to be able to start doing jobs, when a franchise is sold.
The key to the animals is the temperament within the Old Macdonalds Farm display. Some make the grade, and some don’t. You learn as the years go on what to look for in the animals. We have some lovely ewes who I have hand raised, that have had lambs which we take out to displays. It is a great experience for the children to see the lambs drinking milk from their natural mothers.
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?
Donna Hughes: What I am finding more and more as the years go by, is that most children don’t even have pets anymore. The farm provides animal exposure to children that would not necessarily have that interaction with an animal before. That is something I find greatly rewarding.
The elderly have the same response to the animals also. It brings back fond memories from their childhood, when people had small farm animals in their backyards. We often get people coming up to us and telling us their stories. It is a feel-good environment when we are out at jobs. It makes me feel good to know that I have made a child or an elderly person happy for a brief moment in time.
Eden Exchange: Is there considerable demand for travelling farms? Do you find that the business is dependant on the seasons or the location? Or is the business in demand all year round and all over the country?
Donna Hughes: Our farm travels up north to Karratha every August to bring the farm animals to the Festival there. We actually work all year round. I wouldn’t say it is seasonal, but more active during event seasons like at Christmas time and school holidays. You do need to be prepared to travel that’s why we are a travelling farm.
A franchisee just needs to work hard and be prepared for quieter times and work accordingly to cover those times.
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?
Donna Hughes: Rates for events vary in price depending on hours required and the costs for resources depending on the franchisees location. The main expenses are wages, (if you have staff), feed for the animals, insurances and vehicle expenses.
Eden Exchange: The business has attracted some interest from some big names in the past such as Dr Harry from Harry’s Practice and other notable celebrities over the years. How has this affected the business? Do you find endorsements from notable people help the business significantly?
Donna Hughes: Endorsements haven’t affected my business personally, well not that I have noticed anyway. It is always good to to be noticed by a familiar face or company every now and then. Facebook is a good medium for my business, social media is very useful for our business as selfies and “checking in” are big things now days. It is the same for instagram and those other apps like snapchat. We see people take a selfie with our baby animals quite a bit and our name is mentioned in the posts so people know where and how.
The farm brings nostalgia to all age groups. Animals don’t change their nature only people as time goes by. The challenge to a franchisee is to create memories in someone’s heart. Sometimes that is a souvenir of the experience like a photo or the opportunity to chat about your own experiences with animals. People always remember baby animals fondly. It’s the grown up animals that can change your mind, such as being head butted by a goat or ram. That can change your mind in an instant sometimes. Though thankfully head butting doesn’t happen at our travelling farms.
Eden Exchange: The website advertises that Old Macdonald’s farm trust that franchisees will experience 25 years of nostalgia. What exactly does this offer mean to a franchisee and what is the typical time frame of working franchisees?
Donna Hughes: It really all depends on the circumstances. This is both my retirement plan and a family business, so I am in it for the long haul because I love the lifestyle.
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?
Donna Hughes: I will sum it up as key points, you need to love animals and like people (not the other way around). You need to be strict with people sometimes, so you need to know how to handle people in a diplomatic way. You need to love animals, so you need to care for them like you would a child. Wash them and feed them. I make the joke to people and say ‘we have cosmetic enhanced farm 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?
Donna Hughes: I wish I was surrounded by baby farm animals all day. I would be happy, and there are many rewards but you have to work hard to achieve them. This is a lifestyle not an occupation, so if you want to live on a farm and earn money by taking farm animals out to events then this is for you.
Eden Exchange: For anyone out there considering a franchise. What is the enquiry process like and what should be their steps before considering to enquire?
Donna Hughes: Ring Head Office and Ann will go through the process with you. That is what I did, and I am glad! You never know if you don’t and ask.
Eden Exchange: Thank you for your time. It has been a pleasure.
Old Macdonald’s Travelling Farms
Social Media: Facebook
About the business
Old Macdonald’s Travelling farms, (Est. as a Franchise Business in 1991), operates throughout Australia ‘ bringing the bush to the City every day with excitement and education for the young, and nostalgia for the not so young!’ We provide a friendly and professional service, together with healthy and clean animals, a features which has been a strength of the business over the 25 years.
The variety of animals we bring may vary depending on the season, some of the cuddly animals may include, kids, lambs, calf, alpaca, piglet, chickens, chicks, ducks, guinea pigs and rabbits, (where allowed). Old Macdonald’s Travelling Farms take pride in presenting beautiful, clean, friendly unstressed animals. They are bathed regularly, vaccinated, wormed, and are groomed before an event. During a visit you will experience hand feeding and bottle feeding (please enquire for more details). Everyone can brush, pat and cuddle our babies.