Flapjacks and philanthropy don’t often go hand in hand. But Oast House Farm Snacks has found a way to simultaneously feed peckish employees and raise money for charity
It’s not often you hear of an opportunity to own a business and raise cash for a good cause at the same time. That’s why Oast House Farm Snacks, the franchise that raises money for local hospices by selling office snacks, is proving so popular with franchisees and customers alike.
As is often the case, the founding of Oast House Farm Snacks was driven by a change of life circumstances. “My wife wanted to go back into work after our first son started school,” says Matthew Simmonds, the company’s franchise director. “But back in her job as a veterinary nurse, there weren’t the hours to fit around that.” Fortunately, they had recently stumbled upon a business concept they felt had a lot of potential. They came across a company that was placing a basket of flapjacks into an office and inviting people to pay by putting a pound in an envelope. “It was like bees to a honeypot,” says Simmonds. “If somebody did that with a good cause-related marketing campaign behind it, I could see it would make a good little business.”
This kind of philanthropy has always been baked into Oast House Farm Snacks – and with good reason. “We’d recently lost my wife’s father to cancer and got involved with the local hospice,” Simmonds says. “We found out how much money they needed to raise because we wanted to create a business for her that would also help us do a bit of fundraising.” The business quickly took off and Simmonds soon started to wonder if he and his wife could help other hospices around the country. They reached out to another home in Brighton and soon found themselves managing a multi-site operation. “I ended up going down to Brighton in my spare time,” he says. “Then we employed somebody to take it on and it went a bit crazy from there.”
Before long, the entrepreneurs realised that a franchising model would actually be a great fit for Oast House Farm Snacks. “It became quite clear that if our employee in Brighton was running as a franchisee, they would be running profitably,” says Simmonds. But they were aware that converting the model would take some work – operating Oast House Farm Snacks as a business owner would entail many additional financial considerations such as VAT and tax. Fortunately, its Brighton employee served as the perfect pilot for the fledgling franchise and became the first franchisee to buy into the business. “Developing the model was really about homing in on the pain points that she would go through and supporting her through that whole process,” he adds.
By June 2015, Oast House Farm Snacks had proven its model and was ready to begin franchising. But how does its service actually work? “We use two local bakeries and then we have a much larger contract with a manufacturer for the remainder of our products,” says Simmonds. Boxes of these products, which include everything from flapjacks and rocky road to muffins and cookies, are delivered to local businesses; employees pay based on an honesty system and after ten days the cash and remaining products are collected.
But this is only half the story: perhaps more important is what happens to the money once it’s been collected. “We donate half of the profit to charity, which equates to somewhere between £400 and £600 a month per franchisee,” Simmonds says. Whilst this will typically be to the local hospice in that territory, Oast House Farm Snacks has a few backups in case this isn’t an option. “We can instead launch under the Children’s Trust, which is our national charity,” he says. “Alternatively, the franchisee can approach us and say, ‘This charity’s really important to me: could we work with them?’”
Its support of local charities has certainly helped give Oast House Farm Snacks an edge. Whilst philanthropy is a laudable aim in its own right, it also has the added benefit of being more enticing for both franchisees and customers. After all, the only things better than providing tasty treats to employees or bringing home the dough is being able to raise money for a worthwhile cause at the same time. “Everybody knows somebody who has needed a local hospice,” says Simmonds. “It means it’s much closer to people’s hearts.”
In light of this, it’s hardly surprising that Oast House Farm Snacks is attracting potential franchisees in their droves. “We only use one marketing channel at the moment because we’re already getting more than 20 enquiries a week,” Simmonds says.
Another factor that undoubtedly contributes to Oast House Farm Snacks’ popularity is the granularity of its model. As it handles every element of sourcing customers, franchisees are able to buy into either a 200-box part-time or a 300-box full-time model and step up their commitment as their needs require. “It could be the lifestyle franchisee who’s just looking for something between 10am and 2pm or it could be someone who wants the full-time franchise model,” says Simmonds. However, whilst Oast House Farm Snacks is suitable for franchisees with a range of lifestyles, there are certain things that its preferred franchisees will have in common. “It’s about personality,” he says. “We’re looking for someone who’s personable and who can deliver good customer service.”
As long as they have these basic attributes, Oast House Farm Snacks’ training scheme has everything else franchisees need to get up to speed. Whilst it is building up a customer base for its latest recruit, it also imparts all of the learning they will need to run their new territory. “We train them up on our franchise management system and set them up with HMRC, accounts and VAT,” says Simmonds. After this, the franchise’s business development managers visit the territory to help provide some hands-on experience. “They mentor them through seeing their first clients and swapping over their boxes,” he says.
It’s still early days for Oast House Farm Snacks but it has already made some pretty significant progress over the last year. It has just reached 22 territories in the UK – having recently signed a new franchisee for Northern Ireland – and is aiming to reach 70 territories by 2020. But it has even grander plans in the offing, which should give the franchise a far greater degree of autonomy. “Our plan is to create our own in-house bakery,” Simmonds says. “At some point over the next 24 months, we’ll be building our own facility to make all of our own products.”