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Melbourne, Australia

Interview with Steve Plarre, Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses

An Australian Franchisor Interview


Franchisors name: Steve Plarre, CEO
Name of franchise: Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses

Tell us about how/when Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses was started and the motivation behind establishing the company.
Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses is an Aussie story 113 years in the making. Both the Ferguson and Plarre families have early European roots and we established ourselves in Australia over 110 years ago. From the fresh coffee aromas of Eliza Ferguson’s café in Lygon St, to Otto Plarre’s European styled bakehouse in Moonee Ponds, both families successfully traded through World Wars and even the Great Depression.

After years of refining their craft and making significant contributions to the baking industry both families merged their businesses to become “Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses” in 1980.

Today Ferguson Plarre is still family operated by the Plarre family and is one of this country’s most successful franchised businesses.

When and why did you decide to go down the franchise route?
We began franchising in 1987 when 3 of the founding family members wanted to open and run their own Ferguson Plarre stores. We developed a legal contract and set of processes that gave them use of the brand and our system as well as exclusive product supply. Little did we know at the time that this was in fact a franchise. In 1990 we granted our first franchise to a non-family member (who is still a franchisee by the way!). Here we are 24 years later with 64 stores and still growing.

What have been Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses’ biggest achievements/successes to date so far?
We were recently officially recognised as the #1 ranked food franchise in the Topfranchise Awards. We’re also very proud to have been awarded Australia’s most prestigious business sustainability award in recognition of our commitment to caring for the environment (The Origin Gold Banksia Award). We’ve been inducted into the Victorian Manufacturing Hall of Fame and have won over 100 awards for our products over the years but what we’re most proud of is our culture. We have an incredibly loyal and long standing employment base, with one employee who has worked for 3 generations of the Plarre family and at 76 is still going strong!

What challenges have you had to overcome?
Keeping a family business operating for over 100 years is a challenge! Not many make it past 3 generations. We’re now at the fourth and are stronger than ever. Our business has experienced (and survived) a lot over the years, including World Wars, depressions and recessions. We’ve also watched hundreds of food fads come and go. Despite all of the change and the new trends, bakeries have maintained a special place in people’s hearts which is testament to the strength of our brand and the industry we love so much.

What marketing/promotional tools do you use to grow Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses?
These days people are interacting with brands across so many different channels and this drives our marketing strategy. In-store marketing is always vital and we support this through our business coach network and in-house printing & design facilities. At a head office level the focus is on brand advertising and state wide promotions using mediums like TV, radio and outdoor (billboards). Following the development and launch of our brand new ecommerce website, we are devoting increasing resources to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). We have a significant in-house marketing team that manages our ever growing social media presence across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

What differentiates Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses from the competition?
We have dedicated our lives to creating quality products from time-tested recipes made with real ingredients, by real people and we’ve successfully been doing it for over a century. Choosing the right franchise involves risk and the best way to minimise risk is to partner with someone who’s had significant experience and success. Our 100+ years of experience can never be replicated.

Our celebration cakes are a significant point of difference in a market flooded with coffee-addicted food franchises. We have a decorating department with incredible experience and talent and as a result we sell thousands of bespoke birthday cakes every week. With a price anywhere between $40 and $800, celebrations are significant profit drivers and offer us the opportunity to sell our party savouries as well.

There is no baking in store, we bake and deliver fresh to you every morning. So as a franchisee you simply open your store, set it up and turn on the coffee machine. This leaves you to focus on provide amazing customer service.

And finally, we don’t charge royalty fees.

In your opinion, what makes a successful Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses franchisee?
We’re all about fresh and delicious product, what we can’t train is attitude and we’re looking for positive, engaged and customer focused franchisees.

Our dedication to excellent coffee means finding franchisees with a drive to make and sell expert barista coffee whilst still being able to focus on the day to day running of a busy retail franchise.
With our focus on top level marketing, the importance of getting to know your local community is just as important in the success of your store. That coupled with an ability to get the best out of your team will be great grounds for success.

What changes have you seen in your industry over recent years? And how have you adapted to them?
Most small single operator bakeries just don’t exist anymore as the quality of competition has steadily increased. We’ve also seen a significant number of bakery-café-patisserie type businesses fall in love with the attraction of coffee and its high margins. They’ve done so at the expense of product quality and this is something we’ll never do.

For us, staying true to being a great Australian family bakehouse with a quality range of products is key. Sure we make great coffee and we sell a lot of it, but we’ll always hang our hat on our great cakes and savouries and that’s why we still make it all ourselves.

What does the future hold for Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses?
We have a loved brand and an award-winning and sustainable bakery with 64 passionate franchisees and plenty of room to grow. We’d like to see Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses in every state across Australia but the only way to honour our current network is to grow with quality franchisees who can be great ambassadors for our brand.

In the meantime, we will continue to innovate and offer delicious new products every year.

What expansion plans have you got nationally and internationally?
We have significant capacity for growth and will seek to expand into other states over the next 5 years.

What advice would you give to someone considering franchising their business?
Understand your business intimately and realise that franchising doesn’t often make commercial sense until you have scale. Ensure that you have a strong sense of the culture and values of your business and that you recruit franchisees that are aligned with this.

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?
We’d do a better job of understanding our strengths and our culture and we’d ruthlessly recruit to these values. Getting the right people in the right positions is the single most important thing you can do and that’s especially true with franchisees.