Franchising

Aussie Farmers Direct franchisees set up crowdfunding campaign after “pretty shattering” collapse

Emma Koehn /

The daughter of a couple who invested their life savings in Aussie Farmers Direct franchises has helped them launch a crowdfunding campaign to support their financial situation after the collapse of the grocery delivery operator hit the couple hard.

Brianna Roberts launched a YouCaring campaign this week after her parents, Heather and Geoff Roberts, received the call on Monday morning that Aussie Farmers Direct would be closing.

Aussie Farmers Direct told its 100 franchisees that it would immediately cease operations after administrators at KordaMentha were appointed to the company.

In a statement, administrator Craig Shepard said previous attempts to sell or recapitalise the business were unsuccessful, leaving no choice but to end grocery deliveries immediately.

The impact of this decision on the Roberts family is huge, says Brianna Roberts.

“This is a huge blow for my parents, who had expected this business would sustain them, and my younger brother, who has special needs, into their retirement,” she writes on the campaign’s page.

Heather Roberts tells SmartCompany she and her husband had run their own small business years ago, but in 2015 the couple got involved in Aussie Farmers Direct, believing in the company’s ethos and seeing franchising as a “good midway point” between operating your own business and having the support of a head office.

They purchased and ran a grocery run in the Wantirna South area in Victoria, but “found that we weren’t earning enough money”, so purchased another run from a franchisee who was looking to exit.

Roberts says the couple spent $45,000 on one franchise and $30,000 on the other, with the second seeing the pair use Heather’s superannuation to cover the cost.

Now, she says Geoff is in conversations with others in the local community to see how the couple might use their expertise, and the Toyota truck they purchased for deliveries, to gain other work.

She says having the support of family and friends, who have contributed to the campaign, is like having “lifeboats”, and she is worried about the mental health of other franchisees affected by the situation.

“I think we’re very fortunate, we have our family, we have our church, others don’t have that,” she says. 

The crowdfunding campaign target is $5000, with Roberts saying the fact the company shut up shop before paying franchisees for the last month of operations has made things incredibly touch for the couple.

“We’ve raised about a thousand so far, and it’s really for a buffer,” she says.

“They timed it so they didn’t pay us from the last part of work … that was a low act.” 

On Tuesday, fellow Aussie Farmers Direct franchisee Nigel Brooke told SmartCompany he is owned around $11,000 for the past month of work, and has had to field questions from his delivery driver about when he would be paid.

Brooke believes it’s unlikely he’ll end up seeing the money he is owed.

The Roberts are still working out what the next steps will be, but Heather says many franchisees have been affected by what seems to be a growing trend of companies closing operations without letting staff and franchisees know ahead of time.

It’s pretty shattering to get the phone call from the accountant when you knew nothing about it, but it seems to be the modern thing — that companies come in and shut the doors.” 

NOW READ: “It’s unsustainable”: Grocery startups offer to help Aussie Farmers Direct franchisees, but supermarket price war remains the big challenge

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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