Mini holiday homes turn farmers into hosts to boost their income

Melbourne- based entrepreneur Joep Pennartz thought it would be great to find a way to let urban Aussies get a taste of the country that also gave farmers the opportunity to make some extra income. The result was Shacky.

An Airbnb for farmers wanting an extra income stream and city slickers yearning for a bucolic break is one of those business ideas that seem blindingly obvious in retrospect. However, it’s a concept that’s only now getting off the ground, thanks to Dutch-born, Melbourne-residing entrepreneur Joep Pennartz.

“I’ve got tertiary qualifications in economics, business administration, science and innovation management,” Pennartz explains. “I’m also interested in agribusiness. I wrote a Master’s thesis on 3D food printing while working for a farmers co-op in Holland called FrieslandCampina.”

A couple of years ago Pennartz fell for an Australian girl. When she had to return to Melbourne in 2015, he followed, transferring to the University of Melbourne to complete the final semester of his latest degree. After graduating last December, Pennartz began thinking about pursuing an idea. One that had occurred to him while staying in “a cool hut near Warburton” booked through Airbnb.

“There are a few places like that you can find on Airbnb but it’s not what it focuses on. While at Warburton, my girlfriend and I started talking about how fantastic it would be to have a holiday house in the country. Then we brainstormed that idea.

“It evolved into allowing lots of people to have a short stay in their own accommodation on a farm. Australian farms are so pretty and a lot of them are close to major population centres.

“Plus, they’re often surrounded by great wineries, breweries and restaurants. I thought it would be great for urban Australians to experience a different side of their country and give struggling farmers a bit of extra income. So on January 1 this year I registered the domain name for what I’d decided to call the business – Shacky.”

As is often the case, coming up with the idea proved to be the easy part. Pennartz had no capital and had to run a months-long crowd-funding campaign on Pozible. That raised $25,000, two thirds of which was spent on a transportable tiny house. The rest went on building a website and creating a sturdy foundation for the business.

“I’m determined to perfect all the processes as early as possible,” Pennartz says. “For online platforms like this, it’s important to have the right systems and structures in place if you’re planning to scale up later on.”

Long story short, in June Shacky’s first shack – the aforementioned crowd-funded tiny house – was delivered to a picturesque sheep farm in Birregurra, in the Otways, a 90-minute drive down the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne.

“This farmer is very enthusiastic. He’s done things such as construct toilet and shower facilities for the guests to use,” Pennartz says. “He’s also marked out a hiking trail for them to follow, so that they can see all the interesting sights on his property.

“But it will be up to the farmer in question how involved they want to be with the Shacky guests. Some may just want to greet them and show them to their accommodation. Others might want to offer them the chance to help out with activities such as feeding livestock.

“The plan is that every Shacky experience will be unique.”

Neither Pennartz nor the farmers hosting Shacky users will be getting rich anytime soon. At present, the arrangement is that if the farmer buys the tiny house they keep 85 per cent of the fee, while Shacky takes a 15 per cent cut. If Shacky buys the tiny house and installs it on the farmer’s property, the farmer gets a fee for the use of their land and for cleaning the accommodation in between tenants. Fees charged to Shacky customers are expected to vary but Pennartz expects they will average out to $125 a night for the foreseeable future.

The plan is for Shacky to have 10 ‘shacks’ up and running on farms within a reasonable driving distance of Melbourne over the next few months. At that juncture, other Australian states, chiefly NSW and Queensland, will be targeted. Ultimately, Pennartz wants to take Shacky to Europe then just maybe conquer the world.

“There’s been a lot of interest in Shacky from all around Australia,” Pennartz says. “At the moment, I’m taking it slowly, visiting every farmer who wants to get involved and bedding down systems. But, yes, I believe there’s a huge market for this in Australia, Europe and possibly elsewhere. So the sky is the limit.”