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Starting and running a farm shop

Jimmy Doherty shares his own experiences and tips for setting up a farm shop

We started running a farm shop for convenience, initially. We’d been attending six or so farmers’ markets a week selling our sausages. One day, people started coming up the lane to buy direct, so we started selling on-site.

First it was just twice a week, then three times, and now we are open every day of the year except for Christmas Day.

Farm diversification has been pivotal to our success and the shop sits firmly at the centre of that. For us, the rest of the business simply wouldn’t stack up nowadays without it.

If you’re thinking of starting a farm shop, here are my top tips

1. Showcase your personality

I think a farm shop should feel as close to the farm as possible. Customers like being nearer to the production level and knowing that things are grown and reared on-site.

That’s your unique selling point. That’s what farmers have that the supermarkets don’t. Tell that story, put your unique spin on things and let your farm’s personality shine through.

The same principle applies to all customers, whether it’s your neighbour or a chain of restaurants. We have wholesale deals with a number of restaurants – it’s actually quite important for us because it gets our brand out there.

2. Know your customers

Don’t just stock your shop with things that you like. That’s not the way to run a successful business. It’s all about learning how your customers shop and what they like to buy.

The idea behind our shop is that it serves multiple purposes – a little something for everyone. You can come in for that special roasting joint, perhaps create a gift hamper, or just stock up on a few essentials.

3. Plan what to put where

Try to make your shop have a natural flow to it. We try to pick items that naturally complement one another in our customers’ minds. As a kid, I had a part-time job at Tesco, and they’re experts at this.

Take our sausages, for example – we’ll also put some jars of mustard in the vicinity, or perhaps some beers that’ll go really well with them.

Don’t be shy to upsell those complementary products either. Customer service is important – people enjoy a chat and will appreciate a helpful suggestion or two, within reason.

4. Pay attention to the fundamentals

When it comes down to it, ordering and pricing can make or break a business.

What you sell needs to turn a profit, so price your products realistically.

You also want to minimise wastage. Anything that goes off before it’s sold is money down the drain so over time, try to tweak your stock to the right level.

We are lucky to have our  farm restaurant, which is great for using up excess stock. If we haven’t sold a lot of roasting joints one week, then they can go on the Sunday menu.

Mistakes with stock is just one of the many risks you have to manage in a farm shop. You also have to think about staff and product security, customer welfare, amongst other financial matters – seeking specialist insurance advice is a sensible way to approach them.

5. Create an experience

If you’re just off the main road then great. But if you’re miles away from everything, then you need to give people a reason to make the trip. How are you going to get them to do that?

It goes without saying that offering tasters is important. Let people try things and tell them the story behind it.

Look for ways that people can make a day of it. Could you create a lovely picnic area or some walking trails? Is there a lake that people could fish in? Could you give tours of the farm or hold events?

If you are a dairy farm, could you have an ice cream parlour? It would be lovely to be able to watch the process from cow to cone. You can make an event out of it; we do things like butchery demonstrations on Saturdays, which create a unique shopping experience.

Keep that experience fresh. Mix it up now and again and offer new things. Keep your customers interested and they’ll keep coming back.

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