How to set up and run a successful farm shop

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Interest in quality, authentic local food is stronger than ever before – changes in diets, the desire to reduce food miles and countless scandals have seen many consumers shun the supermarkets in search of something lovingly home-produced.

It couldn’t be a better time to launch a farm shop business. It’s by no means a simple process, but here’s our guide to getting yours off the ground.

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Know what you’re getting into

When Farmers Weekly asked successful farm shop owners for their top tips, the overwhelming response was: do your research. Knowing what you are getting yourself into is important – it’s hard work and it’s crucial that you have a thorough understanding of the business, both from financial and personal standpoints. Expect to feel stressed occasionally, learn new skills and spend time building relationships with influential people, say the experts. You must also become au fait with tax rules, understand your duties as an employer and think about the impact on your family – the (valuable) list goes on and is well worth a read.

Get the correct planning applications, permits and licences

Naturally, selling food to the public requires a plethora of certifications. To be considered as a farm shop, according to Gov.uk’s guidelines, you’ll need to ‘prove your viability’ in relation to location, access, parking, a suitable building, a supply of local produce and any competition. Then there’s planning permission, the requirement for which, varies. If you already have a suitable building and are going to mainly sell your own produce, it may not be necessary. However, if you plan to sell any processed meats, you will – so too if you plan to change an existing building. To cover every eventuality, get in touch with your local authority. You’ll also need to register with your local Environmental Health department, obtain a butchery licence from the FSA and ensure you meet EU hygiene regulations. The Gov.uk site is a great resource and goes into far more detail.

Consider FARMA membership

The National Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association (FARMA) is a non-profit co-operative which champions farm shops and farmers’ markets. It provides its members with support, training, information, financial advice and more. Members have access to expert knowledge and the chance to learn from others who have opened successful enterprises. It’s definitely worth considering. FARMA also runs annual awards (including large/small farm shop of the year), which are highly prestigious.

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Define your goals

The secret to a successful farm shop business, according to retail expert, Dennis Reid, is that it must be a separate entity – a business which exists apart from the farm and has its own goals. With that in mind, it should operate with its own strategy: sales targets, product range, attracting customers and developing brand loyalty. Your goals should be realistic and shared with all stakeholders. Frequent reviews of your performance will help you determine what’s working and what isn’t, and to get the most from your budget.

Identify your unique selling point

Essential for any business endeavour is to work out what makes you different from the rest and capitalise on it. What’s unique about your farm shop that would pull in the punters? Try to identify what it is that sets you apart from the competition.

Attend a food show

Expos, such as the Farm Shop and Deli Show, bring together like-minded people and provide a wealth of information to those who are hoping to get into the game themselves. As part of your research, ask questions, attend live events and get inspired! You may even find some local producers whose goods you could stock in your farm shop. Plus, who knows, maybe in a year or so, you could be an exhibitor yourself.

Marketing and promotion

Let people know that you’ve arrived; don’t simply rely on word of mouth. You need to shout. Throw a grand opening and invite the local community and newspapers. Ensure signage from the main road is obvious. Have a stall at the local farmers’ market to raise awareness. Use social media (it’s free) to engage younger visitors and set up a Facebook business page as a way to interact with your ‘fans’. Do as much as you can to promote yourself.

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Provide the best customer service

A huge part of any retailer’s success is the level of customer service it provides. Whether you will be serving customers yourself or you’re planning to hire sales staff, it’s key to offer your customers an experience which is second to none. We all want to be served by friendly, knowledgeable and caring staff that go the extra mile. You could sell the finest produce, but if the service is poor, people will stop coming.

See what the best farm shops are doing

A review of the Independent’s 50 best farm shops and delis revealed many elements which it might be prudent to try to include or incorporate where possible:

Butchers: The butcher’s counter seems to be one of the most crucial elements for the Independent’s panel of judges, offering home-reared meats – and an award-winning steak pie won’t go amiss.

Highlight the local element: This might seem obvious, but remember that most visitors want produce that they can’t find in Tesco. A proportion of purchases may even be gifts, so that element of exclusivity and regional expertise is important. Better still if they are organic.

On-site bakery: People love fresh bread, cakes and other delicious baked goods. Your own produce could supply the all-important café.

Café /tea shop: Keep people in your shop for longer – tempt them with the cakes, biscuits, tea and other products that you sell or have produced yourself.

Children’s play area: Turn your farm shop experience into an actual family outing by creating a play area, woodland paths and walks or perhaps even a children’s petting zoo.

Ultimately, opening a farm shop could be a lucrative and rewarding venture; educating the local community about where their food comes from, providing people with jobs and attracting visitors to the area. Not to mention selling some of the finest home-grown produce in the land! Good luck.

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