Why you should put more farm into your farm shop

 Direct selling farm produce, farm retail  Comments Off on Why you should put more farm into your farm shop
Nov 222012

Recently I visited Low Sizergh Barn Farm Shop and Tea Room just on the edge of Cumbria, home of the English Lakes. I enjoyed my cream tea while watching the cows being milked in the parlour below. At the next table were a mother and small son who happily played with the toy tractor and sheep, supplied by the tea room.

You couldn’t get a more graphic illustration of the connection between the cream on my scone and the cow in the parlour.

This farm shop has gone the whole hog and put their farm shop literally over the farm. Next to the dairy, the herd were housed in straw barns, ensuring that you couldn’t fail to notice that you were on a farm.

Being on a farm is what makes your shop different from retailers on the high street & supermarkets.

Exploit that difference.

You’ll never compete on price, so don’t even try, instead offer a slice of life on the farm.

How do you put more farm into your farm shop?

Be creative. No milking parlour? Here are some quick ideas to get you thinking:

• Set up a lamb feeding station next door to the shop

• Provide point of sale information about every farm product with pictures of e.g. Cabbage in the field

• Rig up a webcam in the dairy, lambing shed (lambing live), veg packing area, or cheese making area (make sure you ask staff first!)

• Set up a heated seed growing area in your shop with information on what’s growing and when it’ll be ready

• Set up monthly spinning demonstrations

• Try occasional cooking demonstrations (entice local chefs, or cooks to come and show off their expertise)

• Cheese making video running on a monitor

• Hay making video running on a monitor

• Wall size farm map with trails marked

• Pictures of farm & farm workers

• Nature table – encourage children to collect conkers, leaves etc to put on the nature table (needs supervision!)

• Renewable energy control panel (show for instance, how much rain water you’ve harvested)

Some activities will require supervision and some investment but others can be created once, like the videos, and then used over and over again in your shop and online.

Why does it matter?

We know that people perceive that food is cheaper in supermarkets (even when it isn’t) and so you have to give them a different reason to make the trip out to your place. In the end how you make people feel is important. For many a taste of farm life feels good. Increasingly people are looking for a connection with the land and soil. As a farm shop you can provide that access through creatively bringing your farm into the farm shop.

That will bring them back to spend more money with you.

Where can you get more ideas?

Think about every aspect of your farm shop in terms of the customer experience of being on a farm. Visit other shops and get ideas. Engage all the senses, touch, sight, smell (the good ones). Unlike a supermarket, you don’t have to manufacture the scent of baking bread to trick customers into buying, all you have to do is find ways to bring more of the farm into your farm shop.

What about health & hygiene regulations?

Yes these can be challenging but generally you can find creative ways to accommodate them and still bring in more of the farm

Like Low Sizergh Barn Farm Shop and Tea Room, use your farm to create a unique atmosphere that attracts people to eat, buy and shop with you precisely because you offer something they can’t find on the high street or at the out of town superstores.

If you’d like on site marketing advice for marketing produce from your small holding or small farm,

Email me for quote for a farm visit

Cool apps from MailChimp for mobile email marketing

 Direct selling farm produce, Email marketing, farm retail  Comments Off on Cool apps from MailChimp for mobile email marketing
Sep 262012

I found an excellent list of apps from MailChimp to improve subscribers’ experience when receiving your email marketing campaigns on their mobile phones.

Of particular interest for farm retailers and farm entrepreneurs are:

Pyow for iPhones

A free app to generate and manage QR based coupons in MailChimp email campaigns via mobiles. You create a coupon in your campaign. Then when your customer shows up at the stall with the coupon showing on their phone, you simply scan the QR card with Pyow and verify the coupon. You can set how many times the coupon can be redeemed. This makes using email marketing to bring customers to your markets even more useful for you and your customers.

Find Pyow in the Apple App store.

Chimpadeedoo for iPad

Wouldn’t it be great if you could get people to sign up to your list on the spot? If you have an iPad, now you can! Chimpadeedo is a sign up app for iPad. You don’t even need to be connected to the internet. The app will collect subscriptions and store them until the next time you’re connected, then it pushes the contacts to your main MailChimp account.

This would be perfect at festivals, shows and events. If people are engaged and interested, ask if they’d like to subscribe there and then. Even at permanent retails outlets, like Farm Shops, you could have the iPad secured near the counter and if people are queuing encourage them to sign up. Restaurants and cafes too, could make it oh so easy for people to subscribe. If you do box scheme deliveries and people stop you at the van, you could ask them to sign up to find out more.

But remember, you don’t have a right to email people. They are doing you a favour when they give you their email address. And all the fancy apps in the world won’t persuade them to part with their personal information unless you are offering something of value.

So be clear and specific about what you offer. For example. Sign up here to get monthly updates of our new products/special themed nights/food tasting events/reminders about our next markets. It is easier to be clear and specific if you segment your lists and allow subscribers to choose the information they want.

Find Chimpadeedoo in the Apple App store.

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Why good signage for your farm gate sales (or farm shop) is essential

 Direct selling farm produce, Farm Diversification, farm retail, Marketing  Comments Off on Why good signage for your farm gate sales (or farm shop) is essential
Apr 262012

In Britain during World War II road signs were taken down because of fears of a German invasion. The thinking was that it would slow down an advancing army. No signs, no directions. Travel for just a few miles in the British countryside and you soon see how confusing it would be without signs.

Signs are really helpful! Especially if you want to direct people to your farm gate or farm shop to buy produce. Help people out. Put up a sign and make it easy to find your outlet.

What kinds of signs can you use?

Signs come in a variety of materials and sizes. For your farm entrance you can choose from wooden, metal or plastic signs. There are a variety of recycled plastic signs available which are cheaper than metal and easier to maintain than wooden signs. If you are part of a farm accreditation scheme or registered with a body like the Soil Association, there are often subsidised signs available.

A hand painted wooden sign can be very appealing, just make sure the painting is weather proof so that the sign looks good for years to come.

Let’s say you only sell produce in the summer months, then you want temporary signage. PVC banners can be strung up on your fence line when you’re open for business. What about road signs?

 Are there any regulations about signs?

On public roads in the UK, you may be able to get brown ‘tourist attraction’ signs but there are criteria to be met. The brown signs are regulated by the “Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002”. It is your local highways authority that authorises brown signs on local roads. Read more about brown signs in this article.

 Where should you put signs?

If you were travelling from London to Penzance, just think how many signs you’d pass. So don’t think one sign will do the job. You need to direct people in from the nearest main road right to your farm. And it doesn’t stop there.

Just because they’ve turned down the farm track doesn’t mean they’ll end up knocking on the right door. Don’t forget signs to guide people from your entrance right up to the farm house or farm shop door. Why do you need so many?

Remember what it feels like when you’re in unfamiliar territory. You start to doubt your self. If there is no sign, you wonder which way to turn and strangely many people ignore the obvious way and go off down side turnings.

Plenty of signs reassure people that they are heading the right way. It also avoids them ending up in your slurry pit or hay barn. So what information should go on your signs?

 What should you put on your farm signs?

Roadside signs need to be simple. The name of your farm shop with an appropriate symbol is enough for signs several miles from your farm. Look out for those brown signs that indicate tourist attractions and you’ll get the idea. Once you get to the entrance you can add more details, your farm name, logo and any symbols you can use such as organic certification symbol.

Next to the door of the farmhouse or farm shop, put up a sign with even more information such as the opening hours of the shop, a contact number and website if you have one.

What if you don’t want customers in the winter?

You can simply have a sign below your farm name, which says ‘open’ on one side and ‘closed’ on the other. Bed & Breakfast places do a similar thing with ‘vacancies’ and ‘no vacancies’. If you want to make it extra clear, you could have the opening times at the farm entrance. For example,

Open June to September only, Mon – Sat, 8-6pm.

Don’t make people work to find your farm, use signs to guide them in

With no current threat of invasion you don’t need to skimp on signs. Even with sat navs, people like the reassurance that they are on the right track. Invest in clear, good quality signage and guide people right to the door of your farmhouse or shop.


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Why a contract butcher is worth his weight in gold when you set up direct selling meat

 Direct selling farm produce, Farm Diversification, Marketing  Comments Off on Why a contract butcher is worth his weight in gold when you set up direct selling meat
Mar 122012

I remember when we first tasted our home reared organic meat. As the bacon fried in the pan we oohhed and aaahed because NO yucky white liquid came oozing out of the bacon. This was going to be good. We made a big thing of sitting down with our plates of bacon and sausage, admiring the evenly sized, plump sausages, beautifully browned, the rind on the dry cured bacon, crisped to perfection. We slowly raised our forks for that first mouthful.

That first mouthful. I still remember the taste. Ahh heavenly. We’d never tasted such fine bacon or such succulent sausages. The sense of achievement was intoxicating. Well of course it was going to taste amazing wasn’t it because we’d reared the meat ourselves? All the care and hard work that had gone into choosing the breed, getting the right feed, setting up the outdoor paddocks. All that work was gloriously justified in that first delicious mouthful.

It might not have been like that.

We might have tried cutting up the pork ourselves, found a recipe for bacon and sausage and had a bash at making our own. Then our reaction might have been a little dampened by the chunky mis-shapen rashers cut without a meat slicer by our amateurish selves. It’s likely that a first attempt at curing bacon could have gone awry leaving us with over salty cured meat. As for sausages, there’s so much that can go wrong, turning your delicious pork into an inedible mess.

The same care would have gone into raising that meat but the lack of skill and knowledge in the processing and butchery could have led to a big disappointment.

Instead we used a superb contract butcher, Amberley Vale Foods.

What is a contract butcher?

A contract butcher provides butchery services, particularly for farmers wanting to direct sell their own meat. They either charge per kilo, or they may charge by carcass weight range. Some abattoirs, wholesale butchers (usually supplying independent retailers), high street butchers and even other farmers, may offer cutting services to other producers.

Surely it’s easy to learn butchery skills?

Why would you use a contract butcher?

Butchery takes precision and practice. It is a skill you have to learn. A totally different skill from farming. For any product, presentation is crucial but for meat in particular if you want to get a good price then please don’t take short cuts with the butchery.

A skilled butcher can take an unpromising hunk of meat and turn it into appetising, ready to cook chops, roasting joints and diced casserole cubes. They make it look easy. It isn’t.

You could save a ton of money if you set up your own cutting room

It’s true you could save on cutting charges and you would have more control. Many producers ultimately do set up their own cutting room. But when you’re starting out, you get so much more than a cutting service from a contract butcher.

As well as the best presentation for your meat, you get valuable feedback on the quality of your carcass. For instance over-fat pigs produce bacon with a thick rind which most consumers don’t want. Butchers are very fussy about the quality of meat they take in from the abattoirs so you can learn so much from a butcher’s critique of your carcasses.

At the other end of the process, a butcher will have trusted suppliers for labels and packaging. All these contacts will be invaluable for you when you set up your own cutting room.

In the meantime it can help reduce up front costs if you pay the butcher to package your meat. This saves you having to bulk purchase packaging if your throughput is small. Again you can learn so much from how the butcher lays the meat on the trays, which type of packaging he uses and even where he puts the label.

If you form a good relationship with your butcher, he may let you watch him cut up the meat. When you do set up your own cutting room, this will give you a standard to aim for.

Until or unless you can achieve a similar standard, why would you want to take all that trouble. Many contract butchers are worth their weight in gold? And especially if you find a skilled one.

What butchery skills can you expect from a contract butcher?

At the highest level you have Q Guild butchers. For these guys butchery becomes an art form. You would be lucky to find a Q Guild butcher offering contract cutting services. They are usually working in top end High Street butchers. The simplest solution is to use your abattoir’s cutting services.

Using a cutting service at the abattoir makes life easier for you. You can deliver the animals and collect finished product from the same place. If you use a butcher elsewhere you need to agree who pays for transport of the carcass from the abattoir.

Expect to pay more for any additional processing such as sausage making. Curing bacon requires specialist equipment. Our contract butcher was a bacon and sausage specialist. He supplied top end independent retailers in London from his industrial unit in Gloucestershire.

What about white meat, like poultry?

Poultry butchery is another distinct skill area. You may find it more difficult to get contract cutting services for poultry. It’s best to ask at the abattoir. Just as there are good farmers and poor farmers, butchery skills vary too.

Not all cutting services are the same. You will get better quality and service from a business that promotes cutting services and is used to dealing with farmers.

Make best use of a contract butcher when you first set up

We were lucky to find Amberley Vale Foods, a family run business whose owner took us under his wing. He helped us produce better pigs and his butchery skills wowed our customers from our very first market. He even gave us a bottle of champagne when our first child was born.

Don’t inflict amateur butchery skills on your customers.

Go away and enrol in classes to learn how to do it properly. In the meantime a contract butcher will give you the professional presentation of your meat that will help you win sales and favour. The added benefit of using a contract butcher is that you can learn so much from them abut butchery, packaging and labelling which will be of huge benefit when you do set up your own cutting room.


If you’re a farm enterpreneur, looking at direct selling meat, then save yourself a ton of time and money by getting advice from someone who can tell you what pitfalls to avoid and how to market your products and turn customers into raving fans. Get marketing advice from Juliet Fay. Email me for a quote.

In the meantime for regular marketing tips for rural entrepreneurs and good links for farm retail follow me on Twitter and don’t forget to sign up for my enews (it’s free!), giving you insights into creating engaging content that lead your customers to buy more.

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