How to diversify a small business

15 April 2020, 12:10 PM
  • Helen Graves spoke to Rhug Estate Farm managing director Graham Webster about adding a Drive Thru to the business plan
How to diversify a small business

Rhug Estate Farm in North Wales was already home to a thriving farm shop, bistro and takeaway when owner Lord Newborough came up with a radical idea for time-poor customers: a hot food drive thru. While we may all be aware of the fast food equivalent, Rhug’s drive thru takeaway is a world apart, serving home-cooked curries and toasted sandwiches made using organic produce from the farm.

Managing director Graham Webster chuckles as he tells the story of their setup, “I think everybody thought Lord Newborough was a little bit mad when he started a drive thru – even some of the staff thought it was a little unusual. As ever though he has these good ideas and ends up proving that he was right in the first place! We believe it’s the first drive thru on any organic farm – certainly in the UK – but we think Europe as well, so we’ve now got an opportunity for people with less time on their hands to stop and enjoy the Rhug products.”

As well as hot drinks and snacks the Rhug team sell hearty meals cooked in their own on-site kitchen; “We do organic chicken curry and organic beef mince from the estate,” explains Graham, “and we also make cakes, sandwiches and panini.” The success of the drive thru has depended on a steady flow of traffic past the farm, “We are on a very busy tourist route into North Wales so anyone coming from the Midlands area will come past us to go to any holiday destinations,” Graham explains, “and a lot of the North West tend to use our route as well as it’s so picturesque, an area of outstanding natural beauty.” They’re still constantly adapting the concept to meet a variety of customer needs however, “We are still tweaking it because people want high quality, great tasting food but they also want to have it in something quick and easy to carry away and within a couple of minutes – all of those things combined really limit what you can give out while maintaining standards. You can’t take more than a couple of minutes per car because otherwise the queue will be horrendous. We’re hoping this year to introduce more of a breakfast offer, with some bacon and sausage baps. We can then use the organic pork that we get in.”

The key to making a success of a radical idea, Graham explains, is thorough research. “First of all you need to assess whether or not you’ve got enough passing trade, and we did quite a lot of studies on our road to see whether we’d have enough cars to make it worthwhile. You need at least 50-60 cars a day to be worth it in low season and at peak we’re looking to get 100-150 cars a day. Sometimes we push to over 200.”

“My advice would be to speak to as many people as you can from the get-go; I was speaking to people long before we built the drive thru, like the company that make the headsets we use to communicate with the people driving up; they set up lots of different drive thrus all over the world so they were able to give me lots of advice about the building, how we should have the road going around it, the distance for stopping… We took that advice and put it into the Rhug model which really is about the quality of the food that we give out.”

“People can stop further down the road to eat, or take it with them to work, but we also have picnic benches and an area where they can pull up straight away if they want to. We are working hard to give people everything they need before they go off on their way.”

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