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Once upon a time, the average farm shop provided exactly what it said on the tin. But more modern businesses are building on and adding to their success with extra facilities for customers to enjoy.
“Happy children mean happy parents!”
A big draw for customers is children’s facilities. As The Little Pig Farm Shop‘s Emma Stevenson says, “Happy children mean happy parents!”
Playgrounds or soft play centres provide a welcome distraction for youngsters while their parents go off to do their shopping in the farm shop or sit themselves down with a coffee or soft drink.
“Children are catered at Teals for with the menus and through products (particularly in the gifting area) and wild spaces that they can explore outside,” says Ash Sinfield.
Parents seeking an enjoyable but affordable outing can seek inspiration from the local farm shop, many of which have plenty to enjoy for children. The Little Pig Farm Shop has installed its own play area for children, as well as animal-based areas. Emma says, “We have 20 chickens which children love and have built the Pig Sty where children can play safely.”
While kids can be happily entertained, special activities can also provide an education, as Pamela Milburn, partner at Brookvale, explains. “One of the most important aspects of our farm is educating children. Kids can come and see the animals, watch them being feed, watch as the cows get milked by our state-of-the-art robotic milking system and learn about our other animals on farm. For example, we can teach kids about where eggs come from when they come and see our chickens!”
“We have provided educational visits, including young farmers’ group tours and visits for pre-school children, which they found very enjoyable We are hoping to get these back up and running again in the near future.”
Farrington’s has a large outdoor farm park (play area) and an undercover ‘straw pool’ free of charge for customers to use during the spring and summer months. “During summer weekends and school holidays we also run a slip and slide in the farm park which is also free to use,” says Erin Jeffery.
“The farm park has a ‘snack shack’ within it where customers can conveniently purchase hot and cold drinks and snacks. We also have farm animals for children to see, plus seasonal events (Easter trail, flower picking, pumpkin picking, kids festival).”
Creating a pet-friendly environment is another important consideration for farm shops. While Teals doesn’t allow dogs in its eating area or shop, it provides a run around paddock, water bowls and hooks. This area is large scale but enclosed, allowing customers’ dogs to stretch their legs and get plenty of exercise.
In 2022, Cedarbarn Farm Shop‘s Thornton Road Site added a 1.25-acre dog walking facility which is located next to the shop. Intended as a way of keeping dogs exercised and occupied, the field is open on a daily basis from 7am to 8pm. Lit all year round for use in the darker months, the field is also secured by six-foot-high fencing and a double-gated handling area. Booking is required, with only one allowed at a time for a session which can last either 30 minutes or a full hour.
Accommodating customers’ needs
Farm shops are ensuring that visitors get the maximum experience of their environment. To that end, more businesses are investing in accommodation that allows customers to not only make a day of it, but also a weekend.
Emma Stevenson, says, adding extra facilities is a great way of boosting custom. “We wanted to increase footfall to the cafe and farm shop by adding in accommodation.”
The Little Pig Shop is arranging an eclectic choice of accommodation on its site. “We have installed two safari tents, an RV caravan and have just built a beautiful two-bedroom en-suite lodge: all in our field,” says Emma Stevenson. Little Pig’s brand-new accommodation will be available to rent from April 2023.
Hilltop Farm Shop now has its own glamping site called Hilltop Hideaways. Visitors can choose from accommodation options including shepherd’s huts, bell tents and cabins or, if they wish to bring their own tent pitches, these are also available. Glamping at Hilltop also features a toilet block, converted horse trailers which now feature high-pressure showers, and a barbecue area.
Hollies has built five woodland lodges which are a brief walk away from its Farm Shop. The accommodation is designed to sleep up to four or six people, boasting outdoor terraces, open plan living quarters and hot tubs.
The Hollies experience extends to a champagne Deli Bar. Visitors to the bar (located in the far, shop) can choose from locally roasted coffee, foods (such as ploughman’s lunches, meat boards and artisan cheeses) or a glass of either wine or champagne.
Creating a different kind of experience, some farm shops have entered the world of event planning. The Farm Stratford now puts on a wide variety of events, whether they be for corporate businesses or private individuals and families.
In terms of private celebrations, The Farm Stratford’s own private dining room is available for birthday and anniversary parties, baby showers and general get-togethers with family and friends. On a business level, The Farm can also be hired out for team-building initiatives, including a cookery school, a meeting room and private dining room.
The concept of the masterclass extends to both team-building groups and also individuals seeking out a new hobby or just a bit of extra enlightenment. Daylesford Organic has its own masterclasses, which are helmed by qualified experts in their individual fields. These run the whole gamut from meat butchers’ courses (including demonstrations from local butchers and practical preparation and cooking of meats) to flower arranging (featuring handy advice on making all kinds of hand-tied bouquets).
Hilltop Farm Shop offers the choice of event planning, but with a twist – in that it can go to customers rather than the other way round. Hilltop can deliver outside catering, with foods and meats brought to parties and wedding breakfasts.
“Customers generally feel they are getting value for money when they visit due to the additional facilities we offer free of charge, including the farm park, animals, straw pool and slip and slide,” comments Erin Jeffery. “Promoting the extra attractions helps to drive footfall and boost sales.”
While finance can prove to be a potential problem in terms of growing costs, extra facilities ensure that farm shops bring in significant returns on investment. “There have been cost issues recently as prices have increased massively in the last 12 months, explains Emma Stevenson. “But we are confident we will receive a good return in our investment.”
The Little Pig Farm Shop has big plans for its future, as Emma sums up. “We have permission to build five lodges in our field. So over the next two to three years, we will be investing in building lodges and creating happy memories for our guests.”
The proof of the extra facilities is in the pudding. As well as awards, positive reviews in feedback books and on websites like TripAdvisor show that there is great demand for bigger and better facilities. Farm shops like Teals have received warmly positive reactions.
“We have had lots of good feedback from customers,” concludes Ash Sinfield. “We just work on adding colour to people’s journeys whether it be through food, products, environment or experience.”