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Sam Steggles shares the story of The Goat Shed, Honingham
Our main business is making cheese, so when Covid hit a lot of our trade dropped off overnight. We had a little garden shed in the yard selling our cheese and other bits on an honesty box system; people were struggling to get things from the supermarket so we started buying pasta, loo roll or whatever to help locals. On the same site builders had been working on our new cheese factory, so we swept it out and moved our shed in. People kept asking us for more things – flour, bread – so it grew and grew. We put up another building and now we have a farm shop and a restaurant serving breakfasts and lunches, plus a pop-up German market in an adjoining barn that’s got 25 wooden huts brimming with Christmassy gifts and decorations.
At the start, I think a lot of customers came to us because they felt safe. We had a great big barn that’s really airy with lots of space. We’ve been really fortunate that we’ve designed it in such a way that we can continue with that.
The farm shop cost £250,000. We have a very understanding bank manager, and were very fortunate in getting a rural development grant at the right time which helped. In March ‘20 we had three people working here and now have about 33. One person’s sole job is to greet cars and show them where to park. We started with a calculator and a pen; now we have EPOS across the whole site. There’s a huge amount of risk in this, and it’s been a baptism of fire. There are plenty if retail places locally – Sainsbury’s and M&S, Waitrose, another farm shop 15 miles away… The difference here is that we’re more of a destination than a shop. We take very few orders online – everyone wants to come! People can see the goats in the paddock, have coffee and lunch… it really is an amazing experience.
1. Grow your offer
“Having worked with farmers and growers for 30 years we know they’re entrepreneurial by their nature,” says Matt Whelan, managing director of premium frozen brand Fieldfare. “We’re seeing a lot of new farms shops opening and existing ones expanding at the moment, and are finding our range is very complimentary to farm shops’ core offer. They might produce wonderful beef and have a great butcher’s counter, or run a dairy with a great cheese heritage, but working with us allows them to round that out with a more diverse offer. So you’ll the butcher encouraging customers to try our gratin with their steak, or using our range to offer vegan products so the whole family is happy. It helps get that balance and choice that really complements what the shop is already great at.”
2. Drive efficiency
Extra running costs are a consideration when expanding your shop floor, but there are efficiencies to be made. “Energy price rises affect a whole store – from the chillers, to the tills to the café – but we have highly-efficient glass-top freezers that reduce the loss of energy,” says Matt. “Offering frozen also delivers efficiency at that step above; deliveries are less frequent, wastage for your business and also the customer is reduced. We’ve been champions of loose food since Richard and Ann started the business, and we’re working with magazines like Olive and BBC Good Food to drive people to choose loose at the freezers. The whole proposition is ‘take only what you want’ which fits very nicely with customer priorities. It’s all about quality first, rather than quantity.”
3. Add-on sales
With extra space enabling a more diverse range of SKUs, there’s a great opportunity to up the income from your existing footfall. “We work with very small suppliers to produce something really special, whether that’s our croissants that home cooks can prove in the evening to make a really fluffy breakfast pastry, or our rainbow fries made from parsnip and carrot, or our new pastel de nata…” Capturing your shoppers’ imagination with a taste of the unexpected could really make your new space pay.
Read more about how to tackle your next expansion or refurbishment project here.