Why open a farm attraction?
There are some strong reasons.
It’s a way of earning extra income without having to work away from the farm, plus many of the assets required – buildings, livestock, labour – are already there.
There are 8m children under the age of 10 in Britain (so no danger of the market evaporating).
The public has more leisure time than ever before and is constantly on the lookout for new places to visit
State of the market?
In 2000 the English Tourism Council reported a 73% growth in farm attractions over the previous 10 years.
Foot-and-mouth disease in 2001 was a big setback, forcing some farm attractions to close, but many attractions have reported a 5-10% increase in visitor numbers in each of the last two years.
What can I charge?
The range is £3.75-£8 a head for adults, depending on how much you have to offer.
If you just have an animal farm, it may be at the lower end of the scale; add a playbarn, tearoom or other indoor attractions and you can move up the scale.
How important is market research?
You need to decide who your customer is:
Young children, older children, adults or pensioners.
Are you offering entertainment, education or a mixture of the two?
Do you want to be a mini-funfair or concentrate on animals, nature and the environment?
What are other attractions in the area concentrating on?
Are they making money?
What do you need to set up?
Being in a tourist area, close to a centre of population or near a major trunk road are obviously advantages.
But a good attraction off the beaten track can still thrive.
The biggest costs?
Capital expenditure on converting buildings is the biggie here and obviously depends on what state the buildings are in and how much work you can do yourself.
An investment of 100,000 could start you off on a barn-by-barn basis, but you would need five or 10 times that to have a range of attractions ready for a big-bang opening.
Professional advice is often a big cost too, as is market research, dealing with planning, highways, health and safety, structural surveys, environmental health, accountancy, tax and legal stuff. Not to mention signs.
What sort of profit margin can I hope for?
8-10% is the industry norm.
What rules and regulations will I have to comply with?
Planning permission will be needed for change of use of buildings and land, explains Barry Davies from the National Farm Attractions Network.
Some planners are supportive, others are distinctly hostile.
When you apply, go for the widest possible description of the development, such as rural visitor, education and interpretation centre, with ancillary uses to keep your options open.
Will I have to pay business rates?
This will generally be based on open market rental value, though bigger ones may be assessed on the basis of turnover.
A small attraction might have to pay £2000-3000/yr but, for the bigger attractions that make up much of the NFAN’s membership, annual payouts range from £7000 to £50,000.
What certification is needed?
You will need to talk to the fire service, HSE, local environmental health officer, plus meet food and hygiene standards if you have a caf.
What accreditation is recommended?
Visit Britain, the national tourist authority, has a Visitors Attraction Quality Assurance Service (VAQAS) and the NFAN advises its members to be inspected for this.
Do I need specialist insurance?
Yes – Public Liability and Occupiers Liability Insurance is essential and can be expensive.
Annual premiums typically range from £5000-£10,000 depending on the size of the operation, the number of visitors and the proportion of these that are children.
This is particularly so when children are under the age of 11 and where there are “riskier” activities like outdoor playbarns.
Also be aware of the safety aspects of outdoor tractor/trailer rides.
Carrying out frequent risk assessments and sticking closely to health and safety guidelines is very important if you are to secure a competitive insurance premium.
What are the big financial outgoings likely to be?
Main running costs are likely to be staff – this can be as high as 30-40% of turnover.
Other main costs are repairs and renewals.
Can I get a grant?
DEFRA’s Rural Enterprise Scheme (RES) grants finish in December 2006.
The Rural Development Programme (2007-2013) replaces this and is currently under consultation.
It will be operated by the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs).
Is there help with marketing?
Yes, talk to the NFAN, Farms for Schools (FFS) and Farm and Retail Markets Association (FARMA) principally.
Other sources of advice worth trying are DEFRA, NFU, CLA and Business Link.
What’s the main reason why farm attractions fail?
Most farm attractions are seasonal businesses – usually peaking in August – and the cashflow over the winter months needs to be managed very carefully.
National farm attractions network 01536 513 397
Sam and Kim Flint, Woodhouse Farm Park 01945 860 309
Chris and Sue Heseltine, Hesketh Farm Park 01756 710 444 www.heskethfarmpark.co.uk
DEFRA 08459 335 557 www.defra.gov.uk
CLA 020 7235 4696 www.cla.org.uk
Visit Britain 020 8846 9000 www.visitbritain.com
Farms for schools 01422 882 708 www.farmsforschools.org.uk
Farm & Retail Markets Association 0845 458 8420 www.farma.org.uk
Business Link 08456 009 006 www.businesslink.gov.uk
Agricultural Development in the Eastern Region 01638 672 120 www.ader.org.uk