16 November 2001

ROOM AT THE SHOP FOR A TOP FACE-LIFT

Farm shop owners inundated farmers weekly with letters

after we offered a free "make-over" courtesy of retail

guru John Stanley. John was impressed with much of

what he found at the shop he visited – but there was

scope for improvement. Tim Relf reports

"NO – Im too busy" are words familiar to many parents. Theyre also the words which Anita Clements reckons she says more than any others to her seven-year-old daughter Rachel.

The main reason Anitas so busy is Church Farm Shop – the diversification she runs at South Scarle, Notts, on her husband Stephens 160ha (400- acre) arable farm.

The business had humble beginnings, selling daffodils in a bucket at the farmgate with an honesty box. In 1989 it was expanded into a portacabin and now sells a range of products from a converted 18th century stable next to the farmhouse.

"Everything Ive learnt up until now is by my own mistakes – by getting out there and doing it," Anita told farmers weekly when she contacted us about her shop. "We didnt have a business plan or go to the bank – we just said: Well have a go."

She explained: "I thoroughly enjoy being in the shop with customers. I dont like paperwork and I feel, now that the shop is bigger and busier, that I dont know enough about business and advertising.

"We have lots of things going for us and Im full of ideas for the future but I never have enough – or any – time to stand back and consider them properly. Perhaps I just need another me. I seem to have reached a point where Im struggling to manage on my own, but Im not sure where or whether to get help."

So, John visited Anita at Church Farm Shop and here, broken into headings, are his main findings:

&#42 The entrance

Simplicity should be the watchword and John felt there were too many signs here. He recommended taking down all the small ones, leaving the big one and the blackboard. "I love the blackboard – but keep it simple," he says. "Use bullet points – ideally just one word."

Flowers in window boxes or hanging baskets could also brighten the area – as could painting the fence a lighter colour.

&#42 Outside the shop

This is the most profitable space so high gross profit products should be displayed here. "Think about how this area looks – you need some theatre here. You also need a point of difference – you could use old-fashioned farm-machinery as props."

One large "Welcome" sign would also be a nice touch.

&#42 Layout inside shop

The first products visitors see on entering are bottled and bagged ones which John considered to be not farmy enough. This is the major promotional area, so the local aspect should be stressed. "If youve told customers that you major on local fresh food, this must be the first message they get when they enter."

John also thought that the central display was too high. "Its important for customers to see across the room. Lowering it would make the room look bigger."

&#42 Stock and design

John was unhappy that the shop sold some computer gear. "Its like McDonalds selling crockery. Id rather see fresh products.

"Its fine to sell, for example, birthday cards – but they should either be made locally or depict local scenes. I dont want to see pictures of pandas."

Displays, shelves and fittings have got to be technically right (ie at the right height) but they should be in character with the farm so simple brick and wood constructions are fine.

&#42 Product presentation

Again, stress the local aspect, labelling vegetables as Grown locally or Grown in the village.

As regards price-tags and labels, decide what your favourite colour is and stick with it. "Get one person to write all the labels so there is consistency," says John. And use lower case letters (this should also be done on all signs including those on the gate and staff name badges).

Try using cake-stands in the chilled cabinet. "It adds height and variability to the display."

&#42 Marketing and branding

"Youve got to be consistent with your image and avoid mixed messages," says John. The logo(s) on promotion material should always be the same and this should be used with the member of staffs first name on name badges.

Staff should also all wear the same uniform. "Personally, I dont like red – it hasnt got a farm image," says John.

&#42 The team

John liked the friendly, personal service and the way customers get spoken to as soon as they come through the door.

Staff in farmshops should always be local, he believes. Ideally they should go on a customer service training course before they start work. "This will improve communication and body language."

&#42 Anitas role

Anita is conscious that doing the day-to-day jobs doesnt leave time for longer-term planning. "We have always tended to react rather than look a long way ahead."

Johns advice was that she takes a step back. It will mean changing roles with her delegating more of the day-to-day duties so she has time to think strategically.

"Youve got to work on your business. Someone else has got to work in your business. You need to spend less time in the shop."

Take a week off every year and go and look at other farm shops, he adds. "You will learn by this. Join the Farm Retail Association, too."

&#42 Flyer

John thought the flier should be simplified. The "Why You Should Come To The Shop" should be at the top with the "Where" (ie, the address) at the bottom.

Have a header that grabs the attention, too. This should be something simple – a stimulus to buy.

John recommended having a hand-written letter on the other side of the fl-er. "We want your character and your personality in the letter. Be passionate. This is the soft, warm friendly side not the sell side." Tell the customer whats in season or new this week or how your family is."

Avoid different type styles and sizes as these can confuse customers and dont use negative words such as closed. "Tell customers when youre open – not when youre closed." Stress the easy parking, too.

Try and give something away with the flier, too. "Ask yourself whats low-cost to me yet high value to the customer."

And you need to leaflet drop four times a year. "No more; no less."

&#42 Customer numbers

The shop mainly draws customers from within a five mile radius with the bigger towns of Newark and Lincoln seven and 11 miles away, respectively. Once customers have been to the shop, they tend to come back, says Anita. Its getting them there in the first place thats the problem.

The aim, advises John, should be to get more people from the local area – not from farther afield – as these are the potential repeat visitors.

This means a promotion effort, which includes redesigning the flier and as much publicity as possible. Talk at local WI meetings, local schools and try running competitions. "You are now in the personality industry. We have to get you on stage," says John.

&#42 Conclusions

John felt that Anita was an extremely talented manager and that Church Farm Shop had much potential. The two main objectives should be getting more local first-time customers through the door and refocusing Anitas role.

John emphasised the importance of avoiding spending money wherever possible. "A lot of people think that to get their business right, you have to spend capital. The worse thing you can do is over-capitalise.

"If you put 10% more customers through, get them to spend 10% more and come back 10% more often, you earn a lot more money. Its not about trying to do one big thing – its about the little issues," says John.

Up front… Anita needs to introduce some "theatre" to interest customers outside the shop.

A good sign? Think simple and bright at the entrance.

Fresh ideas….display fresh food, not bottled or packaged, near the entrance.

Talking shop… John suggests Anita changes her role.

Before and after… The old flier (above) could be improved as shown.

&#8226 John Stanley is a retail consultant specialising in farmshops and pick-your-own enterprises. Having started his own business 25 years ago, he now works in 15 countries. John, whos the author of Just About Everything A Retail Manager Needs to Know (available from him priced £33.50 including P&P), runs workshops for the Farm Retail Association and is a well-known

conference speaker.

He can be emailed on

jstanley@iinet.net.au