Job profile: What’s it like to run a farm shop?

Retail is exciting and fast-changing and, for people with a passion for quality, local food and strong interpersonal skills, it can be hugely satisfying.

Emma Evans, 49, of Denstone Hall Farm Shop and Café in Staffordshire gives an insight into the business.

See also: See more job profiles and ag careers advice 

Emma Evans with her family

Emma Evans

What does your role involve?

My husband, Rupert, and I own and run a farm shop and 100-seat café, which we built on my family’s farm. I’m a bit of jack of all trades – I need to know a bit about a lot of things, everything from farming and food hygiene to accounting and HR, although, as we’ve got bigger, we’ve employed specialist managers.

Much of my time is spent planning and buying ahead (I was working on our Christmas range in July!) and liaising with my department heads, looking at figures and deciding priorities.

We employ about 50 people, so I don’t spend a huge amount of time on the shop floor these days, although I’ll help out if we’re particularly busy.

What were you doing prior to this?

I worked as a fashion buyer in London for 15 years for Monsoon and River Island. Rupert and I came back to Staffordshire 12 years ago because we didn’t want to have a family in London and were keen to launch this business. We started small, converting the old milking parlour, then expanded into bigger purpose-built premises in 2013.

Is coming from a farming family a good grounding for a career in the farm shop sector?

Retail certainly isn’t a 9-to-5 business, so it has that in common with agriculture. Just being passionate about your products and knowing a lot about them isn’t enough, though – getting retail right is incredibly complex.

People-management skills are one of the key areas and if you’ve only ever worked on the family farm, you might not have much experience of this. Having a spell working elsewhere is worthwhile, as working for someone else makes you a better boss yourself.

What other skills are important?

You need to be good with detail. I’m naturally analytical and my previous jobs taught me how to analyse figures. You have to be a good people person, too, as customers always want to talk to you.

Presumably there is a range of jobs connected to the farm shop sector?

Absolutely. There are a lot of very professional set-ups with multimillion-pound turnovers these days and they need employees in all sorts of roles – whether that’s butchers, bakers or front-of-house jobs such as chefs and waitresses in cafés and restaurants.

The big enterprises often also recruit people to help with events and their online/social media presence. Social media is massively important now, partly because people eat with their eyes.

What’s the best bit of the job?

I enjoy planning ahead, which is partly about seeing the big picture in terms of customer trends. Obviously, there’s a lot of focus on reducing plastic use at present, which I’m passionate about.

What’s the part you like least?

Living on site makes it hard to switch off and, as anyone who runs their own business and has small children will know, it’s a juggling act. The danger is you say yes to everything and that can make things difficult.

What’s career progression like if you work for someone else?

If you work in a small farm shop, especially if it’s run by the owners, there aren’t always lots of openings for progression, but the bigger ones can offer great opportunities.

Unlike some of the national retail businesses, which have more rigid structures and procedures, farm shops can really focus on individual team members’ careers and find innovative ways to reward people on their merit.

What advice would you give a young person wanting to follow in your footsteps?

If you’d like to run your own farm shop, work for someone else first. Get a job where they’ll invest in your training and development and where you can spend time with the boss so you can learn from them.

What are the salaries like?

The biggest farm shops offer graduates salaries similar to those you’d get in a supermarket, but it varies depending on where you are in the country.

We work with a lot of apprentices and the current minimum wage for an apprentice is £3.90/hour, but you’re learning a skill on the job and you probably won’t end up with the same debt you might if you went to university instead. n