Essington Farm, Wolverhampton
• Sound business plan
• Customer-focused growth and change
• Meticulous attention to detail in costings and margins
• Fosters strong teamspirit
• Keeping 3,500 customers a week happy is quite a challenge, but one that Will Simkin clearly relishes.
He became a partner in the family PYO and farm shop business in 2005. Two years later, the shop size was doubled, the kitchen extended and the butchery and delicatessen opened.
Managing expansion is tricky, but ever since Will’s parents, Richard and Mary, opened the gate to their first PYO strawberry crop at Essington in 1978, this venture has developed and grown through knowing and understanding customers’ likes, dislikes and shopping habits.
“Every aspect and enterprise of our business has been customer-led, involving constant monitoring of their needs by listening, feedback from till staff and market research,” says Will.
The success of this is demonstrated not only by customer numbers but in the fact that 99% are regulars. From a peak of 3,500, numbers drop back to about 1,200 a week in winter. The shop is well stocked, with tempting displays celebrating quality and plenty, as well as the chance to taste the latest creation from the deli or bakery.
Will has inherited his parents’ drive to innovate and improve at Essington Fruit Farm, which lies a few miles north of Wolverhampton, Staffordshire. An outdoor play area, more catered events, a passenger trailer for rides around the farm and an extension to the cold store are planned.
The passion, leadership and vision of the whole Simkin family is clear. They retail the entire produce of this 73ha (195-acre) mixed holding. Alongside the 35 horticultural crops are outdoor sows and a pedigree Hereford beef herd.
“We try to maximise profit by adding value and minimising waste by processing produce for sale in different forms – for example, soups, frozen meals and pies,” says Will.
He has a keen eye for detail and an impressive costing discipline, achieving known margins across all produce every week. Net profit is consistently 10-15% of turnover, which is also growing consistently.
Staff costs account for about one-third of turnover and staff management proved the biggest challenge in the most recent expansion of the tea room/restaurant, serving about 150 Sunday lunches every week.
As a result of that expansion, staff have been developed and helped to take on responsibility. The team of 40 includes a mixture of youth and experience and all receive great encouragement from their employers. Weekly meetings with managers of departments ensure performance is carefully monitored and that any issues can be quickly addressed.
Performance is benchmarked against other farm shops of a similar size, while conferences, training and visits to other farm shops provide inspiration for the team.
Essington makes regular contact with customers through local radio and newspaper advertising, newsletters and parish magazines. Many events are hosted at the farm, including tasting days, seasonal celebrations and activities and an annual craft fair.
• 73ha suckler beef and free-range pork
• Farm shop and tea room
• 35 horticultural crops, large PYO enterprise
• 40 employees
“We were seeking dynamic, entrepreneurial farmers who are creatively developing local markets – our deserving winner clearly fits the bill”
Pearce Hughes, Agriculture Development Manager, Asda
2011 Farmers Weekly Awards