Retail like a Farmer - Manage like a Retailer

It’s good to look forward but sometimes it is good to look back and reflect on your journey. We are all developing and food retail has had to change more than most to keep up with an ever fluid and fast-paced market. But is change always good?

Farm Shop London

Back in the day a big farm shop was turning over £1 million; I remember being a bright eyed mid 20-year-old sat at the FARMA conference listening to these great people who were leading the way in farm retail. These great shops still exist and a few more have now started but back then they were managed by the owners and a team that was engaged as they often knew or were friends with the owners.

The market was easier with less competition from discounters, fewer shops and a real interest in local food sparked a revolution with huge growth for the majority. Wages were lower, team seemed easier to find and overheads were relatively low. Happy days!

The truth is, there is growth still happening within the sector and the experiential efforts of the majority keep shops busy and interesting.

Farm Shop Award Winning Show Bull

So why do I say retail like a Farmer?

Well, every farmer that I have ever met is proud of what they do; their field of wheat, the prize bull or the silage they have just made. Everything they do can be seen from the roadside, the next-door farm, etc. If you really think about it, farmers have been putting on a show for decades. There are numerous events, county shows all over the country that celebrate it.

So, when you think about it, putting on a show in the shop is in our DNA.

So where does customer experience start and finish?

We constantly hear about the customer being king, customer experience must come first, service levels and so forth. These are all incredibly valid and are things we must get right.

However, we are all under pressure like never before; teams have become bigger, overheads are certainly higher and competition is a lot tougher. We all know we must create an experience to keep customers coming back.

I have been lucky enough to work with many farm shops and I'm so impressed with how they retail. I think many farm retailers have succeeded because they don’t think like supermarket retailers. It’s never been about profit per square foot but smiling customers happy that the lemon drizzle cake is the tastiest and the beef from their own farm is being sold direct to customers.

So where does customer experience start and finish? At the entrance to your shop? Your checkouts? Counters? Displays? Events?

The list goes on and on and, on the whole, most shops are really good at it.

Store Efficiency Key Customer Satisfaction

Where I believe there is room for much improvement is Business Efficiency. This is something definitely worth focusing on.

Normally, when you mention efficiency, people start to look blurry eyed but for me, this is just another aspect of customer experience.

  • Team in the right place helping customers at right times;
  • Product available because you know accurate stock holdings;
  • You are paying for what you get from suppliers;
  • Labelling is completed correctly and timely;
  • Costings are completed;
  • Reducing overheads as things become easier; direct links from EPOS to Accounts;
  • Lower stock holdings and reducing products and packaging you don’t need. (How many of you have obsolete packaging or ingredients and you don’t know how it got there?);
  • Accurate info that can make a difference to your team as they sell to customers;
  • Proper financials, so you can manage wastage, shrinkage and departments correctly.

The list goes on and on, but they all add to customer experience; by either providing more competitive products, savings that can be re-invested in front-end experience for the customer, more of your team in the right place at the right time, better training or better technology.

So, in summary, change is good and something not to be scared off, the key is recognising what you and your team is good at, setting achievable goals and then keeping a routine which makes sure things carry on.

My final thought is keep things simple, it’s amazing how many times I hear "We don’t have time to change what we do", when it doesn't take very long to do things properly in many areas.

Keep smiling and happy farm retailing!


Michael Boyle

Michael Boyle


Michael is the Managing Director of the Fresh Retail Group, a body who offers practical consultancy services based around the needs of your business. Having worked in the industry for many years as a successful farm shop manager and latterly being responsible for setting up a number of new farm shop enterprises, Michael has first-hand experience of the issues faced by fresh food retailers today.

In 2019 alone, The Fresh Retail Group has supported businesses with a combined annual turnover in excess of £25m and has guided new projects, including extensions, new builds and systems installation, with investments in excess of £4m.

Great minds think alike.

Let’s put our heads together for a win-win partnership that benefits your business and ours.
Request callback
Industry Partners


Enter a search term and when you're done typing, hit enter