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Anna Lamotte, is co-owner and manager of Guardswell Farm.
Anna Lamotte, is co-owner and manager of Guardswell Farm.

Case study: Guardswell Farm

 

“It’s really cool to help people have a lovely weekend,” says Anna Lamotte, co-owner and manager of Guardswell, a 61-hectare (150-acre) working sheep farm in Perthshire making a name for itself as a place to unwind and immerse in nature.

Having started with just ‘one little hut’, the farm now has accommodation for up to 28 people in cosy wood cabins, a shepherds hut, cottages and farmhouse.

It hosts weddings, private parties, corporate events, kids ornithology camps, cookery and crafts courses, farmers markets, concerts in the woods and Sunday farm brunches where people rent a table and spend the day eating, reading and walking.

“We’re a rural events space but we find people come to stay and do not leave the farm when they’re here,” says Ms Lamotte.

“We don’t have TVs or WiFi, but we have loads of books and board games.

People come to get away and reconnect with nature and the kids love running around.

We take them to collect eggs and brush the donkeys.

We do what we can to help people slow down.”

Private parties can be held at Guardswell Farm
Private parties can be held at Guardswell Farm

Picturesque views

 

With picturesque views from the top of a hill, there is a big emphasis on creating beautiful and enjoyable spaces both in and outdoors.

Anna and her family worked with architects specialising in old building restoration and outside they have installed nature walks, bird-watching huts, pizza ovens, fire pits, and an old boat with a wood burner where guests like to gaze at the stars.

“It’s about people being able to come here and enjoy Guardswell – I don’t have to put up a theme park,” says Ms Lamotte.

“The view is our most important asset.” Social media has been key.

“The first thing I did was set up an Instagram account – I’m creative and take all the photos.

We sell all our weddings through Instagram, we don’t do any paid marketing.” She advises farmers to ‘take a step back’ and see how beautiful their landscape is.

“Do what you’re naturally good at and don’t go into hospitality unless you like people.”

Samantha and Laura in front of their newly planted vineyard
Samantha and Laura in front of their newly planted vineyard

Case study: Burn Valley Vineyard

 

For Burn Valley Vineyard in North Norfolk, selling unique ‘experiences’ has been central to generating wine sales and additional income.

The five-hectare (12-acre) vineyard is a farm diversification run by sisters Samantha Ciritci and Laura Robinson on their family’s 182ha (450-acre) arable farm.

Laura and her chef husband Steve, also run an outside catering company, so the two businesses collaborate on host events in the purposebuilt winery.

The business sells a few bottles in local delis, but most of the sales are generated from experiences, where many of the customers also buy wine, says Mrs Ciritci.

“We run 90-minute tasting tours,” she says.

“People get a tour and explanation at the winery, then we take them to the vineyard in a trailer – that’s a real experience for most of them and often their highlight.

Then when they arrive at the vineyard, it’s like walking into France.

“We drive down the rows, taste the grapes and explain what we do, then take them back for wine tasting and a board of local cheeses and charcuterie.” They also run hugely popular weekly ‘secret suppers’ with 30 guests each night paying £50.

All summer was fully booked.

“I created fliers and handed them out locally with just the dates on – I got so many phone calls from people asking what it was,” says Mrs Ciritci.

“We do five courses with five wines.

The first one we did in the vineyard itself – it was magical looking out over the vines as the sun set.”

Hugely popular weekly ‘secret suppers’ are held.
Hugely popular weekly ‘secret suppers’ are held.

Unique experiences

 

Customers range from tourists to locals, but it is about creating unique experiences, says Mrs Ciritci.

“People are looking for different experiences and it’s about getting them here so they remember us.” Through experiences, customers also help spread the word on social media.

“It’s so normal now to post where you are and what you’re doing.

The first thing they write is what a lovely time they’re having – it helps enormously.”

Expert advice: Destinations

Expert advice

 

Destinations and experiences are linked, says Sue Crossman, agri-tourism consultant at Team Tourism.

A ‘destination’ is a place people seek-out.

“It’s a composite visitor offer – accommodation, attractions, food and things to do, which all come together in a place,” she says.

Finding creative ways to monetise assets also keeps people on-farm longer and spending their money with you, says Ms Crossman.

“It’s no longer a case of just having a bed and breakfast – it’s about embracing this softer, experiential aspect – such as with a farmer connecting [guests] with what they are doing on-farm, with food production, wildlife and ecology,” she says.

“It’s about explaining things to them and allowing them to experience life as a local in a way that gives more meaning.

This could mean being active and building a sense of achievement, such as through climbing up hills, going mountain biking or experiencing living on a farm.

“It’s got to be something they are not used to and a break from the drudgery of the daily commute – something that allows people to have a deeper experience, which is enriching and more immersive.”

 

Ms Crossman suggests looking at Airbnb’s use of experiences (airbnb.co.uk) which are mostly offered by local people.

“This is what people appear to want.

Farmers need to think about how they can do things – if you’re are a dairy farm that makes cheese, could you do a cheese-making course, or tasting?

 

If you’re a vegetable grower, you could run cooking classes on Vietnamese fermentation of vegetables – try to look at food trends.”

 

Experiences are also responding to the wellness trend, says Ms Crossman, offering mind-opening opportunities and quality time to refresh – something which farms are well-placed to provide.

“We do tend to take our countryside for granted,” she says.

“[People] are interested in talking about the farm, they like being driven in a tractor or going out on a quad bike.

They are interested in farmers’ generational understanding and care of the land.

Be imaginative about what you’ve got.” Generation X and Y are generally driving the wellness trend, but there is also a trend for multigenerational holidays with grandparents through to kids.

People like to hear from ‘experts’ too, says Ms Crossman.

Scotland, for example, has amazing dark skies at night and so farms could offer stargazing with an astrologer.

Or, perhaps, listening to owls with an ornithologist.

“It’s whatever is going on around you,” she adds.

“But people need to keep up with trends.” Glamping, for instance, appears to have peaked and people are moving on to wood cabins instead.

The key factor to get right is quality, she says.

“People are absolutely getting more demanding – standards and expectations have increased and in an era of social media your reputation is very public.

If you’re second rate, people are going to know.

In my experience though, people are prepared to pay for quality.” Consider interests Importantly, consider what your skills, likes and interests are, says Ms Crossman.

If, for example, you do not want kids on-farm, aim for the couples market.

If you are not good with people, consider whether hospitality or experiences is right for you, or whether there is a way to create a hands-off approach, as long as guests are aware.

Generally though, people like a hands-on approach.

Even small things make a difference, such as being greeted by a cup of tea and cake at a B&B, she says.

“It’s got to reflect your personality though.” Farmers should look at trends, their market and who they could attract, then think about how they can reach that market, says Ms Crossman.

Understanding of digital marketing and booking is key.

More from Shawbrook

More from Shawbrook

For more from this series, visit the Shawbrook hub

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