OUR PERSONAL TOUCH IS OUR SECRET WEAPON - Catriona Farquharson, Finzean Farm Shop, Aberdeenshire

This year has been reasonably good so far, helped by the fantastic weather over the summer and there definitely seemed to be a few more tourists up in our neck of the woods in Aberdeenshire – both from overseas and from home. The increase in overseas visitors is possibly a knock-on effect of the weaker pound and also there seems to have been some great advertising and marketing of Scotland as a destination. We’ve also seen a growth in the number of people who chose to holiday or to take short breaks at home in the UK rather than going abroad – maybe helped by the promise of a good summer! What this winter brings is still unknown!


Farm shops can thrive as people are always looking for new ways to enjoy food and drink out of the home and are becoming more and more discriminating, which we hope will see a growth of smaller, unique and independently run shops will cropping up across the country. As time becomes more precious people are becoming more discerning about how they spend their time and where they shop and much more aware of the provenance of what they buy and eat.


However, in Scotland we are always up against the challenges of quick turnover as we are never going to get the numbers passing through the door that you will have in higher traffic areas but we should capitalise on the uniqueness and exclusivity that many of our products have – whisky, game and salmon, along with tartan and tweed, might seem like clichés but they do conjure up a wonderful image of Scotland that we should take advantage of.


Despite the increase in tourists we find that it is essential for us to have a business that appeals to people locally, rather than relying on the tourist trade. The regulars keep us going and keep coming through the door all year round, not just in the busy months. We’ve realised that customers particularly appreciate the personal family feel we have at Finzean Farm Shop, and getting tips on what to buy and helpful cooking advice and friendly information from our staff is all important to them. The aesthetics of the building and layout is hugely important too, so with our new extension, we’ve tried to keep a rustic and welcoming feeling and retain the character of the lovely old farm steading with its big open windows and views whilst taking advantage of the high ceilings and original stonework. The standard of the conversion definitely appeals to our main customer base and enhances the time they spend with us.


Having the café side is essential to our Farm Shop and makes us more of a destination stop for visitors. We do find we need to specialise a little in order to compete more effectively and offer different products. If customers have made the journey out to us they like to be able to browse particularly craft goods but you also need a mix of less expensive, more instant purchase items, such as cards, as folk do like to go home with something.


To succeed in food and gift retail it’s important to know and understand the trends as well as identify the opportunities and tailor-make them for your own setting. We find that our customers are much more prepared to pay for genuinely good quality, local/seasonal/ethnically sourced products for health benefits, as well as buy local to support sustaining our immediate community. One of the biggest downsides for us is stock nearing its best before date - but luckily we can turn that into a positive by using it in the kitchen for our food service.


Keeping ahead means sourcing new products as well as old favourites. There are a huge range of new products being brought out all the time right across the board – it makes going to Scotland’s Speciality Food Show each year much more fun and exciting and also worthwhile! At the moment we seem to be seeing a great rejuvenation of the drinks sector. New ranges of Scottish gin and artisan beers keep arriving on the market and we’ve noticed that our customers - not just the ones who fall into the millennial bracket that everyone is talking about - seem to enjoy looking out for products that are unique and exciting, sometimes with quirky and fun packaging, but also very importantly they like them to be ethically produced with locally sourced environmentally friendly ingredients.


Our most popular item, funnily enough, is oatcakes, particularly our homemade ones but also the wider range too. Local preserves and honey are also always consistent sellers especially if they are local. There’s a new company near by called Hungry Squirrel and their nut butters have proved very popular – they are unbelievably delicious and their jars are fun and very eye catching! I believe they will be exhibiting at the Show so look out for them!


Our greatest success? It has to be still being here 12 years on! We know to stick to what we do best and what works best for us and the personal touch is our secret weapon. Proper old fashioned face to face interaction with the customer pays huge dividends and keeps us tuned into what people are expecting.

Finzean Farm Shop, Finzean, Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire. AB31 6PA


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