Here’s what we learnt at STEP’s first rural business support event of 2016 – held at Gartmore House on March 23rd 2016.

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Ian Niven, Gloagburn Farm’s owner told us that “it’s easy buying a farm, but you’ve got to pay for it!” Initially it was eggs that made the most amount of money for the business, with the family-team selling them “from the garden shed beside the lawnmower.” They now have 4,500 hens delivering locally and as far up as Pitlochry.

What the customer wants ultimately drives what you do and where you take your business, Ian explained. Ever since the emergence of Farmers Markets in 2000, Ian realised that people were looking for good quality, local produce…and that’s exactly why he opened Gloagburn Farm shop in June 2003.

“We had about 12 or 14 customers on the first day, and we probably gave away half the coffees as we didn’t know how to use the coffee machine – it had literally just arrived!” Ian added. The coffee shop has grown from strength to strength: it is now open 7 days a week, has 35 tables and around 40 employees.

What’s Ian’s top tip? “Use your farm! It’s a great asset to have. Try things out!”

Rebecca McEwan from Arnprior Pumpkins told the audience that the 800-acre Arnprior Farm had been in the family since the 1930s. In order to drive the business forward Rebecca and her husband wanted to diversify away from core agricultural production. Rebecca explained: “I found a perfect opportunity for a diversification enterprise. We had a captive audience – with three major cities within one hour away.”

In 2015, Rebecca grew 300 pumpkin seeds in the farm’s greenhouse. They were fed seaweed and organic matter and grew to a really good size. After generating Facebook interest and all-important ‘likes’ Rebecca let in 50-60 cars in the first hour of opening the farm to sell the pumpkins. “We ran out of pumpkins. People were excited to pick their own pumpkins from the countryside, and we never realised it would be so popular! We’ve decided to go much bigger this year, and have also launched a ‘lambing experience’. We want this to be a memorable visitor attraction,” she said.

So what did Rebecca learn? “I learnt about people’s alienation with farms. Many people don’t know the basics, so we want to create a connection between the countryside and a visitor attraction.” She also recommends getting on board with social media – “launching Arnprior events on Facebook has been a big part of the business’ success,” she added.

Sandy Fraser from The Oak Tree Inn advises that you “look and re-examine to see if your business can do better than it already is. Ask yourself: Where do we go from here?”

The location for his award-winning enterprise, in Balmaha on the banks of Loch Lomond, has been described as “the centre of the universe”. Since branching out, branding has been crucial for the business. With an Inn, bar and restaurant, a village shop, ice cream parlour and St Mocha coffee shop, there is lots to keep track of! Not to mention their very own whisky – Balmaha Whisky! Sandy also launched his very own festival in 2015 – Balmaha Braw Weekend attracted 6000 people. And last year 82,241 main meals, 65,370 snack-meals and 120,000 scoops of ice cream were served!

“Young people now see a future in tourism in this area!” – Sandy sees that as his biggest success.

Owner of West Moss-side Farm Kate Sankey explained how she had been keen to find out how she could make the most of her 160-acre farm with house and steading. Her career had been in environmental and rural development, so she had no business skills or experience. After attending a Business Start-Up course at STEP and gaining marketing and business assistance, Kate decided to turn West Moss-side Farm into a business opportunity. She began to hold basket-making workshops, and went on to have a gallery which has become the focus for art and craft courses. This has also developed into a meeting point for community groups.

Kate set up Trossachs Yurts, offering luxury yurt-accommodation in the most beautiful of surroundings – with her farm sitting on part of Flanders Moss national nature reserve. Kate said: “We’re selling peace and tranquillity, which is why there are only three yurts.” Trossachs Yurts has been really successful – it’s even been featured on TV programme George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, and is listed on website Canopy and Stars.

When it comes to diversifying, Kate says: “You can’t do it all! You don’t want to do it all! Choose what you’re good at to free you up and get someone else to do the rest…”

Are you looking to diversify your business, and could do with professional advice? Sandy Slater, Business Gateway’s Rural Business Adviser would be happy to help! Email him here: SSlater@stepstirling.co.uk

For information on funding that’s available to innovate and diversify your business check out Forth Valley and Lomond Leader’s website: http://www.fvl.org.uk/

For anything else please contact STEP’s Marketing department: tkoenig@stepstirling.co.uk

Tina Koenig, Marketing Executive.

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