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April 13, 2016 / Apley Estate - Hamiltons

Growing your business – Apley Farm Shop 5 years on


Pigg’s Playbarn under construction


Creamery Cafe under construction


Lime avenue, our front drive, the main entrance, before we opened

Main barn east elevation 2 20100720

The main farm shop building – Gavin certainly had a vision


How it is today – something from almost nothing

Every year around 31 March, I write an anniversary press release looking back at how far we’ve come since opening on that date in 2011 & looking forward at future plans. It gets longer every year, inevitably (sorry – there’s just so much to say & share!):

Having opened in the coldest winter in decades, when temperatures dropped to -19°C, Apley Farm Shop in Shropshire considers how it’s developed in its first five years.

Lady Hamilton, Marketing Manager, explained “It’s 5 years since we opened Apley Farm Shop on March 31st, 2011. Being open 7 days a week means it’s non-stop hard work, but we’re delighted with the progress & the way it’s developed”.

Apley Estate owner Lord Hamilton began “We’ve stuck to our principles of supplying local food from local producers to local people. Most customers come from a radius of about 30 miles & most of our food comes from Shropshire & the surrounding counties.”

Head Gardener Phil Allen explained “The development of Apley Walled Garden into a small horticultural business in 2013 wasn’t part of the original farm shop business plan, but it’s happened & I’m happy to say is a huge success, supplying our farm shop & Creamery café as well as local restaurants & Telford university campus. The farm shop sells veg boxes & bookings for our private, guided tours increase every year.”

Lady [Harriet] Hamilton, Marketing Manager added “We under-estimated how much marketing was needed, especially one as diverse as ours. Marketing is now a whole profession in its own right, in a way it never was even only 20-30 years ago. It’s is a science, using technology to full effect. But it’s funny how some of the more traditional methods of marketing are still the most effective for farm shops – word of mouth, leaflets & roadsigns. Facebook is of course hugely important. We’ve recently installed two televisions onsite to show customers all that’s going on.”

General Manager Tina Buckland added “The staff training & development programme is very important these days, so more comprehensive than ever.”

Lord Hamilton praised his team “This kind of business only runs well with a team of committed staff members & loyal local customers. Many of our staff live locally, some on the Estate itself.”

Lady Hamilton continued “Event management takes up more time than originally envisaged, but it seems worthwhile, as each event attracts new visitors, who’ve never discovered us before. They put us on the wider map too & get our name known more widely.”

Every year, the shop celebrates Valentine’s Day, Mothers’ Day, Easter & Christmas, as well as organising events for the May bank holiday, Open Farm Shop, Apley Classic Motor Day, holiday clubs for the children in August, the Harvest Fair, Spookley Pumpkin Festival & Christmas Food Fair. Plus, there’s the monthly Apley Cookery Club, regular Craft Fairs too, food awareness weeks & extra days like Shrove Tuesday & Father’s Day.

Graeme Manton, Apley Estate land agent added “We’re planted 5 trees along the exit drive, one for every year the shop has been open & look forward to planting a whole avenue over time, of course.”

We’ve attracted awards & accolades including the FARMA Rising Star award & being listed in the BBC Good Food Magazine UK’s Top Ten Destination farm shops, offering “great food, great fun, great shopping”. To add to that, in we were named in the top 3 farm shop restaurants in the Sunday Times by restaurant critic AA Gill. This year, we’ve entered the Guild of Fine Foods Great Taste Awards for the first time – the results are due any day!

Lady Hamilton added “The Courtyard Shopping concept has grown with the arrival of Annie’s Reiki Centre, the Apley Plant Centre & Big Little Things [florists & gifts] in 2015. The site now hosts 9 businesses, so it really is now ‘so much more than a Farm Shop’. That’s one of our by-lines & it really rings truer every day.”

The Apley butchers, Craig Whitehouse & Jon Callinswood, added “Having just picked up some awards for our sausages, we’re busier than ever. We’re right next to the Delicatessen, which we supply with our award-winning pork & game pies.“

After three years, we took the butchery counter in-house. We broadened the butcher’s capacity by building a chilled hanging room & increased our handmade food production by adding another kitchen.”

Lora Rogers, Farm Shop Supervisor added “From records, I can see the shop stock levels have gradually increased, but we’re limited for space. Some suppliers have been with us since day one, but at the same time, I really enjoy buying in new products for our customers.”

Lady Hamilton continued “We launched our online shop about when I expected, but not how. We’re one of a group of online DeliShops & that business model works very well for us. It mixes Click & Collect & Home Delivery options, which suits our diverse customer base. It’s made us even busier, but we’ve just stepped up a gear to keep pace!”

On our Delicatessen counter, our Handmade at Apley range increases every year, using very local ingredients. Later this year we’ll be selling one of our Apley products nationwide, spreading the Apley name wider. 

Some things haven’t changed enormously – Pigg’s Playbarn remains as popular as ever, enjoying a partnership with two children’s activity providers – Educating Kids Outdoors (EKO) & Activ8 who run activities on the Skylark Nature Trail.

The Creamery Café is busier, but otherwise continues as it always has, offering breakfasts, coffees, teas, cakes & lunches all year round. “We’ve held four Apley Archives exhibitions in the café, but that’s another project in itself “ added Lady Hamilton.

Some things we try are more successful than others. For example, we never got high enough attendance for the daytime courses we ran in the early years, but happily the Conference Room bookings have increased – so we just accept it’s swings & roundabouts. “

Lady Harriet Hamilton concluded “Every year we have a bank of plans, some of which materialise sooner than others. This year I hope to see the publication of The first Apley Cookbook. Fully launching the ‘All in the Bag’ ready-to-cook meal packages, an ‘Apley To Go’ range & more branded products may have to wait for 2017 ! It’s important to consolidate & improve on what we do now, before beginning new projects.”

Lady Hamilton finished by adding “Our key Spring event is the Apley Bake Off on Monday May 2nd (10-4pm). I’ve invited six talented Shropshire chefs to give demonstrations & masterclasses. There’s also baking competition open to everyone & a children’s corner, so I’m sure it’ll be a really fun day.“

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