The developing tourism theme describes access to tourism markets, image creation and presenting an authentic farm experience for visitors. Each farm shop has created a unique image, or brand, that drives their selection of inventory and activities. Yet all the branding is based on local sourcing and a rustic atmosphere. Each farm shop interviewed is located on agricultural land and emphasized rurality in their marketing messages. Additionally, most of the shops were located in historic buildings that helped support the traditional English farm shop image. Another large part of the branding is the visibility of the farmer and the family. Each farm shop presents a story of its own personal history.
Because you wouldn’t get this anywhere else, it’s very typical of the area and an enjoyable day out. You get the lovely scenic drive, you know, to come here and go back home. We sell our story to them, then we’re not just a nameless, faceless company that’s doing lunches but we’re actually this farm. The owner, he runs the kitchen and have you met the parents? You know there’s a face behind it. It’s this lovely farmer cooking his kids’ lunch, and it’s keeping that story going. (Farm shop #1)
This image creation also extends to the suppliers. Many farm shops highlight local farms that distribute through the shop. They offer ‘meet the producer’ days where local farmers set up booths for farm shop visitors. The shop may supply local pubs or restaurants and many sell produce at special events around the area. These partnerships help emphasize the sense of community and create brand awareness.
The next four days are the folk festival, the single biggest after Christmas probably, the single biggest injection of income of the year. And we have one next week over in Oxfordshire, which is slightly smaller but you know those two things set us up. It makes people aware that we are here and part of our community. (Farm shop #2)
There are also a number of formal tourism partnerships that assist in marketing. These organizations promote regions or counties and usually emphasize local food and beverages. These partnerships may also spill over into destination marketing, but the majority of interviewees avoid these larger tourism networks. They feel their uniqueness is lost in the larger destination message (such as luxury accommodations, theme parks and golf courses). Instead, they work with food groups that highlight food and drink trails, farm visits and agricultural producers. Many bed and breakfast establishments also partner with the farm shop in their marketing efforts. However, it should be noted that farm shops do not work directly with other farm shops, as the industry is still highly competitive. The main theme of these networks is the promotion of quaint, rustic and traditional English countryside establishments. These partnerships also provide knowledge sharing and access to new suppliers around the area.
There’s a ton of farmers market associations so they do quite a lot of marketing for the different farmers markets that are out there. And they’re there as an advisory body. There’s a conference every year. Each person kind of contributes what they’re good at, what they enjoy doing. And that’s how it’s been. (Farm shop #4)
However, proximity to tourist attractions is also a necessity for successful farm shops that cater to tourists. Country estates, local museums and other countryside tourism activities help promote the concept of rurality and support visitation. At the same time, limited signage is a large barrier to tourist visits and many farm shops rely on food trail maps to direct new visitors. The interviewees all utilize Facebook and websites as many tourists will map out their holiday before arriving in the area. Therefore, having an internet presence coupled with a tourist attraction is the best avenue for success.
We’ve pick up a lot of business from the Stowe Estate, which used to be part of the National Trust. People go and visit the gardens. That used to be their entrance there, so they’d drive past the end of our road. Then they moved the new visitors’ centre and it has hurt our business. (Farm shop #5)
While many farm shops acknowledge that local customers, those in close proximity to the shop, are the primary market, access to tourism is a lucrative and growing niche market for farm shops. To access this market, farm shops must maintain an image of rurality and support local heritage, both through their physical environment and through the brand image established through their selection of inventory and services. Local area partnerships help support the sense of community tourists expect from traditional farm shops. It is through these practices that farm shops reinforce the sense of rurality to the travelling urban populations.