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Top tips for successful rural diversification

In their new whitepaper, Rural Solutions articulates its vision for Positive Asset Management to ‘futureproof’ rural land and property assets. The authors urge landowners to plan positively to ensure long-term preservation and success, and discuss encouraging factors within the current climate such as; the growing consumer affinity with the countryside, the more flexible national planning framework and the positive investment culture. They also provide five tips to successful diversification based on their 20 years’ experience specifically within the rural sector. Here they present some examples of these.

1. Think creatively – if you’re looking to diversify, you’ve already taken a big step but there is still a long journey ahead if you want to do it successfully. Be creative and consider every innovative idea – think of ways to make your business stand out from the crowd. 

When embarking on the development of a new Ice Cream Parlour, the owner travelled to the US to identify the right style for his Billy Bob’s diner-themed restaurant. He even commissioned an American architect to design the building, which was manufactured in ‘kit form’ to aid authenticity at roll out. Without a doubt, this dedication to authenticity made his ice cream parlour stand out from the crowd.  The attraction has been so popular it has more than doubled in size since it opened, with quirky additions introduced such as a full sized yellow American school bus in the middle of the restaurant and even a separate, child-free dining area. The concept has been so successful, it is now being rolled out over multiple sites in the North of England.

2. Research your market – by identifying your target customer and working towards meeting their needs you will be making more informed decisions about your business. It is not a case of “build it and they will come” – you need to know your market and be confident you will attract enough trade to make your business profitable.

It is wise to carry out a full market and opportunity appraisal to inform the development of any diversification strategy.  This will look in depth at the demographics of local population, how to best use the land, any competition, how far people are willing to travel and what attractions or leisure activities people will be interested in visiting.

3. Set goals and work towards achieving them - this may seem daunting, but with professional help from experienced estate planners this will provide the direction to bring a project to life.

By preparing a full estate plan for the Wiston Estate and Findon Park Farm initiative, introduced by the South Downs National Park Authority, the owners have worked with Rural Solutions o define a vision and identify projects that they not only know will work for them personally, but also benefit the estate in the long-term. 

4. Learn from others – a tried and tested method is worth learning from and building on. One client prepared the marketing strategy for his farm shop by joining FARMA [National Farmers Retail and Markets Association]. He mystery shopped numerous farm shops and cafes to help make informed decisions on what would work when they developed their own farm retail business. 

5. Get advice from an expert – with just a few tips on informed thinking and investing in tried and tested methods, diversification can deliver far greater returns in the long term.

Jonathan Fell at Cheshire Ice Cream Farm commissioned Rural Solutions to design and carry out detailed research into customer volumes, flows, origin and ‘dwell time’ over a full year at the visitor attraction to inform the design process for its redevelopment in 2014.  By using this data, the business has grown to become the largest free-to-enter farm visitor attraction in the UK.

The White Paper can be downloaded in full from here.

Rural Solutions advise and support clients diversifying from traditional land management, such as agriculture and forestry, to commercial enterprises with a business, leisure, residential or tourism focus. The White Paper discusses in further detail the five ways that farmers can diversify confidently and successfully.

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