Interview with Ian Richardson, Managing Director of Garsons Farm Shops
As part of our 'Spotlight on...' series, we caught up with Ian Richardson, Managing Director of Garsons Farm Shops, to hear how they have been looking after their local communities during and post lockdown and how they're keeping their staff and customers safe.
Tell us about Garsons
Garsons is an award-winning destination Garden Centre, Farm Shop and Restaurant with locations at Esher in Surrey and Titchfield in Hampshire. Garsons Esher is also home to one of the UK's largest 'Pick Your Own' Farms. Established in 1871, the family-run business expanded from growing and selling produce to the London Markets when it began Esher Farm Shop in 1972 selling their own produce to the local community. The Farm Shop has gone from strength to strength; a treasure trove of food and drink specially selected by our team full of the best local and artisan produce.
What measures have been put in place to ensure the safety of your team while they are at work?
When the recent Covid-19 events unfolded and the country was placed into lockdown we knew that our Farm Shop would be imperative to help the local community, so we were determined to remain open. The safety of our team is our top priority; all were spoken to about our plans and all, other than those that had to shield, were keen to carry on working and help in whatever way they could. We acted quickly; bespoke screens were built at the tills to shield our till staff, hand sanitisers and gloves were provided, and extra cleaning and hygiene measures were implemented.
We enforced strict shopping guidelines and measures to our customers, this included individual shoppers only, a limited amount of people in the shop at one time, queuing systems, two metre floor markers, trolley and basket sanitizing stations and removing cash payments – these processes were put in place for the safety of our staff as well as our customers. The mental impact on our staff was closely monitored, with constant checks and end of the day briefings. The team were encouraged to talk openly about how they were feeling and raise any concerns. It was a real team effort, we had staff volunteer from other areas of the business to transfer their roles to help the Farm Shop operate. I feel very proud of how the team worked so incredibly hard under extreme and unknown circumstances, obtaining stock was a constant challenge but we achieved it and the Farm Shop remained open every day of the week.
Many consumer trends have emerged out of lockdown. What would you say has been the most prominent consumer demand from your business? (e.g. health & wellbeing products)
We were impacted by the well-publicised baking enthusiasts during lockdown, flour and eggs were extremely sort after. We found a great supplier who helped support us and we managed to stock flour and egg varieties for the majority of lockdown while the big supermarket chains couldn’t fulfil demand. Encouragingly we also saw a considerable rise in fresh fruit and vegetables, which were on the decline pre pandemic. Fresh quality fruit and veg is the essence of what our farm shop is built on, so we welcomed this trend as it’s so refreshing to know that people were going back to basics and cooking from fresh raw ingredients. Our resident ‘Bevan’s Butchers’ also saw a dramatic rise in fresh premium meat products especially when we were gifted with glorious blue skies and warm sunshine, customers were in their gardens cooking on their barbeques.
Consumer confidence is starting to increase but with a high demand for safety and hygiene measures in place. How are you delivering these expectations?
We are stringently continuing to follow our health and safety implementations both for our customers and staff. We have very recently relaxed one or two measures to follow government guidelines, and now are allowing 2 people to enter together which we hope will be more accommodating to our customers.
Sadly, we have witnessed first-hand aggressive behaviour towards our staff because of our safety measures. While this behaviour is appalling and upsetting, we know this is a small minority and we keep faith knowing that many of our customers are supportive and positive, leaving praise and heartening feedback.
How important is community to your business? Are you expecting to implement any new initiatives to help drive community engagement post-lockdown?
Our local community is held dearly at our core. We assigned two members of staff to solely focus their time on offering a dedicated ‘Order and collect’ service to the over 65’s, vulnerable and key workers; who email their food requirements, pay over the phone and have it delivered to their vehicle upon arrival. The turnaround was 1 to 2 days, and helped so many of our local community, especially as the supermarket delivery slots were so hard to find. We also help charity organisations when we can, we currently donate food items which are used to provide hot meals to those who most in need.
We often help through sponsorship, resources and gifted donations to many community events pre lockdown. We of course will do what we can to help local events adapt to aid with virtual support and or group gatherings when it is safe to do so, which will drive community engagement.
Are there any suppliers, individuals, or organisations which you feel have gone above and beyond to help your business during and post-lockdown?
We have been astounded by the tremendous effort and excellent service from many suppliers over the last few months. There are three companies who we would like to give a special mention to; 1, Fig and Fennel, based at Spitalfields Market, London, fresh produce suppliers, who excelled expectations and delivered time and time again with quality fruit and vegetables. 2, COOK frozen meals who again went above and beyond and exceeded expectations for our extra last-minute orders due to the high in demand product. 3, Our very own residency butchers Bevan’s Butchers who continued to supply our local community with the highest quality meats.
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