People and businesses everywhere have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. But here in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, some businesses have done more than just survive. Many have changed business models, working practices or even completely pivoted to a very different economy, and some have even helped people or businesses in what is a very human crisis.
In this series of articles businesses share their stories and some of the pearls of wisdom they have picked up along the way.
Whilst everyone has done something different, they’ve also all benefited from some of the business support available – to help you thrive, not just survive.
Business Leader: Charlotte Foxall, fifth-generation farmer
Company name: C Leeke & Sons, Rookery Farm and SCS Spreader and Sprayer Testing Ltd
Business activity (day job): Cattle supply to market for meat and agricultural machinery testing
Business activity during (Covid-19): Direct sales of meat and eggs to local people
Pearls of wisdom to thrive not just survive: There could well be room in a new market for you – don’t forget to test it
New demand and feeding the most vulnerable
Staffordshire is a rural county, with farming and agriculture making up a significant proportion of the local economy.
The Foxall family are fifth generation beef farmers, with daughter Charlotte Foxall being five months pregnant when Covid-19 hit.
“Whilst our usual product of selling cattle direct to market was struggling because of lockdown, it was primarily our machinery-testing side of the business that suffered,’’ explains Charlotte.
Our family have tested farm machinery across the country for over 20 years and all of a sudden, we couldn’t do what we always did. We were already playing catch-up with the awful weather farmers faced early in 2020, and then with travel restrictions and other farmers reasonably wanting to restrict the number of people coming and going, we began to struggle.’’
But this didn’t get in the way of Charlotte and the Foxall family’s famed farmer work-ethic as they set about stimulating a brand-new market. ‘’We changed tactic by pivoting to focus on C Leeke & Sons, our farming enterprise, while Spreader & Sprayer Testing Ltd took a backseat for the time being.’’
“Here in Wheaton Aston we have a slightly older community,’’ continues Charlotte, ‘’most of which were self-isolating, and many struggled to even get the basics from the supermarket. So, it seemed that simply supplying oven-ready meat and eggs to the doorstep of our community was the way forward,” she continues.
Just by contacting a few family and friends, and a few ads on the local Facebook group, we sold out all of our beef in just two days.”
Even though demand is now picking back up for wholesale meat now that lockdown is being eased, the Foxall family are continuing to keep the door-to-door deliveries happening. They’re capitalising on the resurgence of demand from customers wanting to know where their food has come from.
“People really want to know the origin of their food now. It can be as little as 10 foot to the doorsteps of some of our customers! Some really don’t have much contact with other people due to isolating, so stopping for a quick chat while delivering our produce helps lift spirits all round.
The demand has continued, and we now do everything, except butchering, on site – even labelling. We’re in touch with the Skills Hub to get training and qualifications for the butchering so we can be 100% self-sufficient.”
Now Rookery Farm is expanding even further.
“On top of the various cuts of beef and three different flavours of burgers, we’re now branching out into pork and we’ve already got a backlog of orders.”
Now the Foxall family are looking to set up a farm shop at Rookery Farm. ‘’Our long-term goal is to supply a bigger range of home-reared produce direct from our farm, and we’re looking for funding to help convert existing buildings to make this dream a reality.’’
What has the last few months taught the Foxall family that others could benefit from?
“You’ve just got to look at the problem in a different way,’’ says Charlotte. ‘’ For us, it’s clear that habits have changed and that just because there are others in that market doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for you – just try your idea at a local level to see if it gets traction.”
Follow Charlotte’s lead with business support bespoke to you.
Charlotte has recently accessed business advice to help set up her dream of a farm shop at her farm in Wheaton Aston.
- She received a free business diagnostic from the LEP-commissioned Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Growth Hub and is waiting for a number of small business loans to reopen
- Received a free-diagnostic from the Skills Hub – the place for an analysis of your business’s skills needs and is waiting for news on a bespoke plan around butchery qualifications and possible funding.