Many farmers have considered starting a farm stall as a cash cow, but running this kind of business is no joke. The people behind two of South Africa’s most legendary farm stalls give some tips.
Daggaboer Farm Stall ‘It’s no joke to operate a successful farm stall,’ says Daggaboer Farm Stall’s Isobel Neethling. ‘Twelve years ago a friend suggested that I come and live on the farm and open a farm stall.
‘As the stall is 50 km from Cradock, the nearest town, precise planning is vital in order to have everything we need in stock. We often suffer a lack of water during Karoo droughts and it further costs a fortune to bring electricians or plumbers to the stall to sort out problems. It is a 100 km round trip from Cradock,’ says Isobel.
‘Staff numbers also pose a problem. We are open seven days a week and staff members are required to work flexi hours. This demands a large number of workers. We also produce many of the products offered in the stall, which expands the personnel numbers even further.’
They had to recruit workers from surrounding farms when they started out 12 years ago and the new employees had no experience in this industry. ‘It took a long time to train them,’ she says.
As the area does not produce the variety of fruits needed, a lot of the stock needed in the stall have to be couriered from the Western Cape and costs are prohibitive. The post office is a much more affordable option, but it means a 100 km round trip to pick products up from the post office in Cradock, says Isobel. Most of the Western Cape products are bottled, which makes it heavy, and that also increase costs.
Isobel says Daggaboer can’t compete with garage shops, as they can’t provide fuel. ‘But we can provide a farm atmosphere and a beautiful view of the mountains, compared to garage shops that simply cannot offer the same ambience,’ she says.
‘City folk have to deal with the daily rat race, but also with modern restaurants and coffee
shops. That means they receive an ‘away from it all’ experience when visiting a farm stall. We believe what we offer is pure, non-production line, honest quality. What we sell is back to basics organic, just like grandma made it,’ she says.
‘City dwellers relish this change of pace and I believe there is a bigger market for what we offer than 20 years ago.’
Isobel has some valuable tips for prospective farm stall owners. ‘You must be willing to commit to 364 days a year, never compromise on quality or good, honest client service and, location is vital,’ she says.
Peregrine Farm Stall in the Elgin Valley has a considerably longer history. This stall has been doing business since 1964, says Elodie Burls.
She names fast growth as one of their biggest challenges. ‘It is actually not one of the worst problems for a business to have, but it means that we have a lot of matters to constantly attend to. We have 140 staff members and taking care of staff first is one of our core beliefs, as they take care of our customers.
‘We are in the process of phasing out plastic, and this has been incredibly challenging. It is difficult to find solutions to plastic that works, most alternatives are much more expensive than plastic, and implementing the change-over can be a slow process, which is frustrating.
‘But some good improvements have already been made, for instance, soon we will have our own brand of water in glass bottles. We are also constantly communicating with our suppliers to minimise and ideally eliminate plastic in their packaging,’ Elodie says.
She believes there is a bigger market for farm stalls than 10 or 20 years ago. ‘South Africans are travelling more locally, and international tourism has also grown. Everybody needs to stop ‘to stretch their legs’, and farm stalls are an authentic and refreshing alternative to garages.
‘We don’t really compete with modern garage shops, it’s a totally different offering. We focus on being unique and offering freshly made products and fresh produce,’ she says.
The stall has an illustrious history. In the early 60s, the town’s bank manager, Kenneth Truter, left the corporate world to start farming. He started selling apples out of the back of his bakkie. His ‘bakkie shop’ was later replaced by a shed, which remained on the property until October 2017, when it had to make way for the new bakery.
Back in the early 1970s, Kenneth’s son Henry took over and a new farm stall was built. In 1993, Christopher and Muriel Burls bought the charming little roadside stop in Elgin, and were joined by their son Justin, two years later. Justin’s vision and skill to create exceptional spaces has played a big role in Peregrine’s burgeoning popularity.
Christopher loved to hunt and he was a good shot, which led to a thriving little butchery, famous for its unique artisan game pies made from non-biltong cuts.
Elodie has a few tips for farmers who consider opening a farm stall. ‘Hire the best people you can afford and treat them like gold. Although in reality it is impossible to please everybody all the time, feedback from customers, whether good or bad, should never be considered trivial, and should be regarded as your rocket fuel,’ she says.