Good design, strong branding and attention to detail have made this farm shop a must-visit destination.
For some years, Chris Levett had wanted to open a farm shop with his wife, Sheenagh. As it would be within easy commuting distance from London, they were keen to ensure the new outlet would be a premium proposition which both looked good and offered a quality retail experience.
A family-run business, the decision to redevelop Hartley Coffee House also involved the Levett’s son, Christian, and daughter-in-law, Holly, which they’d been running. This would include the convenience store adjoining the Coffee House, which they also owned but had been managed by a tenant for a number of years.
“We had done extensive farm shop research throughout the country and knew what we wanted,” Chris Levett explained. “Our aim was to create something different, so we needed to do more than simply appoint a team of shopfitters to fill an empty shell.”
What we did
The family’s farming heritage, and its long-standing connection with the area, presented a clear opportunity to create a brand that would stand out.Colum Lowe, Design Associate, Design Council
In early 2014 they approached Design Council for support and were assigned Colum Lowe, a highly experienced Design Associate whose professional practice has included retail, to work closely with them.
Lowe’s first step was to lead the couple through an in-depth analysis of their business and its market and to identify key challenges and areas of opportunity for design, innovation and business improvement that could be addressed through a design-led action plan.
“They knew they wanted something more refined than your standard farm shop – a 'Kensington to Kent experience' – but not how best to articulate what they wanted or how to build the strategy to secure it,” said Lowe. “Wanting a quality store is one thing. But to achieve this you need to create the right brand experience, and this goes beyond simply having a nice interior.”
While the Levetts faced no immediate competition in the area, a compelling and distinctive proposition was still essential to guard against potential rivals and it was essential that the retail environment and signage conveyed this effectively. As Lowe put it: “The family’s farming heritage, and its long-standing connection with the area, presented a clear opportunity to create a brand that would stand out.”
With Lowe’s help, a detailed design brief was written. Lowe then introduced the couple to a selection of design agencies with relevant expertise. This can be challenging for businesses and so being taken through an objective process to identify, select and appoint the most appropriate designers is key.
In spring 2014, the Levetts appointed London-based design agency Object Space Place to develop shop interiors, signage, point of sale and in-store graphics, create a brand identity and advise on retail strategy. Lowe then provided best practice guidance as work began on delivering the project into its final implementation. Lowe explained their tactics: “We aimed to work with as many existing visual assets as possible, rather than going for change for the sake of it – apart from anything else, it also helps control budgets.”
The new-look Hartley Coffee House and Farm Shop
“The brief called for the creation of a holistic retail environment where high-quality, locally sourced products could be presented in an accessible and friendly way,” explained David Chenery, Director at Object Space Place. “It was crucial that the design be unique to the site and the client.”
Photography was used to link the produce to the site. Instead of using generic imagery, a photographer was commissioned to shoot the actual products on the farm. These images are used around the store and in promotional material.
Finally, and with input from the Levetts, the new look and colour scheme was integrated throughout Hartley Coffee House, and public access between the two outlets was widened. Both are now united under a new brand identity.
Chris Levett said: “We had almost no retail experience. But with Colum’s help, we built a deeper and more realistic understanding of what would be involved as well as the financial implications.”
The new-look outlet, now called Hartley Coffee House and Farm Shop, opened for business in October 2014.
With the help and guidance we received from Design Council, we have been able to create a unique offer in the local area.Chris Levett, Owner, Hartley Coffee House
With 2,700 product lines from 222 suppliers and distributors large and small, 80 per cent of the products sold in Hartley Coffee House and Farm Shop can’t be found in supermarkets, giving the outlet a distinctive and exclusive feel.
Though early days, the shop’s trading figures for its first six months are above budget and it is on target to achieve £1m turnover in the first year. A solid customer base has been successfully established with many customers coming from far beyond its immediate local catchment area in Kent.
“Retail design is a very specialist area of expertise and the support we received has been absolutely invaluable in all aspects of the design phase, providing experienced, relevant and practical guidance to ensure the success of our farm shop project,” Levett observed.
“With the help and guidance we received from Design Council, we have been able to create a unique offer in the local area. We learned that a successful farm shop is not just about the produce on offer, but has to be based on good design, strong branding and all-important attention to detail.”
He added: “Looking back, without independent, experience-based advice I believe we would have floundered.”
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