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British rural business bounces back after recession hits

Hear from Heather Gorringe and how she has developed her businesses

For Heather Gorringe, the recession of 2007 yielded the most unlikely of outcomes, but not without great hardship and a steep learning curve along the way.

Where it all started

Heather and her husband, ‘Famer Phil,’ farm 650-acres on the Duchy Estate in rural Herefordshire. When the couple married, and Heather moved onto the farm, she was tasked with the role of ‘adding value’ to the existing farm business.

“I was interested in composting and my Dad was a keen salmon fisherman and it was his use of worms as fishing tackle that made me think of the initial business idea; worm composting kits for food waste,” says Heather.

She explains that this was way before recycling and composting were commonplace in households, and it was seen to be novel and ‘cool.’ “It was the idea of using the knowledge and experience I had, combined with wanting to connect farming with gardening which made me consider if this could be a viable business.”

Heather’s business, Wiggly Wigglers, was established in 1991 with the office and workshop based out of a converted stable block on the farm.

“I employed two others to help me and imported the plastic units for the composting bins from Australia. It was ‘pie in the sky’ thinking on a very lean budget and skill set but it worked.

“We sold the product through mail order, mainly to keen gardeners, and the business grew from here.”

She explains that as the business idea was a new concept in more ways than one, and also an all women business, it had a lot of interest from the press. “We featured on the likes of Classic FM, Radio 4’s Women’s Hour and Countryfile which was great PR for us, helping to build momentum for our products.

“In 1996 we set up our first website which offered e-commerce, way before the likes of Amazon and Etsy which changed the type of products and the level of customer service the business could offer.

“We started taking on more rural related products and got to a stage where we were offering over 1,000 products online. With the business doing so well, and the novelty of buying online attracting interest, it was almost irresistible to keep adding product lines,” explains Heather.

The crash

However, when the recession hit in 2007 Wiggly Wigglers was hit badly. “The products we were offering where a luxury, and with our customers tightening their belts our business was one that lost out.

“Our average order intake fell from £46 per purchase to £26. As the recession continued I had to make the very hard decision to close our main warehouse, make redundancies and cut hundreds of products to keep the business afloat.

“It was a very hard couple of years and made me rethink our whole business offering. With the success of the business, I had got swept along and almost lost the focus of what we were offering.”

Heather explains that the hardship of the recession made them look at what products had been most resilient during this time and consider the potential opportunities.

“To our surprise, we found that our handmade British bouquets were one of the most robust products. People were still purchasing these as they were an affordable treat.”

The birth of a new brand

Heather explains that the idea of starting a florist had not necessary occurred to her before, but there was a demand from people to purchase British grown flowers for many different occasions.

“Our main stumbling block in the first instance was that we couldn’t name a flower business Wiggly Wigglers. Hence the birth of The Great British Florist in 2013; an online florist catering for all occasions, developed alongside the existing Wiggly Wigglers brand.

Initially, The Great British Florist offered flowers that were 100% British, however, the business started to incur problems with supplies who could not guarantee all the flowers were British.

“In response to this we changed tact slightly; instead of 100% British, we changed to Pro British. We still aim for 90% of the floral products to be British but it allows us to source out of season flowers if required by the customer. We have not lost our USP in doing this, but have ensured that we still appeal to those who are looking for something a little different.”

Across the two brands, Heather now employs nine people who are all integral to the businesses success. “We have 10 main suppliers for the flowers and some are grown in our own walled garden during the season.

“Most of our marketing is done online via social media, e-mail newsletters and through our own website which is integral to what we offer.

“Currently 20% of our order intake is from weddings and I would like to see the business develop through online courses and webinars.

“In terms of Wiggly Wigglers, the business is still going strong. We have refined our product range, and the packing and dispatch process is all now outsourced to a local company Pack-IT. For us, this is very cost effective and means we can continue to build our order intake with little impact on the rest of the business.

“It really goes to show that a knockback can be a positive. Although the effects of the recession on our business were not easy to stomach at the time and forced us to make some very drastic but necessary decisions, it has been a huge learning curve. It’s taken us back to our core focus offering products and services that are in demand, and has allowed us to fine-tune the way we are running the two businesses,” she says.

To hear more from Heather, click here. 

Farm diversification, diversification ideas, rural business, rural business ideas

Farm diversification, diversification ideas, rural business, rural business ideas

Farm diversification, diversification ideas, rural business, rural business ideas

 

 

 

 

About The Author

Heather Gorringe

Wiggly Wigglers and The Great British Florist 

More Information

Lessons learnt to date:

  • Try not to lose focus on what you set out to achieve in the first instance
  • Focus on a product or service that is in demand
  • Don’t be afraid to go for it – if you have a passion or desire give it a go
  • Planning is good but don’t over plan. Things change so quickly in business

 

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