The desire to start an organic business drove Jan Billington to move her young family from London to South West England in 2002. But needless to say, what they were going to do when they got there and how they were going to make it work were unknown factors at the time.

However, their flexible approach to business and innovation alongside their hard work and dedication has meant they have established the successful, British edible flower business, Maddocks Farm Organics.

The driving force

Jan explains that it was never her intention to start Maddocks Farm Organics in its current format. “I knew I wanted to start an organic business and had initially thought about small-scale, niche vegetable production.

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“It took us two years to find Maddocks Farm as it was about finding somewhere that would house us all and allow us to generate an income. At this time, we were not wedded to any particular source of income, and it’s this flexible approach that we have carried through our business journey to date.”

Unlike many businesses, the family never set out to create a fixed product and sell to a fixed market. “We’ve always kept an open eye and mind which has allowed us to spot gaps in the market. I was undertaking an MBA in Business Management through the Open University when we moved to Devon and was very taken by the module ‘Change Management.’

“It was the lessons learnt in this module, flexibility and an organic approach (excuse the pun) which started the business; in 2005 we started growing edible flowers mainly for local chefs and wedding caterers.

“At the time there was only one other edible flowers grower in Wales. To us it made perfect sense to start a business in this sector, we had the infrastructure to support this and the demand was there. Flowers are a delicate and perishable product and we identified that chefs were often disappointed with the quality of those sourced from wholesalers.

“We were the first to set up an online marketplace for the flowers and grew the business from here. Growing seasonal flowers on our own land and supplying various markets,” says Jan.

The Challenges

However, within a year of selling edible flowers through the Maddocks Farm Organics brand, a local herb company copied our business model and following that a couple big national micro sprout companies added edible flowers to their range. “For us, this is one of our biggest business challenges.

“As an innovative firm, we are copied on almost everything we do. It can be exasperating to create a new product or range, do all the hard work and have it copied within weeks of it hitting the website.

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“However, we have had to keep our chin up in these situations and play to our strengths. Our USP is that we are a small, British and organic company that offers a bespoke service.

“We pick every single box of flowers by hand offering customers complete flexibility. They are all dispatched by an overnight courier on the day they are picked and are with customers within hours of leaving the field. We really pride ourselves on the quality and customer service we deliver.”

The team

Jan explains that the seasonal nature of the business means they can’t support a permanent workforce all year around. “I generally have to reinvent my team, apart from my husband and myself, each year for the peak periods. It can be difficult, but I have been extremely lucky in having some wonderful people work with me. It’s fascinating to work with creative people who all bring something different and new ideas to Maddocks Farm.

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“I pay a living wage, provide a sit-down lunch for the whole team and ply them with endless tea and coffee. You are only ever as good as the people that you employ so treating staff with respect and appreciating them is very important.

“I really love what we have created and what we offer. I enjoy the fact that we can forge strong relationships with our customers as we are dealing with them directly. From chefs and cake makers to artisan producers and fraught mothers of the bride, there are a huge variety of customers who come into our lives and become regular customers and friends.

“Moving to the West Country could have been a big risk for us, but we have made it work. We have created a successful business as well as a home. This type of business model may not work for everyone but we have worked hard to achieve what we have so far,” says Jan.

Read more from Maddocks Farm Organics and Jan Billington here.

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