Countrywide Farmers has been a leading supplier of products and services to the rural community for over 100 years. Despite having such a rich history the company has also always kept one eye on the future, as was demonstrated by last September’s acquisition of the trading business of Cornwall Farmers in Cornwall and Devon, not to mention the ongoing development of its online offering.
The Cornwall Farmers acquisition has given Countrywide a greater presence in the South-West. Coupled with other openings in 2015 in Banbury, Shrewsbury and Salisbury, the store portfolio is now over 70, creating the largest group of its kind in the UK able to offer a wide range of products including farming, equestrian, pet, country clothing and gardening products.
On the back of what has been a relatively rapid increase in its portfolio, Countrywide Farmers is keen on adding further stores and is actively sourcing new opportunities, as Andrew Webb, Chief Commercial Officer, explains: “Ultimately it’s all about the customer and finding locations where we can serve and support them and their requirements. Consumers are becoming much more demanding in what they want in terms of both price and range, so we have to accommodate this with the development of our own operation.
“We will always look for either rural or semi-rural locations where we can serve both the farming community and the country dweller. Locations with the right demographic and access to a good potential customer base are what we’re focused on, and we’re prepared to be quite flexible in terms of the size and type of site. We employ some agents but the majority of the acquisition work is carried out in-house.”
As befits a company with over a century of operation under its belt, Countrywide Farmers is well prepared to play the long game when it comes to developing new sites. “It can take years, particularly if it involves a greenfield site where planning permission needs to be obtained,” adds Mr Webb. “We often work with a developer in order to get planning permission for the retail element and the external space that we need, but completing the physical build can take a long time. This is why we’ve got to make sure we’ve got a solid pipeline of new stores constantly coming through, which can be challenging. The biggest headaches are finding the right locations and dealing with the length of the planning process. Thankfully things do become slightly easier with each new opening as our level of experience increases, whilst growing the portfolio has also enabled us to hone and improve the in-store service for customers by incorporating new ideas and concepts. It’s all about taking the learning from that and applying it to the existing estate.”
Although paving the way for new stores can be tricky, on the development side Countrywide Farmers benefits from a long-standing relationship with Wedderburn, which does all its shopfitting work. “They really know the standards that we’re looking for and the cost models that we’re working at,” says Mr Webb. “It’s a very well robust relationship that helps to speed up the entire store development process. We’re still very regional in our approach so there’s clearly further opportunity to expand geographically and in-fill some of the areas we are not currently located in.”
Away from its retail stores, Countrywide Farmers has also been investing in the infrastructure supporting its activities. It has just completed the first stage in the development of its existing distribution centre, including the opening of a new semi-permanent warehouse at its site in Defford, Worcestershire.
With such a forward-thinking investment programme in place it looks a safe bet that Countrywide Farmers will be continuing to add to its already impressive history moving forward.