Keelham Farm Shop concept can be rolled out, say owners

Victoria Robertshaw, co-owner of Keelham Farm Shop
Victoria Robertshaw, co-owner of Keelham Farm Shop
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THE OWNERS of Keelham Farm Shop have said their award-winning food retail concept could be rolled out further as they prepare to open their second shop.

The family business has borrowed £4m to invest in the shop in Skipton, which is creating 108 new jobs.

James and Victoria Robertshaw

James and Victoria Robertshaw

Victoria Robertshaw, who runs the business with younger brother James, is confident the new venture will be a success and believes it can be replicated elsewhere.

She told The Yorkshire Post: “I think there’s a real market for it. People love food. Supermarkets are a little soulless. People want to go in and out whereas we want people to enjoy the experience of shopping at Keelham.”

The original store in Thornton near Bradford has increased sales from £2m in 2006 to £11m this year. It supports 400 local suppliers.

Mr Robertshaw: “A lot of farm shops are just destination treat places while Keelham is all about getting great tasting local food to everybody everyday and it works.”

She said the new shop has taken the best bits of Thornton and added to them at the 20,000 sq ft building at Skipton. The company is forecasting £7m of sales in the first full year of trading.

Contractors have been busy at work getting ready for the opening event on Tuesday evening.

Mr Robertshaw said: “We have been a bit secretive about what’s going on inside because we really want to surprise people.”

But this week she gave The Yorkshire Post a walkthrough of the new shop. Originally a hauliers shed dating back to 1919, the newly refurbished building is light and airy, unlike most modern supermarkets.

On entry, customers will see florists to the left, fresh produce to their right - and a large red vintage tractor from the family farm - and a display of fresh herbs in the window.

There is a living wall, a bakery, a butcher, a cheese counter, a scoop-your-own section for more than 70 different cooks’ ingredients and a juice bar bearing the legend, Five a Day is for Wimps.

Ms Robertshaw said: “Things like fruit and veg are being commoditised. One of our strategies is to add value to the category.”

Further inside is a winery and ale house that leads customers through to the cafe and restaurant, with 80 covers on the ground floor and another 80 on a mezzanine level, offering breakfast and an all-day menu of five starters, five mains and five desserts.

The company has hired Jason Wardill, formerly of Swinton Park, Rascasse, Rudding Park and the Royal Caribbean in Florida, as executive chef. He is also responsible for food production.

He said: “It’s unique - there’s nowhere like it.” The kitchen has 16 staff.

Ms Robertshaw wants the shop to be both useful and inspirational. Asked what the major supermarkets could learn from Keelham Farm Shop, she said: “I don’t want to give away our secrets. They shop us all the time. I can spot them with their little clipboards and suits making notes.”

She added: “Ultimately it’s all about people and that they are passionate about what they do and empowering them.”

Ms Robertshaw said the business has the same values as her father and grandfather lived by, which is to do the right thing for both customers and suppliers.

At 45, she has a career in business behind her, spending 13 years in London, working in accountancy and consultancy at Arthur Andersen and then corporate strategy at Dixon Stores Group where she worked with Stanley Kalms who taught her that “retail is detail”. She returned to Yorkshire in 2004.

‘Banks have been really good in this case’

The Keelham Farm Shop has borrowed the money to expand into Skipton.

The company is investing £4m in the new shop, which includes a £3m loan from NatWest and £1m in asset finance from Lombard.

Victoria Robertshaw, one of the directors, said: “Banks get quite a lot of bad press. We actually think they have been really good in this case.”

She said Keelham had banked with Barclays for a long time but decided to invite potential new lenders in for a beauty parade.

She presented the family’s plans for the business, invited responses and was most impressed with NatWest’s.

Keelham also secured £210,000 funding from North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership.