There aren’t many retailers who would ask a customer to carry out a long-term trial of a potential new product line before deciding whether or not to stock it, but that’s exactly what Farm Supplies is doing.
The relatively new but rapidly expanding shop, situated just a short distance from Ashford Market, wants to make sure that a newly launched cattle prolapse harness does what it claims to do before putting it on the shelves, and has asked one of its beef farmer clients to put it through its paces in the real world.
The attention to detail reflects the fact that the small but well-stocked farm equipment store is part of the Westpoint Farm Vets family, and shop manager Jo Olson knows that everything she sells has to meet the high standards of the practice, itself part of the Vet Partners Group.
“This is the first piece of equipment of its kind in this country and I wasn’t prepared to take the salesman‘s word for how well it works,” she said. “There’s no way I can sell something in the shop that doesn’t do what it claims to do.”
While the shop has close links with the Westpoint vets based in the same unit at St John’s Court in Ashford, Farm Supplies is a standalone business and supplies allcomers, not just farmers who are signed up with the well-respected practice.
“We welcome farmers and others from across Kent and we have a growing customer base that appreciates the convenient location, broad range of products and competitive prices,” said Jo.
While the friendly atmosphere in the shop sees lots of customers visiting in person, Farm Supplies will also deliver products countrywide within 24 hours, while vets can also take supplies out to clients they are due to visit.
The shop stocks a range of items, from workwear and wellies to electric fencing, dehorners, sprays, syringes and needles, vaccines, wormers, clippers, calving aids, obstetric gel and even lamb warmers. Larger items like feed, crushes, weighing systems, Alligator trailers and hurdles can be ordered and delivered direct to the farm.
A regular newsletter highlighting current offers features contributions from John Donovan, whose name and face will be familiar to readers who miss the former Kent Wool Growers (KWG) store that served Ashford and the surrounding towns and villages for almost a century.
John, who worked for KWG for more than 50 years, is part of the story that has seen Farm Supplies follow in that much-loved retailer’s footsteps, although Jo is clear about how big a challenge that is. “Kent Wool Growers was a much-loved institution that grew over nearly a century. We’ve got a long way to go, but we share their ethos and their focus on great customer service,” she said.
When KWG closed in 2017, one of the sales team approached Westpoint Farm Vets to suggest that the veterinary practice could fill the gap in the market by setting up a retail outlet.
The company agreed and brought in Jo, who had been working for KWG at the time, to oversee the process. Things grew steadily over the next couple of years, and the shop moved from its first premises at Barrow Hill to the new unit close to the market site at Sevington in 2019.
“Then along came Covid-19, which rather scuppered our plans,” Jo recalled. “We began selling products on line via the Farmacy website, and even after restrictions began to be lifted we were cautious about re-opening because we needed to make sure our vets were protected from the virus.
“In 2021 we re-opened our doors, and we have since been working hard to grow our stock levels and create a real agricultural store here in Ashford. It’s relatively small at the moment but we make sure it has what farmers need, with a focus on seasonal products, and we are determined to keep growing.”
That growth has been driven by Jo, with the help of Val Smith and the veterinary team, all of whom combine to support the day-to-day running of the practice and shop, connecting it to the very heart of the local farming community.
Clinical Director Jack Balkham commented: “Farm Supplies and Westpoint Farm Vets Ashford share the same ethos, aiming to serve the needs of Kent’s farming communities. We are going from strength to strength with the shop, thanks to the support of client and non-client customers alike.
“Jo’s enthusiasm and sales skills are superb and she always endeavours to meet the needs and requirements of our customers.”
Jo was raised on a sheep farm in New Zealand and came to the UK in 2007 after working in France for 15 years. Despite her background she had not been working in agriculture until she took on a role in the sales office at KWG. She worked closely with the buying office, which was where she made many of the contacts that she relies on today to make sure Farm Supplies meets its customers’ needs.
Jo, who helps on a sheep farm in Lenham run by a neighbour, works hard to source the right products for farmers in the county. The Udderly EZ sheep milker is a big seller at the moment, while she is also impressed with the Simcro VS Injector that includes an ink cap. “It automatically marks the animal so you know which ones have been injected without having to mark them yourself,” she said. “It’s new and it’s quickly become a best-seller.”
Access to the seven vets based in the unit in St John’s Court means that Jo can quickly ask for help if a customer wants advice on a product, although formal advice is restricted to clients of the practice. SQP (suitably qualified person) advice, though, is available to all customers.
Jo is keen to point out that while Farm Supplies has close links with the veterinary practice, it is a standalone business that has good relationships with suppliers and offers competitive prices. “Customers are often surprised by just how low some of our prices are,” she said.
One in-house service that has been well received is analysis of faecal egg counts (FECs). Farmers who drop off a sample before 11.30am on a Wednesday will have their results back by 5pm that day. Until now only available to Westpoint clients, the service is now being made available to everyone.
Farm Supplies is in the process of building a website that will have full commercial capabilities, but in the meantime Jo and Jack are making great strides as they seek to expand this new agricultural store in Ashford.
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