The popular equine business called Clip Clop just off the A28 at New Street Farm business estate, Great Chart on the outskirts of Ashford, Kent, has been a family run business for over 10 years.
Having successfully built a strong reputation for supplying specialist horse feeds to livery yards and private owners across East Kent; around two years ago, the owners Louise and Paul Bovingdon started to see an increased footfall from local smallholders and farmers looking for animal feeds and various other agricultural supplies.
As the couple started to develop a more agricultural offering to meet this demand, their landlord presented them with the opportunity to rent an adjoining warehouse on the business estate, which would allow them to almost double their retail space, taking the total shop area up to 4,000 sqft.
“The chance to expand our retail space happened to coincide with the closure of Kent Wool Growers,” said Louise Bovingdon. “We had already started to notice that more farmers were coming in looking for different products, so it was a fantastic opportunity to create a dedicated area for them. We were very willing to expand our product range and really wanted to try and help whoever came through the door.”
While people were calling into Clip Clop for farm supplies before the closure of the Ashford store, the aftermath saw more and more farmers asking the team if, on the off chance, they had any feed, medicines, mineral licks and a whole range of other products.
“All of a sudden there was an influx of people who had been shopping in the same place for 50 years and they simply didn’t know where they could go to get essentials,” said Louise. “The majority of farmers who have come in for the first time have been pleasantly surprised to find that not only do we have agricultural stock but that we also have it available in bulk.”
Serious about supplies
With the name Clip Clop acting as a barrier for growth, with passing farmers assuming it was just another horse shop, Louise and Paul decided that it was time to give the new product range its own identity and the Ashford Agri brand was launched at the end of summer 2018.
“Clip Clop is a very successful name, but we needed to show farmers that we are serious about supplying the agricultural sector,” said Louise. “We are not just stocking a few items on a shelf next to our equine offering. Most local farmers will have driven past us and probably don’t realise that we now do animal feeds and farm supplies.”
Today Ashford Agri’s store is filled with a diverse range of products from Hotline electric fencing, to waterproof clothing, V12 heavy duty farm footwear, wellington boots, lambing and tupping sundries, medicines, animal feed; the list is endless.
“We have tried to source various brand names which farmers will find particularly recognisable. We are doing our very best to serve our customers’ needs. If there is something which we haven’t got in, we can usually get it delivered the next day because we are an established retailer and have developed good relationships with our wholesalers.”
As well as working with wholesalers, Ashford Agri has also struck up new partnerships and is developing relationships with some familiar key brands helping to provide farmers in the area with access to the same quality products as before.
“We now take on a large tonnage of farm feeds from Duffields,” said Louise. “They have been extremely supportive and have given us their best prices which we are able to pass on to our customers. We really do work very hard to keep the costs as low as we possibly can.”
Benefiting from good lorry and trailer loading bay facilities, and with access to an onsite forklift, the majority of farmers now coming in for feed are purchasing in large quantities. Consequently, Ashford Agri has developed a bulk bag price, however, Louise doesn’t want her customers to have to store more than they need to, and so this applies to just ten bags or more.
Alongside feed from Duffields, Ashford Agri is also a stockist for the Crystalyx natural feed licks range. While local farmers have been able to collect their Crystalyx orders from a temporary holding site, Ashford Agri is now able to hold and sell its own stock.
“Crystalyx are a highly regarded brand, so we are pretty proud to be able to say that we are working with them,” said Louise.
Seven days a week
As well as being able to browse in store seven days per week, customers are also able to access Ashford Agri’s online shop where they can either order products for delivery, click and collect, or just build an idea of the catalogue of goods now in stock.
“We have a number of customers who order their feed online for collection because they know that it will be palleted and ready to go when they arrive. For customers within a 10-mile radius we do offer free delivery and our van goes out every day,” said Louise. “We are open seven days a week, have an out of hours phone number and only close on Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Farming isn’t a Monday to Friday industry so we wanted to offer flexibility and Sundays can be a really busy day for us.”
For simplicity too, farmers are able to open accounts and Ashford Agri is also now set up to honour Southern Farmers and West Ashford Farmers memberships.
As farming can be quite an isolated industry to work in, Louise and Paul have also created a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere in store, providing customers with the chance to catch up with familiar faces while picking up their feed and supplies.
“We want our customers to be able to come in here and talk to people who understand their community,” said Louise. “We decided to keep our staff tea and coffee facilities open to them and we want people to feel that they can come in for a chat because that is where people find value in their local shop.”
The team has also been expanded to better serve the new farming clientele and now includes members of staff with relevant farming experience and SQP qualifications so that Ashford Agri is now able to sell a full range of animal medicines.
“As soon as we took on Debra Young, our animal medicine advisor, we became licenced to sell medicines,” said Louise. “A lot of people recognise her from her previous job and feel comfortable dealing with a face they know. Because medicines are such a vital product for farmers to be able to access quickly we are training two more members of staff and will eventually have everyone qualified, so that regardless of who is working, farmers will be able to come in and pick up what they need.”
As well as being licenced to stock a number of recognised medical brands, Ashford Agri is also an approved professional use rodenticide supplier and while the laws have tightened up in recent months they are able to keep farmers’ certificates on record.
Looking towards a future of growth, Louise and Paul are currently preparing to take on another warehouse on the New Street Farm business estate. Not only will this allow Ashford Agri to increase its storage space, but it will also improve logistics and make the bulk feed collection process even quicker.
“I hope that in the long-term we can offer stability in the agricultural supplies sector in this area,” said Louise. “We want to establish close working relationships with local farmers so that ultimately they feel they can depend on us when it counts.”