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18 Jan 2024

Behind the Counter with Garsons

Behind the Counter with Garsons
As part of our new feature 'Behind the Counter' we went behind the scenes with Garsons to find out more about their business, how they seek out the latest industry trends and what they are excited for in the next 12 months.

Tell us a bit about the business – how did it start and what makes it unique?

Garsons is an award-winning destination Garden Centre, Farm Shop and Restaurant with locations in Esher, Surrey and Titchfield, Hampshire. We are so proud of our heritage and how we started and where we are today.

Literally ‘growing since 1871’ Garsons started as a market gardener - Garson Farm - supplying fresh crops to the famous Borough Market trades in London and did so successfully for around 100 years. Gradually, the change in industry with mass production and shopping behaviours meant that the family business had to shift direction and went on to sell fresh produce directly to the customer. Garson Farm Shop was born.

Ten years later, in the early eighties, Garson Farm opened its farm gates to the public and became a Pick Your Own farm, which remains today as one of the biggest PYO farms in the country. Retail proved a big success, and the family expanded into selling plants and opened, alongside the Farm Shop and PYO, a Garden Centre, which now encompasses gifts, homeware, clothing, toys and furniture. In 1999, the business expanded with the purchase of a second site in Titchfield, Hampshire.

Garsons innovative journey sets the foundation for how we operate today: future-thinking, customer service and a hard-working team; with the family remaining at the helm, now in their 5th generation, Garsons continues to grow.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone planning to open their own retail/hospitality business?

Do your research! I think you need to have a clear vision of what you intend your business is going to look like and what makes it different from other businesses, knowing what else is out there already is vital.

Know what the current trends are, attend food / hospitality shows that are on multiple times a year, and speak to other businesses and suppliers who will be able to help guide your very own business into making it successful from their own experiences and successes.

Why do you think customers come to your shop?

We are independent and family-run, far more than just a shop; we offer an experience rather than a quick dash in and out, Garsons is a destination.

One of our key aims is to source and offer locally made or independent products and brands that you wouldn’t find in the big supermarket chains. This includes stocking fresh produce grown on our very own farm throughout the spring, summer, and autumn seasons – the ultimate in fresh and local with zero food miles you can get!

We offer a wide range of categories, giving plenty of choice, that you wouldn’t find in all the mainstream retailers. Our alcohol offering includes wine, beer and spirits that are produced locally to our Esher site, such as Thames Ditton Gin, Silent Pool and Big Smoke Brew Co. We have an authentic American range, which is hugely popular amongst the local demographic. And our cheese delicatessen is one of the largest around!

Partnering with award-winning companies who share our values and offer high-quality, sustainable produce also provides added value to our customers. Namely, our long-standing collaboration with Bevan’s Butchers, who have been awarded ‘The Best Butcher’s Shop in the UK’ for their superior and traceable produce, and customer service. And a more recent partnership of ours, Weyfish Dorset Seafood, who provide our customers with freshly caught fish and shellfish every weekend.

How do you keep up with the latest trends and innovations in retail and food & drink?

Trends are always constantly changing and evolving. To help keep us in the know, we try to attend lots of different food and farm shop shows, such as the Food & Drink Expo / Farm Shop & Deli show in Birmingham, Speciality Fine Food Fair in Olympia London, etc.

We look through various social media movements, food bloggers and influencers, as well as celebrity chefs and trade publications. We encourage the team to openly talk to our customers about what products they are looking for and why, paying attention to seasonal produce and ranges.

But I also think there is an element of creating your own trends; by knowing what our customer base is buying, researching their habits and demands, and delving deeper into sales, we can try to craft a narrative to predict behaviours and forecast trends.

Which wholesaler(s) do you work with?

So, as well as working with many small independent companies, we currently work with the following wholesalers; The Cress Company, Cotswold Fayre, Bon Bons Wholesale Ltd, Bramble Foods, Empire Bespoke, Holley’s Fine Foods, The House of Sarunds, Diverse Fine Foods, and Auguste Noel.

What’s a fond memory of something that’s happened in your shop over the years?

2020; an unprecedented year. Aside from our hard-working team pulling together, with the help of our trusted suppliers, to keep the Farm Shop open with their dedication, quick thinking and solution-solving providing the local community, the Farm Shop nearly doubled in size.

This planned development, an extensive renovation project, was complete by the end of the year, and our Farm Shop and Garden Centre buildings adjoined into one seamless retail destination. It has dramatically created many more opportunities for us to continue to grow as a business and help many other local companies and customers alike.

What’s a ‘hidden gem’ product in your store that you always recommend customers try?

Garsons Honey. We are proud to stock our own labelled honey that’s been harvested from bees that live in hives on the farm and pollinate our Pick Your Own Farm crops. Honey has antibacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties, while promotes digestive health for us humans.

As well as these benefits, consuming locally made honey contains local pollen which is believed to strengthen your immune system and reduce pollen allergy symptoms – as well as tasting absolutely delicious – it’s a win win!

What does it mean to you to be an independent business?

We feel very proud to be an independent business and strive to be an important character of the community. Ensuring communities to be able to shop locally and consume local produce.

Our business is run by a great team of people who care about the company and its values, and so I feel you get a different level of customer care and quality in the products and produce we sell, focussing on the detail and service we provide.

We strive to be environmentally friendly and typically look to source as many products which are B Corp certified or have packaging that is fully recyclable. We have our own eco-team consisting of various members across the Garsons site who are our environmental champions and are always seeking ways to constantly improve how we run and what we offer.

For us, it’s not just about selling; we are proud of our community involvement and charity support. We try to keep all waste to an absolute minimum; all of our fresh produce, which is no longer fit for selling, is gathered and delivered to a food charity that cooks and provides hundreds of meals for the vulnerable. By being independent, we have more control over the wide variety of help, support, and engagement we can offer, ranging from donations to stock-gifting and advertising.

What’s a challenge the business has had to overcome in recent years?

One of the biggest challenges the Farm Shop has faced recently is food price inflation. With the steep rise, alongside the cost of living and energy crisis, it has been a very challenging time to keep prices as low as possible whilst trying to maintain our margins and remain shoppable.

We have had to look closer at our product portfolio, and make decisions in what we continue to offer, cut and source additional or alternative suppliers to find the best deals.

What’s coming up in the next 12 months for your business?

We are aiming for another very busy year. We will be hosting two Food Fair weekends, inviting all of our suppliers to come in and meet our customers, with added promotions, prize giveaways, competitions and many yummy food tastings.

We will increase our tasting sessions so customers can try before they buy and be enticed with new products. I will be attending food fairs to find new and exciting ranges and will be focusing on increasing our offering of sustainable products, researching new trends, and meeting more local suppliers.

Find out more about Garsons

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