Posted: 01/04/2020

Closed farm shop returns as drive-through to provide contact-free retail experience to combat COVID-19

Stuart Beare closes another drive-through sale

A farm shop that closed its doors in 2014 has relaunched to provide a farm shop-style retail experience from the comfort of customers’ cars, to minimise contact during the coronavirus crisis.

Since the shop shut, Tulleys Farm, based just outside Crawley in West Sussex, had become primarily an events business and it also offers pick-your-own at certain times of the year. However, due to government restrictions in response to the spread of COVID-19, the business was forced to close.

In the wake of the spread of the virus, the site was inundated with visitors searching for the long-closed farm shop, which led to partner Stuart Beare’s son suggesting they revive the retail offering, but with a difference – a drive-through farm shop.

Customers view the price list from the safety of their cars

“We were having to turn people away,” said Stuart Beare. “By the Friday that heavier measures were put in place, we had hundreds of people coming looking for the shop, and we didn’t want people getting out and putting themselves and others at risk.”

Beare decided to re-establish their old supply lines, put up marquees and put in place a contact-free system for ordering and collecting on site.

Customers arrive in their cars, place an order via a socially distant staff member with an iPad and pay using a card machine on an extendable pole.

Orders are taken on an iPad

Vehicles are then driven to a collection point while the orders are packed up and then placed in the boot – removing the need for any contact between staff and customers.

“We did a test run of the idea on the Wednesday following Boris’ lockdown announcement and we blocked the road with people coming in,” he said. “The meat we ordered in for that day was gone within an hour.”

On the day FFD spoke to Beare, one hour before they were set to close, he estimated they had already had more than 300 cars come through their gates, each with an average spend of around £90.

… and payments made from a distance

“We’re only stocking a very basic range, but in the first three days we were open, we took more than we ever did in a week when the farm shop was open.” 

Customers have been taking to social media to show their appreciation for the businesses offering. 

“I went yesterday, and they’ve organised it so well, order from a person two meters away, pay contactless at your window via a pole, pop your boot and they put it in. All without any contact,” said customer Claire Corrigan. 

Orders are placed directly into the car boot

Prior to launch, Beare was cautious not to disrupt the trade of other retailers in the area, so put his idea out to the local community.

“We’ve got a couple of small farm shops around us and we didn’t want to tread on their toes.

“We put our idea out to a community group and the response was fantastic. People saw it as a community project,” he said.

Beare said, while he knows that they have a uniquely suitable space to offer this service, he hopes that other farm shops can recreate the concept.

“We put a post on the Farm Retail Association Facebook group, and had some people come up from Avon Valley Farm Park near Bath to have a look at how we’re running things.”

The order packing area at Tulleys Farm

Read stories like this and more in the digital edition of Fine Food Digest here.

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