Retail Revelation

We are alpaca farmers. You, me, and others who have created our farms, and raise these lovely, elegant fleece producers. And with the improvements to the Canadian herd that we see at our shows each year, we are definitely demonstrating that we are heading in the right direction. But most of all, we love what we do, and it shows.

But we do more than just run our farms and raise our livestock. Many of us also sell the unique, elegant fleece products that are derived from their fibre. And while it is true to say that these products do sell themselves, the reality is that to be successful in retail, it takes a unique set of skills. Retail success is more than just selling products, and turning a profit. It’s about creating an experience so unique and meaningful for your customers, that they share your passion by the time they leave your farm.

Ted is now full-time shop keeper and caretaker of the herd on Chetwyn Farms.

Ted is now full-time shop keeper and caretaker of the herd on Chetwyn Farms.

If you want to see how it’s done … if you want to witness someone doing exactly what they were meant to do in this world … if you want to have a retail revelation, visit The Shed at Chetwyn Farms in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

We have had the pleasure of watching this farm grow as they bought the property just north of Wellington, in Hillier, brought home their first horses, and then acquired their first alpacas. Ted Pickering and Shauna Seabrooke are a professional couple, who were based out of Toronto where they were making their mark in their respective careers – Ted in retail consulting and Shauna in healthcare. One of the many things that are special about this couple is that they appreciated rural life, and like so many others, had fallen in love with Prince Edward County. Their love affair with alpacas was soon to follow.

Ted leads the herd to pasture where they just might drop in to say hi to customers at The Shed.

Ted leads the herd to pasture where they just might drop in to say hi to customers at The Shed.

After purchasing a beautiful farm and introducing a small herd of alpacas to their property, both Ted and Shauna identified their own niche and interest when it came to raising their herd and developing their farm business. For Ted, it was the retail side of alpaca products, and for Shauna, it was herd management and fibre development. This is a match made in heaven, as anyone who meets them soon finds out.

White washed beams and ceiling keep the rustic elements alive but fresh.

White washed beams and ceiling keep the rustic elements alive but fresh.

A small chicken coop, strategically located near their farm gate, provided an opportunity that only they could see. Those who visit what is now known as “The Shed” would find it hard to imagine that this elegant farm boutique, complete with a walk in alpaca stall, was once the chicken coop.

Yarns, woven and knit goods are rustically but elegantly displayed.

Yarns, woven and knit goods are rustically but elegantly displayed.

Your Shed experience begins long before you get there. The journey there is part of the experience as well. You will wind your way along one of Prince Edward County’s now famous wine routes, passing vineyards and lavender farms along the way. When you round the corner on Closson Road, you will see their sign and be teased by glimpses of vineyards, barnyards, and elegant alpacas. If the gates are open, and sign proclaims “open”, I dare you not to drop in.

I dare you not to go in!

I dare you not to go in!

You know you are some place special from the minute you see it. The building itself is unique – something you won’t find anywhere else. The look of it, shape of it, colour of it, and its surroundings hint at how different and special they want their customers to feel from the minute they arrive. A series of metal letters, rustic in nature, but trendy in style, spell SHED, but it is so much more than the name suggests.

You just may catch a glimpse of the alpacas peeking out at you from inside The Shed's viewing room.

You just may catch a glimpse of the alpacas peeking out at you from inside The Shed’s viewing room.

Beautiful gardens wrap around the building. One raised bed greets you at the side door which showcases square foot gardening techniques and demonstrates just what alpaca beans, or their own branded “Shed Shit”, can do for your garden. It’s a thing of beauty! As you are admiring the abundant produce this garden offers, you may just be greeted nose-to-nose by an alpaca peeking out of the open shed window.

Not an opportunity is missed to display the brand.

Not an opportunity is missed to display the brand.

How can you resist a peek inside?

Greeting cards with farm images and popular farm magazines are displayed just inside the door.

Greeting cards with farm images and popular farm magazines are displayed just inside the door.

The dramatic black exterior of The Shed gives way to a bright, white washed interior as you walk through a cheerful, bright yellow door. The door, always open in the country, is held in place by a rustic horse’s bit wedged into the barn boards inside. The white wash truly washes over you as you step inside. It is the perfect colour to highlight the 22 different shades of natural colour that are spun into the fine alpaca creations that you find inside.

A drum carder hints at how these alpaca products moved from the barnyard to the boutique.

A drum carder hints at how these alpaca products moved from the barnyard to the boutique.

What The Shed offers its customers is not your typical alpaca fare. Ted and Shauna have carefully selected their products to reflect the tastes of their distinguished, often urban customer base. Elegant, upscale, heirloom items are placed tastefully and thoughtfully on the shelves, ladders, chairs and other rustic pieces that are the backdrop for their merchandise.

A glimpse from the boutique into the viewing room.

A glimpse from the boutique into the viewing room.

Once you have feasted on all that is offered in The Shed’s front room, you can’t help but make your way into a darker, more rustic back room. And here is where the surprise lies.

While converting this chicken coop to a boutique, Ted and Shauna opened the structure up to the alpaca pasture, building a half wall mid way through the back room, allowing alpacas to wander in for some shade, water and hay, delighting guests with an up close experience. In this room, not only will you find alpacas, but you will find all their garden and outdoor merchandise, such as nesting ornaments, that are best showcased in a more exposed, outdoor environment. The lighting is vintage. The fixtures are outdoor implements. And the alpacas, are real time. It has to be seen to believe.

A half wall built in the back half of The Shed allows alpacas to wander in while customers shop.

A half wall built in the back half of The Shed allows alpacas to wander in while customers shop.

There’s so much more to be learned from The Shed example of retail excellence than simply how to create an experience. As a retail expert, Ted shares his thoughts on how to be a business success at the same time.

The viewing room is filled with garden items, including Shed Shit, nesting ornaments, and alpaca giftware.

The viewing room is filled with garden items, including Shed Shit, nesting ornaments, and alpaca giftware.

First, Ted advises that a business plan, complete with forecasts and a very practical financial plan, is necessary to chart a course and lay the foundation for any business, not just our farm businesses. “I personally think many are over-done and virtually impossible to follow. Or they can be difficult to use as things change so quickly within a start-up, but they are a necessary tool to define the business,” explains Ted.

Branding is carried out throughout, even in the market of alpaca beans as Shed Shit.

Branding is carried out throughout, even in the market of alpaca beans as Shed Shit.

And when you visit The Shed there is no mistaking that Ted and Shauna have defined their business. They know how they wanted to begin, have a defined strategy to ramp up the business as they expand their product line, their shop and their herd. And even if they move completely off plan, it is clear they know where they began and where they are headed.

Alpaca lined leather gloves and metal ornaments fill another corner.

Alpaca lined leather gloves and metal ornaments fill another corner.

Once you have developed your business plan, you need to tell your story – the retail story. This is distinct from your more comprehensive farm business plan that lays out how your herd and its products will translate into business profit. Your business plan is what drives you to function in a professional way and make smart decisions. It’s not hard to get swept up in the joy of alpaca farming, day to day. A business plan ensures you both enjoy the experience and stay on the path to profitability.

“Telling the retail story is sharing your vision, whatever that is, and allowing customers to be part of that story,” explains Ted. “It’s all about who you are and the kind of customer you want to attract. The story can always change and grow – and there are so many smaller sub-stories within a retail concept including colour combinations, use of lighting, props etc., etc.,”

Tell your story and carry your brand throughout.

Tell your story and carry your brand throughout.

Think creatively when you determine what your retail story will be. It need not just be “alpacas”. “For alpaca enthusiasts the possibilities are endless. Animals, sustainable farming, ideal lifestyle, fleece, fibre, fashion, gardening, birds, yarn goods, wholesaling, etc.,” Ted lists the endless possibilities with a sparkle in his eyes. If you need some help articulating what your story might be, you need to find a Ted – someone who can help you to identify what part of the retail story you want to share in your shop.

When you tell your retail story, do it with your customers in mind. You are creating a customer experience, and in so doing it is important to meet or exceed the customers’ expectations. “You do this, not just with product, but in the way you treat them and even the way you tell your retail story,” explains Ted. “The customer is not ALWAYS right, but any good retailer knows that without a customer there is no business. So whatever you are able to do to create a happy customer – make that your goal.”

Heirloom seeds tell the next chapter of The Shed's story, where alpaca byproducts feed the soil itself.

Heirloom seeds tell the next chapter of The Shed’s story, where alpaca byproducts feed the soil itself.

And here’s the good news. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to create a retail story. But Ted advises that it has to be planned out, organized, thoughtful to customers’ needs, and it must match your vision – whatever that is. This truly was news to me, but having witnessed what Ted has created from the simplest and most authentic artifacts combined with the most creative presentation techniques, I am both a believer and customer!

As Ted and Shauna now thoughtfully tell their Shed story from their farm gate in Prince Edward County, it has given way to another business venture for Ted as he “retires” from the city to full time country living. Ted, once a downtown Toronto retail consultant, is expanding into retail consulting with his fellow alpaca farmers. His experience building business plans, store planning, marketing, merchandising, developing product and executing retail concepts will now be applied to the barnyard and farm gate. Farm gates will never be the same again!

Ted captured in a thoughtful moment, contemplating the next chapter of The Shed's story.

Ted captured in a thoughtful moment, contemplating the next chapter of The Shed’s story.

Ted’s Retail Revelations:

  1. Create a Business Plan
  2. Tell your Retail Story
  3. Customer Experience: meet or exceed their expectations
  4. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do it.
Around the bend, on a well-traveled route, lies The Shed.

Around the bend, on a well-traveled route, lies The Shed.

Originally published in the September 2015 issue of Camelid Quarterly.  A special thanks to the editors for their permission to reprint.