Canny farmers are always on the look out for extra sources of income – often that means a camping barn, a B&B or perhaps a tea room.
Simon Wood and his wife Cookie were more inventive.
Ten years ago they launched the Warm Welly Company supplying neoprene-lined wellington boots, initially for children but latterly for adults too.
The couple are sheep farmers, at Walton near Carlisle, and were prompted to diversify into wellingtons after their four young children complained of having cold feet while helping with chores on the farm.
Simon said: “The children had to spend a lot of time outdoors with us and often complained about getting cold.
“We could never find wellies warm enough to stop the inevitable twining about frozen and tingly toes – no matter how many pairs of socks they wore.
“So we decided to do something about it.”
Their wellies are lined with 4mm of the wet-suit material neoprene – which provides optimum comfort without clumsiness – and the children’s wellies include reflective strips for extra safety.
They are manufactured to a high specification in China, at a factory that specialises in supplying the quality-sensitive Japanese market, then imported into the UK and sold through the Warm Wellies website.
Sales grew steadily and two years ago reached the point where the couple decided to push the business to the next level.
Simon said: “We realised that the farm wasn’t delivering the returns we needed, and that we ought to look seriously at developing the Warm Welly Company, identifying new markets and improving our marketing.”
He turned to Cumbria Manufacturing Service for help.
Phil Anders, the Manufacturing Adviser, helped to secure a £3,000 grant to enable the business to employ the services of a sales and marketing specialist.
Simon said: “Phil was a great help in organising the grant application. He recognised it was very timely with the winter season fast approaching.
“It’s our busiest part of the year and this funding has allowed us to move forward quickly, capitalising on the cold weather.”
Tracey Errington, of Market Sense in Penrith, is now working with the Warm Welly Company to develop a marketing strategy.
“Tracey has raised our profile through social media and press coverage,” Simon explained, “and we’re looking at our customer base through Google Analytics.
“There’s a huge amount of information out there that I was unaware of. She’s opened my eyes to that. We can see very quickly what works.”
Part of the strategy is to target Forest Schools, which encourage children to learn in a natural outdoor environment.
Simon said: “The Forest School educational approach to outdoor play and learning is something that, as farmers, we admire and are keen to support.
“The advantage to the business is that, once we’ve got a child wearing our wellies, we get repeat custom until their feet stop growing.
“We’re on the recommended clothing list for a woodland nursery in London and they take hundreds of pairs off us.”
The new approach is already paying dividends. Warm Wellies expects to sell 3,500 pairs this year, an increase of 50% on 2016.
Cumbria Manufacturing Service and Cumbria Business Growth Hub are business support initiatives part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.
The funding that supports the Growth Hub comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP.
The Growth Hub is receiving up to £2,528,767 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information click here.
Cumbria Manufacturing Service is receiving is £301,088 of ERDF funding.