An Aberdeenshire farming family which has been selling home-grown produce for almost 40 years on-farm has ventured into a one of our new Lock Blox vending machines. Stuart and Catherine Stephen, together with their family Neil, Megan, Murray and Penny, run a successful farm shop business alongside a beef, sheep and arable enterprise at their two neighbouring units, Netherthird and Lower Thorneybank, near Rothienorman, Inverurie.
Lower Thorneybank Farm Shop was established in 1979 by Stuart’s father Eric, when he sold home-grown vegetables in a wheelbarrow at the side of the road, before using an old horse cart and a stall.
In more recent years, the family still relied on customers to pay into an honesty box but developed a “hole in the wall” in the side of one of their sheds.
Just recently, after three months of renovation work, the family has reopened a new and improved farm shop which centers around one of our Lock Blox vending machines – the first in the UK. “We wanted to give our customers a better retail experience that was cleaner, safer and easier to use,” said eldest son Neil, who works at home full-time but is an electrician by trade.“The vending machine may look complicated to some but it’s very easy and quick to use. It features a touchscreen system and takes cash/coins or contactless payments.“Younger people don’t seem to carry cash on them nowadays, so we wanted to integrate a contactless card system to suit the needs of all our customers.”
As well as selling vegetables and other local produce, wife and mum Catherine makes home bakes including shortbread, toffee, fruit loaf and oatcakes from her bakehouse near the farmhouse. Stuart said: “We started off growing as little as half an acre of tatties and we’re now growing more than 20 acres. All tattie-related work is done in-house, from the planting to the packing, and we grow both maris piper and roosters and also sell baked potatoes.”
Neil said: “Our old shop system meant we couldn’t stay open after dark, especially being situated so close to the main road. “Although we still have to fill up the compartments in the vending machine from time to time, we aren’t tied to the shop all day.” In the first two weeks after opening the new shop, the family handed out questionnaires to customers and found people were coming to buy produce from as far afield as Maryculter, Peterhead, Portsoy and Cullen. The Stephens also asked customers to rate the easiness of the new vending machine and 93% of those rated it as “very easy”.
Neil said “The machine was running 3 weeks before Christmas and we have looked back and can say we have had the busiest Christmas ever”
The Stephen family are already looking to extend the machine to accommodate some other lines of products.