Diversification: a strategy for riding out uncertain times
Published: 24 May 2019
Based in the Yorkshire Dales, Sun Hill Farm occupies 50 acres, featuring a racing stable, horse rehabilitation centre and luxury holiday lets. Owner, racehorse trainer and President of the National Trainers’ Federation, Ann Duffield, explains how diversification has helped Sun Hill Farm to reduce uncertainty in a high risk industry.
“Racing is volatile. You rely on getting good horses and it’s a high cost, high-risk industry, which isn’t a good combination,” says Ann Duffield, owner of Sun Hill Farm.
Against a backdrop of rising prices, many trainers have had to diversify over the past 10 years. But, for Ann, working off-site was not an option. Life as a trainer is intensive, demanding and requires a hands-on approach, she says.
The search for a new income stream
Keen to remove some of the farm’s dependency on the vagaries of racing, create a new income stream for the business and boost cash flow, Ann considered her options.
“I needed something on-site as the horses remained a priority,” she says. “We’re lucky enough to live in this amazing place in the Yorkshire Dales, which has really opened up to tourism in recent years. We had the acreage available, so building holiday lodges was an obvious choice.”
Ann opened four high-end log cabins in October 2013 and bookings immediately took off. Occupancy now stands at around 92%, and there’s demand year-round. With that in mind, Ann obtained planning permission for more lodges and approached her incumbent bank for additional funding.
Securing funding to build
“I’d been with my existing high street bank for over 20 years, but they weren’t interested,” she explains. Feeling frustrated, Ann discussed her dilemma with a colleague at the National Trainers’ Federation, whose own experience of securing funding for diversification led him to recommend AMC.
“And they were fantastic,” continues Ann. “AMC were professional, helpful, on the ball and – seven weeks after the first phone call to them – I had the money in he bank.”
Despite being a little different to AMC’s usual farming and agricultural business clients, when Regional Agricultural Manager, Jo Lampkowski visited Sun Hill, her enthusiasm was clear. “Jo was superb,” says Ann. “She was immediately excited by the project and the whole process went like clockwork.”
Jo could see that the holiday accommodation element of the business had a proven track record and that expansion represented a great opportunity.
“Ann is a highly-experienced business woman,” says Jo. “We were delighted to be able to provide her with funding of £1m over a 25-year term so she could build further lodges at Sun Hill, and capitalise on growing demand for high quality accommodation.”
Letting owners get on with business
Ann has also been impressed with AMC’s approach. “In my experience, banks always want to interfere in your business and reassess things every five years,” she says. “With AMC, I don’t feel like I have someone looking over my shoulder. Their hands off approach means I get the financial support I need, but can get on with running my business my way.”
Sun Hill Lodges is an undoubted success. As well as improving income and cash flow for the farm, it has provided a significant boost to the local economy. The business now employs cleaning and maintenance teams, and each lodge is stocked with local produce. It’s a boost that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Richmondshire Council.
A boost for the local economy
“When we sought permission to build the additional lodges, we received lots of letters of support from restaurants, pubs and other local businesses.”
This meant that securing funding to build the additional six lodges was even more important; indeed it was instrumental in planning permission being granted. “Our success is born out of people understanding what we need. The Council has been supportive and it understands the need for not only racing, but also agricultural businesses more generally, to diversify. AMC understands that the people who run these kinds of ventures have been in business a long time and they want the right kind of support from the right people. AMC offers that.
“I’ve since recommended AMC to a lot of people, including the National Trainers’ Federation, because there are a lot of people out there who could benefit from their approach. Without question, AMC is a stand-out lender.”