Family-run business Sholach Farm on the outskirts of Blairgowrie offers locally-grown Christmas trees.
The McIntyre family have farmed at Wester Essendy for around 100 years. Originally raspberry growers, Willie’s father, Willie Snr, first diversified into growing Christmas trees for wholesale customers back in 1992.
Following Willie Snr’s death in 2012, the family decided to continue working towards achieving his vision for the farm and today it is managed by three generations of McIntyres. Willie Jnr manages the farm with seasonal help at harvest time from nephew Conall McIntyre, mum Jean McIntyre keeps an eye on the finances and sister Kelly McIntyre looks after marketing.
Willie says that when their father died the family had offers from people who wanted to buy his fields.
“Dad had just planted young trees”, he explained, “and I wanted to finish what he started and continue his legacy. My mum and sister Kelly were supportive and Sholach Christmas Trees came to be.”
The enterprise journey
It took a lot of hard work and perseverance for the venture to get going. The family quickly realised that they had to sell trees directly to the public to make things work financially whilst at the same time attracting new wholesale clients.
Kelly says: “We started from scratch, working out of our comfort zone, cold-calling to try to sell trees, setting up pop-up shops in Blairgowrie and London, creating a website, a logo, a brand, and embracing social media, getting out there and getting known.”
They were also combining building the business with other commitments. Kelly runs a photography and videography business, Jean is a supply teacher and Conall has just finished school.
Willie says: “When Dad died, I was a train driver in London and I tried doing both jobs for a while but it was mentally and physically impossible. I had been thinking of moving back to Scotland and decided this was the time to do it.
“It was difficult stepping into the unknown from a well-paid job, but this is where my heart lay. When I’m pruning thousands of trees in the rain and worrying about making enough money, do I have second thoughts? Yes, I do but I know I made the right decision.”
Key to the success of the enterprise is the fact that it is a family business and the built-in support structure this provides.
Willie says: “Sholach Trees is a real family business with my mother, sisters, brothers-in-law, wife and nephew all playing a part. My London friends have helped at our pop-up shops there and we couldn’t have done it without them. There is a Christmas tree growers’ community and I’ve received a lot of help and advice from the connections my dad made. And community-based enterprise support organisation GrowBiz has helped us out with advice on marketing, social media and business focus.
“The hardest thing I find about running our own business is delegating or asking for help - I want to do everything myself but that just isn’t possible. There are so many different aspects, not just the horticulture but land management, dealing with customers, organising the harvest, health and safety, machinery, promotion, the list is endless, so it is good to get help wherever you can. To-do lists help too!”
Kelly, who has worked with GrowBiz for a number of years and describes the support she has received from them as “invaluable”, believes that collaboration with others is vital to successful enterprise.
She says: “We’ve worked with London-based Christmas Tree supplier Pines and Needles for several seasons now, while closer to home we have teamed up with PKAVS Mental Health and Wellbeing Hub and run pop-up shops at their bases in Blairgowrie and Perth. Volunteers from PKAVS help staff the shop, and a donation from every tree sold is made to the charity, which does lots of good work in the community.
“I think it is really important to build good working relationships with other businesses and organisations, whatever stage you are at on your business journey. You can’t put a price on the sort of support, encouragement and inspiration you can get from others.”
Looking to the future
Kelly says that they are keen to grow the business further.
She says: “We have a reputation for growing good quality trees. Our customers come back year after year and we are continuing to build on that. We took a huge gamble in setting up pop-up shops in London but they have been well-received and we have lots of return customers.
“We would like to expand our retail sites but need more land to plant trees and need to look for help, support and investment to fulfil this.
“We’d also like to employ more seasonal workers to help cultivate and run retail sites. It would be great to have passionate and hard-working Scots to promote our Scottish Christmas trees in London for example - the Scottish banter is as much a winner as our trees!”
Sholach Christmas Trees can be chosen straight from the farm and at pop-up shops at PKAVS Mental Health and Wellbeing Hubs at the Walled Garden in Perth and Wisecraft in Blairgowrie until December 21.
See www.sholachfarm.com for more information.