Kiwi Business Story: Business Coaching – Farm to Farm Tours

Posted by Ben Whittacker-Cook on Nov 3, 2021 10:00:00 AM

Kirstie Macmillan is a co-owner and the general manager of Canterbury-based Farm To Farm Tours. For more than 30 years, the business has provided special-interest domestic and international tours and travel for farmers, the agricultural sector and others interested in rural life.

Farm To Farm_Kirstie Macmillan

Location: Rangiora
Business Type: Tourism and Hospitality
Founded: 1987
Number of Employees: Five
Current Business Situation: Exploring new destination opportunities and expanding domestic focus
The Icehouse Business Coach: Emmet Hobbs

The last 18 months have been a big challenge to our business and I’m certain Kirstie's Icehouse experience has been a big part of the solid resilience she has shown.’ James Dixon, co-owner

Tell us about your role?  

I am a co-owner and general manager. As were operating in a pandemic right now, the emphasis is on logistics and operations because there are so many changeable factors.

We're very fortunate with our team, because we've got great people who have been working in the business for a long time and theyve been so supportive and flexible. Ross, the founder (and my father), had been looking to step back and was stepping back just before Covid, but he's been fully invested in helping us get through this.

How did you get into the business?

Like most children in a family business I was involved in it from a young age, helping out occasionally on tours or at events being nice to tourists and getting gifts! I remember Dad heading off to exciting places and touring New Zealand with farmers from all over the world. It seemed like a great job but it wasnt the plan to work in the family business.

I originally went into law and practiced for a few years, living in London, and I ended up organising a lot of travel over there. When I came back to New Zealand, Dad said, Would you like to take a group over to Canada for us?’. I was pretty green but it was a fantastic experience.

I realised I really enjoyed travelling with people and found that it was such a positive industry, so it grew from there. It was a bit of a shock at first, going from working at law firms with office juniors and IT departments to working with my father and one other person, so that was a big change!

What are currently your biggest challenges? 

The pandemic has been really tough. Our core business was organising tours for international visitors and taking Kiwis overseas so having all of our tours and income disappear in a very short space of time was a real shock. Like many businesses, the ongoing uncertainty is the biggest challenge right now, but we are hanging in there.

We realised pretty early on that Kiwis – especially our semi-retired farming clients – still wanted to do things so, when we can, weve been able to run domestic trips for them. At the end of lockdown last year, we sent a survey out to our clients simply asking, Where do you want to go?’. What came back was a real desire to explore some of our more remote places.

As a result, we’ve been focusing on more remote place like the Chatham Islands, South Island high country, the Far North, Stewart Island and Fiordland when freedoms allow, obviously.

The Chatham Islands has been the stand out. We’ve always run a couple of trips there each year as my father Ross knew it well from his farm advisory work there, but it’s an absolute star right now. It's very different from mainland New Zealand and really fascinating.

How does
late 2021 and beyond look for you compared to 2020?

The planning is challenging sometimes youre in a cycle of booking, cancelling and rebooking. Its meant weve had to be more flexible and agile with clients and bookings – if people are keen and we’re able to travel then we go for it. Were starting to see that light at the end of the tunnel and were working on some growth areas which will actually be very exciting for the future.

Farm To Farm_Team

What kind of support have you received from working with The Icehouse and are you looking to keep working with them?

I completed The Icehouse Owner Manager Programme 45 in 2019, and Emmet Hobbs was one of the facilitators. He spoke to us about governance and also provided some great advice during the breakout sessions.

We actually met up to discuss a few things in Christchurch pre-Covid. When travel went pear-shaped in 2020, The Icehouse reached out and explained that coaching funding was available for tourism businesses, so the chance came up again to work with Emmet, and I didnt hesitate.

How have things changed since working with The Icehouse?

As I did OMP 45, Emmet was already familiar with the business, so very quickly he was able to help me focus on the positive aspects of our operations while acknowledging it can be really challenging personally and not to dismiss that.

He was a fantastic sounding board; genuinely interested and always checking in to find out how I was coping. I never felt I had to pretend I was taking it all in my stride! From running through existing options and new business ideas and revenue streams that perhaps we hadn’t considered, brainstorming, right through to that well-being support side, he has been there.

He also has a wide and extensive network of contacts, and he's very generous with his connections, introducing me to people who can really help the business move forward. For example, we have spoken about finding an independent adviser for the business, and that's something well be discussing in the next few weeks.

It’s a family business, so it was quite intense at the start of lockdown, but you cant let it consume your whole family life, so having that external person such as Emmet to talk to and get advice from was invaluable.

Emmet has a world of experience and provides clear and level-headed support. He realised the business needed help because of an external event and was able to give advice on how to react and do things to counter that.

What advice would you give to other business owners who are struggling/looking for help?

Ask lots of questions and keep agile! You cant beat having great people and support around you. Although its been a tough 18 months, Im positive about the future and grateful to have gone into this armed with my Icehouse learnings and friendships.

Follow the link for more information on Farm To Farm Tours and its range of tours and special interest travel opportunities.

Topics: Case Studies, Business Coaching, The Icehouse, Resilience, Owner Manager Programme, Tourism and Hospitality, Canterbury, Christchurch, OMP 45, Farm to Farm Tours, Emmet Hobbs, OMP45, Rangiora

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