‘I’m good at spinning plates, as long as there’s a brush and dustpan close by’ - Essex fruit juice producer offers insight into running a busy business
- Credit: Archant
Craig Williamson of Barn Farm Drinks offers some advice to his younger self
Craig Williamson is the managing director of D C Williamson Ltd., a fruit farm located near Manningtree on the Essex/Suffolk border. Alongside his wife, Gail, Craig also runs Barn Farm Drinks, a range of fruit juices which are all pressed and bottled on site at Barn Farm using berries which are either grown directly on the farm, in fields overlooking the River Stour, or sourced locally from other Red Tractor assured growers. Here, he offers some advice to his younger self.
How would you describe yourself at 18?
Like most young men at 18 - young, free and single!
I didn't go down the A-Level route; having been born into a farming family I was destined to drive a tractor, so instead I went to college to study agricultural engineering, horticultural and management training.
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At 18 I was looking for a role in a third-generation family business and this course really paved the way for the rest of my life and career. Farmers have to be innovators; we need to make a lot of the equipment and machinery we use and college taught me how to push the boundaries of what I thought I could do.
What three tips would you give to your younger self?
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Firstly, don't be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. I remember vividly taking part in a Combined Cadet Force course once where we did things like abseiling, pot holing and orienteering. Unfortunately, I didn't become Bear Grylls afterwards but it did teach me some really valuable life skills that I still use today.
Organise and plan ahead - this didn't come naturally when I was 18 and I'm still not very good at it; my wife, Gail, is always encouraging me to make 'to do' lists. I'm good at spinning plates though, as long as there's a brush and dustpan close by!
Finally, accept and act on constructive criticism and importantly, find someone who you can take criticism from. For me, I had a godparent who I was very close to who gave me quite strong direction, but I know if it had come from my parents, I wouldn't have taken it on board.
Is there anything you would do differently?
I think it's really important - both in life and business - that you're able to put your hands up and accept when you're in the wrong. I remember having a dispute about a boundary once, I was absolutely convinced I was in the right but it turned out I wasn't. I put my hands up and said "I was wrong", but lots of people would fight it tooth and nail.
Are there any projects you are particularly proud of?
We received a grant from the European Agricultural fund for Rural Development in 2013, which meant we could buy a pasteurisation and aseptic packaging line so we could branch out into fruit pressing. This was the first step in putting my own mark on the family business; it was very different to anything my parents had done.
Was there a point, a landmark, when you knew your business would be a success?
A business contact of mine introduced us to Innocent Drinks and we worked with them for a number of months, pureeing fruit for their smoothies and juices. Today, we work with a number of national and international brands providing them with fruit juice for their products.
The direction the business went in after receiving the grant also enabled us to set up Barn Farm Drinks to complement the D.C Williamson brand and expand into new markets. We purchased a clarified fruit juice pressing and bottling line in 2017 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Why is East Anglia a good place to do business?
We are surrounded by great transport links like airports and ferry terminals and it's easy to get to London.
The countryside in this part of the world is fantastic too and for us as fruit growers, it's a great place to have a business. On the farm we benefit from a maritime climate; we're near the North Sea and right next to the River Stour, which means we're not as severely affected by frosts as farms further in-land might be.
We're also very lucky that we're right on the Essex/Suffolk border - we get wonderful views of both counties. And, if you need to know the time while you're out in our fields, a pair of binoculars is all that's needed to read the clock on the side of the river at the Royal Hospital School in Holbrook!
If you could relive one day, what would it be?
The day I asked Gail to marry me. Although, I actually asked her before I'd got permission from her father so I started off slightly on the wrong foot!
Gail is from a farming family too; she farmed at Ardleigh and I farmed at Langham, but we only met when we both went on a fruit growers' trip to Budapest. We used to have arguments about whose raspberries and strawberries we'd have for pudding with Sunday lunch - Marshall berries from Gail's family farm or Williamson berries.
If you were to choose one motto what would it be?
Live life to the full…it's not a rehearsal, that's for sure!