The Green Room,Armoy, Ballymoney
GAINING A REPUTATION THROUGH WORD OF MOUTH AND SOCIAL MEDIA FOR ITS HIGH-QUALITY PRODUCE AND PERSONAL TOUCH, THE FLEDGLING FARM SHOP IS RAPIDLY EXPANDING TO MEET DEMAND, MARIE-LOUISE O’DONNELL, CO-OWNER OF THE BUSINESS, TELLS NIAMH WALLACE
As a new contender on the farm shop scene in North Antrim, The Green Room is quickly gaining recognition for its range of products and quality of service.
Opened in June 2017, Marie-Louise O’Donnell and Michael McDaid have built the business from scratch to fulfil their dream of providing wholesome food to families in the rural area of Armoy and beyond. “Trying to feed three kids on a budget is difficult enough,” says Marie-Louise, “never mind trying to make sure the food they’re eating is good and filling. That’s what we want to provide to others, good dinners that aren’t too expensive.”
The range sold by The Green Room is not only wide, but also unique, ranging from traditional products such as locally-grown fresh fruit and vegetables, potatoes and flower arrangements to more unusual lines including buffalo sirloin steak, artisan breads, health drinks and skincare products.
This aspect of the business gives it the competitive edge needed to navigate the market, allowing the O’Donnells to keep up with current trends and introduce new flavours and products to traditional farming communities.
The landscaping aspect of the shop also attracts a wide range of customers, providing garden furniture, decorative gravel, soil products and much more that is listed on its website – http://www.thegreenroomni.com/.
Plans are underway, meanwhile, to extend the site to offer a tearoom for locals to try the products instore while creating a greater sense of community around the shop.
One of the demands faced by any farm shop is seasonality and the changeable weather of Northern Ireland. The Green Room navigates this by always staying on top of the seasonal needs of its customers.
“Christmas was a busy time for us,” says Marie-Louise. “We had a great season, providing locally-sourced turkey, Brussel sprouts, potatoes and much more to our customers.”
The business provided a delivery service for customers afraid to venture out in the bad weather, while also providing them with gritting ice.
And The Green Room supplies seasonal flower arrangements, including beautiful bouquets for occasions such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.
Easter will see the product range extended yet again. “We live between the seasons,” says Marie-Louise. “It’s all very poetic, there’s always something to look forward to.”
Very much a family-run business, Marie-Louise, Michael and their children staff the shop, with a few helpers during busy periods, sharing the workload between them.
The work can sometimes involve long hours, from going to markets to source produce in the early hours of the morning to staying late at night to complete building repairs. The dedication the O’Donnells show towards their business is incredible, and likely to result in the success they deserve.
There is no such thing as a typical customer in The Green Room. Its demographic includes an older generation of customers who visit farm shops as the population become aware of the health and environmental benefits of eating locally-sourced food.
However, young couples are also among some of the most regular customers, trying to feed their children as healthily as they can, as Marie-Louise herself once was. As the business grows, its catchment area is quickly expanding beyond the rural communities of Armoy and Ballymoney, with customers coming from as far as Cushendall, based on recommendations, to obtain the high-quality products sold in the shop.
As Marie-Louise previously worked in marketing, she is well versed in how to successfully promote a business and has put her skills to good use for The Green Room.
Noting the importance of word of mouth in farming communities, she has used it successfully to the advantage of the business, with customers buying products for friends and family while also recommending the shop to others with a confidence that cannot be achieved elsewhere.
Marie-Louise also notes the importance of a facebook page to market her business, and regularly updates the page with photos of new products, shop opening times and promotional competitions offering free products to successful entrants.