Kylestone Nurseries and Farm Shop in Groomsport, Co Down Northern Ireland, is a Vance family owned and run business born from a passion for horticulture.
It’s all in the family
Dad Paul can link it all back to days spent with his grandmother, a gardening enthusiast. Their working class background meant that plants and shrubs were acquired through cuttings from family and friends. Paul inherited from his grandmother a love for plants and a commitment to her garden, and he would happily while away the days tending to the maintenance.
Following an early career working as the local Finance Manager for Aga, Paul established a wholesale garden nursery with his wife, Carolynne. For twenty years the couple, and eventually their eldest son, Tom, supplied nurseries and florist chains around Northern Ireland. They propagated many of the plants, shrubs and trees on the famously fertile grounds of Mount Stewart, land that the family then leased from the Londonderry family.
Adopting a European lifestyle
A keen interest in travel saw the Vances explore much of Europe and Latin America. On these trips they experienced the magic of open-air fresh fruit and vegetable markets. It gave them a completely new way of looking at their own cooking habits. Instead of doing one bulk supermarket buy every week or two, Europeans tend to buy fresh each day. In doing so, they reduce their waste and embrace seasonal and local produce. What’s more, they enjoy a level of creative, superbly diverse cooking that an outing to the supermarket rarely inspires.
The experience inspired the Vances to seek out a small number of produce suppliers. As a result, they began to offer wholesale fruit and vegetables as part of their offering. They also sought out exclusive artisan producers and set about supplying premium goods such as honey, cheeses, preserves and more.
Little did they know, however, that their world was about to change, as it was for everyone.
The impact of lockdown
The 2020 global pandemic and subsequent lockdown resulted in a rapid response from the Vances. With nurseries and florists closing down, they knew they had to pivot the business in order to keep bread on the table. The wholesale business was shut down. Paul and his son, Tom, went into business with a B2C model. The process occurred at breakneck speed across one weekend. On Friday night, they closed their wholesale doors. On Monday morning, they opened directly to the public. They weren’t open for long, with shutdowns soon enforced across most small businesses. In an effort to continue to serve their customers, the family turned to free home deliveries. Before they knew it, 80 orders a day were being trucked to homes around Co Down and the Ards Peninsula.
Whilst in lockdown, the Vances took a risk and began expanding the Farm Shop. This was yet another nod to the dolce vita European lifestyle. They built an outside decking area, purchased a commercial Nespresso machine, and increased their range. By the time lockdown lifted, shoppers were coming to Kylestone Nurseries not just for their garden and kitchen supplies, but for a bit of much-needed, relaxed social time-out. Ladies would meet for walks, finishing them at Kylestone for a socially-distanced coffee and pastry outside and a good natter with friends. It was exactly the ethos the Vances wanted to nurture. A relaxed, convivial atmosphere in which people could not only shop, but comfortably congregate and feel a part of the community.
Impeccable customer service
Customer service has and remains the cornerstone of Kylestone Nurseries. Decades of experience and passion mean team members are brimming with gardening advice and recommendations. Suppliers are not unknown names on boxes – they have been cherry picked by the Vance family, with Paul and Tom often travelling to their farms and factories and meeting the real people behind the produce.
The Kylestone Nurseries and Farm Shop are constantly expanding their ranges, curating incredible produce, many of which are Northern Ireland exclusives to the business. Take for instance the baby preserved artichoke heads from Italy, or the Venetian island apiarists who treat their bees like babies. Get Paul talking about any of these and you could well settle down for a memorable story or two!
What’s next for Kylestone Nurseries?
As lockdown hopefully lifts, the Vances aim to integrate even more ideas to the business. A 2020 Christmas Craft fair held on the property was a chance not only for local artists to make some much-needed sales, but gave Kylestone Nursery customers a delightful extra experience to their shopping. It also offered a slice of festive spirit to a fairly sombre and confusing end to the year. These are the sort of creative ideas customers can expect in the future.
They can also expect the pitter-patter of budding horticulturist Vance grandchildren, who always enjoy a visit to their pa and uncle, and a chance to potter about with the plants. The next generation of Vances might just be continuing to serve the community.
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