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What is an Upstart? People who have launched businesses on their own, to create something of their own. They are driven, they challenge the status quo, they go their own way and they start before they’re ready. Invention, innovation and inspiration is in their DNA and we want to celebrate them for their independent thinking and granite-like resilience.

Meet our Virgin Money business customer Richard Rainford, a fifth-generation farmer from Merseyside who left school at 16 with no formal qualifications. Today, Richard has turned his family farm into a successful business that grows over 70,000 Christmas trees and selling over 40,000 pumpkins per year. Richard not only provides incredible products to his customers but also, now, has pivoted to creating unforgettable experiences. We caught up with Richard to find out how he transformed his business.

1. How did Rainford’s Christmas Trees begin?

“When I left school at 16 our family farm wasn’t making much money and I knew I had to do something to change that. When I took over the farm, the first thing I got into was selling Christmas trees to the public. Initially, I was buying and selling them but as the business grew, I decided that we should start growing our own trees here on the farm. We now have around 70,000 Christmas trees at any one time.”

Christmas tree

2. How much resilience, creativity and confidence do you need to start your own business?

“I got to where I am today by looking at opportunities and at how I can best exploit the assets that are around me. That could be a building that has a roof, or a field on the farm – I ask myself, what can I do with what I’ve got and how can I use it to grow the business? This means I’ve been able to keep up with the latest trends by being creative and just going for it.

To be an Upstart, you need to be strong. Running a business will never be 9-5, it’s 24/7. You’ll wake up in the night thinking, ‘What I can do to improve the business?’ It’s amazing and it’s so satisfying, and I love getting up in the mornings and taking on the challenge of the day but it’s hard work, so you need to be dedicated. I had to overcome a fear of failure, it’s always on the horizon but don’t focus on it, focus on the positives.”

3. How much knowledge did you have to have in other aspects of business to succeed?

“I muddled my way along. I left school at 16 with no formal qualifications, I spent more time at home on the farm with my family than I did at school. My mum and dad had a small farm shop and I think that’s where my love for retail started, I really enjoyed talking to customers. Working in that farm shop taught me from a young age that the most important part of a business is being good with people.”

Pumpkins and a rainbow

4. Talk us through how your business has grown.

“Once I started to see how amazing the Christmas tree business was doing, I started to think, what else can we provide for our customers? So, I started selling Christmas decorations, firewood and garden furniture.

Then, five years ago, I decided to open a small café at the farm. I thought, it’s another aspect that will add to the experience of coming to our farm, whether you’re coming to pick a Christmas tree or shop for decorations and firewood – having a place for a hot drink and quick bite to eat would come in handy for our customers and it’s proven to be a success.

And our most recent initiative was four years ago, when I decided I wanted to extend our seasons of business. This was because we were only opening for 2 months of the year for Christmas and I was eager to get more footfall through our doors. So, I decided to create a pumpkin picking and carving experience for families to enjoy. We grow the pumpkins here on the farm (a single pumpkin takes 120 days to grow). In 2017 we sold 2,000 pumpkins, this year we’re estimated to sell around 40,000 pumpkins – all through public sales, no wholesale.”

5. How has the pandemic impacted Rainford’s Christmas Trees?

“It actually made our business stronger. Because more people were at home, we sold a ton more firewood as people were using it in the garden for fire pits in Spring. We were actually struggling to keep up with demand at one point. Also, because people were so eager to leave the house, our pumpkin picking and selling of Christmas trees did fantastically well – and we’re set to double our revenue from last year.”

Pumpkin sunset

6. You’ve been a business and personal customer of ours for over 40 years, has the bank played a part in your business journey?

“Yes, the support from the bank over the years has been amazing especially during challenging times. Knowing that there’s a team at Virgin Money who are on hand to provide me with any advice I need gives me peace of mind while running Rainford’s Christmas Trees. I have 7 different products with the Bank across both business and personal current accounts and I’ve remained loyal to the bank due to its fantastic service, products and tools. I regularly use the Virgin Money Mobile Banking app Link opens in a new window and find the app really easy to use, plus it’s great that I can see both my personal Link opens in a new window and business current accounts Link opens in a new window in one place without having to go between apps.”

7. Has social media played a big part in the company’s success?

“A huge part – I spent thousands of pounds in the early 90s & 00s on leaflets, newspapers and radio and only saw marginal increases each year. Then social media came into play and revolutionised the way we do marketing. We don’t do any newspapers, advertising or radio – it’s all social media and best of all, it’s free! After a busy and stressful day I really enjoy sitting down and seeing some of the reviews our customers have left us on social media Link opens in a new window, there are times I’m brought to tears because of the lovely comments which makes you realise, yes it’s all worth it, and we really are making people happy.”

Christmas trees

8. How sustainable is Rainford’s Christmas trees?

“It’s important to us that our business is as green as it possibly can be. We heat our own homes and buildings using left-over timber, we don’t buy coal or gas and we use very little electricity as we have solar panels - by becoming greener it’s saving us money. Also, making more sustainable choices is also very important to our customers too as the selling of firewood has really taking off due to the demand for green energy as it’s a cleaner way to heat homes. We also offer a Christmas tree recycling service where we collect your Christmas tree in January and either compost it and spread it on our farm or chip it for biomass green energy.”

Pumpkin field

9. What’s the best piece of advice you could give to a future Upstart?

“Stay strong and stay confident, believe in yourself and trust your gut. You’ll take risks, some will pay off, some won’t – but you never know unless you try. This is what I’ll be telling my two children when I pass them the reins of the business in the future.”

Head over to Rainford's Christmas Trees Link opens in a new window to check out their amazing collection

If you want to make your company more sustainable, then check out the Sustainable Business Coach app Link opens in a new window which can help you make a positive impact on both the environment and the wider society.

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