Sector trends

Family business spotlight: how Dunsters Farm is boosting business resilience

Read on to learn more about how its strong sense of purpose and agile thinking is helping the family business adapt and change with the times.

Family business management

As the third generation to run Dunsters Farm, Hannah Barlow knows a thing or two about business continuity. Working alongside her father, Jeremy, she and her brother Tom are the latest family members to steer the business through turbulent times.

The family has operated foodservice business Dunsters since Hannah’s maternal grandfather founded it in Bury, Lancashire, in 1963.

She says any business run by an engaged family is unique. And the strength of a family business is what often drives up quality and differentiates it in the marketplace.

“I think you care more – and that comes through to customers, staff and suppliers,” she says. “It makes you a better business because you do things to the very best of your ability, unlike a typical business where things might be done primarily based on budget and corporate policy.

“When it’s your reputation on the line, you often go above and beyond.”

How family businesses assess risk and adjust rapidly

Dunsters is recovering well from the Covid shock. Its hard-won experience and decisive strategy – traditionally a key strength of family-run firms – is boosting business resilience.

As a major supplier to the hospitality and catering industry, the pandemic-related lockdowns in 2020 and early 2021 hit Dunsters badly.

The family acted rapidly to assess the risks facing the business and adjusted accordingly. “We didn’t just sit still at home – we got out there and dealt with it,” says Hannah.

There is a perception that family businesses get a bit stuck in their ways, she adds. “But when you’re faced with something like Covid – that could put you out of business – the fact we’re family run made it easier for us to make quick decisions and pivot numerous times.”

When it’s your reputation on the line, you often go above and beyond

Hannah Barlow
MD, Dunsters Farm

“There are three of us in the thick of the business, and we can pick up the phone and say: ‘Let’s do this,’ and it’s done,” she explains.

“We don’t have to call a board meeting to decide. And as businesses get bigger, sometimes that gets lost as there are more decision-making channels.”

Family business management and the supply chain

The family business utilised the longstanding relationships it has developed over time. “Our track record helped with the bank, with our suppliers and even with staff,” says Hannah.

“People realised they didn’t want to lose their jobs so they were willing to help us keep things going. That kind of longevity and reputation for paying people on time, or looking after your staff, does go a long way.”

How to change with the times

With the business going from strength to strength – headcount is increasing and sales are up – Hannah is looking at the next wave of technology to stay ahead of the game.

That includes enterprise resource planning (ERP), vehicle tracking and customer relationship management (CRM) tools.

“It means we’re a well-established but young-thinking organisation, and as the third generation, we bring different viewpoints. Tom and I are very much focused on technology and also becoming a purpose-driven organisation.

“People talk about multigenerational family firms, but when you’re in charge, you’re the protector and gatekeeper for the next generation, depending on where the business goes. You don’t want it to fail on your watch, so everyone pulls together.”

Find more on family business management here.

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