At Heather Hill Farms LLC, owner Heather Alder sees a variety of customers from all over the world.
“You’d be very surprised at how many foreign visitors come to Branson, but they do,” Alder says.
Being about 30 minutes to the north, in Ozark, she’s figured out a way to draw Branson traffic. Maybe it’s the wine, cheese, specialty foods and gifts at Heather Hill Farms. But she also credits her neighbor, Lambert’s Cafe – the “home of throwed rolls” – for its wandering customers.
“We’ve had people from Germany, from Russia, from Britain, from Ireland, from India,” Alder says, noting many of them end up across the way to explore her shop.
However, after 15 years in business, many tourists have begun to make Heather Hill Farms their main destination – the ones from out of town or state. Hundreds move through the store weekly, she says.
“That is really your goal – people coming in and saying, ‘I always come here, even if I don’t eat at Lambert’s,’” Alder says with a laugh.
In 2002, Alder founded the business with her husband at the time, Robert. She and her family had operated a variety of businesses over the years, but cutting the red ribbon on a retail store was a new experience.
“The original concept was to start a specialty foods store – with advice from Mike Bloom, a family friend who [at the time] owned the Osceola Cheese store in Osceola,” Alder says. “Mike said, ‘If you’re going to do a retail store, you’ve got to carry our cheese.’”
So she did. Today, customers can sample up to 200 varieties of cheeses including Osceola’s inside the store, Alder says.
“That was sort of the key to what we became,” she says. “And then after you do the cheese, you go, ‘Well, we’ve got to have wine.’”
It was a smart move for Alder, who says the majority of Heather Hill Farms’ revenue is from wine, with bottles priced no higher than $30. Many of the selections come from nearby wineries, such as St. James Winery.
“Tourists want Missouri,” Alder says, noting she also has an Australian blend and wines from Germany and California among some 50 varieties in stock. “We also have a service where if you have a certain wine you want, we can bring it in for you, even if we don’t carry it. We’ll just pass it along to you. There’s a little savings to that, too.”
Alder works with distributors Major Brands Inc., Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, and Lohr Distributing Co. Inc.
Heather Hill Farms also hosts private parties for companies and their employees or other groups.
“We call them after-hour parties,” Alder says. “We open the wine bar. We make a cheese tray with some of our food items – dips and salsas – and they pay $10 to $15 a person.”
The parties can be a cash cow.
“They shop in the store, we keep the cash registers open, and it shows them what we’re about,” she says.
Creating cash flow
Last year, Heather Hill Farms topped $536,000 in revenue, and the store is approaching $700,000 to finish the year.
Alder is staying focused on stimulating cash flow. She knows it can be the most difficult aspect of running a business.
“It’s just a little harder when you’re small,” Alder says.
To make sure she’s putting the right products on her shelves, Alder and staff taste-test each one before it earns a price tag. Her employees have been with her long enough that she trusts their opinions.
“All of the people that are here have been with me (from) the beginning and most of them over 10 years,” Alder says. “I’m really fortunate. We have fun.”
But pricing can be a challenge when bringing in new products, she says. While tourists are willing to pay more, locals are looking for the cheapest prices.
“To me, it’s like a chess game,” Alder says. “Because you make a move, and then you watch what happens.”
One of the store’s best moves, she says, was creating gift boxes as well as wine and cheese boxes. Though available year-round, Alder says they’re most popular during the holidays, especially for companies treating their employees or clients.
Torgerson Design Partners LLC Office Administrator Tami Prall says the firm has ordered the boxes for its clients for several years. Typically, the firm buys 10 at a time during the holiday seasons, and the orders are saved in a database Alder created.
“A database is provided so reordering for companies is easy,” Alder says, noting local companies such as Tope Insurance Agency and Premier Home Health Care Inc. also utilize the database.
Now, Alder is preparing for the wave of holiday orders her team is expecting.
“We are already cutting cheeses for our gift boxes and taking orders,” she says. “We are just constantly trying to keep up with the walk-in traffic.”
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The move would come with a new property tax levied on residents of regional school districts.
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