Women and Agriculture
Speaking at the Women and agriculture conference in October 2019.
What a pleasure it was to share my story. Huge thanks to Irish Country Living for the shout out.
Margaret Hoctor is speaking at 2.30pm at this years #womenandag Conference🗣
— Irish Country Living (@IrishCountryLiv) October 24, 2019
Cavan Business Women learn resilience in the face of adversity
It may sound like the launchpad for a philosophical discussion rather than a key consideration
for business success, but the
guest speaker at the recent Cavan Business Women’s meeting stressed how asking “Why or Why not” can change the course of your life.
CBWC, a professional business women’s network, held their first meeting of 2019 on Wednesday, February 13 in the Hotel Kilmore with 65 business women from
a diverse range of businesses attending, hoping to build business relationships and learn from each other’s experiences.
An inspirational talk was given by Wicklow business woman Margaret Hoctor who spoke about resilience in the face of adversity. She told
her business story, having been made redundant from a senior director role in a leading global market research company, and explained how resilience was key
to the development and growth of her business enterprise. She is now running a number of very successful business projects including the “Kilmullen Farm” brand, a farm business diversifying with food products, including lamb, apple juice and seasonal sweetcorn.
For more info click here… Cavan Business Women
Agri Land–Farmers urged to act quickly on mental health issues
Finding A New Path
Margaret Hoctor spoke about resilience and shared her story of finding a new way of life after being made redundant from a senior position in a leading market research company.
She went on to establish the Kilmullen Farm brand and to become a life coach.
Hoctor recalled how during the early stage of coming to terms with her redundancy, she received a reality check from her mother, who had this simple message: “The graveyard is full of people who thought they couldn’t be done without.”
By taking one day at a time, and writing down all of her feelings, Hoctor started to ask ‘What if?’ and went to work on her future. Her advice is not to look too far into the future but to focus on what is right ahead.
Hoctor said she surrounded herself with happy people and eliminated any draining elements from her life.
Eventually I reached a stage in my life where I said ‘This is enough’ and ‘I am enough’.
She became mindful of her use of language. Rather than saying “I was made redundant”, Hoctor would use phrases like “my role was made redundant”.
The life coach recommended making goals manageable by initially setting six-month targets.
The organisers of the meeting highlighted how this was International Men’s Health week, running under the theme of ‘all about him’.
The aim is to encourage everyone to ask the men in their lives how they are doing and to take time to really listen. After all, while minding our mental health may not be high on many people’s list of priorities, it is part of who we are.
It also influences many aspects of our lives, including our relationships and our work, while also helping us to cope with the demands of life, those behind the initiative said.
Margaret Hoctor of Kilmullen Farm: “Your worst day can be your best day”
When Margaret Hoctor was made redundant, she learned how resilient she really was. And the woman behind the Kilmullen Farm brand is now helping farm families flourish under fire, writes Maria Moynihan.
The day after Margaret Hoctor was made redundant from her job as a senior director in an international research company, in October 2013, she swapped her high heels for her wellies, her Blackberry for a bucket and her office for the orchard.
“I got up the next morning and I picked every apple in the orchard – and I genuinely mean that,” she says. “And I just thought: ‘We’ll just make every apple into apple juice.’”
And those two lines probably tell you everything you need to know about Margaret – from her practicality to her perseverance – and, indeed, her journey from the corporate world to Kilmullen Farm in Co Wicklow, where she lives with her husband Eamon Bourke and their children Samuel (12) and Eleanore (10).
“You won’t get it in two hours!” laughs Margaret, as we settle over coffee to share her story. Originally from Nenagh, her late father worked with Abbey Oil, while her mother ran her own grocery shop. “In those days women were not meant to work,” she says pointedly.
And it seems she too went against the grain. One of four girls, she was always “the dreamer” and wanted to be an actress: not the most obvious career choice for a convent girl.
“In 1983, when I did my Leaving Cert, you had to be either a teacher, work in the bank or nurse,” she smiles wryly.
A compromise was struck: she would work as a nanny in London – living two doors down from Rod Stewart, as it turned out – while studying at the famed Guildhall School of Music & Drama.
She went on to earn her diploma before her wanderlust lead her to Australia, where she supplemented her acting work by manning the phones in call centres for market research companies.
Margaret spent seven years in Australia, even gaining citizenship. But by the time she turned 31, she was feeling the draw of home. “Something told me I can’t always be in the sun, it can’t always be fun, it can’t always be this,” she explains.
Returning to Dublin, she rang what was then Lansdowne Market Research (later MillwardBrown Ireland) to see if she could secure some temp work to tide her over. When they asked if she could help set up a new call centre, she thought she’d stay three months: it turned into 16 years.
“It went from 12 little stations overnight to 66,” she says of its success, which was mirrored in her own rise up the ranks to become data collection director with the company.
That was not the only change in her life. After first meeting Wicklow farmer Eamon Bourke at her sister’s birthday party (“She said: ‘There’s one lovely man coming tonight: don’t terrify him!’”) the couple married at Christmas 2002 and Margaret relocated to Kilmullen, in Newcastle, Co Wicklow.
Farmed by the family for three generations, Eamon had taken the reins of Kilmullen from his mother Mary, who had ably run the operation while raising five children after the death of her husband, Larry.
At the time of his marriage to Margaret, Eamon was operating a DIY livery and also sheep-farming, but after gifting a lamb to their gynaecologist after their son, Samuel, was born, the couple saw the opportunity for direct sales and invested in a cutting room on the farm.
But the real catalyst for change came in October 2013, when Margaret was made redundant. While she explains she had seen the train coming down the tracks due to the economic climate, she admits it was still “devastating”.
“I rang Eamon and I said: ‘It’s my turn,’” she recalls softly, explaining that she initially went into tailspin mode. “I started to get really hyper… and he said: ‘You just need to come home.’ I’ll never forget. That just gave me the release: just come on home, we’ll make it work, you can do anything.”
And remember the two lines about the apples at the start of this story?
“When I lost my job, I picked apples,” she says simply. “They were only apples, but that’s all I could do; it’s picking the first one.”
GOING TO MARKET
And it was this same spirit that Margaret brought to developing direct sales of the lamb. Using part of her redundancy money to invest in an industrial gazebo, she went to Dún Laoghaire farmer’s market and “sold like Del Boy”.
However, she also brought her experience from the corporate world to the table, changing the business model to offer individual cuts-to-order – such as butterflied leg of lamb or chops – instead of just full lamb boxes, working on strong branding and crucially, really listening to her customers to find out what they wanted.
“We have forgotten in a world that is so automated – press one, press two, press three – that this world of conversation can happen at a stall,” she says.
And with the combination of Eamon’s skill as a farmer and producer and Margaret’s aptitude for sales, marketing and customer service, 100% of their grass-fed lamb from their lowland flock of over 250 ewes (a mix of Lleyn cross with Beltex) is now sold direct. They’re sold at either Leopardstown market, online and also to the local Druid’s Glen resort – with lambing in full swing until May, and direct sales running from August to December.
In addition, they have also expanded the livery part of the farm, supply their apple juice (which is processed by Con Trass in Tipperary) to local shops like The Happy Pear, and last summer, experimented with an acre of sweetcorn, with great success.
However, despite all the activity on the farm, Margaret realised that she also needed to do something for herself, combining her corporate experience with what she had learned about personal development after losing her job.
“I knew there was something missing,” she admits. “I knew I had this knowledge, in that I communicate well with people, I have a lot learned about resilience and building yourself back up.”
After completing a number of courses to formalise her skills, Margaret got her first big break working with members of the Food Academy programme in Co Clare, which gave her the confidence to tender to design and deliver the “Skills for Farmers Markets” programme with Bord Bia.
To date, she has delivered the training in Limerick, Cork, Galway, Wicklow, Donegal, Cavan and Kerry, with her lively and engaging workshops covering topics from stall management, selling and marketing tips, building customer loyalty and costing and profits to the practical things that nobody tells you about.
“If you eat a chocolate bar, you have to make sure that your teeth are clean – because you’re serving customers,” laughs Margaret, who designed the course by asking herself what she would like to have known when she started in the markets three years ago. “All I did was walk in those shoes,” she says simply.
Margaret also recently started working with the Local Enterprise Boards (LEOs) in Carlow and Kildare as a business mentor. While, in yet another string to her bow, she has developed a school talk called “Six Traits of an Entrepreneur”, which she delivers to transition year and senior cycle students.
YOUR WORST DAY CAN BE YOUR BEST
Going forward, she would like to share her experience with women’s groups – particularly farm women – as, despite her success, she knows what it feels like to be paralysed by fear and self-doubt. “Like when I lost my job, for instance, I thought: ‘God, maybe I wasn’t worthy. Maybe it’s my fault. Actually, maybe I’m a bit stupid. Maybe I didn’t deserve that job.’ This self-talk can be just horrendous,” she says.
However, she is a firm believer that “your worst day can be your best day” and that it is possible to turn a set-back into an opportunity or, to paraphrase Dr Maureen Gaffney: “to flourish under fire”.
“And that’s the message I want to get across, particularly to women. We have many hats. We can be many things. We are never just one thing, and you need to believe that; but you need to take the first step,” she stresses.
And as Margaret has proven, you never know where that first step will take you.
“If anything, what the last three years have taught me is that while there may be fear and churning in the tummy around taking different leaps, there is an underlying desire to make our farm business work that is greater than this fear. So this gives me the courage to take the steps to make it happen – even when I don’t know what the outcome will be,” she says. “There is an old adage: ‘Leap and the net will appear’ – so I know that if I get up every day and put one foot in front of the other, it will work out, and if I try something and it doesn’t, it is not the end.”
And something tells Irish Country Living this is not the end of Margaret Hoctor’s story either.
“I’m a work in progress,” she laughs. CL
Visit www.margarethoctor.com and www.kilmullenlambdirect.com or follow on Facebook and Twitter @kilmullenfarm @hoctormargaret
What you need to succeed at a farmers’ market
Have a great product with a unique selling point (USP), for example, something different about the product or your story around that product. If there isn’t a family history around the product, then what motivated you to produce your gluten-free bread?
Then learn how to tell that story and have it on a handout to give with the product in the event that the stall is busy. Include all the contact details and also where this product can be found during the week.
Make your stall as visible and attractive as possible, with clear branding and information to help with sales and brand-building.
Chat with your customer. Ask open questions using the “What, where, when, how many?” formula. For example: “What is the occasion? When is it on? How many do you want to feed? What do you normally like?” Be genuinely interested in your customer. This separates you from the large chain experience; they now have come face-to-face with the baker/ producer/etcetera. Then guide them to the product that best suits their needs.
Try to remember this information for the next time you meet. For instance, ask: “How did the lunch go with your family?” These types of conversations are the road to building up lovely relationships with your customer and can lead to repeat business and word-of-mouth recommendations.
By Amy Forde
Bord Bia to host Farmers’ Market skills training workshops this November
The Women & Agriculture Conference 2016 at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Rosses Point, Sligo
With some powerful messages, it really was a day to remember at this year’s Women & Agriculture Conference, brought to you by the Irish Farmers Journal in association with FBD & Sherry FitzGerald.I was asked to talk about my journey to this point and how I had helped to develop the farm business..It was an amazing day I am pictured far left along with the wonderful O’ Egg lady Margaret Farrelly, Mary Sadlier of Coole Swan, Anna Marie McHugh of the National Ploughing Association
Sunday Independent, 20th March 2016
Article By Anita Guidera
How to transform your home into a nice little earner
Turning your home into a workspace can be an ideal way of generating additional cash or even kick-starting a whole new career, as Margaret Hoctor () discovered when she was made redundant from her position as senior director with a leading marketing company three years ago.
The very next morning, Margaret picked every apple in the quiet orchard on the family’s Co Wicklow farm and turned them into apple juice.
This was her first business venture from home. She went on to help husband Eamon build up Kilmullen Farm’s lamb business, selling meat directly to customers.
Last week, Margaret started a new chapter in her working life when she began teaching life coaching classes in her own dining room.
“Sometimes, the answer is under your nose and you don’t always see it. I was about to book a hotel room to do the classes when I suddenly thought, ‘Why not open my home?’ and it was just lovely. When people arrived, the kettle was on for fresh coffee, they were met at the door by Buster, our Jack Russell, the fire was crackling, there was music playing and it was a safe and private environment.”