Starling Portrait Series – Local e Sourced: Building a produce community

More often than not, business is about looking at how things have been done before and having the courage and imagination to reinvent the rules. That’s what Anne Boden did when she created Starling Bank, a digital bank for personal and business current accounts. Starling was born out of her determination to give customers control over their money, and provide a real alternative to the banks of the past. Starling strives to be fast, friendly and supportive – just like a murmuration of starling birds.

In this series, we’ll be shining a light on other Great British entrepreneurs who, just like Anne, are pioneers of change.

Our next entrepreneur is Starling business customer Hamish Light, founder of Local e Sourced.

We all have that one favourite local shop that we recommend to anyone who will listen. Now imagine an online shop full of the best local produce in your county.

This is what Hamish Light envisaged, as he saw the potential to build a positive community with local suppliers and nationwide buyers, built around a shared love of Herefordshire’s businesses.

Since then, Local e Sourced has evolved from an idea to a fully-fledged online marketplace, acting as a life-saver for many of his county’s businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Running in the family

An interest in agriculture was already in Hamish’s blood, inherited from his father, a Zimbabwean farmer. After they were forced to leave the farm with no compensation due to political land invasion, Hamish moved to the UK. Studying Sport, Leisure, Tourism and Hospitality, it looked like he was going to travel a different path.

However, he found his way back to his family’s farming roots, taking numerous management jobs in the soft fruit industry, controlling teams of over 200 people.

Local love

Community means a lot to Hamish. After settling in Herefordshire, he grew to love and appreciate the natural beauty of his surroundings, as well as discovering a strong business community with all sorts of high-quality products.

Despite the abundance of quality, not everyone in Herefordshire had heard of these local businesses, let alone the rest of the country. He felt they deserved recognition for what they were creating.

Determined to help facilitate offer that recognition, Hamish launched an online marketplace – he recalls wanting “to showcase these products to a nationwide audience as well as celebrating everything the county has to offer”.

He reached out to people he knew wanted to celebrate the area’s bounty, sharing his passion for local, independent businesses creating wonderful products. It was immediately a hit, with plenty of local business owners keen to reach new audiences.

Sustainability was key for many of his suppliers and Hamish did not want to dilute that, saying: “I made a conscious effort to ensure the venture’s carbon footprint was as minimal as it could be”. He made sure that his couriers were local: a cycle courier for jobs close by, and a local courier for ones further afield. This also gave the couriers a better connection with the job.

Almost ready to begin, he acquired a warehouse, and built a team of passionate Herefordians to build a website and direct the marketing campaign.

Pandemic panic

Hamish was planning to start Local e Sourced in August 2020, but then Covid-19 hit. He quickly realised that many of the businesses he was hoping to celebrate and support may not have a future after being forced to close under lockdown restrictions. Many of them were traditional, independent businesses, and few had online stores to help them cope with the dramatic decline in sales.

Hamish had no choice but to launch four months earlier than planned. With shopping habits dramatically changing it was time to encourage the county to support their local suppliers via the platform instead of the supermarket giants. As Hamish puts it: “use them or lose them”.

Local e Sourced is exclusively open to independent Hereford businesses which brought national appeal to a localised marketplace. As there were so many high-end products on the site and only one delivery fee had to be paid for every order, the site became a one-stop-shop, with people buying a couple of extra items alongside their normal orders.

A little over a year into Hamish and Local e Sourced’s journey, we caught up with the entrepreneur.

How have you and the business fared since the start of the pandemic?

Starting the business at the beginning of the pandemic, timing was certainly everything. It gave us the boost we needed to get started. It was also a critical period for a lot of our suppliers who needed an extra outlet, with their sales channels and shops forced to close. We went from strength-to-strength and have built up a large customer base with a wide range of products sold.

What has been the biggest factor in your success?

 A combination of factors have contributed. However, shortly after launching I approached my wife, Katie, and two local business owners, Chris Tipping and Dale Gammage to join me on this journey. I feel the four founding members have brought core strengths in different departments, which have allowed us to develop quickly and drive the business forward.

What are your immediate and long-term plans for the business?

The world and the marketplace are constantly changing, and trends are moving faster than ever. We believe we need to seek large investment and a mentor to guide us through the long-term growth stages of the business. This growth and development will include same day delivery, one hour delivery in localised areas, links to more suppliers’ products and setting up key partnerships with local businesses.

With many consumers having rekindled their love of local, independent businesses over the course of the pandemic, and seemingly committed to maintaining it, Local e Sourced has a bright future ahead.