It’s now commonplace for farmers to diversify into other industry to keep their incomes healthy. Many farms sell produce and equipment or rent out their land for events. What makes farmer wife Sally Robinson’s add-on business slightly unusual is that she sells bras and underwear over the internet.Ample Bosom has been run from Sally’s small farm in north Yorkshire for the past five years, attracting growing media interest as well as increasing profits. But, despite featuring on such shows as the Money Programme and Richard and Judy, Sally displays the same down-to-earth, determined attitude that has seen her overcome family disapproval to make Ample Bosom a resounding success.
Initially, Sally’s farm went down the traditional diversification road, setting up bed and breakfast accommodation and a national park café. But then Sally realised that there was a demand for properly fitted, quality bras for women of all sizes over the internet.
“I wanted a portable business, as my husband wanted to move to Scotland, so I thought of mail order,” she recalls. “It was a friend who, when she was getting married, said that if you want a mail order business, why not sell bras? Half the population is wearing them, but they are hard to find.”
With the help of six interested manufacturers and a couple of designers, Sally released a catalogue of bras in September 1999, before setting up the accompanying website, Amble Bosom, two months later. The popularity of the service has seen the range of bras and accessories dramatically expand.
“I thought there was a gap in the market. Times are changing, the shops that used to sell them, the independents are closing down, so I thought there was a need for them,” she says.
“I think it’s such a specialised subject, you need specialised knowledge. You can’t have people on the telephone selling lawnmowers one minute and bras the next, I think it’s more of a specialised subject, a more personalised subject.”
What makes Sally’s story even more amazing is that she did not tell her family that she would be launching Ample Bosom until the very last minute, fearful of their reaction.
“I didn’t tell them for a long time. You don’t want to fill your head with their negative thoughts – I didn’t tell them until it was too late,” she explains.
“I suppose I didn’t know what I was doing myself, so you’ve got to wait to get it straight in your own head before you start telling other people.
“We just tootled along quietly for about six months, thinking and planning, and I suppose about a month before the first catalogue was printed I told my father. He just said ‘Right, yes, ok’, didn’t really pass any comment.
“Then my mother called once or twice, which she doesn’t really do, for no apparent reason, wanting to know what I was doing, but I didn’t tell her, I didn’t know what I was doing I suppose.
“Then eventually you get round to telling them when it’s too late, when you’re in there and at it.”
Unsurprisingly for someone who still starts work at 7am every morning to provide breakfast to paying guests as well as running Ample Bosom, Sally has kept her feet firmly on the ground over the media attention the website has generated.
“People find the fact that I sell bras as fascinating, but people have been always diversified from farming,” she explains. “I know farms that are selling electrical goods and all sorts of things that you wouldn’t expect them to be selling.”
Sally warns that anyone who does not share her work ethic could find it very difficult to make an online business work.
“If they are hard up, it’s the wrong thing to go into, it’s not a license to print money. You’ve just got to be determined and stick at it and sell a product that there’s a real need for, which is difficult as most people manage to find most things,” she says.