When this is all over, Sturminster Newton Mill in Dorset, England, should be a case study for Harvard Business School.

The flour mill, which pre-dates the Norman Conquest and was rebuilt in the 16th century, ceased commercial milling half a century ago and was turned into a museum piece.

It has returned to commercial production, however, to help local bakers and to make up its own shortfall in tourist takings amid the lock-down.

The mill is testament to the importance of agility – ‘change readiness’ – for a business. To be profitable, or at the very least to stay in business, an enterprise has to be nimble, flexible and realistic.

Change readiness is a survival skill, a core competence, as companies such as Apple, IBM, Lego and US restaurant chain Jack In The Box have shown. They came back from the dead by managing their change in circumstances, outlook and opportunity.

Scale

Consider the scale of what Sturminster Newton mill has accomplished. In the 1970s, when its puny production efforts were no longer viable in market terms, it turned itself into a tourist attraction.

 

The mill literally put itself – and its own, rather ageing activity – on show to gawking tourists. Visitors paid £2.50 (£1 for children) to see the mill recreate the conditions experienced, as Dorset Museums Association described it, “by the miller and his family” hundreds of years ago.

Small amounts of flour were milled and sold to visitors. In a whole year, it milled roughly a tonne of wheat. Since 1994, the mill has been run by local charity the Sturminster Newton Heritage Trust.

Sturminster Newton Mill. Photo from the Dorset Museums Association. “From the first shudder as the mill’s water turbine slowly begins to turn bringing this magnificent building to life, you are transported back in time.”

Then the pandemic struck, the tourist trade dried up and local bakers suffered from a flour shortage. The old mill started up its machines and in just ten days had supplied 200 bags of flour to local grocers and bakers, using up its usual annual supplies of a tonne.

One of the millers, Imogen Bittner, told the Daily Echo: “Without visitors we’ll take quite a hit but this will make up for a bit of lost income.”

She noted Sturminster Newton had an “advantage” of sorts over larger mills because it neither has the machinery nor the manpower to put the flour into big bags. With larger bakers and restaurants mostly closed, demand has risen for small bags of flour for home-baking.

Quite so. Sturminster Newton is a business marvel that has survived a thousand years of tumult.

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