- Home Based, Mobile
Riverford Organic franchise delivers fresh organic produce to local people by the most direct route possible. Having won a multitude of awards including the Observer ethical product of the decade award, we strive to increase awareness of and engagement with sustainable, seasonal food.
Over 30 years ago, from our single farm in Devon, we pioneered ‘vegboxes’; today we pack around 50,000 boxes a week from our farms, supplying around 100,000 customers.
Our business model is simple: we grow (or source), harvest and pack the produce for you, and transport the produce to your hub.
We have been franchising for over 20 years, with a national network of over 50 franchisees who are at the heart of Riverford’s success. They deliver Riverford produce weekly from our farms to their customers’ doorsteps, proactively grow their customer base and are our keenest brand ambassadors. We are committed to the franchise model to continue to grow our business in the future.
Riverford is a multi-award-winning company.
You can view the resale opportunities we have available here.
Riverford offer in-depth exposure to the operational and administrative sides of the business during the recruitment process. Prior to launch, a 5-day modular training week, at our farm in Devon, covers:
– An overview of organic farming methods including our butchery and dairy
– Operational logistics and maximising business efficiencies
– Customer acquisition, retention and order spend
– Brand identity and integrated marketing strategies
– Online ordering systems, payments and accounts procedures
Subsequent training includes regular regional business development meetings, and a mentorship can be arranged with an existing franchisee.
As a Riverford franchisee you will mix working from your home office and driving out on delivery rounds to optimise operational efficiencies and build personal relationships with your customers. You will attend seasonal shows and events at local and regional levels to boost customer acquisition, and you will be motivated by improving customer retention levels, and increasing customer order value. Ultimately, you will be a true Riverford brand ambassador.
Partners in life and business, Nigel and Sophie Rogers began their Riverford Organic food delivery franchise in March 2010. One year on, Nigel talks candidly about how a chance meeting turned their business ownership dreams into reality.
Says Nigel: We were lucky, because we were able to watch a Riverford franchise in operation for quite a long time before actually making an investment. I knew Jake Swinhoe, who owns the South Oxfordshire territory, and had seen him running his franchise for about three years. He really seemed to enjoy it and do well out of it, and so I became interested in a franchise myself.
Sophie and I have always been passionate about organic food and had actually run our own horticultural business before looking at Riverford Organic. We were determined to be our own bosses, but going it alone didn’t give us what we were looking for. We’d been working every weekend, all through summer, picking vegetables on Saturday and selling them on Sunday. We did it for a year, and soon realised that we would be better off letting someone else grow the produce and deliver it to us, while we built a business at the local, customer level. Because Riverford’s organic practices and ethical beliefs are aligned with our own, a better work-life balance seemed within reach.
One year later…
The transition from our own business to taking over a franchise has been remarkably smooth. Sophie and I are a year into the business whereas Jake’s been operating for about two-and-a-half years, so he’s been able to give us useful marketing tips, letting us know what’s worked and what hasn’t. It’s good because it means you don’t have to keep phoning head office.
At first, quite a few people asked us how we thought we’d find it – going from running our own organic food business to representing an established brand, but it wasn’t a problem. Riverford is what we market, and it’s the name we trade in but it’s still our business. After the difficulties of trying to do absolutely everything ourselves, getting the support from head office has made life much easier.
Over the last year, the business has grown beyond expectations. With the marketing and community activity we’ve been participating in since we started, we’ve taken on around 60 new customers in the last three months, which is a good increase. We’ve really pushed at this business to drive it forward, placing ads in relevant papers and magazines as well as leafleting. The strategy has worked better than we thought it would and we’ve reached our two-year target for growth in just 18 months!
We don’t come from a marketing background, so that side of the business has been new for us but as well as head office, Jake’s been there for support when we needed it. I think that’s one of the greatest advantages of a franchise network – you can look to your neighbouring franchisee for advice.
Following the system
I attribute our success so far to simply sticking with the plan, following a tried and tested system. We keep on marketing consistently and give our customers great service by treating them the way we would like to be treated. Every few weeks we do something different, such as a cookery club where we got a local chef to cook recipes from the Riverford Organic cookbook. We supplied the produce, and charged a small overhead to cover costs. Last time we did it, everybody loved the food, and Sophie and I took on five new customers. That was a bonus, as the clubs are more about giving something back to existing customers, and creating a community feel.
Friendly franchise advice
For aspiring franchisees, I’d say go through all of the paperwork, looking at the financial year in detail. Look at what the business you want is already making and, if you’re buying a resale, look at where you might be able to increase profits. I also think talking to other franchisees is important – we were lucky to be able to go out on a round with Jake, so we knew what was involved. And we got to visit the hub where the produce is delivered which is something prospective franchisees are able to arrange to do. And I’d advise anyone to ask questions of people at the heart of the core business. Riverford head office listens to us, to our suggestions and feedback. In my opinion, that’s one of the best things about a franchise – there are so many heads coming together for the same goal.
33-year-old, dad-to-be, Jim Harbridge has stepped into a new life. One made up of vans, veg boxes and organic food. Just three weeks into his ‘fledgling’ business (a fully developed franchise bought from his predecessors), he has to complete no less than 13 delivery rounds in a week, learn the names of streets he never knew existed, and greet hundreds of people he’s never met before – his customers.
“It’s a big change from working in marketing and PR, and certainly hectic at the moment,” says Jim. “But it won’t always be like this. It’s just that all of my drivers decided to go on holiday at the same time…just when I started! The great thing is I’m getting to know the rounds. And although that means working from dawn to dusk, I’m out and about and learning fast.”
Jim considered buying the Riverford Organic Portsmouth territory when he heard that the previous franchisees were ready to sell. “Paul and Sue had been running the business for seven years before I took over,” says Jim. “For five of those years, my wife Anna and I were loyal customers, getting our weekly veg boxes delivered by them. We loved the quality and taste of the food, and we’d found Riverford to be a forward-thinking company – always introducing new products and services, including my favourite…the barbecue box with organic cider and burgers!
Since negotiating a price for the franchise with Paul, Jim has been through a comprehensive training programme at Riverford’s head office in Devon to learn about running his organic food delivery business from the ground up. He also went out on the road with Paul to get to grips with the rounds and meet some of the customers.
When Mary Watson and husband Chris decided to embark on a new life in business together, they had no idea it would coincide with so many other life-changing events. Four years later Mary explains how they managed, and why they’re now reaping the rewards: as contented parents, new homeowners and veg box profiteers.
Says Mary: It’s been just over four years since we made our first delivery – that was back in May 2007. Chris and I had been mulling over the idea to set up, or buy, our own business for years. Chris worked long hours in advertising, with an early commute, and I worked in admissions at the University of Warwick. We’d reached the point where we realised we both wanted a change. At first we considered starting our own business from scratch, but soon came to the conclusion that might be a little over ambitious because we had no experience of doing anything like that before.
We had been customers of the Riverford Organic veg box scheme in Leamington, where we were living at the time and, almost by chance, Chris was browsing through the Riverford website. He noticed that they were opening a new farm in North Yorkshire, and that the Sheffield territory – where I’m from – was available.
I was 5 months pregnant and had already left work, and Chris and I had also been discussing ways we could move back to Sheffield so that we could be closer to family. It seemed like the right time for us to look into the franchise opportunity and so we decided to go to the franchise expo in Birmingham, where we met some of the existing Riverford franchisees. We then made a trip down to Riverford’s main farm in Devon and subsequently lodged our formal application to buy the Sheffield area.
Despite our son being born seven weeks premature, we still managed to get everything in on time and found out our application had been successful just before Christmas. Our business was scheduled to launch in April 2007 so the next few months were a blur of selling our house, Chris working his notice and getting to grips with being new parents!
Everything has settled down now, and we’re into a good routine. I love being a mum while also working on the business part time. For Chris, the biggest benefit is that he’s been able to spend more time with our son – before he was out of the house for 13 hours a day in his job as an account director for an advertising agency and so would have seen very little of him from Monday to Friday. Now, even though Chris starts work very early at around 5.30am, he’s usually home by early afternoon. And my commute is to the office at the end of the garden – even shorter than the school run!
In summer, we do a lot of local shows which is one of the best ways to get new customers. Almost all of the shows are at weekends, meaning you have to be prepared to work on Saturdays and Sundays. It is vital for us to keep meeting potential new customers to grow the business and the shows are a great way to do this as customers can see our fantastic produce and talk to us about which box will suit them best. Of course, you have to remember to stay focused on your existing customers too, particularly around holiday periods when a lot of people go away and put their orders on hold. The main thing is to ensure you regularly stay in touch with all of your customers in some way as it makes them feel valued and reminds them that we’re here.
One of the things we’ve learnt over the last few years is that customer retention is just as important as acquisition, because it’s harder to acquire new customers than satisfy the ones you already have. So we, and the farm, work extremely hard to keep our existing customers happy.
We’ve had a lot of support from Riverford head office from day one. They’ve helped us with everything from setting up the business to our initial launch campaign, which included PR and leafleting. In our first delivery week we had just 60 deliveries to make. We’ve now got 500+ per week, with plans for further expansion.
We did really well in our first couple of years, and had excellent growth. Now we’re going through a period of slower growth but I’m pleased to say we have a really solid and loyal customer base. There are a lot of customers we’ve got to know quite well, which is one of the best things about being a Riverford franchisee – the fantastic people you meet. When we’re doing shows, customers we’ve never met face-to-face often come up and introduce themselves, which is lovely. You really feel like you’re a part of the community, and people notice when you go the extra mile.
From passion to profit
Riverford started out as a small family business, and it’s refreshing that they’ve managed to maintain that family feel. The staff members at head office are fantastic too – if we can’t speak to a customer for any reason, somebody at the Home Farm will handle the call and they provide holiday cover for our emails and phone calls. The website and all of the marketing materials are produced and managed centrally, which frees Chris me and up to get on with the business of delivering the produce and developing our business locally.
In August 2012, long standing Riverford Organic customers Steve and Lynn Allen decided the time had come for change. Tired of the constraints of employment in Nottingham, and with a new family to look after, they decided to start their own business as a way of achieving a better income and greater flexibility.
But with perceived rewards came risk. To achieve their goals the Allens had to sell their home to release equity, and secure a business loan through HSBC to pay for a well-established Riverford franchise. Then they had to move to Cornwall.
Lynn takes up the story: “Before moving to Cornwall to take on our new Riverford business, we lived in Nottingham for eight years. I’d worked as a product manager in an interiors business, but was made redundant while on maternity leave.
“Steve was working as a designer and project manager for an events company. Then we had another baby, and both wanted to have more flexibility so that we could spend more time with the children. I also wanted to work, as I’d never envisaged myself being an at-home mum on a long-term basis. We needed to find a way to achieve all of these things and bring in a healthy income, and buying a franchise seemed like the answer.”
Lynn: “We’d already been Riverford customers for about five years, and loved getting our organic food boxes delivered each week, mainly because of the excellent quality and flavour of the food. When we decided to look at buying a business, it seemed natural for us to start with a company we knew, that we believed in and that we knew offered a franchise opportunity. The fact that Riverford was organic, with a strong focus on sustainability and ethics, and the fact that we loved the produce were all additional pull factors.”
Greater cost for greater returns
Lynn: “Because of the cost of the franchise, which was high for us, we were nervous about making the investment but we knew that we would bitterly regret it if the territory went to another buyer.
“Now that the purchase is behind us, and we’re Riverford franchisees, we’re happy with the decision we made. Perhaps the most important thing we’ve learnt is that when you invest in a franchise with a company that’s been around for 25 years, you have all of the necessary systems in place, as well as the knowledge and expertise of others to draw on. You don’t need to be a seasoned entrepreneur to succeed – you just need to be prepared to work hard for your business.”
Was it tough starting out?
Steve: “Whenever you start something new, there are lot of things to learn, particularly with an area the size of ours. We cover the whole of Cornwall, which used to be two territories until the previous franchisees bought the north and combined it with their territory in the south. We’re glad they did that because the higher output suits our personal and business needs.
“Because it’s a big territory, we’ve got five drivers working for us, delivering between 800 and 900 boxes of organic produce each week. The geography is challenging where we are because you’ve got houses down tiny country lanes that are quite remote, so the logistics of fuel consumption and route and time management are important considerations for us. You have to work hard to streamline operations so that you don’t unnecessarily eat into profits. On the flipside, customers are more likely to sign up for a delivery because getting to supermarkets is more of a problem.
"The service we provide suits elderly people or people with disabilities, and they enjoy the sense of community that comes from having their organic food delivered by drivers they’ve come to know.”
Did buying a franchise resale make starting the business easier?
Steve: “It’s true that buying a resale requires a lot more investment, but that’s because so much of the hard work has already been done.
“We knew we didn’t have the time or expertise to build a business from scratch, especially not in the farming and food distribution sector; we needed the expertise and systems of an established company, and we needed a solid income from day one, so a resale was the only real option for us. You’ve got an established customer base, and a clear idea of profit and potential, which were critical factors in our decision-making.
“There were other benefits, too: I think we were lucky to inherit a franchise that’s been cared for by the previous owners, who were keen to share their knowledge and experience with us. That’s saved us wasting time and money trying things out just to find out that they don’t work further down the line."
Support from the top and sides
Steve: “Riverford head office and the company’s field team have been on hand to help us from day one. We’ve also had support from other franchisees in the network. We’ve never felt as though we were going it alone, which is one of the best things about being a local business and part of a national network.
“There are other advantages to being part of a bigger organisation, too. If a customer can’t get hold of us, for example, they can ring customer support at head office. Somebody is always there, even if we’re not. Having head office on hand makes a huge difference. It’s like having the benefits of a big company without the headaches and responsibilities of people management. Ultimately, we’re free to focus on what’s happening at the local level, which is the most important thing.”
Flexibility for the future
Lynn: “Riverford is the kind of business that works for us. It’s full-time but affords us great flexibility. We’re now able to work around the children and set our own schedule. It’s still hard, and sometimes we’ll work until 10pm, but we’re able to juggle things more easily, do the school run and spend quality time together as a family. And the children get to see us working; even though they’re still young, I think that helps to put them more in touch with the real world.”
Simon Bear started his Riverford franchise in September 2006. A self-proclaimed hippy in a desk job before that, he decided at 26 that he no longer wanted to be a part of the prickly corporate pear tree, and went traveling instead. After a year in the wilderness, beating a solitary path around the world, he returned to look for a more wholesome business venture. Here the 35-year-old talks about why growing with Riverford was, and still is, the right move.
How did it all start?
Before I became one of north London’s Riverford Organic franchisees, I did PR for about six or seven years and got to the point where I simply needed a change. I was tired of working for a company – the commute, the hours, being told what to do – I needed to do something for myself, and myself alone. But first, I needed to clear my head, and so I went travelling.
Just before I left, I happened to be flicking through a marketing magazine, and saw an article about Riverford, which explained that it was a franchise opportunity, and that it involved selling organic produce locally. I thought to myself: ‘that’s exactly what I’m going to do when I get back’.
I got back to the UK on the night before New Year’s Eve, and called Riverford two days later. Finding out that the territory I wanted was available was a great way to start the New Year, and even though it would be around nine months before I commenced, I was pleased that somebody else hadn’t snapped up the territory in my absence.
Why Riverford Organic?
Organic produce is something I’ve always been passionate about, particularly food. I was in my late twenties when I started with Riverford, so fairly young and idealistic. I’m still a slight hippy at heart, and Riverford’s ethos, the way it produces food and the ethical way it does business fits in well with that.
At the time, I paid less attention to the financial returns, and was focused almost entirely on shifting my life into something new and different. I’m sure that many other Riverford franchisees paid more attention to things like profit and loss than I did, but I just wanted to do something that felt right, and Riverford offered that. Luckily the financial side of things has worked out well, so you could say it’s been a pleasant by-product.
But did you discuss the financials at some point?
When I visited Riverford at head office, and was getting closer to signing the franchise agreement, we did discuss financials, and it was confirmed that I wasn’t going to become a vegetable millionaire overnight. But, like I say, money wasn’t a key driver for me. I knew I could make a comfortable living and that was enough for me.
What I can say is that I hated being an employee, and that I love being an employer, with a solid ethical company. I have a couple of part-time drivers – so I’m hardly what you’d call a Branson or a Sugar – but becoming an employer, regardless of the size of your business, is still a significant shift in terms of thinking and psychology.
So what is it like being an employer?
It still has its pressures, but you’re more in control of your own destiny. I have more flexibility now. I know I’ve got a job to do, I work hard and I work long hours, but I haven’t got somebody telling me what to do every day. Now, when I get up in the morning I don’t think: ‘oh my God, another commute, another day at the office, I’ve got to go to work!’ I’m more at ease with things, and I feel like I’m doing something useful within my community. Even when I have to get up at six in the morning to brave icy conditions and load the vans I don’t think: ‘oh no!’ It really isn’t difficult, because I believe in what I’m doing.
Most of all, after many years, I’m still wildly enthusiastic about the products I sell; that and the people…both those who support me and those who I sell to. I’ve built this business up from just a tiny handful of deliveries to well over 500 a week. I don’t think I could have done that if I didn’t feel passionately about it.
What are the main challenges you face?
Apart from inclement weather, stuff can go wrong with orders, with delivery times, but those things will happen with any food-related business; which is why good customer service is paramount. You need to nurture the relationships you have with your customers so that, if anything does go wrong, you’re on it as quickly as possible, re-crediting them for a missing item, or adding something extra to their box, for example.
The business only works if you’re customer-focused, which gives rise to another challenge in that it can be difficult to detach. But as much as being a challenge, ironically, that’s also a reward: you get to hear hundreds of people’s life stories. Sometimes it feels as though you’re living in a soap opera. But that’s what being part of a community is, it’s about being a part of each others lives, caring about each other, and I think we need to hold onto those things and cherish them. Even if it delays me on a day when I’ve got a hundred deliveries to make, you have to make time; you have to play your part in binding the community together.
I’ve had customers who have been ordering from me week in week out since I started. I know them by name, and that’s a good feeling. You’re watching something that’s grown from nothing into something special, which I suppose, on so many levels, is what Riverford is all about.
What, in your opinion, are the best things about Riverford?
We are genuinely local. Money goes from customers to a local operator (myself), who spends money locally, so the money goes back into the local economy, it doesn’t get leeched off to the city. If you ask yourself where all of the money that goes into big supermarket tills ends up, 90 percent of it is outside of the local area.
Also, Riverford is better than the online supermarkets in the sense that we turn up whatever the weather. Some of my customers even have my mobile number. It’s a personal thing.
And on a macro level, all the way down the supply chain everyone’s getting a fair deal. It isn’t just the head honchos and managers creaming off the profits while the poor producer gets squeezed to death until they go out of business. Everyone gets a fair contract and a fair deal.
Any final words?
If you want to be happy in your life become a Riverford franchisee; if you want to make money, become a banker!
Nick Kington is the latest person to join Riverford’s network of veg box delivery teams, taking over the Bury St Edmunds area from previous franchisee, James Negus.
Nick, a long-term customer of Riverford, and his wife Sheila have relocated from Reading to Bury, giving up his career as marketing manager for a software company in the process.
He said: “After a 25-year sales and marketing career, I felt the time had come for me to change direction and take on a new challenge. I’d been following Riverford for several years, both as a customer and from a business perspective. Running a Riverford franchise appealed to me as their values appeared to match my own and I felt I had the required skills to manage the franchise successfully.
“My enthusiasm for fresh produce, cooking and healthy eating comes from regularly taking on the role of household cook. I get a lot of pleasure from preparing meals for our four children and extended family.
“I knew I would enjoy running a Riverford business as it would provide me the opportunity to get out and about locally, meet new people, share my love of food and cooking and introduce them to Riverford’s produce. I knew I could use my commercial experience to connect with new customers and maintain a strong relationship with the existing ones.”
James Negus had been operating the Bury St Edmunds franchise since 2010. He decided to sell his business but remain in the Riverford family; he is now a business development manager for Riverford, looking after the franchisees in the east.
James explained: “Nick has hit the veg trail running. Having been a customer for many years, he understands and appreciates the whole Riverford ethos of good food, good farming, and good business. He’s really looking forward to spreading the Riverford word around the area and I’ll be there along the way to offer support in my role as his BDM, and also be able to pass on my advice and experience as the previous business owner.”
We chose a Riverford franchise because it seemed to match our hopes and dreams of running our own business in an ethical and manageable way.
Guy Watson is the owner of the Riverford family business; and it was his enthusiasm that sparked our imagination. We share his love of good food, cooking and eating together as a family. We were already customers and strongly believed in the product, so to us it was a natural progression to take on a Riverford franchise.
The first year has been hard work but rewarding and mainly positive. We’ve seen our delivery numbers and retail sale figures grow in a manageable way. The best bit has been getting to know our customers and share our knowledge and love of life on the veg. We’ve also enjoyed exploring our territory, which is vast. It may take a few more years before we can say we’ve been everywhere!
Iain has become semi-nocturnal. He loads all of the vegboxes on to the van in the early hours and is generally on the road by 7am. This way he beats most of the traffic. He’s discovered that he actually likes getting up early!
I prefer a more leisurely start. I spend most of my day dealing with customer calls and emails, local marketing and general admin. I stop for a while in the evening to cook for the family, once Iain is home from his delivery round, we all sit down together for our evening meal. This does mean some afterhours work but as I previously worked in the theatre for many years, working late is not a problem. I am lucky that I am able to fit my working day around our four children.
Working together has been interesting. We haven’t fallen out yet but do have minor disagreements on whose turn it is to do this or that. On the plus side, when we do get to go out for a drink or dinner we have a lot to talk about, we both feel extremely lucky and are excited about the future.
We hope to continue growing the business and maybe get our son involved too. One of our daughters helps out at shows and is a great asset. We’ve still got quite a lot to learn and with any job, find some day’s tough going.
We recently attended the Riverford Winter conference, where we spoke to some of the other Riverford franchise owners, many of whom have been trading for 10 years or more. Hearing them say that they still love it after all those years, has filled us with encouragement. We’ve definitely made the right choice.
After spending 17 years as a Business development manager, advising small businesses on how to run a profitable & successful operation and helping them to put into place admin routines, staff management, marketing plans & accounts. I finally decided that it was time to prove that I could use that knowledge for myself and run my own business.
I knew that a franchise was a good option for your first business due to the support mechanisms that exist, the model is tried and tested plus there is a wealth of experience across the network to tap into for help and advice. We chose Riverford as my Husband, Craig and I were already Customers and loved their products. We felt it offered the right business model to enable us to run our own family business and be part of something we could feel genuinely proud of.
I took the franchise on solely to start with, but before too long Craig, who previously worked for our local council, left his job and now works as a full time driver in our business meaning we are now both fully involved.
When considering how we should fund our business, we decided to re-mortgage our home. This provided sufficent funds to cover the start-up costs and allow us some working capital. It proved to offer a much better rate of interest for us than any business loan. We were lucky to have a lot of equity in our property.
The support we received.
Riverford offer support along the way but prior to the launch of our business, both Craig & I had a week’s induction at Riverford’s head office farm in Devon which was great, along with the training we received it allowed us to forge strong relationships with the other new franchisees that were also having their induction on the same week.
I also spent some time with other franchisees from our network farm before we officially launched. I went out on delivery rounds and spent time in their offices which allowed me to ask questions about how it all works. I was able to pick up lots of useful tips on how to manage the daily routine tasks. I am still learning all the time – no matter how much training you have there will always be situations that surprise you. You need an open mind to soak up everything thrown at you on a weekly basis.
My typical week involves me out delivering 2-3 days a week which can be hard work to juggle alongside all the other business demands, admin, social media, shows, accounts etc. Sometimes I feel that there are not enough hours in my week and I don’t know what a full day off is anymore, but if you don’t love what you do you wouldn’t commit that amount of time to it. I still manage to give myself time off during each day at home to go for a walk and clear my head, so there is an element of flexible working (apart from when I am out delivering, as those days are generally long hours with an early start – 5am).
The challenges we’ve faced.
Running your own business comes with various challenges. The hardest thing for us was taking on a “Virgin” territory that did not have an existing customer base. Growing the customer numbers and spreading the word has been a challenge. People who have already heard of Riverford are still often surprised that the veg boxes are delivered beyond Devon (where Riverford started 29 years ago). Although Riverford promote centrally on a national scale, having our own small marketing budget can be difficult. You can’t just do a huge costly media campaign. Everything has be done on a smaller scale which can be frustrating. Our business has seen continuous growth though so we must be doing something right.
Another challenge for us is that we do not live within our franchised territory. Living outside makes it difficult to keep in touch with local media and it’s harder to be aware of potential opportunities within the area. It has made it all the more important for us to be out on the road doing the deliveries, so that we see customers on the doorstep and are able to talk to them. We attend many local shows & events for the same reason, so we can meet people face to face and encourage them to order from us. When we get to the point where I can stop doing deliveries, having Craig on the ground every day will still be invaluable.
Despite the challenges, running our own franchise has changed our lives. Life for us now pretty much revolves around the business. Sacrifices have had to be made, no holidays yet, seeing less of friends and family (especially in the summer months) as we are busy at local food festivals, fetes and other events where we can promote our business.
That said, my previous job was all encompassing as well with really long and unsociable working hours. The pressure from the company to hit targets, report on everything we did had taken more of a toll on me than I thought. In hindsight I am absolutely certain that moving into my own business was the right choice. There is still a lot of pressure, both motivationally and financially but it is pressure that you put onto yourself. I feel much more in control of my destiny now.
Fitting the business in with our lifestyle?
What we call the “show season” (summer months) is particularly busy for us as we are heavily promoting our business, making sure we are out there doing everything from big Food Events to small Farmers’ Markets. It often feels like we have a lot more events to attend compared too many other Riverford Franchisees we have spoken to. However we have found that we are now part of a new community and have got to know some stall holders really well, some are now customers and others give us advice about new events coming up and things happening in the area that could be great opportunities for us. Luckily we do enjoy these events, which I think is essential if that is going to be a big part of your life.
The importance of local marketing and engagement!
Social Media is really important and fantastic because it is free! It is a great way to let people know about new products instantly as well as events we are doing. We do a 6-8 weekly newsletter via email just to let our customers know what is happening in the area and provide any information we think would interest them (which usually comes from questions customers ask us whilst we are out delivering).
We target leaflet housing estates where we are already doing deliveries to improve efficiency. We have advertised in local magazines and directories and are currently trying to improve our PR with the local press to get some editorial coverage if possible by developing a relationship with them. We have also taken part in several National campaigns run by Riverford, the latest being a funds for schools campaign.
We feel that we add that personal touch that other delivery schemes can’t replicate. My customers are encouraged to come to me with any issues or questions and we always get back to them within 24 hours. Customer service is at the heart of what we do and nothing pleases us more than a new customer who comes to us through a recommendation– it’s like a pat on the back.
Considering your own franchise?
If I were to offer any advice to others considering a franchise, I think that first and foremost I’d say that you need to love the product or business you are considering. For us running a Riverford franchise was because we love to cook and we believe that Organic food is the best tasting, as well as being better for you. If you don’t subscribe to the product you are promoting, you can’t inspire others to feel the same way.
Sales skills are important, and not something that come naturally to me at all, being able to answer questions and engage with people are really helpful especially at any events where you speak to people face to face.
Running the business side efficiently is equally important. You need to be methodical about doing certain things every day or week to keep on top of your admin. The nature of logistics is that some of the more boring tasks you do, does make you more efficient and therefore saves you money.
I think you have to have the ability to pick yourself up if things don’t work out and stick with it because most things do bear fruit if not always straight away.
Empathy and understanding play a really big part in customer service too, listening to any issues or concerns customers may have and dealing with them efficiently can make the difference between retaining or losing a customer. Not everything is black and white, you have to find the right shade of grey sometimes.
Do lots of research, ask lots of questions, spend time doing the things you will be doing week in week out and take your time to decide whether it is right for you (for us it was attending shows, going out on delivery rounds, spending time with existing franchisees).
When 35-year-old Charlie Bush set up his own veg box delivery scheme, he used Riverford Organic as an operational template…but the effort he put into running his business wasn’t matched by the returns.
However, in a cunning twist of fate, while carrying out ‘tactical research’ on the competition, he discovered that better fruit hung beneath the boughs he’d been reaching for!
Here Charlie talks about why he chose to leave his initial business behind to become south-east Lancashire’s first Riverford franchisee.
You switched from your own veg box business to Riverford – why?
It was an epiphany really, a classic ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ scenario. When I tried to set up my own veg box scheme with a business partner, Riverford was the benchmark company I wanted to emulate. They were the pioneers of the veg box scheme. I thought I could copy them, but nine months later I discovered that finding good, reliable suppliers was far more difficult than I could have imagined.
I sent off for Riverford’s franchisee pack, mainly to gather information that might help me with my own venture and, while reading that, I realised that I was trying to compete with a company I should be joining. Riverford had been in business for twenty years, had gone through the pain I was going through and had proved that it could quite literally survive all weathers.
I thought: ‘why on earth am I struggling, trying to set up my own scheme from scratch when I could have a ready-made business with a proper infrastructure and plenty of advice and back up, on a plate?’
When I applied to Riverford for a franchise, I was candid about what I’d tried to do before. The fact that it didn’t faze them showed that they were both confident and reasonable, and I went ahead and bought the Clitheroe and Burnley territory.
Now that you’re a Riverford franchisee, how does that compare with what you tried to do on your own?
It’s much easier because of the training and support you get. You have a network to turn to, one that can provide plenty of marketing ideas and advice, and you have the experience of other franchisees, as well as head office, to draw on when you run into problems. But perhaps most importantly, high quality produce on the supply side is readily available, the importance of which I underestimated when I struck out on my own. It’s pivotal to running a business like this. Now I don’t have to worry about the supplier side logistics either, all I have to do is focus on my own delivery routes and strategy.
As well as these things, there’s the brand recognition you benefit from as a franchisee. Riverford markets nationally, and franchisees market locally, so you get to reach consumers on various levels. As a lone operator, I’d never have had the budget for that.
Of course, being a franchisee is still hard work. I need to get to the hub where the food arrives very early each morning, sort out the boxes and then make my deliveries. When I’ve done that, it’s onto the admin and marketing. There’s a lot to do, but when it’s your own business you don’t mind because you’re always adding to your own investment.
You’re a relatively new franchisee: what advice would you give to other people considering Riverford?
I think it’s important for new franchisees to know they’re not going to be spoon-fed by the company. Every franchisee runs their own business and bears the responsibility for making it work. For that reason, there has to be a line where you become less reliant on head office support, and focus on doing things for yourself.
Of course, the support is always there if you need it, and I don’t know where I’d be sometimes without my local Riverford Farm in North Yorkshire to turn to, but it’s important to have confidence in your own abilities, and to be ready to market yourself, whether you’re buying an established territory or building one from nothing.
Mine was a virgin territory so I’ve had to build my customer base up from scratch as a one-man operation. I expect to take on a driver soon but initially I’ve had to do everything myself, including marketing. For me that means getting out and meeting people face-to-face, as well as picking up the phone to tell people about Riverford.
Have these marketing methods worked well for you?
After eight months, I’m seeing the effort paying off. I always knew that I’d break even at around 65 or 70 boxes a week. I now have 130 deliveries a week, a target I reached within six months.
To keep up the momentum, I like to make around fifty calls a week to potential customers – anybody that has expressed an interest in having organic veg delivered. It doesn’t matter how old the lead is. I also like to get out at least two weekends a month either doing an open van day, where I park on a green and show people the produce, or at a big food show. It’s common knowledge in the network that these are the best ways of signing up new customers.
Ultimately, it’s a people business and the most successful franchisees are the ones who engage with existing and prospective customers directly.
One of the best things about being part of a franchise network is that, if somebody comes up with a really good marketing idea, they can share it. Then, if you think it will work for you, you can implement it yourself.
Who provides the support you get?
Mainly the people at the north Yorkshire farm. I get their input on what shows might be good to attend in the summer, and I often call them to find out what’s going to be in the boxes the following week.
The farm also helps with marketing. For example, if I decide I want to do a 25,000-leaflet drop, the farm will pay for the printing, and I’ll pay for the distribution. It’s a shared input and a shared outcome.
Was your motivation for buying a Riverford franchise purely financial?
Money is always a consideration when you’re buying a business, and I knew that the potential was there for me to make a decent living. But there was more to it than that – I wanted something that would give me a more flexible lifestyle. My wife’s got her own business working from home, and most of my friends in Lancashire also work from home, so it’s nice for me to have the freedom to take an afternoon off to spend with the family or go for a round of golf, if I want to. That sort of flexibility is something I never had working for anybody else.