Liz Sowden, Dorking & Horsham

Liz Sowden, Dorking & Horsham

Following a career in sales and marketing for many well-known clothing and accessory brands, Liz Sowden invested in a Riverford home delivery franchise in March 2015.

“I live in the West Sussex countryside (having moved from London when I took over the franchise). I worked for many years in the fashion and luxury goods sector. Most of my time is spent on my business, but I try to make the most of the beautiful place where I live now – riding, walking and, for the first time in my life, gardening! And cooking of course, which I’ve always enjoyed. I’ve never been very corporate in attitude; I am quite independent and like people, but don’t need to be surrounded by them in an office, so investing in a franchise seemed a good way to go at that point in my life.”

What made you decide to open a franchise in the food and drink sector and why Riverford?

“It’s something I’ve always been interested in, both personally and professionally. My first job was marketing for Guinness, which I did for 5 years. There is a great deal of focus nowadays on food and drink, both eating out and – increasingly – cooking and eating well at home. People are becoming more educated about what good food means and it’s a necessity, so I strongly believe that the sector can only grow. To paraphrase the old BT ads with Maureen Lipman talking to her nephew (for those old enough to remember!): ‘People will always need plates!’

“The principles and values of Riverford were very important to me; it had to be a product I believed in and something I was personally interested in. You can’t go into it half-heartedly; I would never have been able to give my all to a fast food burger bar, for example. Good food and people are the two things in life that make me the happiest, and becoming a Riverford franchisee enabled me to bring the two together.”

How did you go about funding your franchise and what costs were involved?

“I had some funds to invest, but took out a loan for the bulk of it, for which my home has acted as security. There was the initial investment price for the franchise itself, plus extra costs such as the training fee, legal fees, bank set up fees etc. I researched what would be required thoroughly and had to present a business plan to Riverford, so I didn’t get any nasty surprises. Riverford were very transparent about the costs from their side.

Some central marketing is included in the ongoing management service fee that we pay which is 3% of turnover. I also invest in my own local marketing. As I put together a 5-year marketing plan as part of the exploratory process, I am fully aware of my expected marketing costs each year.

The first six months of running my business were spent focussing on getting myself operationally up to speed, so I didn’t do too much of my own local marketing. Now though, I spend my time attending various local events, such as food festivals and fêtes, to attract and engage with new customers.”

Do you feel that you have the support from those at the head of the brand?

“Yes, very much so, starting with Guy Watson who owns Riverford and then throughout the entire organisation. Before launching my business, I had a full week of training at Riverford’s head office farm in Devon, and comprehensive notes and guides to take away, plus my fellow franchisees have been very supportive. I also have continuous support and contact with my business development manager. Riverford franchisees also have a level of independence that means we feel supported and not restricted.”

What top tip would you give to somebody looking to operate a franchise?

“Do lots of research, engage your brain fully, but also go with your heart to a degree. A passion for the brand or company you are considering is a must. Ensure you know fully what the model is and what is expected of you. Speak to other franchisees; I did, and found their insight invaluable.”