Guy’s news: Can a vegetable sell itself?

In 1986, realising I was unemployable, I returned to the farm to start my own business – hopefully without the need to sell. Promoting myself as a consultant in New York had taught me that I was a bad and unhappy salesman. To this day I can talk with unremitting enthusiasm about growing and cooking vegetables, but as soon as I try to sell them, people run away. I blame it on my mother; she would have thought it vulgar to push yourself forward.

Like my mother, I would love to live in a world where a good product sold itself based on quality, value and the reputation of the person who made it. By reputation, I mean accumulated real experiences – as opposed to brand, which, too often, is distant from reality and a fiendishly clever manipulation of our vulnerabilities. Riverford is unquestionably a brand, and I would be lying to claim we present ourselves without some consideration. But for the most part I am happy with our compromise. Growing vegetables, however good, is not enough; to keep the show on the road someone needs to sell them, persuasively and persistently. We make the task even harder for ourselves by refusing to entice new customers with ‘tease and squeeze’ discounts, or to outsource the process to commission-driven third parties with highly questionable employment practices (as almost everyone else does, including most charities).

Diversity is a strength to be celebrated. Late one night at Abergavenny Food Festival last week, my wife Geetie and I found ourselves sharing a fire with some of our sales team. It must have been nearly midnight when I witnessed Adam signing up his tenth customer of the day by firelight. The transaction was made with an easy conversational charm infinitely beyond my awkward blunders, and to my surprise I felt not only admiration, but pride. We have learnt to sell our way: with humanity-affirming honesty which is both extraordinary and effective. Adam and the team are largely driven by a deep, sobering belief in Riverford which the rest of us must live up to back on the farm.

Despite our new skills, Adam’s best efforts and the advertising we are running this month, the best, most loyal customers will always be the ones that come by word of mouth from you, our customers – through old-fashioned reputation.

Guy Singh-Watson

18 responses to “Guy’s news: Can a vegetable sell itself?

  1. We run a small candle making business on a working farm in the beautiful Ribble Valley. Next year we will be 20 years old and we are still in love with what we do. We are a small, hard working team of 8 and being so close to nature means we rarely have a bad day at work. The animals and nature outside the workshop doors add a gentle rhythm and heartbeat to our days and the daily commute for most of us is a just a mile bike ride/walk. We have always believed that there is more to running a business than just what ends up on the bottom line come yr end and yet understand the need for sales, repeat customers and solvency. A very fine line, but our choice has been to work with small independent retailers who care about the products they offer to their customers and where they have come from… or like you, directly to the public. Yes, we could be bigger, yes we could “sell” more, but organic growth is what works for us too.
    Great words this week Guy… has given us a little shot of courage to keep doing what we do.
    Thankyou, Cheryl Hook

    • Sounds idyllic Cheryl. Scale and profit isn’t always a measure of success – it sounds like you thoroughly enjoy what you do and that is paramount. Keep up the good work and integrity!

  2. good point about marketing etc – how did you get this sorted? – I resonate with the fact that people also seem to run when I try to sell, even though I think what I do has real value, and is genuinely hugely valued by some.

  3. which is your candle business, Cheryl? – sounds nice…

  4. Oh I do echo your views on selling, Guy! Like you, I can wax lyrical on the things I am passionate about, but to sell you need confidence , not only in your product, but yourself!
    I am well qualified, but lack the self confidence to push myself into the limelight, although I know I’m good at the things I am qualified to do. I’m better working for somebody than being self employed.

  5. Yet more wise words and refreshing sentiment. Reputation counts for far more than many people give credit for, along with trust. We’ve been with Riverford for over thirteen years now – reputation and trust, along with quality and good service, generate loyalty without resorting to gimicky marketing ploys and offers. And yes, we believe wholeheartedly in the Riverford ethic and what the company stands for. Long may it continue. Peter and Susan

    • Thank you so much for all your support of organic farming Peter & Susan – it is very much appreciated. Its wonderful to hear that you enjoy the veg and the delivery service works well for you – look forward to seeing you again soon!

  6. Totally agree with Peter and Sue. We’ve been with Riverford for over a decade and I feel that the whole ethos has become part of my life. Constantly recommending Riverford to anyone who will listen!

  7. Had an amazing conversation with a member of your sales team. Yes Guy you should be proud they’re great.

  8. We were Riverfords 14th franchisee’s back in the early days. It was 2003 and I remember having parted with our franchise fee we came away from the farm with just 9 customers found by the farm. My wife Alison was crying as we drove back up the M5 to South Wales thinking we may have wasted our investment. I had a different view however, I knew if I believed in the product (which I did of course) I could find customers in this industrial land who would appreciate it. The second week we had 25 customers and then the business grew slowly. After 2 years I was able to give up my job as a blinds sales and fitter, whilst Alison kept her part time job in an opticians. We never pushed Riverford because we believed in the product and that must of shone through when we promoted our business. So really apart from having a great product you have to believe in it .As a result of this we sold the business almost 10 years later with 600 regular customers purely down to “belief” and hard work. We met the sales team in Cardiff recently and their approach was just like ours was, no pushing just belief, and I could not help myself and ended up selling Riverford to them the sales team.We are still customers of our old business, and been blissfully retired for nearly 6 years and still believe in the product.

    • Love this comment Chris! Thank you for always believing in us. So nice to hear you still do, even in your Riverford retirement.

  9. Awesome comments everybody but I believe you can judge everything in black and white. Ethics and morals are not that difficult when you drill down. The Riverford advertising through the leter boxes in London, and on the Tube – fair enough, Guy’s words above ring true. But the “free welcome gift”? That immediately generated my unfairness alarm and I wondered, where is mine? Is Riverford going to offer me a free veg peeler, scrubber and tea towel for my decade of custom? If you’re going to offer it to new customers, then you have to offer it to existing customers too. How would you like it Riverford, if I cancelled my account and rejoined next month to get my free gift? Is that fair? Obviously not.

    • Hello Adam, this is a very fair comment. And something we were conscious of when we made the decision to do some welcome gifts. In 2016 we vowed never to do any discount marketing and will stick to that, but gifts are a little different in that we will happily give what we are giving to a new customer, to a current customer.
      We would be more than happy to send you a veg starter kit. Could you email your details to pressteam@riverford.co.uk so we can arrange it?

  10. Joining Riverford has been an enjoyable experience. Although I grow my own organic veg I cannot grow enough to be self sufficient even with my polytunnel.. Love getting veg with a bit of soil on! Our delivery man is lovely chap too.

  11. This resonates strongly with me. At Jennings we call it marketing by attraction rather than promotion. It is a slower, but more sustainable method. Do your best work and people are attracted. Trust and integrity are paramount. Consumers are changing. It is no longer the cheapest, but the most trustworthy that we purchase from. Your blog is a major part of your brand, and in writing your blog you are enthusing about your product or showing the same frustrations your customers have about modern farming methods. This is how you sell and your team have learnt from you.
    Keep it up Guy, you have a loyal following.

  12. You say your methods make things harder for yourselves…but isn’t your ethos and “way” the very reason we’re all here, choosing you? Were you to adopt supermarket values and practices, I doubt many of us customers would choose to stick around. And your consistent adherence to these values sparks and feeds a very real loyalty.

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