David & Emma - St Albans franchisees
Husband & Wife team, David & Emma Shulman decided to run a business in a sector they were passionate about, following a career working in global telecoms. Already customers of Riverford’s, they decided to change career path when their local franchise became available.
Why did you choose Riverford Franchise?
We had both been in the corporate world since we left University and whilst we both had great experiences, learned many new skills & had really enjoyed what we had done, we knew it was not going to be something that we wanted to do forever.
We had long thought about starting our own business, and whilst we had some ideas, we were concerned about the risks we might need to take to transition us both fully out of being employed.
As massive advocates of ethical and sustainable living, we were already customers of Riverford and our veg man told us that he was retiring and would be selling the business. Knowing what we did about Guy and the quality of the produce, we decided to have a look at the opportunity of running a Riverford franchise. We thought this would give us both the ‘own’ business feel but with shared risk, also we would be working as part of a bigger organisation that we felt our values aligned with.
What did you do before?
We both worked in corporate global telecoms in a variety of differing roles. We share skills in sales, marketing, commercial, contracts & customer experience.
What training and support did you receive initially and ongoing?
We received an enormous amount of support both from Riverford and from other franchisees. Initially we were introduced to other franchisees to understand how they run their businesses, these continued into relationships that we have nurtured where we have now been able to support each other and share ideas. Riverford also provide a comprehensive training and support package, which was useful in learning everything about how Riverford runs its business as well as meeting the people we would later interact with on the farm. We spent a week understanding everything from how the veg is grown and sourced, through systems and procedures all the way to how we receive the produce ahead of local deliveries. We spent a significant amount of time with the previous franchisee understanding how things were run locally, this was also a critical factor in being able to understand what we would be doing on a day to day basis. We have built great relationships with the team at the farm and call on them as we need support, which is always forthcoming.
What is a typical day for you?
The days are very varied, but there are some regular items that we do each day, such as checking delivery volumes forecasted & preparing information for the drivers for the next day’s deliveries, organising any van maintenance and planning driver cover. There is marketing planning to do to look at how we are going to grow the business, which may include updating social media, researching and booking in face to face activities & calling customers to drive retention. On an ongoing basis throughout the day we speak to customers as they call, respond to emails and manage the necessary admin in the office as required.
What challenges have you faced?
Initially the deliveries were a bit of a shock, having not done anything like that before, we needed to get our heads around the many different routes, how to load vans efficiently and how to reduce our own error rate on the doorstep. This settled down quite quickly. It also goes without saying that this job is very different to sitting behind a desk and can be quite physically demanding.
Has becoming a franchisee changed your life, if so how?
Absolutely, we have managed to get our lives back in balance. It is hard work running your own business, but the benefits always outweigh the drawbacks. We are so passionate about the produce and living both sustainably and ethically, we are now able to not only manage that better for ourselves and our young family, but have become local advocates for it through a genuine company, which is very fulfilling and rewarding.
What marketing/promotional tools do you use to grow your franchise
We have carried out a number of activities such as promoting veg funds, veg masterclasses, through social media & by advertising locally. The biggest success factor however has been local face to face activities. This has enabled us to really grow the business and to get the brand out across the region. We have much more to do to continue this, but we have found this to be the best tool to hit our growth aspirations.
In your opinion, what makes a successful franchisee?
A clear business plan, great communication and doing the right thing by customers, the farm & staff. Demonstrating determined effort and enjoying yourself along the way.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of buying their first franchise?
Look hard at the territory, both in terms of demographic, competitors, current customers and where the opportunity lies. Look closely at how the business is run now, what you think it will require in-order to be able to turn it into something that meets your aspirations. Carry out lots of due diligence on how the current operation runs, ask loads of questions and make sure you get an idea of the deliveries and routes a long time in advance.
What are your plans for the future?
We want to maintain steady growth working with Riverford for the foreseeable future, we continue to test new ideas and make refinements that help us keep on top of things.
Would you do it again?
Yes, without question.