Walton on Thames - Graeme + Christina Ross
It’s a crisp, sunny Spring morning in Ashford, Middlesex, and an early start for Riverford Organic franchisee, Graeme Ross.
Beginning work at 7am, Graeme and two of his drivers meet at the local hub to check the latest delivery of organic fruit, vegetables, dairy produce and other food, packed at Riverford’s main farm in Devon. Recycled boxes, full of the freshest organic produce, sent up overnight, are stacked and ready to be loaded onto the vans for delivering to Ross’s growing list of local customers. He and his wife Christina have now been running the business for eleven years and are used to the routine – but when did the seed of the idea to buy an organic delivery business first germinate?
“Christina and I were both passionate about organic food, and used to buy and prepare it for our three children. Then, soon after being made redundant from a corporate HR role, I was flicking through a franchise magazine where I read about Riverford Organic. The company’s main farm is near Buckfastleigh, where Christina has relatives we visit from time to time. So I knew of the farm, but didn’t know there was a franchise opportunity attached.
“I was immediately interested in the idea, and said to Christina: ‘Look, we’re both passionate about organic food, I’d like my own business – why don’t we look into it?’. “So we contacted the farm, went down to see their operation, liked it, and applied for a franchise. We were particularly lucky, because one of the available territories happened to be where we live.”
That was back in June 2005, a time when Graeme and Christina had just 69 deliveries to make. Eleven years on, the Ross’s business has ridden a major recession, and grown to more than 650 deliveries a week. They even managed to purchase a neighbouring franchise during that time.
"I still think there's room for further growth."
“We bought the Hillingdon territory from another franchisee,” Graeme confirms. “A woman who was moving to Australia. It wasn’t as developed as ours – she had around 120 deliveries a week to make, whereas we were doing well over 500 – but it added value to our existing business. And I still think there’s room for further growth,” he adds. But it’s not just about getting more customers; it’s about working with what you have and getting your existing customers to buy more from you. “For example, we’ve recently started delivering organic recipe boxes to our customers, which has added a quick and easy revenue stream; we simply place the order with the farm, and then deliver it when it arrives. The boxes are good earner, and an easy product for us to handle as they come pre-packaged. You just put the boxes on the van and deliver them – no scrambling around looking for lost leeks!”
So what is it about Riverford that makes it popular with so many people?
“It’s hard to scientifically pinpoint reasons people buy from us, because there are so many. For some it’s the fact that we’re organic that’s important. For others, it’s because most of our food is seasonal and mainly from the UK. Some people simply like the fact that we deliver fro free, such as commuters who get up early and get home late – particularly if there are no shops close to home. Then there are our hardcore ‘green’ customers who are anti supermarkets. They see us as separate and independent, which is important. Others just want to cook and eat good, healthy organic produce. For Christina and myself, that’s the most important thing.
He adds: “We must be doing something right with the produce and the service because some of our long standing regular customers have had more than 300 deliveries from us – that kind of repeat business is the best compliment any business can have.”