Walton on Thames - Graeme + Christina Ross

walton on thames case studyIt’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?

Says Graeme:

“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.”