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Exclusive Interview: "You’ve got to be prepared to deal with anything and learn as you go."

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Name:                      Sally Beare

Location:                 Tunbridge Wells

Franchise:               Riverford Home Delivery

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you were doing prior to buying a franchise business?

I had been at home raising three children for many years. Before I became a Mum I was a charity fundraiser and worked part-time and as a volunteer in the charity sector. When my youngest reached the age of ten, I’d got to the stage where I knew I needed to find some interesting and challenging work outside the home.

What attracted you to franchising versus starting up on your own or finding employment?

It kind of happened by accident. I wasn’t even looking for a business or franchise opportunity, but I found out from Riverford communications that my local Riverford franchise was available and it just felt right for me at the time to apply.

Why did you choose your particular franchise business (Riverford)?  What research did you undertake?

I had been a Riverford customer for a good while and so I already knew about the business and the ethos behind it.  When Riverford sent an email to customers in my area advising that the local franchise was for sale, I got in touch to find out more.  The more I learnt about the business model, produce and ethical values of the business, the more I knew I wanted to be involved. 

Riverford have quite an in-depth application process and ask all applicants to put together a thorough business and marketing plan. I had to research all the nuts and bolts of the business and do two presentations, the first to the Franchise Services Manager and General Farm Manager, and then finally to the Board of Directors at their head office farm in Devon.  As the franchise Services Manager said to me during the process, “No one ever sleepwalks into a Riverford franchise.” 

"By the time you’ve done all the work and preparation, you pretty well know what is involved in being a Riverford franchisee."

How did you raise the finance for funding your franchise?  Did you use any financial support (grants etc) specific to business start-up?

I used savings to buy the franchise and provide some working capital to start me off.  I was buying the business as a going concern, so the money was coming in from day one.

Did you take advantage of any support available to women looking to get into business? E.g. member of a women in business network, attend any specific women business events? 

I didn’t seek out any formal networks, but I’ve really benefitted from talking to another female Riverford franchisee, who is also running a franchise on her own.  She has owned her business for a year or so longer than I, and it’s really comforting to speak to her and realise that I’m not the only one who finds it hard from time to time.

What training and support did you receive initially and ongoing from your franchisor? 

I had plenty of support during the application process.  I’d never done anything like it before, and the Riverford staff were generous with their time and guidance.  I also had a week’s training at the main Riverford farm just before I took over the franchise.  I had help in the early weeks from my Business Development Manager, Ben. Since then, I’ve been operating more or less on my own, but I do contact various staff members at Riverford for support with specific queries when I need to.

I share a collection hub with two other franchisees and so I know I can always ask them for advice (and I do.)  I also occasionally contact other Riverford franchisees for advice on particular issues; they are also always generous with their time and help. There is also on online forum for Riverford franchisees, which I look at when I can and always learn something useful.

What is a typical day for you as a franchisee?

That depends if I am out making the deliveries or not.  I deliver one day a week, although I am often out on deliveries for at least one other day in the week, providing driver cover, or helping a driver learn a new round.  If I am out in the van, my day starts at the hub at 6am.  The produce has come up from the farm the night before and is stored overnight in a huge fridge.  I load up the van and set off!  My regular round is very rural and I love driving around in the gorgeous countryside, delivering our iconic veg as I go.

I am normally home again by early afternoon, when I have a couple of hours in the office, before heading off to collect my youngest from school.

If it’s a day when I’m not out in the van, then I will mainly be sitting in my little office, answering queries from customers, and dealing with all the logistics involved in running a couple of vans and employing three drivers, and also organising any marketing for my business. 

"As we go into summer, I have a full diary of local shows and food festivals booked.  I’ll be there with my stall and veg boxes, spreading the word about Riverford deliveries."

What challenges have you faced?

Where to start?  Honestly it has been really-hard.  The biggest difficulty has been suddenly going from being an almost full-time mother to a full-time business owner, AND a mother.  I’ve felt as though I’ve been trying to literally squeeze everything into my day.  However, six months in, I feel we are finding some balance and I’m running my business successfully, looking after my family and even now getting some sleep!

There have been some practical difficulties in the first six months too.  I’ve made a bucketful of mistakes.  But I have a great team of drivers and together we are getting there.  I’ve learnt from my mistakes, but I expect I’ll keep making new ones, which I’m sure is perfectly normal for anybody who is running their own business for the first time?

Has becoming a franchisee changed your life, if so how?

Yes, these are the best things about taking on the franchise. There’s a long list: 

  • The customers (who are universally lovely);
  • The wonderful veg (there is nothing nicer than a van full of fresh veg of a morning);
  • - The Riverford ethics – I feel totally confident and comfortable “selling” Riverford.  It is a great company; 
  • I’ve already mentioned my drivers, who are willing, flexible, reliable and all-round heroes;
  • - The challenge of learning something new every single day;
  • - The joy of feeling that I am running a busy, thriving business.

On the downside, I don’t get much time for myself and my house is really untidy.  On the upside, I really love running my own business. 

In your opinion, what makes a successful franchisee?  

I can only really talk from my experience as a Riverford franchisee.  You’ve got to be prepared to deal with anything and learn as you go.  I solely manage my customers, vans, employees, advertising – everything really.  I am now trying to get as much help in as I can; my drivers now take responsibility for the vans, I have a bookkeeper, I pay for personal IT support, and I’m working on training up someone to help me at shows and festivals.  I know that franchisees who run their business as a couple might be able to do more of the tasks themselves and share roles, but I have accepted that I need to pay for a bit of help.

What is the most invaluable piece of advice you could give other women looking to start their own business through franchising? 

It’s a good way to and I’d recommend doing it, as you are taking on a proven business model along with some support.

What are your plans for the future?

Riverford Tunbridge Wells is a lovely business with loads of potential.  I have spent my first six months in survival mode – just making sure I get those deliveries safely out to the customers, day in, day out.  I’ve managed that, and I have a great driver team in place, with plenty of capacity in my vans.  So the plan now is to grow the business steadily, until those vans are full!

Would you do it again?

Absolutely Yes.  But it has not been without it’s challenges!

Learn more about franchise opportunities with Riverford Organic here!