Lee Shepard, director of operations and performance for Wiltshire Farm Foods
Lee, how long have you been involved?
I’ve worked for over 23 years here. Why? I think the cultural values of Wiltshire Farm Foods and working with people with a true growth mindset really appeals. But also working for a business with real social values, where every day you’re quite proud of what you do. You’ve made a real difference to some of the most vulnerable people in society. Marrying up those social values to a strong business proposition makes it a really compelling job for me.
Is the network truly a ‘Wiltshire Family’?
We work with over 80 franchise partners covering the breadth of the country, they’re often family businesses. There’s husbands and wives, partners, sons and daughters, all involved. So even each individual franchise has a family feel to it. Whilst we’ve grown as a brand we’ve maintained that small company feel. There’s a definite sense of community and partnership – with ourselves as franchisor and with our franchise partners. Franchise partners, drivers, we all build really strong relationships with our customers and are far, far more than just a food delivery business.
Why invest in a Wiltshire Farm Foods?
We’ve got a really strong commercial opportunity. Our customers are in the fastest-growing demographic segment in the UK. The average age of a Wiltshire Farm Foods customer is over 83 years old and the over-80s is the fastest-growing sector. So our market is getting bigger all the time and there are massive growth opportunities. People are seeking strong commercials but also significance in what they do. When you look at what we stand for – great food to be proud of, enhancing health and wellbeing, being ethical and sustainable, as well as a real passion for service – it taps into that ‘significance’.
What makes a good Wiltshire Farm Foods franchise partner?
Somebody with strong leadership skills, as you’ll be running a team of people and your role is to engage and motivate that team, so strong leadership is absolutely key.
We want people with a growth mindset. There is a massive opportunity for Wiltshire Farm Foods. We only serve about five per cent of our target market, so we want people to come in and build and grow really strong businesses. We look for people with a passion for service.
Do you need experience? If not, how do you prepare your franchise partners?
With us, you buy a business with an existing customer base and turnover from day one. Most territories already come with a proven turnover of £1million-plus. Don’t worry about getting those first few customers through the door, they’re already there. You can focus on growing your business.
We give an awful lot of support and training to you. You’re not just released onto your territory on day one. We have an extensive onboarding programme and help with legal and operational elements: premises, cold store, vehicles, leasing deals, purchase deals, etc. There’s an extensive training programme where we give you all the skills, all the documents, all the knowledge that you will need to become a successful franchise partner – and then you start to run your business.
Our mobilisation team is on hand to help you set up and you’re allocated a specific business partner – effectively a personal business coach to help with business planning, share models of best practice from elsewhere in the network, and make sure you’re doing what you need to put you on the way to success.
We back that up with IT systems, CRM systems, lots of local and national marketing support. You get the benefit of national TV, national press, direct mail campaigns, and then we’ll work with you to sort specific local marketing campaigns.
You’re at the forefront of research and development in your sector, too?
In terms of leading in innovation, and the investment – of millions – into that, we’re very serious about continuous improvement. It’s a massive commitment from us, we’ve put in huge amounts of money into innovation. We’ve got continuous reasearch and development so you’re getting the benefit of new ranges and new products coming through.
We’ve won a number of Queens Awards for Enterprise... One for innovation around our texture-modified meals for people with swallowing difficulties – a very common condition. What ends up happening is that people put food in a blender – it’s a grey-green mush, unappetising and poor in terms of nutrition. In response, we’ve developed a range of highly nutritious meals shaped and moulded to appear as real food – and that brings a lot of dignity back to people’s dining, not only the dignity of having a meal that looks like a meal but that it also provides the nutrition they need.
The second award was for sustainable development. We’re very proud because it reflects everything we’ve done as a company, and everybody within the brand has in some way been able to contribute. We’re supporting the British farming industry, we’re using sustainable fish, it’s about our ethical trade – making sure the suppliers we work with are treating their workforce fairly, whether in the UK or elsewhere. The award is about ethics, sustainability, our local community contribution, so it’s a whole series of things that lots of people across the whole business have contributed to.
You have the UK well covered, but what territories available and what size of area can new franchise partners expect to operate in?
We have a number of franchise partners who came in at the beginning, built really successful, really rewarding businesses, are coming up to retirement and want to enjoy the fruits of their labour – and absolutely they should! So we have territories coming up for resale. A number of larger historic territories we’ve taken the opportunity to split up – because franchise partners find them too difficult to service, so we’ve made them more appropriate to a real size that works for the franchisor, the franchisee and the customer.
Let’s talk funds – what kind of investment does a prospective franchise partner need?
To invest in a Wiltshire Farm Foods franchise, typically you’ll need personal funds of around £90,000 to £150,000. We have relationships with all the major banks and all the franchise lenders so we can introduce you to people that will sort you with a further bank loan. That will buy you the franchise, the good will of the business and all of the assets.
Pritesh and Kalpana Amlani, franchise partners for Dartford
What did you do before you joined Wiltshire Farm Foods?
Kalpana: I was a merchant banker for 15 years before I took a career break to raise my children. It was a natural progression to join the family business having nurtured my kids. Wiltshire Farm Foods is a caring business, plus they provide a first-class service, so it made sense.
Pritesh: My background is as a chartered accountant. We invested in Wiltshire Farm Foods about seven years ago, and my wife joined the business and the rest is history!
What appealed to you about the brand?
Pritesh: It was twofold. First, I’d worked in the elderly care sector and knew it from a business angle. So Wiltshire Farm Foods ticked the box that it’s a good market for growth. Second, making a difference to people’s lives... and the ethos of Wiltshire Farm Foods is very much ‘service first’. So there it is – hand in glove!
Plus it’s an established brand, of course...
Pritesh: The brand is very important. Doing everything ourselves, the manufacturing and so on, would be a very different ball game. But that side is taken care of. Our role is to provide the service and that’s what really matters. When I researched Wiltshire Farm Foods and visited the factory – I was blown away, it’s just superb. Aside from the manufacturing they’ve the support and the ‘people’ side, too. We’ve joined the right family!
A franchise network is like a family...
Pritesh: Part of the reason for franchising is you’re not in competition with each other. You take care of your own clientele and we get on very well with other franchisees because we can exchange a lot of ideas about what’s working, what’s not working. It’s a very healthy community – there’s lots of ideas in the pot. That’s a nice feeling.
Kalpana: We share best practice within the network, and what works for one territory, we share among ourselves so we all benefit. That’s what families do, we all want the best.
How has life changed since you started running the business together?
Kalpana: Pleasantly and positively! It’s given me a structure. I have passion for people and providing service. I love the customer base – they’re excellent to work for. We’re actually making a difference to our communities when we serve them. We’re providing a great service.
We’re working together and it’s for our family, too. Our children are working with us, it’s nurturing good values in them. We very much achieved a work-life balance.
Is your business part of the community?
Pritesh: Very much! A lot of our customers can’t get to a supermarket, they may be on their own, not able to make suitable meals from scratch – we take away a lot of these headaches. As for the community we’re serving, it’s fair to say we walk with our heads held high in our locality.
Kalpana: From the first phone call through to delivery, our customers are our friends and they become part of us as well. Yes, we’re a business but we always have time to talk to them. We know we could be the only ones they speak to all day. Our drivers provide an exceptional service and build a bond with them. We love our customers.
Any advice for those researching a franchise? What qualities do you need?
Pritesh: Be business-savvy and develop the leadership skills to motivate your team – at the end of the day, investing in a franchise is one thing, but if you align your values and goals with those of your team then the business will succeed. When it comes to Wiltshire Farm Foods in particular, this brand is about service. You need empathy and a caring nature. Have those qualities then the business will follow.
It’s important that you’re willing to spend time with customers rather than a quick drop and go, and you embed those values firmly into your businesses.
Be someone who’s ready to roll up their sleeves and work hard; there are times when you may have to deliver or pick and pack products, that’s good for the team. Overall, I think a willingness to work hard – that’s the most important quality.
What are your plans for the future?
Pritesh: We have been very lucky to enjoy excellent growth since we took over the business. We have a family that’s passionate about Wiltshire Farm Foods and know the business very well.
What’s it like working as a couple?
Kalpana: To my surprise, I cope very well! We work as a team, we share the same goals, we have the same ethos of providing a good service and rewards follow! I enjoy working with him!
Pritesh: It’s important to respect each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We handle different aspects and work to the best of our individual skillsets.
Kalpana: I’m the operational side, he’s the business and strategic – we do make a good team!
What support do you receive?
Pritesh: Wiltshire Farm Foods has excellent support structures – whether legal, financial, budgeting issues, they provide support so that you’re able to hit the ground running with full training in every aspect of the business.
Within the first four weeks I’d say you’re ready to run a business. Thereafter, the support we have from marketing, TV advertising and so on is superb. There’s no hidden cost layers, it’s a straightforward franchise model – it’s very simple. In return, you run your business… and succeed!
So no regrets?
Pritesh: No, none at all! I wish we’d known about it sooner.
Kalpana: So do I! And then we would have been working together longer!
Mark Appleton, franchise partner for Stourbridge
What did you do before you became a Wiltshire Farm Foods franchise partner?
I worked at PwC and KPMG as a management consultant for 20 years, spending four of those years in Saudi Arabia. Then, I felt like a career change, that I’d like to have my own business. I looked at franchises – take an existing business and not have to set up from scratch. I also had the support of the brand, so I wasn’t trying to learn everything right from the beginning. It was a big enough curve to get up to speed learning finance, payroll, tax, pensions, all of that.
And why Wiltshire Farm Foods?
I did my research from a point of view of investment and returns. I was looking for the right fit, the scale of the business that suited me, as well as my financial aspirations and skillset.
Wiltshire Farm Foods appealed to me for a number of reasons and one in particular was that I wouldn’t be taken out by technology – people need to eat! It’s a growing market, particularly with the older population – and ethically it appealed to me. The environment and sustainability issues felt very close to my heart in terms of their values and also who they’re catering for – dementia-related care, pureed foods, people with difficulties, so yes, a perfect fit!
How did Wiltshire Farm Foods prepare you, and what kind of training or onboarding is there?
I had a lot of phone conversations, then meetings and then there was the whole business case presentation, working out the numbers, etc. The process was rigorous and they gave me the time to really work out what I was going to have to do in terms of investment, such as buying vehicles and setting up the freezer. My advice is give yourself long enough to take all this into consideration.
Originally, I’m an industrial engineer, so I had worked in a manufacturing environment, I understood how businesses worked and I’d run quite a large factory before. Wiltshire Farm Foods’ induction was great in the sense of getting you going, the manual, and so on; it’s so informative. It was a steep learning curve; I was really lucky as staff joined from the existing business and that took a lot of the pain of a startup away. But the support was there overall.
How did brand awareness of Wiltshire Farm Foods help?
It’s huge – when we go out and market there’s certainly people ready to become customers with us. With the TV campaigns and the historical branding, it makes that conversation easier when you’re talking about the product and service.
One of the main benefits of having that brand and being a franchise is that you’re not actually trying to learn the business, you’re growing it. For me, as a late career changer, it’s a case of coming in and taking the brand and franchise on – it’s all there already.
How has life changed since you became a Wiltshire Farm Foods franchise partner?
I’ve got a lot more time with the family – I’m not travelling as much from a business perspective, my days are a lot more predictable and I get time to pick my daughter up from school. My wife works in the business, it’s a nice balance!