Skip to main content

News from the farm   |   Ethical business

Blowing our own trumpet

In 1986, after two urban years stuffed uncomfortably into a suit, I returned to my parents’ farm – proven unemployable, and determined to start my own business. Whatever I made or grew, it would have to sell itself. My attempts to sell my employer’s management consultancy services in New York had convinced me that I was an acutely uncomfortable salesman, and, as a result, a poor one. I blame an old-fashioned belief, inherited from my mother, that it is unseemly to ‘blow your own trumpet’ or ‘push yourself forward’.

Back when patterns of trade were smaller, more local and more stable, a good product could sell itself; businesses thrived on earned reputations, rather than aggressive sales and self-conscious marketing.

But in our more transient times, competency in sales and marketing is a prerequisite of survival. Not surprisingly, given the sales incompetence of its founder, for years Riverford was not good at it. We ended up paying others to knock on doors for us – using, for a time, one of the most ethically bankrupt organisations I have ever had the misfortune to deal with.

Like many, including lots of respected charities, we had outsourced our dirty work to a company with questionable employment practices, who relied on discounts to persuade new customers – paid for, one way or another, by loyal ones.

In 2016, the end could no longer justify the means. We sacked the company, stopped discount marketing, and employed our own in-house sales teams on proper contracts. In the short term, new customer numbers halved, and the cost of attracting them doubled, but three sometimes painful years on from that brave (going on foolhardy) decision, we are recruiting more, and more loyal, customers than ever.

We have found a more honest and respectful way of selling; one that even my mother might have been comfortable with, and that I am very proud of.

Last month, Riverford won two awards: one from the Employee Ownership Association, for the engagement of our co-owners, the other from the British Excellence in Sales Management Awards (‘the Oscars for the sales industry,’ I am told by the team), for doing sales ‘our way’. I reckon the fact it's our business allows us to do things our way: making the most of varied talents, and bringing our humanity with us. Huge respect to our head of marketing Mark Moody and his extraordinary team, whose achievements owe nothing to the founder.



    1 Year 6 Months

    As the old saying goes (well if I know it it must be old!) "if you've got it flaunt it!" By heck Riverford has "got it!" so to "flaunt it" is to my mind necessity, don't hide under a bush get out and tell people what you've got and by heck you've certainly got that!

    Well done to all the team including the Founder, after all Guy do must have "something" or you'd have sunk years ago so as I say "flaunt it". If i wasn't so old i might even follow my own advice

    the Walrus

    0 Reply


    1 Year 6 Months

    Oh by the way before anyone mentions it "Proof Reading" in my case is not only dying but dead and buried!

    0 Reply

    Guy Singh-Watson

    Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 80,000 customers a week. Tired of meetings, brands and the assumption that greed is our predominant motivation, Guy converted the business to employee ownership in 2018, using the proceeds to buy a small farm and return to growing organic vegetables. In common with many of Riverford’s new co-owners, Guy is an advocate of using business to shape a part of the world, however small, to be kinder, more considerate and sustainable; more like the world most of us want to live in.  His weekly newsletters connect people to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about.

    Wicked Leeks is out now

    Cover star, Jyoti Fernandes, tells of the small producers standing up for their rights, while elsewhere we explore climate-friendly eating and how to eat seasonal in spring.

    Read more

    Live Life on the Veg

    Riverford's recipe hub, with recipes, veg help and foodie inspiration.

    Go to Riverford

    How to cook with a veg box

    From meal planning to unusual veg: food writer Stacey Smith talks through how to cook with a veg box.

    Read more
    Spread the word

    The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity losses will be the defining stories of our future, but it is not too late to change direction. 

    Here at Wicked Leeks, our mission is to help inform and inspire positive change. Our journalism is free to all because of this, but we want to reach as many people as possible who share our desire for a better world. We know our readers are some of the biggest advocates of sustainable living, and you can help us grow this movement by sharing this article widely, with your friends and on social media. Now is the time to act.