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Bringing the family business community together

More Than Just A Greengrocer

27th March 2017 Paul Andrews

Reynolds is a business with family values at its core. Paul Andrews caught up with Tom Reynolds, fourth generation family business member who shared his insights on life in the family firm.

As a family business with a passion for fresh produce, Reynolds is a leader in the UK distribution of fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy and cheese.  Based on the outskirts of London, in Waltham Cross, and with 7 depots around the UK, they manage over 3,000 orders daily. 

In 1945 William Reynolds set up a fruit and vegetable stall at the Ridley Road Market in Hackney, London.  That was the start of the Reynolds fruit and vegetable business, a company that has grown from that one stall to becoming one of the most famous names in the foodservice industry with annual turnover of over £200 million, just under a thousand staff and over 200 vehicles. 

William’s dream was to delight his customers with the very best fresh produce and today that dream continues through his son Dave, his grandson, Tony, and his great-grandson Tom. Values are at the very heart of this family firm and are evidenced the very moment you enter head office to be greeted by Tracy; welcoming, friendly and efficient and proud to be part of the wider Reynolds family too.

Today, Tom’s father Tony oversees the growth of the business and is supported by a dynamic, forward-thinking management team, and it is this team that embody the values created from that first market stall ensuring that everyone who works at Reynolds works with passion and integrity, delivering the service and care that their customers expect.

Tom joined the business in 2014 and is the first to admit that it was somewhat of a destiny, although in his own admission, “Entering what is potentially going to be my final job at the age of 23 was somewhat daunting, especially as my peers are only on the start of their career paths and many are yet to find their destiny or vocation.  I have always shown an interest in the business and we are a very close family, so it was inevitable for me that I would join at some stage.”

As Tom continues, “Whilst growing up and during my school years the family always spoke about the business and what was going on with it at home, and it was difficult not to embrace the conversation, something that is even harder now that I am involved.  After all, it is our family name  above the door, and our family reputation is out there for all to see.”

Tom worked in the business during school holidays before setting off to university in London.  “Reynolds vehicles are always there to be seen and doing a geography degree at UCL in London meant that I saw them all the time,” continues Tom.  “I was keen to do a degree in something that was of interest to me and it has actually stood me in good stead for understanding more about the logistics of distribution that we do today – I got to use the most up-to-date technology and mapping software and that has really helped.  I am also a firm believer in doing a degree in which you have an interest as the underlying skills that you gain, organisation, project management, researching and communication are important irrespective of the job you end up with,” continues Tom.

Tom and his father discussed his entry into the business and were both keen to ensure that it was at the right time and that there was a role in the business, something that was certainly aided by the work Tom did post his degree with organisations such as wagamama where he got to appreciate things from the other side of the fence. 

“Experience was beneficial to me,” continues Tom, “and it was important to me to be able to bring back some skills and experience, and to actually appreciate the wider importance of the foodservice industry too.”

Tom has begun his role as the fourth generation of the family in the business but is not alone as the next generation of the family. Tom has a brother, Nick, three years his junior, who is currently studying to become an accountant and may, down the line, decide to join his brother in the family firm.

At present, Tom works in the business with his mother and father.  As Tom explains, “Tony, my father, runs the business and oversees our growth and has a great management team around him to aid in him doing so.  We are also very open as an organisation and have a clear open-door policy so that staff can discuss anything that is on their minds, voice an opinion and get involve.” 

“My mother is part of the management team as the ‘Family Brand Manager,’ and essentially is involved in our day-to-day marketing and helping to keep our communications consistent, in keeping with our brand and ensuring it is all in line with our values too, although she fully understands what we do and is not afraid to get involved where needed either.” 

Reynolds is a family business and the family are actively involved in the day-to-day operations and have shown a real willingness to move forward, embrace technology and change over the years to help them get to where they are today.

This willingness to embrace new ways of working was clear and apparent in the recent TV programme, ‘Who’s the Boss?’ in which a new Distribution Operations Manager in the logistics was actually appointed after a week-long series of tasks by the staff, all of whom had a vote. 

Family firms are often wary of publicity and taking part in a show where there is no control over editing can be seen as risky but this was embraced by the business and for those that saw the show, the staff embraced the process and the programme really captured the essence of what working in a successful family firm is all about. 

Tom is candid about the decision to undertake the programme and delighted with the response to it, adding that “we did not take the decision lightly and were aware that our name was going to be on show but our staff are incredible, loyal and share our values, something that we as a family really believed, and we are delighted with the results that were there for all to see.”

At the end of the show, Jill was offered the role and has now been with Reynolds for six months.  All too often, because of their family ownership, family firms can struggle to recruit, retain and motivate staff but the process that the business went through in recruiting Jill was powerful as it enabled the business to select the candidate with the right cultural fit too. 

Tom adds, “Jill had the necessary skills on paper and what the process proved was that she had the ability to get on with the people with whom she would have to work.  Since starting she has fully immersed herself in our business, taken the time to speak to everyone throughout Reynolds and despite any nerves we may have had about the programme, the result stands for itself, and we are really pleased with the outcome.”

Reynolds is all about customer service and people are at the core of what makes the family business what it is today.  The values that the business live by each day are Passion, Integrity, Quality, Teamwork and Customer Care – these may be just words in essence but when they are brought to life, as they are by the staff, the management and the family, they really do make a difference, and it shows too.

Tom is delighted with his role in the business, and the fact that he is able to access different parts of the business to help him learn, expand his knowledge and build towards the future.  “Working in the family business makes me immensely proud, proud of my family and the work they have put in over the years to build something that we can all be proud of today.  One of the best things, for me, about the family business is the level of communication, passion, and belief in what we do, every day.  Everyone seems to know everyone else and the people here are incredible, going above and beyond our expectations all the time.  We must be getting something right as we have nine employees who have each been with us over twenty years and there is a low level of staff turnover too.”

On the contrary, there can be challenges when working in a family business and Tom is aware that these need to be addressed, adding, “We are very close as a family and it can be incredibly difficult to switch off and not revert back to the business.  Having left home,  it is a little easier as I don’t see my mother and father all the time, but the business is so important to us that there is always the inevitability that we will suddenly think of something and the conversation goes back to fruit and vegetables, distribution, new depot openings etc!  It is important to be open and discuss matters as they arise, and we do that, and we make sure that we can move on, focussing on the needs of the business at all times.”

It is clear listening to Tom that there is much more to the business now than there was when it started back in 1945.  Times have certainly changed, and the way that business is conducted have too, customers are more discerning over choice and demands, but Reynolds have stepped up and evolved into an operation that now meets the needs of customers across the UK.  One thing though remains the same, the very essence of what William Reynolds wanted when he began all those years ago, to deliver the quality of service and care that customers expect, with passion and integrity.

Listening to the next generation, and meeting some of the staff, it is clear that passion and integrity is as strong as ever, pride in the family and what the name stands for is readily apparent and there is an energy about the business that is truly palpable.  Reynolds is not just a ‘greengrocer with decades of experience’ but a true family business, where the staff are fully empowered and the underlying passion and desire to succeed that comes from the family name above the door permeates throughout.

As the fourth generation to be involved, Tom is on the start of his family business journey, one that has already been going for generations, and it will be interesting to see how his journey unfolds.

An incredible journey already, but one that hopefully will continue for generations to come.



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