From a one-man start up in 1971 to becoming one of London’s leading dairy suppliers the Allan Reeder story is simply incredible. A family business full of entrepreneurial spirit, drive, perseverance and desire to succeed and despite their success they have never lost the personal touch, something that means so much to the family and the business to this day. Paul Andrews spoke to founder Allan Reeder and his daughter Heidi to find out more.
Since day one, they have always dealt with their customers as individuals and there is no way that this approach is going to stop now. They may have grown and moved premises to a state-of-the-art factory in 2019 but it’s still very much a family affair. Allan still comes in every day with Heidi now running the day-to-day business as well as customer and supplier relations. Two other sons, Ben and James, run the night shift and look after the driving and warehouse team and Chris is out ensuring deliveries are completed and seeing customers whilst doing so.
Their customers know and trust them and that’s the foundation of the personal service that keeps their customers in dairy products and keeps them in business.
The journey began back in 1971 with a young Allan, one lorry and one customer. He had previously worked as a sales executive for Express Dairies before he took the decision to set up on his own business working 6 days a week and went 15 years with no holiday. These were very difficult times and to supplement his fledgling business he would clean windows on a Sunday to help pay the mortgage and support his young family. Despite this, he has never looked back.
The business began the year that daughter Heidi was born and he was committed to building something successful right from the start. As Allan explains, “You must believe in what you are doing."
"You must love it and I love what I did then as much as I love it now. It’s the way we have always worked and after the large company experience and knowing that it wasn’t for me, I wanted to create something different.”
“I believed in what I was doing and never doubted myself, even when it got hard. We started off small, but I had lots of contacts and worked on them to our advantage. I never tried to take on anything too large and even if that had been on offer, we would have struggled because we were a small operation. I just asked for a small piece of their contract to supply them and built-up business relations, generated trust and faith in what we could do and that got the ball rolling,” continues Allan.
This was a family business through and through as Heidi remembers fondly. “I have been involved with the business forever and from a young age and remember being in the office helping with the invoices and as a toddler with Tony, when our brother Chris was born, being taken out in
the lorry on deliveries with my Dad!”
As Heidi continues, “It is amazing the memories you have when you grow up in a family business too. I used to get in the lorry and take my shoes off at every delivery and drove Dad mad. I now have a daughter of my own and she does exactly the same thing and it drives me up the wall! Like mother, like daughter!”
For Heidi, joining the family business was pretty much inevitable. “I had a job with British Airways when I left school but was ready for a new challenge. I spoke to Dad and said that I wanted to work for him. I knew I had to fully commit and not just dip my toe in and got involved with all areas of the business. It was not easy though as I knew I was the boss’s daughter and I remember the first few days when I was in the office and was scared of answering the phone, not to mention having to pick up the phone and call a customer!”
Like many next generation members joining their family business, Heidi knew that knowledge was key. “I had to learn all aspects of the business and knew that was the way to generate respect and trust in my skills and abilities, and also move with the business as it constantly evolves,” she continues.
“When Dad first started out it was all about serving bakeries and their needs as customers with little in the way of milk being delivered. Back in the day it was all about cream and butter. Liquid eggs followed and the business took off.”
Being in the right place at the right time with the right connections proved invaluable to the business too. At the time, Ken Bates, the chairman of Chelsea FC had a farm and was delivering milk to London. Allan and Ken met and this led to the goodwill of the business being bought from Ken, with milk still being obtained from their farm, and supplied by Allan Reeder to the customers across the capital. A great relationship flourished into the 1990’s and in particular during the boom time with restaurants opening in London which proved good for all parties concerned.
Restaurants were opening almost daily and a young Gordon Ramsay who worked at Aubergine in Fulham and the business supplied him and a number of other well-known chefs such as Tim Hughes of Caprice Holdings resulted in the growth in the supply of products to the restaurant sector.
Like all family firms that stand the test of time, being nimble and evolving to meet the needs of customers is key. As the nation started to buy more bread and cakes from the supermarkets and bakeries started to close, the restaurant sector became more important and Heidi moved into a role finding new restaurants to supply.
The business continued to grow, with relationships at the heart of the growth, the values that stood Allan in good stead when he started out, remaining front and centre and the differentiator for this family business. Reputation for quality customer service, doing the right thing and treating the customers as individuals continued to make a difference.
A few years ago now the business sponsored the London Coffee Festival and a new farm relationship ensued. The business took on the role as distributor of ‘Brades Farm barista milk’ and as the growth in coffee shops was taking place, Allan Reeder was well placed to serve their needs.
Like many family firms the pandemic was a difficult time for the business, not least because they had not long moved into a massive new facility and invested for the next stage in their journey. As Allan adds, “We had to make almost instant decisions in order to survive. We were also holding plenty of perishable produce so announced that we could provide milk, bread and eggs to prevent them having to be destroyed and the queue with people from the local community was incredible. It was the right thing to do and it was a really positive thing to do at a time that was troubling in many respects due to all of the uncertainty. We went from a total staff of 152 to a core team of twelve, five of them family, and had to carefully plan the way forward.”
As Heidi continues, “Dad was over 80 at the time and should have been shielding but there was no way that he was going to stay inside when the business was facing such a difficult time and we had to do our bit to keep supplies going to where they were needed. He was out delivering to our customers!”
For Allan, the business is his driver and a true passion. “I love getting up early and coming to work and although I am not actively involved in the day-to-day operations so much now it is fantastic to see the business working and getting involved when I am asked. I see things that others don’t always see and it is great to be able to help out when I can,” he continues.
Family are involved in this business on a daily basis. From Allan who still comes in daily to Heidi who is the Operations Director and around during the day to Ben and James who run the night shift. There is always a Reeder around!
Looking back to where the business is today, Allan is still slightly amazed. “At the beginning I had to build the business one day at a time and had no idea of the growth potential and when setting out it was all about generating a nice living, to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. I never set out to build a business of this size, nor that the next generation would want to get involved and take it on like they are doing. For me, it was about a better life as an owner of my business rather than being employed by someone else,” continues Allan.
The Reeder family have this business in their DNA. The same values that drove Allan to be successful are driving Heidi and the team today.
“I love this business and am proud to come into work each and every day. Dad’s work ethic is incredible and this has been passed to me and my siblings.”
The next generation are now heavily involved in the running of the business but as for the future, the subsequent generation are an age range of ten to 24, so who knows if any of them will find their way into the business. Allan would clearly love the business to continue for generations to come but is also very pragmatic. “You have to love the business to drive it forward. The current team are enthusiastic and as passionate about the business as I am so that will help to drive the growth and they will have to see, when the time is right, what the next chapter will be for this business.”
The Allan Reeder family business story is remarkable and the octogenarian that founded it and is still in the office each day is inspirational. Not only does he look many years younger than his age but his spirit and love for what he does is infectious. He loves his business. He loves his family. He loves what he has built with a passion, and rightly so.
As he concludes, “I started life living on a farm in Suffolk, one of eight siblings, just before World War II. I lived through six years of the war and would describe that time of my life as a period when we had nothing but yet we had everything. It was a good time and I entered national service at the age of 18, leaving home for the first time, taking up a position in West Kirby, Liverpool.”
“My journey ultimately led me back home and then a job via a friend as a chauffeur. That led to an interview for a job as a delivery driver for a milk company in Maidenhead and being given the opportunity to drive an 18-tonne lorry and having to be trained after getting the job because I had never driven one before! That dairy was bought by Express Dairies and the rest as they say is history,” continues Allan.
The remarkable story of one man and one lorry growing to a business employing over 100 staff and a turnover of £40 million is incredible. It means a lot to Allan, as it should, and his remarkable tenure at the helm has created a great business.
They have a great brand and a great reputation. Family are at the heart of the business, and not just the Reeder family. Plenty of the staff are related to one another and there are numerous examples of different generations that are working for, or have worked for, the business.
Allan is full of praise for the team. “It is the people who deliver the service to our customers daily. They know their customers and go the extra mile to exceed their expectations, just the way that I did on day one and it is fantastic that this commitment goes back to our origins. We have a great team and they are important to us as we move forward.”
“The business is in safe hands, family and non-family and I am truly proud of the business that we have created. The past is the past and it is important to look forward, to focus on the future."
"It is important to push forward, to never sit back and to always seek to be better, do better and to focus on the most important aspect for any business; The customers,” concludes Allan.
As Heidi finishes with, “This is a great business that Dad created and in many ways, it is like another child to him."
"It was his dream and he worked unbelievably hard to make it happen. As the next generation, we take it on willingly, with passion and determination to build on the foundations that he has created and to continue the same work ethic, the same beliefs and the same values that have got us to where we are today.”
Family businesses are important. Family businesses have purpose, authenticity and integrity. Allan Reeder is up there with the best of them. There is an aura about the business, a charisma and charm about the leader, a humility that is palpable and a pleasure to be able to share their story.
We look forward to the next chapter. Find out more at www.allanreederltd.co.uk