Interview with Jeremiah, from Riad Importers

Jeremiah, you started your business in University, right? You must have put in a lot of effort and hours? 

Yes, very true. I had some understanding of the industry from my experience my father gave me by taking me along to the market with him in my earlier years. At university I established the company and in my final year and began contacting new suppliers around the world for the wide range of products needed. This is where a lot of hours had to be put in. It was almost like fishing with a very low conversion rate due to being a fresh new company with no recorded trading history. I would have to contact hundreds of suppliers before I met my first supplier to send me products. He was from Spain and took a risk with me as at that time I couldn’t get credit insurance of course. He still sends me Citrus products to this day!

At university I knew I had a great opportunity to start a business that has a massive potential profit gain. I didn’t mind sacrificing some of my social life in my final year to get the ball running once I had graduated. I knew it would take some time but the experience and backing of my father gave me confidence. Also my degree gave me confidence as I knew I could fall back on it if things didn’t quite work out.

Despite being on course for an economics degree at a UK top 5 university, I had always enjoyed the experience I had in this business. To be quite honest, it didn’t really seem that hard. To me what seemed more important in this industry was your inter-personal skills and work ethic which I didn’t lack. Not only that, but trading fruit and veg is like any commodity being traded such as stocks and shares. I’ve applied a lot of the knowledge I gained in my Macro Economics module of International Trade, too.

 Is this a follow on from your fathers business? What did, or does, he do?  

Good question. My father has been in this industry since 1987. Started by owning and running his own stand at New Covent Garden called ‘Egyptian Fruit’. He established himself as one of the main importers of Egyptian products which we now see commonly in supermarkets such as citrus, grapes, spring onion, etc.

New Spitalfields Market opened in 1992 and was where the focus of this industry shifted to. Everyone wanted a stand in this market, competition was fierce and unfortunately the waiting list was years long. Therefore my father left being a trader (stand owner) at New Covent Garden Market and opted to be a supplier to the traders at New Spitalfields Market. He would import products from the Middle East and Europe such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, and supply the traders in Spitalfields who have their own stand. He became one of the top suppliers (based on volume) for over 15 years.

Currently my father advises me on big decisions where experience is invaluable. I ultimately decide the goals and objectives of the company, and he gives his advice based on experience. He also goes to the market several times a week to oversee operations. Of course he also put me in touch with several of his old suppliers which I owe him for as we trade well.

An example of his advice would be: I decided I wanted to differentiate and start my own brand of product to build brand reputation and capture more of the margin. I made a list of all the potential products. After discussing with my father, he advised that the first product to try should be low risk (low cost, high margin, low-perishability, and surprisingly – high barrier to entry so others couldn’t easily copy). This ended up being the fresh yams from Nigeria which is an amazing line of business for me and any teething problems didn’t result in losses.

What do you see yourself doing in ten or twenty years? 

I aim to establish this business in different parts of the supply chain. Fruit and vegetable wholesale continues to grow in line with population growth and a shift in the mentality of food consumerism towards more healthy products (i.e fruit and veg). Just see how much much more popular being vegetarian and/or vegan has become as a result of this.

I actually have certain goals I would like to achieve in this business in the next 10 years:

– Have a stand in every major wholesale fruit and veg market in the UK (such as Western International in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, etc) to repeat out success in New Spitalfields Market and increase out output in the UK.

– Increase my own branding to cover a wide range of South Asian, Middle Eastern and African produce such as hot pepper, chilli, etc. Plans can be put into place with suppliers once I solidify my position in the market by purchasing a stand

– Lease land in Morocco or Egypt to produce products for export to the UK

– Expand distribution business to become the preferred fruit and vegetable distributor in London. Aim to have 50 vans that leave each morning for deliveries across London.

– Supply retail (supermarkets)

– Expand and establish local wholesale ‘Cash and Carrys’ around London (North, South, West, East)

– Establish a higher-end service of fruit supply to corporate clients (within next 2 years)

Currently, I’m the youngest trader in the market. I noticed that the vast majority of business owners have been there for donkeys years and continued to do the same thing again and again. That’s what inspired me to be different and start my own line of products like yams and peanuts Vs using the same agents as everyone else.

What does your business mean to you, today?”  

It’s honestly hard to explain how much we’ve actually achieved in our short existence. From formation to purchasing a stand in less than 5 years is unheard of. There are around 75 traders in the market, which account for over half a billion in revenue each year. The application process to become a tenant of City of London in Spitalfields Market is very long are gruelling. Besides a strict financial appraisal of the company and its ability to pay its obligations every month, you also have to be a company of good reputation as one of the stages in the application process is to be accepted by the market’s Tenant’s Association. They wouldn’t give approval to a company that they think could go bust or doesn’t have the necessary experience to survive. Everything achieved up until now will feel like only step 1 in our journey by cementing our position in the UK wholesale industry. We were lucky to find a stand willing to sell due to ill health of the owner after having 3 generations of their family in Spitalfields. It’s an incredible opportunity that we want to grab!

I have a 2:1 in Economics from Durham in my back pocket that I don’t think twice about which says a lot about what this business means to me. I know how much there is to gain and how much we will continue to grow which is why my focus has been on this company from the start. I look forward to purchasing this lease and taking the next steps in our journey.

Thank you Jeremiah, you clearly have a great head for business and a work ethic to match. All the very best my friend. Interviewer Bird Lovegod, co-founder of The Fintech Times, Journalist, Business Consultant.


You can find the RIAD Importers loan profile here

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