Danny Parsons owns and runs Fiveways Fruits, a greengrocer that has operated on Ditchling Road in Brighton for more than a century. He’s been at the helm for 18 years and as well as buying from his local wholesale market, Danny also regularly comes to London to buy high quality fruit, vegetables and flowers from New Covent Garden Market
“I actually started out working as a Saturday boy for a local greengrocer when I was 13,” he says. “I ended up working, predominantly in the flower section, at TG Fruits in Brighton Wholesale Market and I’ve done everything from porter, to forklift and lorry driver, to salesman. I found myself working two jobs and sleeping three hours at night and three in the day and when my first child came along and the chance to buy the shop came up, I decided to throw everything at it.
“The understanding of the various aspects of the business and its supply chain that I built up in the market is one of the key parts of the success I’ve had as a greengrocer,” he says. They say the apple doesn’t always fall far from the tree and in fact, TG Fruits is a supplier and Danny visits them most nights, to buy fruit and vegetables. He also has another local supplier for flowers and plants. “They are great suppliers and they do a good range, but obviously they can’t carry everything and once a week, I get in my 7.5-tonne truck and go up to New Covent Garden,” he says.
“Where I am located has become a more affluent area and a lot of people have moved down from London. There are a lot of chimney pots round me and a lot of people. It’s got busier and busier and the customers are becoming more discerning – they expect to see greater variety of produce and consistently higher quality. New Covent Garden is crucial to me being able to supply them with that.
“I sell the full range and try to keep it interesting and unusual. I want to keep the local customers buying local, so I have to be providing different products and service to the supermarkets. I give them what they want,” Danny says. “I let them touch, feel and taste the product and I listen to their feedback. That’s really important to me.”
When he comes to New Covent Garden each week, Danny has a well-established routine. “I leave Withersfield at midnight, pick up the van and I’ll arrive at the fruit and vegetable market by 1.30-2am. I always have a long list and tick that off by around 4.30-5am, then head to the flower market. I try to be back on the road by 6am at the latest, in order to get back and stock the shop before we open.
“I don’t necessarily enjoy the driving side of things every week, but I do get a real buzz out of finding great product and the excitement of taking that back and putting it into the store for my customers. The variety and quality in New Covent Garden is very good as a general rule, so it gives me what I need to stand out in Brighton.”
Spreading the love
So, who does Danny buy from? “I think everyone deserves a chance and try and ‘spread the love’ to everyone on Buyers Walk. However, as a buyer, you do get to know that certain things are best bought from certain firms. It works the other way around too – there’s a lot of trust involved and once they know you, that trust grows. On another level, I want the markets all around the country to be busy, so they are turning over enough as traders to keep the supply chain healthy. I think everyone like me should really buy from various people if they can – don’t put all your eggs in one basket because you never know when you might need a certain supplier, or a certain market, for something specific in the future. It’s very competitive at the moment, particularly I’d say in flowers and plants, but we’re all passionate about what we do and despite the challenges, there’s no reason why we can’t be there for each other.
“I love the hustle and bustle and the people at New Covent Garden; it’s such a fast-paced market and everyone knows what they are talking about. I also like the fact that in so many cases, that knowledge has been passed down through the generations.”
Danny has a good team around him at Fiveways. His own son, who is 19, works for a different greengrocer in Brighton at the moment, and Danny would very much like to see him working alongside him, maybe even taking over the reins in the fullness of time. “Like a lot of people in this business, I guess you could say I’m a workaholic,” he laughs. “They are long hours, I don’t get a lot more sleep now than I did before I took the business on, and it’s tough.
“I’m only 51, so I’m sure I’ll still be coming to the market for many years, but I’d definitely like to take a back seat one day!”