Steve Pegrum took on CC Wells from his father in law in 1988 and has been driving up and down to New Covent Garden Market from Dereham in Norfolk on five nights a week ever since. Here, we find out about his family business today, his buying habits and why he uses the market.
It might come as a surprise to some of the salesman and governors at New Covent Garden to learn that Stevie Wells, as Steve is universally referred too, actually has a different surname, but the man himself has no problem with being branded with his company’s moniker. “It’s funny,” he says, “but I even refer to myself as Stevie Wells now. There are plenty of other regulars in the market who people refer to in the same sort of way and I guess it’s a badge of honour that everyone associates you with the good name of your company.”
There’s no doubt that CC Wells has a good name, as one of the market’s oldest and largest customers. “When we took on the business, it had been a difficult time and unfortunately we started out with sizeable debts on the market,” Steve remembers. “It was a lot of money, but we had paid every penny back by 1991 and I think that has held us in very good stead since because people, and particularly those guys who were around at that time, remember what we did and know that our word is our bond. For our part, we know we can hold our heads up.”
CC Wells had 14 market stalls across Norfolk and Suffolk in the late 80s. The well-documented thinning out of that sector means the Pegrums now have stalls in six Norfolk towns. On Tuesdays, you’ll find them in Dereham Market, on Wednesday in Watton, on Thursday they’re in North Walsham and Bungay, Friday is their Beccles day and on Saturday, they pitch up in Sheringham.
“We have a very good catering and wholesale business in Norfolk too, supplying shops, post offices, pubs, restaurants, care homes and schools,” says Steve. “We don’t look for business any more, it comes to us. As well as that, we have our warehouse open to the public and trade. We are open for the public to shop Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm and Saturdays 8am to midday. Our huge fridge is a wonderland to anyone who loves fresh produce; they can help themselves to a trolley and select as much or as little as they like from our huge range. We total their shopping up and carry it to their car and it’s hugely popular with the local community, whether they are getting the weekly family shop, or just a few items every day.”
CC Wells also has a haulage business, delivering fresh produce from growers in its area into New Covent Garden. Steve explains: “The costs involved in purchasing produce have increased significantly in the time we’ve been doing it. So, the ability to backhaul product into the market and keep our truck full on both legs of the journey has become extremely valuable to us. Because we are as regular as clockwork into the market and everyone knows we’ll be there early – 9.30 or 10pm at the latest – we are accurate and reliable and bring produce up for G’s for Side Salads, for example, as well as Hyams parsnips, Portwood Asparagus, Caffarelli cucumbers and blueberries we deliver in to Bevington Salads.
“The guys in the market know we’re there five nights a week, so when they are talking to growers in our area, they’ll mention us to them and we’ve picked up business that way. As we’re going there anyway, it’s far easier for us to guarantee times than for companies who are distributing loads to several destinations on one truck. And if one of our clients finds they have a problem and we have space on our lorry, we can also pick up at very short notice if we’re driving past them.
“That side of the business is lovely; it keeps us busy for 10 months a year. It does mean that we have to make our first pick up on a Sunday afternoon at 6pm, but as this is a family business, we’re all bought into it,” he adds.
“I started in the fruit and veg game when I was 14. I had a newspaper round, a milk round and worked for the local greengrocer in Leigh-on-Sea, in Essex. “I first met my future wife and father-in-law at that time. I’ve always had a passion for fruit and veg. However, I did a four-year engineering apprenticeship at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in Foulness Island, then two years in a trade shop. I made piece parts for Marconi Avionics, Nacanco, Ford Tractors and Plessey Engineering. I gave up engineering for fresh produce though when I moved to Norfolk with Maureen.”
These days, Maureen works in the office. She arrives at the yard at 4am three days a week and gets back home at 5pm, yet thinks nothing of calling Steve at 11pm while he’s on the road. “She’s just like me,” says Steve, “we just work hard.” Sister-in-law Karen does the same and also runs one of the market stalls once a week with her sister-in-law Melly, who also works in the warehouse three days a week. Brother-in-law Myles runs the other five stalls, while son Darren manages the warehouse five days a week. Last, but by no means least, daughter Siobhan works in the warehouse four days a week too.
So, how does Steve go about his business on the nights he visits Nine Elms in what is an almost new, hi-spec 26-tonne refrigerated truck? “When I get to the market, I co-ordinate all my orders and lists and I’ll start buying by 10.30pm,” he says. “I’m one of the first buyers into the market and so get to have first choice of what is coming in that night. There are plenty of salesmen around at 10.30pm, partly because they know that there will be a few buyers like myself who are already in the market and also because they are taking their orders by text, whatsapp and email and transferring them into their systems.
“I walk the market backwards and forwards, seeing what is in, which stands have what produce available, and keep going back to stands to see what other items have arrived. Once I have found the products I want to buy, I’ll try to bid with the salesman, if they would take less or come to the best price we can get. Trust me, it’s hard work! We then order up how many we require and they are sent out to our vehicle.
“I tend to be back in Dereham by 6-6.30am these days, whereas I didn’t used to leave Dereham until 1am. Since the Olympics everything has gone so much earlier. It works for me, because the guys in our warehouse need me back by 7am and I’ve got catering customers who want early top-up deliveries too.”
His buying philosophy is pretty logical. “I’ve always bought the best quality I can afford, to sell at the best price I believe I can get for it,” says Steve. “I don’t buy what I’d call ‘old fashioned’ market produce and occasionally some people might say I’m guilty of buying gear that is probably a bit too good for my market stalls. But we’ve built our name on the quality and value we deliver and New Covent Garden has been crucial in that.
“The number one thing for me is the strength of the relationships I have with just about every company on Buyers Walk. Basically, they know what I want and I know what they’ve got, so if they say, for example, ‘this won’t suit you, Stevie,’ then I completely trust them. I guess it’s down to what you know and who you know. I like the quality of the product at New Covent Garden – I can be sure I’ll get everything I want and that people will accommodate my requests, down to ensuring that the pallets are stacked correctly to fit my truck. Because every salesman and porter knows my requirements, they never need to question them.
“Every single company serves me – I feel like I get very well looked after by all of them. That says a lot about them, but it’s also because I’m easy to deal with and never a problem.”
It’s one thing, of course, trading at the market with a solid reputation and a longstanding relationship with the businesses here, but what would Steve say to anyone who hasn’t yet shopped at the UK’s largest wholesale market? “You’ve got to give it a try,” he advises. “These guys are very good at what they do and the produce is good quality across the board. They are all looking to serve new customers, it doesn’t matter who you are, and they look after you.”