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A series of interviews with ordinary people making extra cash a reality…

This month, Lee Phillips tells us about his business

So, Lee, how does it all work?

‘I go to the local veg market to pick up stock – I get whatever is in season as it’s always cheaper to buy what’s in plentiful supply.  I get a bit of fruit too, but not too much as that’s more likely to bruise and then it’s hard to shift.

I load up the veggies in my van and go around the local area selling it on.  People on my route know when I’m due and watch out for me.  I’ll knock on a few doors too in case people have missed me pulling up.  I sell mostly mixed bags of veg for about £1.50 a bag.  That’s enough for most people, but there are a few that’ll ask for particular bits and pieces.  I don’t have a shop to pay out for so I can pass that saving on to my customers, which they appreciate.’

How easy is it to do?

‘It’s dead easy.  I first had the idea after walking to the corner shop for something for tea one day and realising that there was no fresh veg on offer.  The closest place to buy a couple of carrots was 2 miles out of my way!  I thought that if that was a pain for me, it was going to be worse for the young mums and the elderly living in my area so I decided to give the veg van a try.  I get a better response in some areas than others, but once you’ve worked out a good route, it’s great. I just get the stock and go off to see my usual customers.  You get to meet some really nice people doing this.’

What sort of profit do you make?

‘I make enough to get by at the moment.  I intend to expand the route a little each month over the coming year so that I can think about getting a new van sometime.  It would be nice to get it sign painted too.  The thing is that people will always need to buy food so if you are giving them a good deal they will keep buying from you.  There’s real loyalty from people too, when you are delivering to their doors.’

What are the advantages of earning money in this way?

‘I love the flexibility of it - if I need to stop off at the school on the way and get the kids, I can.  I also like chatting to my regular customers.  Some of them see my business as offering a real lifeline for them.  I can earn a living and still do something positive for the area.  That’s a great feeling.’

What are the pitfalls to earning money this way?

‘It can be difficult to be at the traders markets to get stock at 5am when it’s cold, the rain is coming down and you’d rather stay in bed!  Having said that, I found it much worse to sit in an office all day doing boring paperwork for someone else’s benefit.  At least I know that the hard work I put in will benefit my business.’

So what are your tips for someone who wants to run a veg van?

‘Take a hot flask of coffee with you to the market in the mornings!  And be open to ideas - if your customers ask for something you haven’t got, get it for them next time.  You could offer to grab the newspapers for an elderly customer, or pick up a prescription for them as you go past the chemist.  The more helpful you are, the more loyalty you will get.  You will need your regular customers to make sure that you have a steady stream of sales.

And make sure you are reliable.  If you are expected in one area at 4pm on a Wednesday, be there.  People don’t want to be sitting around wondering if you’ll turn up or not.’