Romford milkman Steve’s still got the White stuff
PUBLISHED: 10:00 11 October 2015
With milk selling at rock-bottom prices in supermarkets, and stores offering their own delivery services, it would be easy to assume the days of the traditional milkman are numbered.
But Steve White insisted there would always be a place for the service when I joined him on his milk float for the morning.
The 53-year-old has been a milkman in Romford for 34 years, running his own franchise under Milk&More, the delivery arm of Dairy Crest.
The dad of three, who lives in Marshalls Park, Romford, was mid-way through his round, having started at 5am, when I hopped on board at the more sociable hour of 8am.
“We have much bigger rounds now, we are so widespread,” said Steve.
“Where we used to have 40 rounds I think we’ve probably got about 15 now.
“We can’t compete with these places that sell it at a rock-bottom prices as a loss leader. This is our business, we’ve got to make money.
“Service and loyalty are what we offer. Our customers are very, very good and we have a great rapport with them.”
While the traditional touches are clear – the electric float with a top speed of 18mph, and rows of glass bottles – it’s clear technology plays a big part in a milkman’s job these days.
Steve has an ERB – electronic round board – in which he can input all details of orders, which download onto a database at the Milk&More depot in Chadwell Heath.
While he still drives a 25-year-old float, most milkmen drive transit vans these days.
And as well as leaving handwritten notes, more and more customers use the online system to place orders, which can be submitted until 9pm the previous night.
“Computerisation has made everybody’s lives a whole lot easier,”
“It’s quite hard to get new customers – social circumstances have changed”, he said.
“People used to have 3.2 children, they don’t anymore.
“You used to have a single income provider and the other stayed at home but it’s not like that now.
“Milkmen have been a victim of social demography.”
Despite the old jokes about milkmen chatting up lonely housewives, West Ham season-ticket holder Steve is much more interested in engaging in a bit of football banter with his customers.
When I join him, he has a load of around 450 pints of milk, but says Mondays and Saturdays are his busiest days.
Residents can also order fresh bread, eggs, orange juice and bacon as well as 250 other items, even including compost.
Driving into one residential street where Steve has four deliveries to make, he tells me it would have been every house in the road 20 years ago.
“You can’t have relationships with these big shops,” he said.
“You don’t get the service. It breaks up communities.
“With this job, you can’t get a robot to do it – it’s got to be a human.”
Steve works six days a week, and is usually up at 3.30am to start his rounds, finishing at around noon.
But despite the very early starts, he tries to make time to see his friends and family, including wife Geraldine, sons Ciaran, 28, and Conor, 20, and daughter Kathryn, 23.
“You have to live,” he said. “I try to grab an hour’s kip in the afternoon.
“You can’t let your job rule your life, but you’ve got to adapt.”