NR talks to octogenarian fruit & veg legend Sydney B Scott

Sydney B Scott still comes into work every day.

Smartly dressed, and in an office adorned in pictures from his fruitful past, 87-year-old Sydney is lucid, sharp, and proud of his family business that has become one of Northern Ireland’s biggest fresh fruit and vegetable suppliers.

2015 marks the company’s 60th anniversary, and it has been a long journey for Sydney. He has been a man with a vision from an early age, and tells Neighbourhood Retailer that although the world has changed much since the 1950s, his early lessons about the importance of quality, price and service are as important as ever.

The Scotts, Richard, Sydney, and David

The Scotts; Richard, Sydney, and David

“I love the trade and like to be here to see what’s happening,” he said. “It keeps you active. My wife’s always thinking that I should retire, but who would want to spend a long day not working?”

Sydney left school at 14 and had his first experience in retail working in a confectionery shop.

“I trained there in the shop for six months,” he went on. “I was paid by the year – £10. At 17, I joined the Royal Navy and I really enjoyed it.”

It was in the Navy, where Sydney would meet crucial figures in his life – both personal and in business.

In the mid 1950s, Sydney and a close friend would buy bicycles, and work for a man named George Bates – a man who Sydney said is one of the most important people that came into his life.

Speaking to Sydney one day, George asked him how much money he had. When told he had the grand sum of £17 to his name, George decided to invest in the ambitious youngster, and secured him his first van.

It would be that same year that Sydney became a Christian, something that would come to be a major part of his family life.

Business went well, and Sydney took the step of employing two men – both former Navy friends – Jim McAfee and Jim Peden.

Sydney retold an old story about the latter – now in his 90s – during his employment under Mr Scott.

As Sydney was working long hours at the time, getting the business up and running, he asked Jim to leave earlier than usual to cut his garden. As a reward, Jim would get the rest of the day off.

Sydney returned home in the small hours to find the grass at his home still standing tall and untended.

sbscott_3875Enquiries the following morning revealed that Jim had cut the grass after all, but it was his own garden he believed Sydney had been talking about.

“It was hard work back then,” a chuckling Sydney said. “Some days I would start at 2am and worked right through to the early hours of the following day – maybe up to 20 hours at a time.

“I remember doing 60 deliveries in one day, and there were no pallets or containers back then, it was all ropes and covers.

“There was no power steering in those old uncomfortable trucks, so it could be a struggle to get them around the corners. But you didn’t know any better.

“You couldn’t get men to work now the way they used to. But then the boys came into the business and made life a lot easier.”

The ‘boys’, David and Richard, are now keen and conscientious businessmen, and have taken the company forward based on their father’s ideas and ideals…

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