Some might assume the milk round is a dying trade – but not Sutton Coldfield businessman Phil Mitchell. Anna Blackaby finds out why he believes there is plenty of life in the doorstep delivery yet
Phil Mitchell admits that getting up at 11.20pm every night, seven days a week, is a “hard slog”, but having been in the milk business for 30 years, he is used to it.
Mr Mitchell favours a “double sleep” method – a short sleep in the morning and another in the evening – to keep his energy up for the next night’s deliveries.
It seems his hard work is paying off.
Since launching in May last year, his firm Sutton Coldfield Dairies has signed up 500 customers, and is on track to hit 1,000 by the end of the summer.
That is in the face of a declining UK milk delivery business hammered by competition from supermarkets and changing consumer habits.
According to figures from DairyCo, door sales only accounted for 4.7 per cent of milk sold in February, down by 13.6 per cent compared with 2010.
But those numbers did not deter Mr Mitchell when he launched Sutton Coldfield Dairies.
With bigger dairy firms reducing their services, Mr Mitchell spotted an opportunity to grab market share.
“There is a gap in the market – provided the service level is there,” he said. “I’ve been in the milk business for 30 years. I was a franchisee with most of the big dairies but the service levels seemed to drop every year.
“Most of the rounds dropped down to three days a week, which is why I think a lot of people were actually cancelling their milk over the last few years.
“I decided to set up on my own and take it back to the old days where milkmen were delivering seven days a week.
“We’ve got a lot of customers back that cancelled their milk years ago and there is a percentage that have switched over from other suppliers.”
Improved deliveries combined with his claim that Sutton Coldfield Dairies is cheaper than its bigger competitors have led Mr Mitchell to feel confident about the future.
“We’ve got two rounds on the road and are looking to start building a third by the end of the summer and hopefully four by the end of the year,” he said.
Tamworth and Lichfield are also in his sights, once he is fully established in Sutton Coldfield.
All his milk comes from Cotswold Dairies in Tewkesbury, collected from farms within a 30-mile radius of the Gloucestershire town – another trading point for the firm.
And as well as boosting local farmers, Mr Mitchell believes milkmen have a role to play in supporting their local communities.
“Supermarkets have killed a lot of small businesses off over the years as people just want to buy everything together,” he said.
“But a lot of people still like the tradition of the milkman. When the milkman is out there, we can keep an eye on their property – especially with some of the elderly people.
“If you notice the milk hasn’t gone in you can always get in touch with their relatives of the police. It’s a way of keeping your eye on the community. It’s an old-fashioned thing that seems to have died out over the years,” he said.
And on keeping unusual hours, Mr Mitchell said he was used to it.
“Milkmen seem to differ wherever you go – different milkmen sleep at different times.
“Some go to bed when they have finished and stay there all day, some have a double sleep like I do and some just stay up and go to bed early in the evening and get up when they start their rounds.
"It’s been a hard slog until now but we’re starting to see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel.”