Amy Edsell is the Sales and Marketing Director at Icebox where she has worked for the last five years.
"Going from a corporate events company and being very smartly dressed, then coming to my interview here was like a breath of fresh air. It felt like coming back to my roots. A lot of people get put off stepping on fruit and veg on their way into work in the morning whereas I was like “yes! I feel at home!”
"What I love most is how interesting the role is. I get to speak to a huge variety of people from every walk of life. Everyone knows what ice is but it’s about selling it as a product. Without having someone to sell the sculptures, we’d still be delivering just cubes so it’s a huge part of the business.
"People who want to work for us need to have the hands on, roll-your-sleeves-up attitude. We work hard but its friendly and a lot of fun. It’s about 70-80% men as it’s very operational heavy, with the sheer muscle needed to be able to carry the bags of ice and sculptures, but it’s more female orientated on the sales side.
"I suppose as females we have the art of conversation down. You know as soon as someone rings up what kind of ice sculpture they want by the way they say it. For quite a lot of parties, they’re either wanting willies or boobs, so maybe as a female it’s easier to get the words out than if it’s a brash male on the other side!”
Christina Mocanu is the Operations Manager at Premier Prepared where she has worked for the past three years.
"Jason Tanner bought out our company in Dover a few years back so I moved to the main Premier office to work on accounts. I was studying as an accountant then, but we used to have a Prep kitchen down in Dover so I knew how things were and what you needed to do to earn money. Jason asked me to go in to Premier Prep for two weeks and do whatever I liked to make it work. Two weeks passed, then another… After two months, he invited me to join full time.
"Change was massive. I started with around 35 staff and a small turnover. Now, I have 99 staff on the payment run and we’ve managed to almost triple turnover. We had machinery that the staff weren’t using so I started introducing it into as many of the processes as possible. Now, instead of processing 10 kilos by hand in a few hours we can do it by machine in five minutes. I really enjoy it because I run it like it’s basically my company.
"When I came over in Prep and started dealing with all male customers, the way they talked could be harsh. I used to get shocked and upset. A few months later, I became one of them. I came to the conclusion that to survive in the market I had to. I’ve been told I am harder than many men. If I have to give you a telling off to do your job right, then I have to do it. Then we go have a beer. We can be friends outside but at work, we’re at work. If I wasn’t strict I wouldn’t stand a chance.”
Katie Meddings works in Sales for Arnott & Mason where she has worked for the past two years.
"I previously trained as a florist but I’ve always been in this industry. I started in 1981 at H. Evans as the first female salesperson in the Flower Market. They all thought I was an undercover police woman - it was that unusual for women to come onto the market!
"Waking up early was always drummed into me from a very early age. I survive on very little sleep. I don’t think it’s a career that would suit everybody - the anti-social hours and managerial roles aren’t as readily available. Most people come into the business because of family, and you hear about it through word of mouth.
"There are a lot more women now and it’s a lot friendlier. The customers say it’s nice to see someone with a smile on their face. Plus, they can read my writing! It helps if you know your subject too. It was because of my plant knowledge that they wanted me to work at Arnott & Mason. I think I’m a good communicator, I’ve got a sunny disposition and I keep everyone happy. People come back and ask for you which is nice. I just love the buzz here - I’ve always loved it."
Mary Walker is the Office Administrator for P&I Fruits where she has worked for the past 10 years.
"Paul, Ian and I used to work at Pouparts together. I was there for 19 years. Then those two left to open their own business on the market, I rang Paul up one day to sell him some cherries and he offered me a job here at P&I Fruits - something I think he regrets to this day! It’s about six women to 44 men here. Women have always been outnumbered by men. As the years have gone on, more women have come into the market. I suppose times change. And all the older ones are dead!
"I’ve done a bit of everything here really but now, it’s mainly the accounts. I couldn’t have a normal job. It’s a different way of life to working anywhere outside. It’s not like going to work – it’s like a comedy show! It’s really laid back and you can have a laugh but you need to be very hard skinned. And not take any notice of what people say. If you’re sensitive, it’s not the place to be. If you get a little shy 18-year-old out of school, they wouldn’t know what to make of it really. You either take to it or you don’t.
"I do think the men are more protective of the women. It’s like they can say what they like to us but I don’t know they’d let anyone on the outside do the same. It’s another world here. One I’m glad to be part of though."
Ashleigh and Georgia Kington are sisters who work together at Fresh Connect. Ashleigh's worked on the market for 13 years as Sales and New Business Manager and Georgia for 10 years as Operations Manager.
Ashleigh: "I started here when I was 17 years old. Generally, my role has been back office rather than buying. Most buyers are male as it’s a male dominated market but I wouldn’t say that’s why I didn’t do it, it’s more the hours. I don’t know how the guys do it. We’ve both done night shifts though. You need to know what goes on within the whole business to do the job.
"You need confidence to get ahead, especially in this market. You need to really know your role, the company you work for and to understand everyone else’s role - that’s how you get the respect. When I first started, there were a lot less females. There’s more women now, generally in the office based jobs. I think the market still has quite a long way to go but we want to progress, we want to change. We don’t want to get left behind."
Georgia: "I was quite adamant I wasn’t going to into a family business but it’s all Ash and Dad would talk about so I wanted to see what it was about. Now, I’m managing about 55 people. I struggle with men respecting me and being told what to do. Sometimes I think “if I was a man, would I get this attitude?” but it’s also because I’m new to the role. I’m not timid about telling people what to do.
"HR is something I’ve helped improve with my HR Manager. We’ve issued everyone contracts, everyone signs their job specs and has a one-to-one. We don’t often end up recruiting externally but in the future I’d like to recruit outside the market, to try and get a really solid team together."
Sophie Hanna owns Sophie Hanna Flowers where has worked for the past 35 years.
"I was about 20 when I first opened my flower shop in Sydney. God, it was different then. Being a woman and running a business… There was an element of chauvinism, yes, plus they didn’t rate floristry very highly. I moved back 15 years later and bought a shop on Gloucester Road but I decided shop life wasn’t for me – too restricting. And I had people pinching my flowers up their skirts!
"I came here not long after it opened at Nine Elms. I had two arches - a prop business in one, and a floristry business in the other. It was great. It’s a very friendly atmosphere here - I’ve never had a bad experience. You come in on a cold morning and it’s all ‘hi, hello, how are you?’ It really is a good feeling. But you have to be that sort of person. You need not to be shocked, to have a thick skin. If you just get on with it, they’ll respect you in the market.
"I would love to write an article to these poor old grumpy people to say, ‘Really, don’t give up work!’ It’s the one thing that will keep you young. Working in the market cheers you up. I think the Flower Market wholesalers are terrific. They don’t take any notice if you’re female, gay, whatever. They might have 20 years ago but nowadays, not at all. I’m a great advocate for the market in every way. I love it."
Paige Garrett is the Junior Sales Assistant at European Salads where shes has worked for the past 2 years.
"All my friends have big jobs in London. We understand that now’s the time to start preparing for our future. I’m quite driven, always trying to learn and ask questions. Business was my favourite subject at school. Dad wants me to know every part of the company so that when I’m older and eventually take it over, I’ve done everything.
"Being up here, working nights, you get a nice wage. I did work experience here when I was younger but I hated it. I was like ‘I’m never going back to that market’ and here I am! But I was 15 at the time and I didn’t really get involved, I just sat on the desk getting cold. I thought, this time I’ll give it a proper go.
"A lot of people see me as the boss’s daughter and that’s it. The reality is I’ve got to work extra hard. Dad has higher expectations of me compared to someone else. You really have to stick with it. As soon as I got to know people it became the best place in the world. It’s that click moment. It’s the kind of job where you walk away at the end of the day with a smile on your face.
"I don’t want to be a housewife or stay at home mum, I couldn’t do it. When the family does eventually come along, I’m not going to give it all up. The market will still be a part of me.”
Claudia Frewin joined the market in 1998 and was Sales Director at Classic Fresh Foods. She retired from the market earlier this year and now lives in Cornwall with her husband.
"I started working at Classics in 1999. I was just helping out to begin with. When the main buyer left, I said I’d do it full time. Andrew (Thorogood, Director) thought it would be too much for me, dealing with all the blokes out there at that time of night. But I said: “try me.” I learnt the job myself. Once they got over the fact I had a chest… I was the only woman on the market doing that role. They felt like they needed to protect me but I could certainly give as good as I could get. They were a bit scared of me, too. If they didn’t get me the quality I wanted or the delivery on time, I’d be like a little banshee down there. I wouldn’t take any crap!
"I’ve helped Classic become a more professional environment, rather than the market-stall attitude, and I’ve had one of the longest retentions of staff of all the businesses. I looked after them if they did their job well. They’ll come to me with their problems: “She’s chucked me out, I need a place to stay…” “I put diesel in the van instead of petrol…” It’s constant, every day. They call me mamma. I never had children, I didn’t want any, but I ended up with them!
"Women packers was definitely a step in the right direction for us. It was unusual to have them, as it’s quite heavy work, but we tried to ensure we had a bit of diversity. Women get on with the job more, and create a more nurturing environment. Men tend to behave better around women too. On this market skill, talent and loyalty is appreciated so if you’ve got that you’ll get recognised and progress quickly."