Fruit and vegetable wholesaler IA Harris enjoys a well-earned reputation for quality and value, and looks for the same two attributes in the vans it relies upon to distribute produce from its base at London’s New Covent Garden Market.
No surprise, then, that this long-established family enterprise puts its faith in Used1 Approved Mercedes-Benz Sprinters supplied by South London dealer SG Smith.
IA Harris can trace its roots back to 1954, when Henry George Harris and his wife Ivy Amelia (after whom the company was named) opened a newsagent’s and tobacconist’s shop in Bromley, Kent.
Today, having operated as a mini supermarket before expanding into the fruit and vegetable business, it runs a fleet of 28 refrigerated vans which make multi-drop deliveries to restaurants, hotels, pubs, schools and other catering outlets throughout the South-East. As well as locally sourced, English produce, the firm supplies dried, dairy and frozen goods.
The first vehicles hit the road at 2am and the day’s work does not end until 3pm. "It’s a tough job," explains Managing Director Richard Harris, a grandson of the founders. "We work our vans very hard and in a typical day each could make as many as 30 drops; so that’s 60 door openings and sometimes more."
IA Harris started buying Mercedes-Benz vans from SG Smith a couple of years ago, after suffering repeated breakdowns and reliability issues from its previous vehicles. "We had engines blowing up and all sorts of silly niggles like door handles falling off," recalls Mr Harris.
It has now replaced all but three of those former vans with pre-owned 3.5-tonne Sprinters. And having just ordered another three Long-bodied Sprinter 313 CDIs from SG Smith’s Sydenham dealership, it aims to be an all Mercedes-Benz operation by the end of this year.
Ivy Harris passed away in 2008, having overseen the business for more than half a century. Mr Harris now runs the firm with his cousin Carl and their fellow director Kenny Marshall, whose parents were also in the fruit and vegetable business and whose brother chairs the New Covent Garden Market Tenants’ Association.
"Buying pre-owned, low-mileage Sprinters makes great financial sense for us," Mr Harris continues. "We make a decent saving on the new purchase price and the vehicles are outstandingly reliable, as well as being popular with our drivers and loaded with safety features.
"Our Sprinters are always very nicely presented by the dealer and we know that once we’ve had them insulated and a fridge fitted, they’ll still give us a good three or four years’ use."
He adds: "The team at SG Smith are very helpful. They’ll always let me know if they have any suitable Sprinters coming up – these days we like to buy them at around a year old – and if any warranty work is required the vehicle goes straight back to the dealer and is quickly sorted."
Every pre-owned Mercedes-Benz van retailed under the Used1 Approved Used Vans & Services banner is less than five years old, has had a full mechanical and cosmetic makeover, and is guaranteed for at least six months.
"We always carry a stock of top-quality pre-owned vehicles," says SG Smith Sales Manager Stephen Handyside. "But if we don’t have the specific van that a customer is looking for, our links to the Used1 Approved Used Vans & Services Centre and to colleagues throughout the manufacturer’s national dealer network mean there’s every chance we’ll be able to find it."