This article was taken from our archives. It first appeared in the February 1993 issue of The Bermudian. It appears here exactly as it did originally.

When president Dora Stirling Spring is asked to explain the success of Metro Mineral Water & Trading Co. Ltd., she replies, “Hard work and prayer. We worked around the clock to keep it going. There was no such thing as eight to five.” For nearly seventy years, this dedication and family commitment has turned a fledgling company begun inauspiciously in a kitchen, into one of the Island’s best known and viable black businesses.

Early in 1924, when bicycles and horse and trolley were common modes of transportation, Herbert G.A. Stirling, a Jamaican emigre, began what would grow into a company, fielding a fleet of nine trucks backed by a staff of almost thirty. The company has managed to hold its own, says Mrs. Spring, in what is a very competitive market.

One of ten surviving children of the company’s founder, Mrs. Spring’s early administrative ability proved invaluable to her father. Beginning in the accounts department, she found herself doing whatever was required, from working on the factory floor to making deliveries. Despite a hectic schedule, she found the time to raise four children. Her husband, late scoutmaster Vivian Spring, worked alongside. “He was,” she says, “a great help to me.”

“I used to work from eight to five and some nights I would go back from six to ten-thirty. I found I could get more work done at night.”

Of her many memories of her father, she recalls that, “He was not satisfied working for somebody else.”

Herbert Stirling, who had come to Bermuda as a linotype operator for the Mid-Ocean News, began as a grocer before starting a soda manufacturing enterprise. And it was behind the grocery, located on Reid Street, where Metro had its humble beginnings in a small shed.

Herbert G.A. Sterling, the founder of Metro Mineral Water Co.

Although Herbert Stirling knew nothing of the mineral water business, and his competition included two already established companies, he pursued his dream.

“My dad just thought he would like making mineral water,” says Mrs. Spring, who heads up a company where all ten siblings are shareholders. Actively involved in day to day operations are two brothers and a sister – Holric, Harcourt, the vice president, and Marie Warren.

Mr. Stirling did not have an easy time. As a black man, he encountered white racism; as a Jamaican, he had to cope with anti-West Indian prejudice.

Mrs. Spring recalls: “He had such a difficult time. To get money from the banks was impossible. He had a hard time dealing with the Health Department. It was rough.”

Son Herbert ‘Jack’ Attride-Stirling, president of Continental Motors, said that despite the prejudice some black Bermudians displayed against West Indians, his father did receive a lot of support from blacks. One of his biggest supporters was Campbell Richardson, who started Richardson’s Restaurant.

In spite of obstacles Metro grew from strength to strength. In the beginning, according to the official history of the company, Mr. Stirling turned out his bottled mineral water using an old hand-operated filler that produced five cases of bottled soda each hour. The bottle tops were attached using a hand-operated crowner.

Four years after the company was started, Metro moved next door and the equipment was upgraded. Around 1930, Mr. Stirling set up his factory and home on North Shore, Devonshire. Equipment was continually modernised as the company expanded. By the 1970’s, though Metro continued to bottle its trademark brightly-coloured mineral water in a variety of flavours, it found itself having to adapt to the changing times. It started to import ten-ounce cans of sodas and began supplying businesses with coffee and drink vending machines.

In 1977, Metro made two giant steps. It moved to new premises on Hermitage Road, Devonshire, where it is currently located. It also acquired the Pepsi Cola franchise. Mrs. Spring said Bermuda had been without a Pepsi Cola franchise for ten yeas when Metro decided to apply for it.

“We got in touch with Pepsi. We went for it and we got it.” 

Today, Metro sells not only Pepsi Cola, but such products as 7-UP, Welch’s sodas, various juices and Sundance. Both Herbert Stirling and his wife, Lucille, died in the 1980’s, but Metro remains a family business. Members of the third generation have moved onto the company payroll. Mrs. Spring’s son Paul, is sales and marketing manager. Another son, David, and daughter Candy, work in accounts, while daughter Kathy Smith, works at the front desk.

And how did Mrs. Spring end up president? She said all her brothers and sisters worked at the business as children, doing a lot of the menial tasks that were part and parcel of the bottling business. But when she was left in charge of her father’s estate, she was chosen president by her brothers and sisters. Though she has an office, Mrs. Spring, who’s fifty-six, is more likely to be found running things from the ground up. She has no qualms about getting behind the wheel of a truck to fill in for absent staff.

Mrs. Lucille and Herbert G.A. Sterling

“I don’t worry about the title ‘president.’ I don’t like to come to work all dressed up in a suit.” Mrs. Spring declines to reveal the amount of sales Metro does each year, but she describes the business as profitable. It owns its premises outright. Neither is Metro intimidated by Barritt’s, their main competitor.

“We give them a run for their money.” The bulk of Metro’s business comes from supermarkets. It also supplies clubs and hotels. Some businesses remain clients as a result of relationships begun years ago.

As a successful businessman, Herbert Stirling used his clout to help others. He was a founder of Devonshire Recreation Club, which remains a customer. Wilfred DeGraff, the creator of DeGraff’s beef pies and the owner of Byrdie’s Cafe, is another client. Mr. DeGraffe received moral and financial support to start his own business from Mr. Stirling, who was his first employer.

Despite the company’s success, Mrs. Spring feels the company does not get a fair share in some areas. Metro is the only mineral water company that continues to bottle soda and pays twenty cents for each returned bottle. But although Government has set up a can recycling programme, it has decided against a bottle recycling pro-gramme.

Because the bulk of their sales is in non-returnable bottled and canned drinks, Metro may have to reconsider whether to continue producing the twelve-ounce bottles of soda.

“We would like to stay in the bottle drink business. It’s a better drink. Customers see what they’re getting. It’s very popular around Christmas time. A lot of people buy the twelve-ounce bottles for tradition.”

Asked whether Metro received strong support from blacks, she said: “We can’t survive without our black customer and client base. I am thankful to God without whom we would not exist.”

As the third generation moves into the company, Mrs. Spring is confident Metro will remain a thriving business. The biggest problem is finding good staff, she said. And to what does she attribute the secret of the company’s success?

“You’ve got to trust in God. You have to be conscientious and work hard. It is essential.”