Fruitdrop: Ben Thompson

Company name: Fruitdrop Ltd
Founders: Ben Thompson
Age: 35
Based: Currently Manchester but typically move once a year to set up the business in other UK cities
Staff numbers: 40
Date started: February 2007

Tell us what your business does. We deliver fruit boxes to workplaces across the UK as an easy and cost-effective way for employers to keep their employees happy, healthy, motivated and therefore more productive.

Where did the idea for your business come from? I was working for a bank in Sydney, Australia whilst studying for an MBA, received fruit as an employee and noticed the positive impact it has for employee and employer alike.

How did you know there was a market for it? I worked on the basis that Australian and British employees are similar and therefore if it worked in Australia, it would work here. Other than an excellent and flexible service, our main differentiator is that we have national delivery coverage for the most part using our own fleet of vans – 23 and counting! Our competitors are either not national or use postal/courier delivery services to reach much of the UK.

What were you doing before starting up? I worked for Big Four accounting firms dealing with the tax affairs of employees undertaking international assignments with their employers. Having done so for over a decade, I was seeking a career change and a new challenge. To kickstart this transition, I moved to Australia to study for an MBA. This option provided me with time out to consider the future whilst obtaining new knowledge and skills.

Have you always wanted to run your own business? Yes, I have always wanted to run my own boss. The main attraction for me is the variety of roles involved in establishing and growing my own company – marketing, financial, people, operations, etc.

How did you raise the money? The business is entirely self-funded and therefore no capital has needed to be raised.

How did you find suppliers? I visited the London wholesale markets and talked to many of the wholesalers there. In the end though, the main London wholesalers I decided upon was a contact of a contact of my mother's, who happened to mention me starting the business at a dinner she attended.

What challenges have you faced how have you overcome them? The recession has been the main challenge. We went through a few months in early 2009 when cancellations were almost a daily occurrence. Fortunately, the business was profitable from early on and therefore we were able to weather the storm but nonetheless these were frustrating times.

Where is your business based? We have bases in the majority of wholesale markets across the UK from where our distribution teams work (Service Delivery Managers who oversee our operations, delivery drivers and packers). All other functions (e.g. accounts, administration) are handled by home-based employees.

How have you promoted your business? We use a whole variety of marketing activities. Much of these have involved trial and error but now that we have some history and experience of most marketing methods, we have been able to refine them to only the most productive.

What about staff – how many do you have? Is it burdensome? We have forty employees. I have to say that, despite the odd few apples (pun intended!) who do not last very long, we have a great team of employees who generally get the job done with minimal management.

What has your growth been like? We normally grow our turnover between 50% and 75% each year. Our turnover is currently £1.5m and we were profitable from six months after the business was established.

What's the impact on your home life been like?I have always been a workaholic and probably always will be. The business normally consumes every waking hour. Furthermore, I have moved about ten times in as many years and this makes friendships very difficult to maintain.

What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up? The unknown. Not being sure if the decision you are making is the right one as there is no experience there to refer to. That said, you quickly realise the mistakes are good as they are the quickest way to learn!

What was your first big breakthrough? A ‘phone call I received about two weeks after establishing the business asking for deliveries of ten boxes per week. Albeit not earth-shattering, it provided initial justification that the concept of workplace fruit is something the UK market would demand.

Where do you want to be in five years' time? The coming years will be spent acquiring new clients, thereby bulking up all of our delivery hubs and in particular those outside London. The non-London bases have the most spare capacity and therefore can enjoy increased utilisation and improved financial performance. Whilst there is an exit plan in place, there is still much work to be done before I progress with this.


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