My Week: Ben Thompson of Fruitdrop

The city slicker-turned-entrepreneur explains why fruit can be a 24-hour business...

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

One of the highlights of last week was a brand new large client: a large government department in North London. We received a phone call from them at the start of the week and went in to meet their corporate services manager, and all the decisions happened very quickly: we gave them various pricing scenarios, and within four days we'd been appointed as their fruit supplier. So today I went to make the first delivery with one of my drivers. They're in a large office building with 12 floors and no dedicated goods lift, so we need to work out the most efficient way of doing it - I suspect it will involve getting there at about 5 or 6am in order to be able to avoid being held up by peak hours lift traffic...

That's actually one of the big challenges of this business: the logistical side happens overnight, when the fruit markets are open and we can buy our produce, but the administrative side happens during the day when our clients are in their workplaces. So I tend to find myself working ridiculously long hours. For instance on Sunday, I usually get to the fruit market at 6am in the morning and I'm still there at 6am the following day. So 24 straight hours, making sure everything's packed and checking that all 300 boxes are ready to go out on Monday morning (there's a bit of sleep time, but not much!).

One of the issues I have at the moment is that I still look after most of the logistical side myself - and because the business has grown so exponentially, that's putting me under pressure. So another highlight of this week is that I started advertising for an operations supervisor, in order to take some of that burden off my shoulders. Currently I spent about two-thirds of my time on logistics, but I want to find someone who can take most (if not all) of this off me. Then I can spend more time leading the business into other parts of the UK - we currently operate in London and the Home Counties, but that will hopefully change within the next year.

But I'm trying to do it in a sensible way: the business is entirely self-financed, so rather than trying to hire loads of people and wondering what I'm going to do with them, I'm trying to scale up on a more measured basis. And like any business, the people are key - it's so important to have people who can just come in and do what they're supposed to. Although I seem to attract some funny ones: a few weeks ago I was training up a new packer, getting her to quality-control some of the produce - and it turned out she was allergic to fruit...

Finally, another part of my week was a client postponing their fruit deliveries due to cost-cutting within the current financial climate.  To be honest we are seeing a few smaller companies cut back on their orders - but large companies are still spending, perhaps because it's not a big expense in the grand scheme of things (although it isn't for small firms either, really). Some businesses see it a luxury they can no longer afford, but others are actually increasing their spend, because they recognise that for such a simple gesture it can have a very powerful outcome. People feel more valued, morale is higher... Spending from £25 a week is a pretty cost-effective way of keeping employees happy, healthy and productive.

Ben Thompson is the founder and managing director of Fruitdrop, which delivers top-quality fresh fruit to workplaces for employees to enjoy.

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