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Entrepreneur Profile , Paul Smit

When Paul Smit was 23 years old, he and his brother Steve took a road trip to San Diego for a few weeks of vacation. Having grown up on a family orchard in Linden, located in San Joaquin County, the two started to sell Fuji apples at farmers markets as a way to make money.

Within two years, Smit had added peaches and cherries to his customers’ shopping bags. The San Diego-based California Fruit Co. now sells to 50 farmers markets throughout Southern California and offers 13 different fruits.

“The demand took off,” he said. “In the last three years, we had the greatest gains. We really started to kick off. People are getting tired of the grocery store.”

Then, when Smit heard the statistics for the natural food industry , it’s growing by 18 percent a year , he realized the need for the workplace as well as the home. Now, the company offers a direct-to-office fruit box as a health-conscious choice for local companies.


VITALS

Name: Paul Smit.

Title: President.

Company: California Fruit Co.

Company address: 8385 Miramar Mall Road, San Diego.

Company phone: (877) 378-4811.

Year founded: 1995.

Prior business experience: Picking apples on the family farm.

Average hours worked weekly: 50.

Source of startup capital: $1,700 of personal savings.

2006 revenue: $940,000.

2005 revenue: $800,000.

Number of employees: Nine.

Web site: www.californiafruit.com.


BACKGROUND

Birthplace: Stockton.

Education: Associate degree, American River College, Sacramento.

Age: 35.

Current residence: Carlsbad.

Family: Wife, Laura; sons, 8-year-old Adam and 6-year-old Austin.

Hobbies: Golf, beach and watching my kids excel.


JUDGMENT CALLS

Reason for getting into business: We originally started selling in the local farmers markets and the demand for our fresh fruit was unrivaled in the market. No one seemed to deliver high-quality fresh fruit consistently in Southern California.

How I plan to grow the business: Partnering with distribution companies, direct sales and delivering quality fruit, incredible service and fair value.

Biggest plus of business ownership: Flexibility.

Biggest drawback: “The buck stops here” can at times feel overwhelming. Not everyone is cut out for business, but luckily I have a high tolerance for pain.

Biggest business strength: Others tell me I’m great with people and easy to talk with. I want to see people excel in their area of gifting, and I believe people sense that I am on their side to help them win. I am not a control freak or a micromanager.

Biggest business weakness: I’m still too impulsive, but I’m toning down with age.

Biggest risk: Our recent re-branding of “Orchard to Office Delivery.” We have focused our energy into bringing fresh fruit into the workplace environment.

Smartest business decision: Staying in the organic/natural foods segment and passing up opportunities that appeared great, but didn’t really fit.

Biggest business mistake: Remains to be seen. Maybe it was not buying commercial real estate five years ago when I had the chance?

Toughest career decision: This has been my only career. However, I did consider involvement in ministry work early on.

Biggest ongoing challenge: Getting the word out. Focusing on direct-deliver to offices requires education because most office managers are not even aware that this is an option. Most office managers have resolved to order doughnuts or other junk food they consider convenient. When employers and office managers discover our fruit delivery, there is first a question mark, then an exclamation point.

The most important part of my business: My employees. We are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with. Life is also too short to work with people who you don’t like or who don’t like you. When I find an employee that jells with the business, I make sure to hang on to them.

My business works best when: When I leave the office , honestly!

Best way to stay competitive: Staying rested, keeping my mind clear, exercising, reading the Bible.

How I measure success: Our ability to respond to customers’ needs quickly. If we have a high customer retention rate, I know we are on the right track and consistently delivering value.


GOALS

Goals yet to be achieved: I want to be able to drop everything and go away for more than three months and see what happens to the business.

My five-year business plan: Selling fruit in every major city in America under our California Fruit Co. brand.

I would sell my business only if: My employees have thrown me in jail so I would stop showing up to work.

Guiding principles I will continue to follow: Treat everyone with respect and honor. I believe in sowing and reaping.

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