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Case Study: ‘I’ve Just Sold My Second Business’

Neil Thomas sees solutions to problems – and turns them into successful businesses.

5 October 2021

Auckland man Neil Thomas saw an opportunity when the America’s Cup was on in 2000. He started The Produce Company to meet a need.

“All those years ago you could only buy crates of produce at the markets, but when the America’s Cup came to Auckland, all the restaurants around the Viaduct were saying they wanted a delivery seven days a week.

“So, we said, OK let’s give it a go. Let’s get up at blimmin’ two in the morning and go to the markets, let’s get some staff and get some vans out there and do some delivering.

“It was just an idea around how to fix a problem. Problem-solving is usually how a business starts, so we solved the problem and created a business that way.”

But after building the business up, Thomas found the relentless 24-hour operation too tough for family life.

He had great customer and supplier loyalty, so he wanted to sell The Produce Company to an owner who would grow it. And he did.

“The guys who are doing the Produce Company now have definitely taken it to the next level, in fact, they’re international.”

Vege box brainstorm

Then Thomas went to a friend’s house for dinner and saw a box of vegetables on their kitchen bench. “I looked inside it and asked what it was.”

The friend explained he had organic vegetables delivered.

“I pulled out the docket and I said: “Jeepers, these guys are making too much money. I thought this is a lifestyle business. I think I can do this over five days, and I can make it viable and get organic produce out to people in their households.”

So, he just got on the phone and started setting up suppliers for a business of his own, Naturally Organics.

New business starts

This new business was an immediate success. “But we were running it from a warehouse and running boxes everywhere.There was a lot of manual work, more than I expected.”

Just when a disheartened Thomas was about to close the business down, a local man walked through the warehouse door and offered him a store space.

He agreed to buy the building and set up a Naturally Organics retail store. “Once we opened the doors in retail our business just went crazy.

“We were able to run the online side and have a retail operation. From two staff we went to 12. We developed so much we got too big for that retail store.” Eight years ago, he moved into a bigger store close to the Albany Plaza.

“We worked out customers want a nice environment where they can get nice food at an okay price, so people can easily get their organic veges for a healthy lifestyle.

As a Baby Boomer, last year Thomas was starting to think about selling the business. It seemed like a good time, so he approached ABC Business Sales.

“The business is going really, really well and it’s probably time for the business to take a leap up to another level.”

Following a successful sales process through sales specialists Lester de Vere and Richard Stevens, its new owners want to do just that, and they’re well placed to do it.

“We thought, we can pass this to somebody who’s going to look after the baby.”

Thomas is helping the business transition, then wants to work as a consultant to help other businesses solve problems.

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