Fresh produce business now five years old Rocket Seed
It took just one small seed, in the form of an order from a Bay restaurant in 2011, to launch a Port Elizabeth start-up business directly into the region’s highly competitive fresh produce space.
Today, Baakens Valley-based The Rocket Seed is one of the region’s leading suppliers of fruit and vegetables.
The company is growing from strength to strength, and now serves businesses ranging from coffee shops to hotels, schools and restaurants.
Testament to its success is that The Rocket Seed numbers the Radisson Blu hotel among its many high-profile clients.
The company distributes produce across Port Elizabeth, Addo and as far as Tsitsikamma and its surrounding areas.
Serving as both an example and an inspiration to budding fresh produce entrepreneurs, The Rocket Seed owners Lisa and Brendan Brunette revealed that success had not come easy.
They said they had overcome a series of daunting personal and business challenges to establish the company.
Speaking from their brightlycoloured premises in Lower Valley Road, Lisa, who along with her husband Brendan had been exposed to the trade through family links, outlined how The Rocket Seed had come to take off.
“It was funny really because we never planned to open up the shop – because of the many things that were going on and me being on maternity leave at the time,” Lisa said.
While unemployed during 2011, but coming from a family-run supplier business, she had started getting phone calls from people she had previously worked with, she said.
“They were referred to me by my mother-in-law, Glenda Brunette, who had been in the industry, as she knew that I didn’t have a job.
“I remember getting a phone call on August 11 2011, on a Wednesday afternoon, from St Alma’s restaurant in Walmer, then soon it was the Humewood Hotel down in Summerstrand and then Barney’s at the Beachfront as well. Those were basically my first customers,” she said.
“I took the little bit of money that I had left and went to go and buy supplies which were the fruits and vegetables.
“Right after that I went to SPAR and bought an invoice book, went to my first customer who had called me and stood right outside the restaurant, added my 15%, gave over the invoice, took out the supplies while my baby was sleeping in the car, and yeah, it just carried on that way for a while,” she explained.
From the base of the three big supply opportunities the Brunettes were awarded during 2011, their customer base gradually grew and expanded.
“Storage space for the produce was one of the first challenges we had to face.
“This challenge had to be overcome after having to ask for space from various people for two months. We knew then that it was time to invest in storage facilities and transport to deliver the goods,” she said.
“When I didn’t have a fridge to store some of our supplies, I asked one of the farmers who supplied us to help us store things. Because of the speed at which the business was growing, a lot of things went sour because I just started getting more stock,” she said.
Things got to a point that she had to get financial assistance to grow the business further.
“It wasn’t long until I told my husband that I needed help. We had to sell his motorbike, his Land Rover – all of that to buy something in which I could store my supplies.
“From that we bought a fridge, some vehicles to be able to deliver and a lot of other things that I needed. Luckily, my mother-in-law was very involved with the crèches in Walmer Township and so she knew a lot of people who were in need of a job.
“Today I have between 26 and 30 staff members, some of which are casuals and help out during the festive season and Easter when it’s really busy,” Lisa said.
The shop will have been operating for a year on July 1, but the supplying service will have been operating for six years during August.
Describing the critical elements of the business, Brendan said building solid relationships with both suppliers and customers were among their first priorities.
“We’ve learnt that solid relationships and loyalty are a mainstay of the business. In terms of our suppliers, we do our best to source as much as possible locally.
“There are however some items which are not available in this region and have to be sourced from either Durban or Cape Town,” he said.
The drought had impacted heavily on the business, Brendan said.
He named the ability to supply, the quality of the produce and the pricing of the produce as being among most important aspects of the company’s business model.
“But perhaps the most important part of making it in the business is having tenacity, the ability to keep going through tough challenges and not giving up,” he said.