Oranges, a Knife and Two Determined Boys
In 1980, two teens from Boise, Idaho - Brian Lloyd and Paul Heist - set out to make a few bucks. Armed with a knife and 50 cases of oranges, grapefruit and apples, they drove around residential neighborhoods selling fruit. When that proved less than fruitful, they decided to approach businesses. First were banks - They would scan perspective buyers, trying to find the one person who would buy first. Brian and Paul knew that if they could make this one sale, everyone else would follow. With the help of Paul’s dad, they were able to buy a 20 foot trailer with foldout sides and legs (they used for tables), and 500 cases of oranges. H&L Produce was born.
That next winter, they traveled to Ontario, Idaho. Starting at one end of town - Paul on one side of the street and Brian on the other - they sold door to door. By the time they worked their way to Spokane they were sold out. They then purchased another 500 cases from a wholesaler, chose a different route, and sold all the way home. The process took about two weeks and the boys made about $5000. During the summer the two would purchase their boxes of fruit and set up at different spots. Back then, they purchased a box for $7.50 and sold it for $15, selling 100’s of boxes per week.
When Brian decided to go to college at Arizona State University, Paul bought out his part of the business, and Brian would help Paul when needed. After college, Brian moved to the Pacific Northwest and discovered a much bigger market. Paul made his way over the mountains, trailer and fruit in tow, to take advantage of the opportunity here. Each day of the week, they could load up the trailer from a local wholesaler and sell out during the summer months.
Over time they slowly changed the way they did business. Instead of going door-to-door, they found a vacant corner lot and sold oranges. They started having to set up the night before to prepare for the next day’s sales. Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island became a hot spot, and a vacant lot by SeaTac airport turned out to be a gold mine for these two entrepreneurs. One summer the boys went to back to Coeur d’Alene to sell near the resort for a week. Not every trip was profitable, though. One year, they bought a load of trees from a farmer in Orting. The deal was that they had to buy all 3,000 trees. It snowed so hard before Thanksgiving that the trees froze solid. The roads were treacherous, they were pulled over at a way station, and one of the trucks broke down at The Dalles, Oregon. They didn’t make a penny on that trip.
Still in their early 20’s, they sold up in Burien, then found a lot at on South Tacoma Way by the old Sears store. Things were pretty good. The next winter was spent at the corner of Tacoma’s 19th and Jackson, a former gas station. It was so busy that police had to come in all the time to manage the traffic. The second year at the location a dear customer helped them relocate down the street in James Center on 19th.
One day a real estate agent came along who had a client with commercial real estate at 74th and Lakewood Drive. His client was interested in having a produce center to help increase sales. The owner lived in California and was determined to lease. After a few months of negotiation they finally convinced him to sell, but they couldn’t find a bank to give them a loan. They were laughingly dismissed until a loan officer with North Pacific Bank, came along. He saw something special in the business, went back and talked to the bank’s owner. They gave them the loan to purchase and develop the building. It would take almost a year to get the site ready for business. Tents were used while the building was built.
That was 1993 and H&L is still in Lakewood.
Paul and Brian worked there until 1997. At that time, Paul decided to purchase Tacoma Boys from Bob Jones, who now owns “Local Boys” in Purdy. They divided up the staff, and in 2003 Paul also bought property in Puyallup for a third store.
H&L now has about 20 employees (16-25 depending on the time of year). Fifty percent of the staff has been with the company at least a decade. Interaction with people is what Brian likes best. Brian married Kerri in 1997. When they met, she was a sales manager for another business. Brian worked so much she decided she had to come to H&L in order to see him.
Brian’s son Brandon came to work at the store shortly after his sixteenth birthday. After 12 years, Brandon took over management of the store. Brian also has a 24-year-old daughter. When she was asked if she wanted to work for H&L she said, “There are way too many family members working there already – No thanks.”
When the business first started, the majority of sales were produce. Produce is still a large percent of sales – they’ve just added a generous offering other items. These include dry goods, milk, cheese, bread, meat and plants and ornamental items. The store has about 3,500 square feet of retail space. The Tacoma and Puyallup stores each have about 6,000 square feet of sales area.
Quality is very important to Brian. Unlike most stores, an employee physically inspects and hand selects products for the three stores. Once delivered, it’s re-inspected to ensure customers only the best. The benefit is great quality and longer shelf life in the consumer’s fridge. Each store has merchandisers working at night. And any time of the night, you can stop in and purchase one item or a shopping cart full.
H&L contributes to Lakewood Rotary, churches and schools. The company sells script coupons at a 10 percent discount to schools. Schools, in turn, sell to parents of the students. The schools use the profit for programs. A tremendous amount is donated to food banks and the YMCA. H&L also donates to the Healthy Start program to help kids get good nutrition.
H&L works diligently to supply people with the highest quality products for the best value while providing excellent customer service. Everyone sells food. No one does customer service like Brian, Kerri, Brandon, and the H&L team.
Visit the website at http://www.tacomaboys.com/ And, just stop by any time, day or night! #IamLakewood