Monday, September 27, 2010

interview: James Tucker from HABITUAL FIX

If you haven’t already noticed the eye-catching red & white branding of Habitual Fix or heard tales of a dastardly, flashing banana, I’m sure you will very soon.  Currently with 5 Auckland stores, Habitual Fix is the place to go for mouth-watering salads, sandwiches, smoothies and wraps. 

I recently had the good fortune to stumble upon James Tucker, the founder of Habitual Fix and an absolutely lovely and fascinating guy!  

James talks to me about buying and selling various businesses, his business practices, views on social media and gives some awesome advice - if you only have a moment, DEFINITELY scroll down to the 2nd highlighted part and read that as it is likely to be applicable to YOU.

Q: what’s your background?

“I finished school when I was 17, wanting to be a professional sailor.   I dropped out of school to go sailing full time and I did that for a year and a half.  It’s a pretty expensive ambition to have - it’s not easy to get sponsorships.  So I decided that I’d get into a business, work hard at it for a year or so and that would give me enough cash to go and do my sailing. 

I bought a food manufacturing business down in Wellington with my business partner [Warren Williams] and through that I actually found that I was enjoying the work more than I was enjoying sailing.   

When we bought the business, it was essentially out of receivership.  They were just resting on the big customer which was about 60% of their business.  We bought it really cheap and over the next three of four years we increased the sales by about 500%.  We used the profits from that business to start investing in residential and commercial property and opened a bar/nightclub in Wellington.

Through that first business in food manufacturing, we ended up doing the pizza toppings for quite a number of the pizza companies.  I got to know the guys from Hell Pizza pretty well, and when they started franchising I thought this would be a pretty fun business to be a part of.  We bought a franchise in Wellington, one of the first franchise stores.

I was getting sick of Wellington at the time so decided to make the move to Auckland.  We negotiated an agreement to develop Hell Pizza on the North Shore. 

We ended up with 7 Auckland stores, which was a lot of work 
...a hell of a lot of work.”
At this point James recalls a sad event where his business partner passed away.  Warren Williams was a massive part of James’ life as his old sailing coach and business partner.  It was a shock for James upon hearing that moments after chatting on the phone to Warren (who casually mentioned he had a headache) he was tragically overcome by a blood clot in his brain.  Warren was only in his fifties. 

They decided to sell down most of the businesses in order to provide money to Warren’s family.   It left James with a couple of Hell stores and a fair bit of cash, so he headed overseas to get away for a year.  

While James was travelling around North and South America, Europe, and watching the America’s Cup in Valencia, he also worked on the concept for Habitual Fix.  He looked at certain businesses, picking out the good parts of various operations overseas and returned in late 2007.  Together with fellow “Fresh Food Addict” / Partner in Crime, Tim Benest, they spent a year polishing everything and getting the first store up and running.

“We opened that store in October 2008, the same week as the sharemarket crash!  Not ideal timing but seems we’ve come through it all right. 

We now have five stores of Habitual Fix.  We were 12 months old when we opened 4 franchises.  I think five stores in the first two years is pretty good going considering the economic climate!"

Q: What is your mindset, approach to business?

"I think my mindset to business is you’ve got to do things well but you’ve got to do things big.  And you can do something really well on a small scale, but to grow bigger you do have to be resigned to the fact that things aren’t going to run 100%, so you do have to delegate and let people go and make mistakes."

Q:  What ADVICE would you give to...

Yourself, five years ago?
 "Think Bigger! 
If you really want to test yourself and see what you’re capable of, you’ve got to take a step back and really analyse what your five or ten year plan is.  And whatever it is, amplify it."

An entrepreneur starting out?
"Be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them.  Don’t be scared to make them, because everyone does make them."

A teenager making decisions about what to do when they leave high school?
"I never accepted the traditional stay-in-school/go-to-university type of education, I don’t think it’s practical, it’s not ‘real world’.  These days everyone who goes to university comes out with a big student loan and goes into a pretty mundane job that they could have gotten if they left school at 18.  So I think find something that you’re passionate about and throw all of your energy behind that."

An adult who has been made redundant?
"You’re never too old to start.  You look at someone like Michael Hill.   I think he was something like 50 odd years and he decided to risk it all, go out and open his own shop.  You look at him now and he has something like over a 100 stores internationally.  So never let age stand in the way.  Passionate business people work until they die, which in a lot of cases is 90 or 100.  So if you’re 50 you’re only half way there!"

Someone who hates their job?
"Life’s too short to do something you hate.  You spend more time in your job than anything else and you’ll never ever be successful doing something that you hate.  So it may appear to be taking a backwards step to go and do something new, or start at the bottom of an industry at a job you think you’d really enjoy, but in the long run it’s going to pay off a hell of a lot more than staying in a job that you hate."

ROSIE:  "I’m a facebook fan of you guys and was watching the banana scandal play out..."
JAMES:  "Banana-gate?"
ROSIE:  "Yeah that's the one!  But there were only a couple of people complaining right?  Yet the Herald made it into a big deal?"
JAMES:  "Absolutely - we had four complaints officially through advertising standards, but two of those complaints came after the Herald’s article [*CLICK HERE to read*] came out, so they were jumping on the bandwagon.  But the original complainant is well known as a complainer and complains about everything… But we had people ringing and emailing us from all over New Zealand, asking us for posters, for the digital files so they can use them as a screen saver for their computers.  

I had two of the biggest advertising companies in the world (emails from their NZ offices) congratulating us on what a good job we’d done with it, and how we handled it.  When you get people like Saatchi and Saatchi complimenting you on that, you know you’re doing a pretty good job.  Our website hits went through the roof in the days after that newspaper article.

We think it worked well for us.  We didn’t purposely set out to offend anyone, you do a U-turn in the street and you offend someone these days.  We’d run it again, we are still running it.  The billboard’s up on Nelson Street at the moment." 

Q: So what’s on the horizon for you now?

"We just want to continue opening stores, mainly in Auckland, over the next 18 months, and then start branching outside of Auckland and look at international expansion in the next 12 months or so."

Q: Thinking big?



  1. Proud of my little brother! Great interview Rosie!

  2. Oh aren't you a sweet sister! I just blog-stalked you and ADORE your style. Will be following your blog too! x

  3. One of those complaints about the ad came from me. I hadn't read an article on it but was horrified by what is a sexual crime being depicted on the back of bus tickets.

    A sexual crime (genders defined and all) depicted in a cartoon form handed right to children. In some neighbourhoods (probably most) this really isn't a laughable matter.

    1. Hi Nevyn! Thanks for popping in. I see where you're coming from and want to say first it's totally valid to complain when you feel offended.

      I actually showed the image to my neices to see what they thought - 3 between the ages of 4 - 11, and they didn't understand the reference in the slightest. I would be very, very surprised if any children had concern over the image.

      The most strikingly adult image I remember as a kid was a sign for a Strip Club on K-Road, it's still there actually! The topless woman on her hands & knees about 3m x 5m - ironically we had to drive passed it on the way to church! That's the kind of thing I remember being exposed to - something sexual that's really loud & obvious. Beyond that, I don't think kids really get the joke. They'd only think the Banana's being mean (or weird).

      I'd be interested to know what other campaigns has stood out to you as being particularly offensive?



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