Owners report spike in demand as holidays approach
By DAN WHEAT
WENATCHEE, Wash. -- They are no Harry & David -- and probably don't want to be -- but the young owners of a tree fruit gift pack company in Wenatchee say business is good.
While the recession put Harry & David, a leading purveyor of gift fruit baskets, briefly into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, it only slightly slowed the far smaller Pak-it-Rite.
Adam and Megan Campbell, 29 and 28, respectively, bought Pak-it-Rite last January. The company, at 31, is just slightly older than they are and they say they've logged its best year in net profits.
They credit a "solid core of clientele" that's a "testament to what an amazing service provider" prior owners Bernie and Susie Schell were.
The Campbells didn't plan to own the business. She had a degree in marketing and had worked elsewhere. He majored in tree fruit horticulture at Washington State University and had been a sales assistant at Stemilt Growers Inc., a Wenatchee tree fruit company.
He was planning to return to college and needed a part-time job. He found one at Pak-it-Rite, where he previously worked and soon began transitioning into ownership.
"Looking back, it's interesting how our paths always seemed to cross," Adam said of himself and Bernie Schell. "It's interesting how the Lord worked that out."
"It's been great in how fulfilling it's been," she said. "A lot of people fear business ownership and see it as a lot of pressure. But we've been blessed with an existing business rather than starting from scratch."
This is Pak-it-Rite's busy season. Fruit gift box sales quadruple in the last six weeks of the year. Holiday orders peak at about 1,000 per week in the first two weeks of December.
While Stemilt's Bountiful Fruit and other businesses in central Washington offer fruit gift packs, Pak-it-Rite touts quality local fruit, an assortment of local and regional gourmet food items and wooden boxes with labels customers can customize.
The basic six-pound box of apples or pears sells for $46, including tax and shipping anywhere in the United States. Some 80 percent of orders come online, but there's a line out the door at the store some evenings in early December.
In season, Pak-it-Rite sells gift packs of cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines and Walla Walla sweet onions. Annually, the company sells about 20,000 pounds of apples, 8,000 of pears, 4,000 of cherries and 300 each of cots, peaches and nectarines.
Other food items include Washington wines, d'Anjou Bakery's Crostini, Liberty Orchards confections and organic grains from Bluebird Grain Farm, of Winthrop.
Fruit gift boxes are about 10 percent of Pak-it-Rite's business. Other gifts are 40 percent and 50 percent is packaging and shipping -- via the U.S. Postal Service, United Parcel Service or Federal Express -- of just about anything anyone wants to ship.