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Producing a winner.

Neither Ray nor Shirely Ibanez has a college education. Neither 29-year-old has been schooled in business. But last year the husband-and-wife owners of Central Maui Produce Inc., a Wailukubased wholesale produce distribution company, upstaged Harvard Business School types by taking first place in the Small Business Administration's Young Entrepreneur Award competition in Hawaii. As SBA honorees, the baby-faced couple has appeared in a full-page advertisement about Bank of Hawaii's campaign to back small-business owners with loans. Shirley is seated on a cardboard box with an inventory list on her lap, while Ray stands by her side, balancing a box of mushrooms. The caption reads, "All we wanted was a chance."

They got it in 1988. Both had been working at A-Z Unlimited, a produce and health food distribution company based in Wailuku. Dissatisfied with her position, Shirley quit her job as a bookkeeper while Ray, then a produce manager, was thinking of doing the same. Then Ray heard a rumor: A-Z's parent, Healthy's Inc., was contemplating selling the produce end of the operation to concentrate on its retail outlets.

The Ibanezes, who had been looking to start their own business, decided to test the waters. The next day, Ray reported to work and walked into a meeting of A-Z's top executives. "I just went up to them and said, 'Are the rumors true? If they are, we'd like to give it a try," recounts Ray. "They told us to make them an offer, but I didn't even know how much the company was worth." Ray, choosing a favorite strategy of veteran businesspeople, said he'd get back to them.

One week later, he did. After striking a deal with Ray's mother -- they used her home as collateral to secure a $110,000 bank of Hawaii small business loan -- the Ibanezes approached A-Z officials with a proposition. They agreed to buy the company for $87,035 with a $35,000 downpayment, and they offered to pay off the balance in six monthly installments. Officials at Healthy's accepted the offer, and Central Maui Produce was born.

The change in ownership brought with it changes in company procedures. The Ibanezes bought a refrigerated truck and began deliveries at 5 a.m. -- three hours earlier than A-Z's starting time. They also expanded their product line to include gourmet vegetables such as baby corn, baby lettuce, and edible pansies.

Since then, Central Maui Produce has seen a consistent rise in profits on sales which increased from $1.8 million in 1988 and $2.4 million in 1990. As for the future, the Ibanezes are contemplating entry into the health-food market via the sale of natural sodas and fruit drinks, as they pursue, in Shirley's words, their "millions."

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Title Annotation:Central Maui Produce Inc. takes first place in Small Business Administration's Young Entrepreneur Award
Author:Ishikawa, Lisa
Publication:Hawaii Business
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:451
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