Gifts from the Florida Sunshine
One night in 1950, a truckload of grapefruit was late in arriving at Ed Cushman’s tiny fruit packing business in West Palm Beach, FL. Cushman was there supervising as the grower’s truck was being unloaded.
As the last 20 bushels came off the truck, Cushman asked the workers, “What the devil is this? These aren’t grapefruit!” Said the driver, “I don’t know. I just deliver what they give me.”
Turns out this particular grower had a few trees of Mineola tangelos, and they almost looked like orange bells. “My dad came up with the name ‘HoneyBell’,” says Allen Cushman, now president of the company. “The fruit is a cross between a Dancy tangerine and a Duncan grapefruit. It’s bigger than an orange and extremely juicy ... absolutely delicious,” he proclaims.
As Cushman tells the tale, the strange new fruit “went like hotcakes” in the company’s small retail and wholesale operation, and it became the seed that launched the family’s mail-order business.
Today, Cushman’s is an $11 million catalog, direct response and retail company. The catalog generates slightly more than half of the company’s revenues, or about $4.5 million; the remainder of its sales come primarily from its retail store and through space advertising.
Growing a Business from the Ground Up
It all started back in the 1940s when Ed Cushman decided to start his own mail-order business. Allen Cushman recalls, “My dad had managed a grocery store for what later became the Winn-Dixie chain, then opened his own small store selling fruit and fresh squeezed juice.”
Back then, the Palm Beach area was becoming a tourist destination. Cushman’s little packing house tapped into the tourism market and began shipping fresh oranges and grapefruit at the request of retail customers who wanted to send something home to loved ones.