Actor Colin Fickes was driving around Raleigh, working his way through what he described as an early mid-life crisis.
After living in New York City for three years and Los Angeles for 10, the 1998 Broughton High School graduate had come home during an ongoing transition from acting to an unidentified something else. He was thinking, he said, of moving to Asheville or maybe Costa Rica.
At a red light during that September 2012 drive around Raleigh, Fickes, now 34, started craving fresh, cold-pressed juice.
Widely available in New York and L.A., the juice, made with raw ingredients, wasn’t an option in Raleigh, Fickes learned.
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There were smoothies and places that added sugar and protein powders to juices, but he wanted the “unadulterated” fresh-squeezed juice he was used to.
That moment morphed into Humdinger Juice, which makes and delivers organic cold-pressed juices in the Triangle. The company brought in nearly $100,000 in revenue in 2013, Fickes said, and more than that in the first five months of 2014.
“It has been like 18-hour days for the last two years,” he said.
Fickes’ mother, Kitty, handles the company’s books, his sister Mary Holt Collins, 32, is a managing partner who oversees production, and childhood friend George Chapman, along with two part-timers, helps in the slow process of crushing vegetables and fruits down to pulp before pressing out the juice.
Fickes started acting when he was 6 and moved to New York at 19. He built a resume that includes appearances in movies such as “Transformers” (2007), “Chrystal” (2004) with Billy Bob Thornton and “The Go-Getter” (2007) with Zooey Deschanel and Jena Malone.
Fans of The CW television series “One Tree Hill,” which was filmed in Wilmington, know him as Jimmy Edwards, a character who brought a gun to school and committed suicide after a hostage situation.
After Fickes turned 30, he said, he began to question his career. He felt like he was losing himself at the whim of his agents, managers and casting directors.
“It is the stress of ‘Where is my next paycheck going to come from?’ ‘Did I look the part?’ ‘Did I dress the part?’ ‘Did I do it how they wanted it?’ ” he said. “I just had no control over my life.”
Starting without a plan
In 2012, Fickes bought juicing equipment online.
He had never actually made juice, so he researched recipes and tested his creations on family and friends. Two months after coming up with the idea, Fickes tested his products at The Saturday Market, a weekly farmers market at Rebus Works near downtown Raleigh.
The night before the market, Fickes, his mom and his sister pressed four flavors of juices into about 100 bottles until 4 a.m. Collins helped share samples and sell jars of juice.
“People really embraced it,” Collins said. “And that was when we were getting excited.”
Using revenue from initial sales, Fickes incorporated the company in January 2013, hired an accountant, created a website and found a new space.
The juice, which costs $8 for a 16-ounce bottle, is sold in seven Triangle retail locations, but the company delivers most of its products to offices and homes for a fee of $5 to $25.
“We are like the milkman, but we are a juice company,” Fickes said.
Like many entrepreneurs struck by an idea, Fickes didn’t have a business plan.
“I just kind of jumped into it,” he said.
Many small businesses start without a formal plan, local small-business and marketing experts said.
An initial business plan is mainly used to work out the feasibility of a concept, but owners who are succeeding without one need to look forward, not backward.
Companies with an established customer base should delve into identifying and understanding who’s buying their products and why, “and find others like them,” said Fred Gebarowski, owner of Cary-based consultant firm Wildcat Business Ventures and former small-business center director at Wake Tech Community College.
Humdinger’s current plan centers on continuing to penetrate the Triangle market. The juice is most beneficial when consumed within four days, Fickes said, so its short shelf life creates challenges with increasing retail sales and out-of-state shipping.
To market to surrounding areas, businesses such as Humdinger can use targeted social media ads, which reach people in a defined radius and with specific interests, said Jeremy Sisk, president of Xperience4Higher, a Durham small-business marketing and consulting firm. Partnerships and advertising in hyper-local publications and mailings also allow companies to reach those in a specific area, he said.
Reaching the community
By spring 2013, Fickes had moved into a leased space on Departure Drive in North Raleigh.
He used juice sales to cover most expenses, but borrowed some money from his mother.
Fickes uses social media advertising and showcases juices at various venues. Earlier this year, he partnered with Ladyfingers Caterers, which offered cleansing menus that included prepared meals in conjunction with Humdinger juices.
Humdinger’s cleanses include combinations of six juices and have ingredients such as romaine lettuce, kale, raw cashews, maple syrup, lemon and ginger.
In general, there is no proof that detoxifying cleanses aid in long-term weight loss, according to medical website WebMD, and dieters would be better off eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Fickes agrees. He said many clients turn to his products for the benefits of the vegetable and fruit juices. Some also use the juices as meal replacements, snacks and alcohol mixers.
Meanwhile, Fickes said, he thinks he has found that something that he was looking for.
“I am more in control of my happiness in my life,” he said. “And more connected to the community.”