Got a hankering for halibut? Crave crab? Call your favorite seafood
shipper and have it shipped directly to your door! Seafood sales are happily
swimming along -- and that's good news for the people that sell and ship fresh
Although many people love fishing, it's much easier and faster to purchase
your favorite seafood selection from a restaurant, grocery store or fish market.
The middlemen between the cold blue ocean and your dinner table -- and the
people who sell fish directly to you or your retail store -- are seafood shippers.
These specialized shippers come in many business sizes, from multinational
corporate entities to your local mom and pop fish market.
Seafood processing companies like Tyson Seafoods or Starkist are multimillion-dollar
companies with mass-scale distribution. These companies catch, process, sell
and ship their own fish nationally and internationally.
Other companies rely on aquaculture, or fish farming, for their sales supply.
Both processing and aquaculture companies demand a highly trained staff and
specialized education, and both present daunting financial realities.
"Start-up costs are in the multimillions," warns John Fiorillo, editor
of SeaFood Business.
However, there is good news. Despite the competition in the multimillion-dollar
seafood business, Fiorillo says there are opportunities for seafood entrepreneurs.
"Seafood has thousands of suppliers," he says. "It's very diverse -- there
are no dominant players."
How does a person with a hankering for both self-employment and seafood
get their piece of this fishy pie? Sometimes smaller is better.
There's a legend in the seafood industry. "Once you get in, you can't get
out," quips Fiorillo. People who get involved in this business tend to be
netted for good. After that, a career that doesn't involve fish is unthinkable.
Greg "Pineapple" Caluya, owner of Ohano Seafood Market in Bellevue, Washington,
is a prime example. An 18-year seafood veteran, Caluya ships fish from his
small business to local and international destinations. "We ship mostly in
the States. We also ship to Japan and some parts in Europe," he explains.
Small-scale seafood shippers compete directly with supermarkets. People
are used to one-stop grocery shopping, which makes it difficult for specialty
shops to compete.
However, smaller businesses can ship directly to consumers and provide
competitive products. Caluya believes the quality of his products is what
keeps customers coming back and encourages word-of-mouth advertising.
"My success in competing is that I carry very good quality. You have an
edge over the bigger companies because you have better quality control and
know your suppliers," Caluya explains.
He carefully handpicks his suppliers and buys his fish locally (from Alaska
and Hawaii). If he doesn't like a company's quality, he looks elsewhere. "You
have to have the best quality seafood [to ship]," he explains.
Another edge for small-scale shippers is the ability to provide excellent
customer service. Caluya hires knowledgeable seafood experts to help his customers.
These experts provide unsurpassed service, and are always there to help a
customer if something goes wrong.
"To be successful in shipping fish, you have to be able to handle any problems
when they do arise. In other words, do whatever it takes to make the customer
happy and satisfied," he says.
Keeping the customer happy and satisfied will mean long hours for the self-employed
shipper. Self-employed shippers usually work more than 40 hours a week and
may face some very long days. "Christmas is just nuts," reports Caluya, who
typically works 12-hour days during the holidays. "You're beat to the max,"
Caluya's "normal" routine is anywhere from 60 to 80 hours a week. "That's
what it takes to be successful," he says.
There are some rewards, however, including money. Although a first-year
entrepreneur may not net a huge amount due to start-up costs and marketing
expenses, seafood shipping is still a good catch.
"When I started in 1978, I took home -- after taxes -- about $300 per week."
Caluya says both his business and his income have grown substantially.
Depending on sales, Caluya reports an income ranging from $30,000 to $80,000
Interested in being a seafood shipper? Get out your checkbook. Although
a small retail shipping business is probably the least costly way to get into
the business, future shippers still face expensive start-up costs.
"I would say start-up costs -- if you're starting from scratch for equipment
and everything, including products -- are anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000.
It all depends on what kind of a set-up you want," explains Caluya.
Add to these costs your "fish education." Successful shippers need to know
shipping rules, regulations, and even the difference between various species
of fish. Working in the seafood industry for a processor, supplier or market,
or finding a shipping mentor to teach you the ropes, will help future shippers
avoid costly mistakes.
"Listen to the people that have been there a long time and pick their brains.
In other words, learn all you can from the old-timers," stresses Caluya.
Fiorillo recommends direct industry experience before striking out on your
own. "There are always entry-level positions through large suppliers," he
points out. Working for one of the "big guys" will give you a broad overview
of the industry, plus provide fantastic experience.
Other advice for the seafood shipping entrepreneur? "You need a sound knowledge
of markets, processing technology, a strong business background and a multi-species
niche-market approach," advises Dave Smith, a West Coast commercial fisheries
A future niche market might be a marriage between retail business and current
technology. Caluya has a website complete with fish prices, ordering information
and recipes. Seafood buyers anywhere in the world can send Caluya an order
by e-mail and receive their fish within a few days.
Whether successful seafood entrepreneurs choose a retail store or an electronic
one, the future of seafood shipping is happily swimming along.
Trade magazine detailing seafood trends and tips
National Fisheries Institute
U.S. seafood information