A Taste of Salmon
Also see The Salmon is A Bear (an update)
A couple of years ago I met a man named Theo McCulloch, president of Specialty Seafoods of Anacortes, Washington, U.S.A.
Where in the world is Anacortes? And why would anyone have a first class mail-order gift catalogue business based in such a place?
Not long ago again I enjoyed the opportunity to talk with Theo ... and here is his story.
Specialty Seafoods began as a small custom smokehouse in the fishing port of Anacortes, Washington. It is a coastal community bordered by the clear sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean on the west and the high rugged Cascade Mountains on the east.
The company has been in business since the late 1970s. Until 1978, it was literally just a smokehouse in a shed behind a guy's house. A man named Pete Cleveland bought it from the original owner. In 1984, Theo bought it from Pete.
Cleveland started gift packaging and eventually got into mail-order business. He was also selling wholesale to large catalogue companies and major retailers. Such as Harry & David.
The Specialty Seafoods difference is how they prepare the fresh caught salmon. For centuries the Northwest Coastal Indians harvested salmon and other foods that flourished in the waters of the Pacific. To preserve their catch, they often built fires of green alderwood over which they slowly smoked these oil-rich and nutritious seafoods.
Today the method is called retort. The salmon is fully prepared and cooked in a retortable pouch. This acts much like a pressure cooker ... it keeps in all the juices and all the flavor.
Retort makes the product shelf-stable ... meaning it will not spoil. It is done without chemicals and without additives. There is no time limit on when it must be eaten. It will be just as good in a year or two as it is today.
In 1984, McCullochs' first full year in this business, they gained about 8,000 new buyers. Combined with the previous year's buyers and gift package recipients, Specialty Seafoods had a nice little business going. Of course, now it has gotten much bigger.
The business has grown for a number of reasons. One is they really do have a quality product. Which makes for happy customers, who come back again and again year after year.
And since they are in the gift business (70 to 80% of the business is done in the last four months of the year, for holiday gifts) they also enjoy word of mouth from those who received a product as a gift from another. The good news travels fast ... and is a real benefit.
The last couple of years the offer has been a FREE SAMPLE to get first time buyers. Here is how the offer is presented:
The conversion rates are proprietary. It is sufficient to say that Specialty Seafoods has continued to make the same offer year after year.
Fish by phone
About 70% of the orders come over the telephone ... the 800 number. 30% come by mail.
Only a small number of orders come by facsimile. Although the total number of orders is small, they are a very important part of the business. Because they are what is called multiple destination buyers. They order lots and lots of product to go to many, many different locations -- most often company gifts to customers. This part of the business is expected to grow each year.
They also offer, in addition to a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee on the product, another guarantee. It is a delivery guarantee. It goes like this: We'll get it there in time for Christmas.
Because they manufacture all of their own products they are able to make such a guarantee. If they run out of a certain item, all they have to do is go to the smokehouse and make some more. And they can make more of it in less than 24 hours.
It is not like being in the clothing business where you need sweaters in three sizes and four colors that you have to keep in stock. Not with this product. They can offer any product in the catalog right up until noon of December 23rd and guarantee it will arrive by Christmas.
To back up this service guarantee they also offer both a two day as well as an overnight air service. All 2-day air service orders, received by noon December 22nd, are filled for an additional $10 per gift item. The overnight air service costs $25 per gift item and is guaranteed on all orders received by noon on December 23rd.
Theo says: "What use to happen in our business is that it died in about the middle of December every year. Everyone thought there was no way they could place an order and be sure it would arrive on time.
"Now, with Toll-Free 800 number service, on-line credit card verification, and overnight air delivery services, we have extended our selling season.
"And of course, the delivery companies love the extra business. When necessary, they have even flown into Anacortes to pick up the orders."
To expand the business, they've added additional product lines ... like pasta and various desert and candy items. Pasta sells surprisingly well. It all started when Theo realized their catalogue was smaller than it needed to be and still stay within the postal service weight/price regulations. They started adding items as they had space.
Since you can make many excellent dinner dishes with smoked salmon and pasta, it was a natural. They even began offering a special recipe book.
The deserts and cakes and chocolates have also done well. Many past customers are looking for a different gift than they gave last year. Specialty Seafoods earned their credibility, but they were tired of salmon. They asked for recommendations on other things to order. The extra and different item ideas really came from customers.
Another Specialty difference is their shipping boxes. They are really not regular shipping cartons ... they are instead pieces of art.
Several local artists were commissioned to do Pacific Northwest totem art that is reproduced on special shipping boxes. Each box comes with a one pound smoked salmon. You now get an excellent meal, plus a very nice and unusual gift that you can keep long after you have eaten the salmon.
All Specialty Seafood products are Kosher approved.
Specialty salmon is not like that you get in a regular deli ... it is not lox. What Kosher does is give a "seal of approval".
It tells you that someone has gone through and made a thorough examination of the processing plant. You know that everything is clean. And everything is proper.
Theo says: "I'm not sure I can trace any direct business to Kosher ... I do know it makes many of our customers feel very comfortable."
Expanding into other business areas
There has always been a retail store. It was part of the original smokehouse in Anacortes. Recently they purchased another company named Made in Washington. They carry Salmon products -- and many others all made in the state of Washington. There is a common interest and it seemed to make sense to go to work together. So, Theo bought their five stores.
Another thing they learned to do that helps make customers come back and do business again and again is to make follow-up phone calls 30, 60, even 90 days after the product is shipped.
Any single order of $400 or more gets a chase phone call early in the new year following the order. Sure, it is an effort to get more business. But it is honestly and really meant as just a follow-up/satisfaction call.
Theo says: "We want to know how the customer feels about the product and service we supply. We really want to know! If we get some additional business from that call, that is great. If we don't, we've always learned some things. And our customers have told us they appreciate that personal and individual attention."
And one last thing. Theo asked me to invite you to stop in. Anacortes is about half way between Seattle, Washington, USA, and Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada. It's a delightful and beautiful part of the country ... and he promises you an enjoyable visit as well as a taste of some of the world's finest smoked salmon.
Or, if you're too far away to visit Specialty Seafoods personally, you'll find them on the Web, too at http://www.seabear.com/.
by ROCKINGHAM*JUTKINS*marketing, all rights reserved.