Ray worked with B-2-B and Consumer clients throughout the world ... including USA, Canada, Mexico, Asia, the South Pacific, Europe, the Middle-East, Central & South America, Africa.

This website is a compilation of Ray's 10 years on the Web.

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The Salmon is A Bear (an update)

A while back I shared with you the story of Specialty Seafoods. The story has not changed. Much of what you read here is word for word what I wrote last time. Yet, there has been an update. And to that degree, this story is new.

Maybe the most important thing to know is the name; SeaBear Smokehouse. The name is new. It was chosen because of the strong Native American presence in the Pacific northwest, USA. Where legend is strong - the name is strong. And the salmon in these cold waters are strong, too. Good name!

Okay, where is Anacortes, Washington? And why would anyone have a first class mail-order gift catalogue business based in such a place?

Anacortes is a costal fishing community, bordered by the clear sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean on the west and the high rugged Cascade Mountains on the east.

The story of the smokehouse begins in 1957. Anacortes fisherman Tom Savidge and his wife Marie built a backyard smokehouse. Literally just a smokehouse in a shed behind their home. They created Speciality Seafoods (now SeaBear).

A man named Pete Cleveland bought it from Tom and Marie. And friendly, outgoing Theo McCulloch bought it from Pete. The year was 1984.

Cleveland started gift packaging and eventually got into mail-order. He was also selling wholesale to large catalogue companies. Such as Harry & David. And a few selected retailers.

Still today - as from the beginning - SeaBear is guided by a handful of simple principles;

... only 100% wild salmon - SeaBear salmon - is caught,

... every SeaBear salmon is filleted by hand,

... smoking is slow, and only over the fires of green alderwood.

The SeaBear difference begins before the catch. The clear and cold water of Alaska is the home to the most abundant wild salmon runs in the world. Wild salmon is superior in color, texture and richness of oil ... and thus the natural flavour. i.e., the taste!

And still SeaBear selects only the best of the very best - less than 1% of all Alaska Salmon meet SeaBear standards.

Next is hand filleting. Under the direction of a smokehouse chef, each salmon is filleted by hand. One by one. Slowly. For quality you can see ... and taste.

Preparation is key, too. 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 slow smoked the seafoods. Today these old traditions of slow and smoke and green alderwood continue at SeaBear.

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 flavour.

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 next year as it is today.

1984 was McCullochs' first full year in business. He gained about 8,000 new customers. Combined with the previous years buyers and gift package recipients, Specialty Seafoods had a nice little mail-order business going.

Now, of course it has gotten much bigger. SeaBear ships to clients in all 50 of the United States.

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. Certainly something everyone in mail-order wants to happen.

And, they are in the gift business. Between 70-80% of a years business is done in the last 4 months of the year - mostly holiday gifts.

Plus word of mouth. Those who receive the product share the good news of SeaBear with their friends, family, business. Their reputation spreads.

And of course there is the Fisherman's Oath Guarantee. I won't repeat it here - what it says is we guarantee our product, and the customer is always right! Exactly what it should say.

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.

The new lines started when Theo realized their catalogue was smaller than it needed to be and still stay within 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 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. SeaBear earned their credibility, yet 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 SeaBear difference is their shipping boxes. They are NOT regular shipping cartons ... they instead are pieces of art.

Several local artists were commissioned to do Pacific Northwest Totem art. Art that is reproduced on SeaBear shipping boxes. Each box comes with a one-pound smoke salmon. You get an excellent meal, plus a very nice and unusual gift you keep long after you've eat your salmon.

All SeaBear Smokehouse products are Kosher approved. Which is another marketing tool to expand your marketplace.

SeaBear salmon is not like that you get in a regular deli ... it is not lox. What Kosher does is give SeaBear another "seal of approval".

Kosher says you have gone through 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 business direct to being 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 SeaBear personally, you'll find them on the Web, too at http://www.seabear.com/.

Write, phone, or fax:
Theo McCulloch
Post Office Box 898
605 30th Street
Anacortes, Washington 98221
Call Toll-Free in the United States: 1+800+645-3474
Fax: 1+206+293-4097

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