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
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
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
70% of the orders come over the telephone ... the 800 number. 30% come
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
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
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
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:
Post Office Box 898
605 30th Street
Anacortes, Washington 98221
Call Toll-Free in the United States: 1+800+645-3474