Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Under the Bridge

Happy New Year! How are you celebrating? Are you celebrating all the things that happened in 2013 or the things yet to come in 2014?

David and I are still in southern Florida, enjoying the warm weather and are not at all sad to be missing the sub zero temperatures up home. We will be ringing in the new year with prime rib, spiny lobster tails, and David's family.

For us, the end of 2013 will also mark the beginning of the end of our trip to the south. In the next few days we plan to start the trip north.

2013 has been a big year for us. David and I quit our jobs, took over Soper Ocean Services from my dad, and created Gurnet Trading Co.'s online store. We also added our little Nemo to the family.

The last few weeks have really put a cherry on the top of the year. We dived and snorkeled the keys, enjoyed days at the beach, trips on the boat, and even two dives at the top ranked dive in North America.

Sport Diver Magazine named the Blue Heron Bridge Dive the best in North America and called it the secret mecca of muck. To those of you who are not up on dive lingo and terminology, being called a mecca of much is a big deal and honor. Muck diving is a unique style that skips the pretty reefs and pristine water. Instead divers hunt in the cracks and crevices for shy and rare critters. They hide in plain sight with incredible disguises and camouflage. Top muck diving locations include Thailand, Indonesia, Bali, the Philippines, and apparently Palm Beach Florida.

As it turns out this fantastic dive is just down the road from David's parent's house. David and I threw our gear in the back of the Jeep and headed 30 minutes south, not once but twice.

We dived the west end of the bridge during the day time high tide on December 22. It lasted nearly 90 minutes with a maximum depth of 15 feet. Muck diving takes practice, not because it is technically challenging, but because it takes practice to slow down enough to hunt for camouflaged creatures. It takes even more practice to not be distracted by the vibrant and flamboyant angelfish, parrotfish, and butterfly fish that abound.

How many species can you count? Yellowline arrow crabs, spiny lobsters, sea urchins, lizardfish, porcupinefish, flounder, trunk fish, cowfish, starfish, scorpionfish, jellyfish, remora, queen angelfish, grey angelfish, and many many more.

We dived the east end of the bridge during the night time high tide on December 30th. It lasted 70 minutes with a maximum depth of 22 feet and yielded even more creatures than its daytime counterpart. In addition the aforementioned species we also saw banded shrimp, stingrays, octopus, squid, frogfish, and the largest hermit crabs I have ever seen.

This night dive was particularly special because it was hosted by Stuart Scuba, who provide refreshments and entertainment after the dive. It was great to meet some of the local bubbleheads and learn a little about their stomping grounds. So I would like to give special shout out to the Stuart Scuba dive staff. Thanks for a great dive and for keeping our tanks topped off during our trip.

Having dived the bridge twice during the day and once at night, I can easily say this is my favorite dive site. It has never disappointed and I look forward to diving it again in the future. This night dive was a hell of a way to end 2013, I can only hope that 2014 yields such dives.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Other Lobster

As you know, I am in southern Florida, visiting family for the holidays and working from the road. Well, last week we were down in the Keys enjoying the sun and sea.

David's aunt and uncle have a killer place right on a canal on the Gulf side of Key Largo. Shortly after we arrived, we were lounging under the tiki hut when we noticed a pile of manatees congregating. We snatched up our Contour+2, plopped it in the water and caught them in action. We definitely do not have these guys up home and they are a real treat to see. There were lots of jokes about us adding them to our menu as sea cow steaks.

David and I dived with his dad two days in a row. The first day we dived Molasses Reef located in the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park located off from Key Largo Florida. It was a little rough and windy but we made due. The visibility was decent and, as usual, Molasses was a worth while dive.

Some of the species we saw were: trigger fish, spiny lobster, trumpetfish, cowfish, parrotfish, barracuda, trunkfish.

The second day we had been hoping to dive the wreck of the Duane or the Spiegel Grove, but the wind had really piped up and we decided to stick to gulf side of the Keys and search for spiny lobster.

Lobstering in Florida is a little different than up home. Here is a quick run down of some of the differences:

                                                                             Maine                                            Florida
Can dive for them recreationally            No                                                 Yes
Can trap them recreationally                  Yes                                                No
Can dive for them commercially             No                                                 Yes
Can trap them commercially                   Yes                                                 Yes
Recreational catch limit                          5 traps - unlimited lobsters              5 lobsters/day in season
Season                                                     year round                                       multiple split seasons
Recreational License Required             lobster specific license                     Florida fishing license

While David has dived for Florida lobsters many times in the past, this was a first for me. It was a great experience to see the differences between the southern and northern lobsters. Florida lobsters tend to be skittish while Maine lobsters can be incredibly aggressive. While diving up home, I have literally been attacked by lobsters defending the mud holes and hunting territory. Next summer I hope to post a video of some of our lobsters in action.

I wish we could dive for lobsters recreationally. I think a diving charter to see lobsters in their natural environment would be very successful, especially if the customer could take one home with them for dinner.

With the water temperature only 72 degrees and the air temperature 75 it was a little chilly with the wind blowing. After hunting for a couple hours we called it quits, shivering with blue lips and one lonely lobster.

The lobster was just large enough for me and David to share for dinner. We sliced the lobster in half while it was still alive.

Then we drizzled it with butter and garlic powder and broiled it in the oven for a few minutes until brown and cooked. We served it over buttered pasta and it was quite tasty.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Our New Ad Campaign

So as you all know, David and I said good-bye to the corporate lifestyle back in March. One of the biggest reason we took the plunge into self-employment was the issue of flexibility. For 5 years we had worked hard a respectable jobs that paid well and provided good economic benefits. But what we found was we were making money but did not have the time to spend it.

What good is money without time? We decided that life is short and time is more important to us than racing through life waiting for weekends and climbing a ladder that could collapse beneath you at any moment. When we quit the man, we took on two jobs that would hopefully provide us with enough income to cover living expenses and provide us with more time to spend with our friends and family. 

Soper Ocean Services is a seasonal business. It is insanely busy from April - June; it mellows out June - September; gets super busy again October and November; and then is virtually non-existent from December - March.  

Managing Gurnet Trading's online sales and distribution is a virtual job. Theoretically, all I need is my laptop, an internet connection, and my smart phone. 

On paper it seems like these two businesses would allow us to spend more time traveling and less time at home. Well, we are currently putting that theory to the test. Last week we packed our dive gear, my home office, and our corgi dog into our 13 foot Scamp and hit the road. 

Our new advertising campaign targets the East Coast, from Maine to Florida

Our 4 day drive from Maine to Southern Florida doubled as an advertising campaign and our first test of flexibility. Our first night was dry, but dipped into the low teens and our little electric heater was working overtime. Our second night began at 2 pm, when the falling snow forced us to pull off into a Wal-Mart parking lot in Maryland. Without electrical hook-up we snuggled into bed with our corgi and waited out the storm that dropped a foot of snow and a half inch of ice on us. By the third night we had finally escaped the icy grasp of the North East and we basked in rainy humid glory of the South. By the fourth night we had arrived at our prime destination, David's parents house. 

We had arrived not a moment too soon. I had barely logged onto the local network before the Christmas orders started to roll in. Hopefully they keep coming and I will have proof that I can support Gurnet Trading from Florida just as well as I can from Maine. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ode to Shrimp

Though Bubba was talking about shrimp out of the Gulf of Mexico, the same can be said of our delicious little shrimp that come out of the Gulf of Maine. They are truly a staple here in Maine and can be found on just about every restaurant menu in the state. Even the pizza places put them on their pizza.

So it is a sad thing to announce that the 2014 Maine Shrimp Season has been cancelled. To those of us who grew up with shrimp in our bellies, it is like a member of the family has gone missing and we don't know when or if he will be coming home.

Here is my ode to Maine shrimp and a look inside my relationship with my FAVORITE crustacean and quite possibly my favorite food of all time. Please note that when I talk about shrimp, there is no question about what type of shrimp. To me, the Maine Shrimp is the only one that matters.

  1. When Gurnet Trading Co. first opened, I picked shrimp. I picked them for hours and hours and hours after school. I picked until my fingers were numb and sore from stabbing myself with the shrimp spines. I stayed up until 1 AM cleaning and packing shrimp. 
  2. Though I haven't had them since she passed, my grandmother's shrimp bars are my most favorite party appetizer ever. They are like dense little quiche squares with no crust. They are made of shrimp, broccoli, and cheddar cheese. They are best served cold, though I would always snag one before it had "set up" because I was so impatient. When my grandmother would ask me what I wanted for my birthday, the answer was always shrimp bars. If and when the season opens again, I will hunt down her recipe and post it for you. 
  3. Shrimp are super easy to cook with and therefore regularly save my hide when I don't have a plan for dinner.
  4. My favorite way to eat Maine Shrimp is fried. I call it seafood candy. It is the only food I have eaten to the point of being ill. And I have done it on multiple occasions. It's the only food I have found my self capable of "binge eating." Perhaps closing the shrimp season is a good thing? No never! I condemn myself to 20 lashes for heretical speech. 
  5. When I was in college my mom once packaged up a box of live shrimp and shipped them to Maine Maritime Academy. Most kids get cookies and ramen in their care packages. I got 8 pounds of live crustaceans. 
  6. This next one might be considered a little improper, so you might want to skip it if you don't sometimes giggle at bathroom humor. Another time at school, David and I put on a "u-peel-em" feed with our friends. We ate mass amounts of shrimp and consumed cases of beer. The next morning we got up and drove to Sugarloaf to do some skiing. Once we reached the top of the mountain, David comments that he feels a bit gaseous. Then seeping out through layers and layers of long underwear, ski pants, and jackets comes the foulest rotten shrimp stench ever. It enveloped us and crept in through even our ski masks. We laughed so hard that we collapsed in the snow. More than 6 years later we still remember that fart and laugh about it, joking that his ski pants still retain their rotten shrimp stench. 
  7. I remember very little from elementary school. But I do remember going on a field trip to shrimp boat. Mountains and mountains of tiny shrimp flip flopping on deck. Great big nets. A slippery deck on big steel boat. Squid and other little critters that came up with the shrimp.  
Shrimp invoke some of my strongest memories. It's strange to think that simply the loss of a food source can bring up such strong emotions. 

But to some it is not just the loss of a favorite food. It is not just the emotional impact. There will be very real economic consequences as well. Those fishermen who rely on the industry to feed their families will be scrambling and struggling during already difficult times. 

Then there are the retail impacts. In the winter, Gurnet Trading usually employs 2-3 seasonal but full time employees to clean and package shrimp. That is two jobs gone in just one small market. We are just one market in many that will not be able to employ shrimp pickers this winter.

Our menu, like many others in the state, is going to be demolished by this closure. We will have to remove some of our most popular products. Here is a look into how our menu will be impacted. 

Our Fish Market
  • Frozen Shimp - gone
  • Live Shrimp - gone
  • Fresh Shrimp - gone
  • Stuffed Scallops - modified (the stuffing contains shrimp)
Our Take-Out
  • Fried Shrimp (pint) - gone
  • Fried Shrimp (basket) - gone
  • Fried Shrimp (dinner) - gone
  • Fried Shrimp Roll - gone
  • Shrimp Salad Roll - gone
  • Shrimp Stew - gone
  • Fisherman's Platter - modified
  • Seafood Chowder - modified

So let us all have a moment of silence for the 2014 shrimp season. Let us hope the we can get the fishery on track to sustainability, else we loose yet another industry and source of income. 

Tonight I will leave you with two questions.

What is your favorite shrimp dish?

How will the closure impact you? 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Hold on to your hip boots, Gurnet Trading Co. will be partaking in the madness that is Black Friday and Cyber Monday. That's right, folks, we will have our very own door busters at our web-store. But don't worry, we wont make you trample little old ladies in order to get a good deal on super fresh and tasty seafood.

Make sure to visit the site next Friday and Monday for some super exclusives deals.

No need to fight boys, there will be plenty to go around.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

An interactive cocktail party

October is over and we are well into November, which can only mean one thing: "Ramps and Floats" season is almost over. I know, right, that was exactly what your were thinking. We are definitely on the same wave length. 

Ok, so in all likelihood you were not thinking about ramps and floats. But you should have been, because the end of ramps and floats means I will have more time to catch up on posts and focus more on Gurnet Trading Co.

To clear out some of my back log I am going to share with you a delectable little tidbit of deliciousness that has been sitting on my shelf for the last month. 

Fall Seafood Celebration

Back in October the Fish King and Queen held a little get together with friends and family to show off and share some of their best fall products. 

A full lobster bake is more of  a sit down event and while it is a great way to impress friends, it is a little messy and involved for a casual "hors d'oeuvres" type gathering. My mom solved this problem by serving up cooked lobster and crab claws.

My mom cooked up a pile of lobsters and crabs, busted off the claws, and threw them in her prep sink so everyone could just gather around and snack.  By serving only the claws, the amount of after-party mess is greatly reduced. Claws are also much easier for the casual picker, bodies and tails are a touch more complicated. 

The oysters were the real stars of the show. My dad went out that morning and picked up a pile of the briny bi-valves.

The Belon Oyster (also known as the European Flat Oyster) can be a tricky critter to crack. While they can be eaten completely raw on the half-shell like other oysters, opening a raw Belon oyster requires a flat head screwdriver and a leather glove. We have seen a fair number of oyster knives fall before these rugged mollusks. That is why we skip the hardware and skin our cat a different way.

We place them on high heat on a grill for about 5 minutes or until they pop open.

When they first pop open they will still be mostly raw. At this point you can haul them off the grill and eat them raw or let them continue to cook a little.

Add a little Tabasco or cocktail sauce and they become a party classic with none of the hassle of having know how to open an oyster. 

Virtually preparation free, this cocktail party was super easy and fun for the guests. Serving "pick-your-own" food makes eating an event. Your guests interact with their food as well as each other and as they share techniques and recipes. Seafood served this way is a great way to show off high quality, premium products without any snobbery and all the camaraderie of drinking beers around a camp fire. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

That Was Easy - A Rant

Generally, my discussions are about seafood or at least a tangent to seafood. Today, however, is going to be a little different. Today, I am going to present the position that the "Easy Button" is a bold faced dirty lie.

First, a little background:
  • Staples is an office supply store. 
  • Their motto is "that was easy" which is expanded by the gimmick of the "easy button." 
  • They are pretty much the only full service office supply store in the Midcoast Maine region. 
  • I own and operate two small businesses that frequently require printing services (business cards, fliers, brochures), office equipment (computers, furniture, peripherals, software), and consumables (paper, envelopes, pens)
Now for my first hand anecdotal evidence supporting the statement "The is nothing easy about Staples":

Anecdote 1


My birthday was in September and my mom (Gurnet Trading Co.) hooked me up with a super cool gift to help improve my ability to support our web store. All my new little doodles and drawings for the website have been made possible by my new Surface Pro (notice I didn't link to Staples). It also allows me to process orders off site and on the fly.

It's a pretty sweet little device that has more computing power than my current lap top and fits in my purse. It runs full strength Windows 8.1, not the dumbed down tablet operating system; which means I can run standard programs, not just apps.

Back on track (we can talk more about my Surface later). For those of you who don't know my mom; she (1) loves any event that allows her to give gifts, (2) works like mad even though she is always saying "I hardly ever work anymore," (3) on account of her working like mad she doesn't make it beyond Brunswick very often, and (4) on account of her living at her store, she tends to be "behind schedule" on more personal matters.

Knowing all this about my mom, I was not at all surprised when I received my birthday gift two days late and learned it had been purchased at pretty much the only store in town (Staples). She had purchased the tablet at Staples along with a number of peripherals (including the Touch Cover and the Wedge Mouse). I opted to return both peripherals and upgrade to the Type Cover.

This is the process I went through to get my Type Cover.

Not So Easy Button:

1. Drive across town to return product.
2. Go to computer department and find that they keep their Type Covers "out back."
3. Grab a Type Cover retrieval slip from the Surface display.
4. Go to check out and hand cashier the slip and find out they are out of stock.
5. Decline offer to go place a special order on their online kiosk. Why would I spend the time now when I can do the same thing in the comfort of my own home later? (Turns out this will be the demon that bites me in the ass later).
6. Return items and receive a store gift card.
7. Go home.
8. Surf the Staples site at my leisure and pick my items.
10. Begin to check out but can't find any place to enter my gift card information.
11. Spend the better part of an hour researching and learning that Staples, owner of the Easy Button and seller of IT products, cannot redeem their gift cards online.
12. Empty online shopping cart.
13. Drive back across town.
14. Find customer service rep so they can place order at the kiosk.
15. Check-out with regular cashier (you can't checkout at the kiosk for the same reason you can't use a gift card online).
16. Wait for assistance from a manager and the kiosk service rep because there were "technical difficulties" with the slip that printed off at the kiosk.
17. Go home and wait for UPS.

Granted, I could have skipped steps 6-13 had I just used the damn kiosk in the first place, but I didn't know that I didn't really have a choice in the matter. I will not make that mistake again.

Anecdote 2


Being the thriftster that I am, I had been using a combination of Microsoft Access and Excel to track customers, invoices, and expenses. They were programs I already owned and had experience operating. While I am an Excel rockstar, I am more of an Access open-mic-nighter and found myself a little bogged down in administrivia. I bit the bullet and decided to go for purpose built small business accounting software.

Purchasing the software online was easy enough, but after it had been installed I found that it could not sync with my banking institutions, rendering a one of the key features useless.

This is the process I went through to return my software.

Not So Easy Button

1. I checked my invoice for a return policy. I click on a link titled "Return Policy" and am routed to a "Shipping and Delivery" page.

2. I wander around the website for a while looking for a Return Policy page. Eventually, I find the Returns (located under FAQ), the statement "If you're not 100% satisfied with your Staples® purchase, you can return it for any reason," and a return form.

3. I fill out the return form.

4. I wait two days and receive no response regarding the status of my return.

5. I sign on to the Staples service chat to speak with a service rep. At this time I am notified that software cannot be returned. She sends me a link to part of the return statement I had not previously seen. I ask several times if there is anything that can be done. I was willing to take a store credit or an exchange for a different product if a full refund wasn't possible. I was informed that there was NOTHING that could be done.

6. Wanting to have all my ducks in a row, I then called Staples to speak in person with a customer service rep. I told her that the software was useless to me and that I could not afford such an expensive program if it was not going to meet my needs. Again I was told that there was NOTHING that could be done.

7. Feeling frustrated and definitely not "100% satisfied with my Staples purchase," I contacted my credit card company and who immediately issued a stop payment and returned my money.

8. Three days later I received a response from the initial return request informing me Staples would not refund my money but the software manufacturer would.

Gaaaah! I spoke with two different customer service reps who told me I had no options, so I went nuclear and issued a stop payment. This is not the way I like to do business. I go out of my way to not be that girl.

Anecdote 3


Christmas is coming and we are gearing up for shipping lots of tasty seafood snacks. A majority of our shipments are purchased as gifts, so Christmas is critical. We have family members in two markets brimming with potential and we have been considering sending brochures to those family members to hand out in their communities.

I went online and drafted an instant brochure. Instant Printing is a service Staples offers that allows you to design a product online and pick it up at your local store later that day. My plan was to have it printed at my mother-in-law's local Staples.

Before I pulled the trigger, I had a few questions to ask.

Not So Easy Button

As it was after hours, I could not contact a customer service rep so I submitted my questions via their email option. I asked the following questions:
  1. Is there a way to download a proof to print off and review prior ordering?
  2. Is there a way to convert an instant brochure to a standard brochure?
  3. If I order standard brochures can I have the order split and delivered to two different locations?
I don't think these are difficult nor unreasonable questions.
  1. If I am going to spend $200+ I want to make sure it is right, and printing off a copy on my crappy color inkjet will at least give me a little bit of an idea.   
  2. While standard brochures take about a week to produce and ship, they are about half price and are printed on a higher quality paper.
  3. With standard brochures, you get a volume discount.
One day after I submitted my questions, I received an auto-reply informing me I would be contacted within 24 hours.

Three days after I received the auto-reply, I received another message informing me my request had been forwarded to the manager of my local Staples Copy Center.

That was three days ago and I have yet to hear anything else, not that it matters because I don't want to have anything printed at my local Staples anyway.

Anecdote 4

Today, I attempted to log into my Staples account to review business cards I had printed back in August. I received an error notification. I attempted to change my password but I kept getting the same error "user email not found."

This was immensely frustrating, because I get enough spam from the company to know they have my email address linked to my account. After about 30 minutes of beating my head against the wall I got to a point where it asked me the name of my high school as a security question.

At this point I knew I was in trouble. I would never select that as a security question. What would the answer be?

Mt. Ararat
mt ararat
mt. ararat
Mount Ararat
mount ararat

Definitely not. There are too many options and I am to inconsistent to use the right one. So I tried each one of those options, just in case I had used that security question, and big surprise none of them worked and I got booted out of the system.

Eventually, I followed an old link and was routed to a Copy and Print log in. I got in on my first attempt.

Those bastards have separate log-ins for their Copy and Print center. Seriously?!

If Staples is such a pain, why do you use them?

That is an excellent question. I try to purchase as little from Staples as possible. Amazon is my preferred source for electronics and since I am a Prime member the lead time is only 2 business days. I also use UPrinting for some printing needs, but the lead time is 7-10 days and the shipping is exorbitant so price analysis is required. Office supplies are cheaper at Wal-Mart but their selection is terrible.

To further by-pass Staples, I just bought a Color Laser Printer and glossy paper so I can print my own brochures. Guess where I bought the printer and paper?

So what does it come down to? Sometimes you just need stuff now without paying through the nose and having a local brick and mortar store makes that possible.

I guess at the end of the day I have to say . . that was easy.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Price of Lobster

I have a bone to pick. Or should I say, I have shell to pick? The media, who is all of a sudden an expert on lobsters, is making my job very difficult.

All summer long local and national news has been reporting on the "prices" of lobster and while they think they might be helping the industry by bringing awareness, I say they are doing more harm than good. Yes, lobster prices are the lowest they have ever been, but it is more complex than that and the reporters NEVER take the time to discuss the nuances of the lobster price.

I am going to take a moment now to point out a few of the oft overlooked points and statements I have to contend with as lobster retailer.

A. "The price of lobster is $3.00 per pound." 

The media likes to announce the price of lobster, but rarely do they explain that the price they are announcing is the "boat price."

Boat Price is the price that is paid to the fishermen. In general it contains four categories of variable costs:

1. The costs to set traps

2. The costs to haul traps

3. The cost to transport the catch to a wholesale buyer

4. Profit

In a nutshell, boat price is the cost of getting lobsters from the ocean floor to a lobster wharf. In the case of Gurnet Trading Co., it gets the lobsters to Mill Cove, Harpswell.

B. "How come you are charging me $6.00 when the reporter said lobsters are $3.00 per pound?"

Remember how I said that $3.00 gets the lobster as far as the wharf? Let's talk about what happens next. The buyer costs can be described in five general categories:

1. Boat Price (The price paid to the fishermen.)

2. Fishermen Subsidies (It is not uncommon for buyers to subsidize their fishermen in the form of free dockage, bait storage, equipment loans, and pre-payment. These costs are expensive and represent significant risk on the part of the buyer, but the incentives are necessary to maintain a reliable supply source.)

3. Product Loss (Lobsters are a living creature and if not properly cared for, they will die. Even if they are cared for, they still might die. The lobster buyer must be able to absorb the cost of every dead lobster).

4. Wharf Expenses (A commercial wharf is expensive. You have to cover costs for dock hands, water aeration pumps, coolers to keep the bait from rotting, loss from bait rotting, parking and access for fishermen).

5. Profit

So let's say the wholesale buyer can jam all those components into an extra $1.00 a pound. So now our lobster price is at $4.00 but it is still sitting at a wharf in Harpswell. Maybe the lobster dealer will offer to deliver the lobsters locally for an extra $ .20.

Our "$3.00" lobsters are now sitting in Brunswick and the retailer has paid $4.20 to get them there. So let's talk about the retailer's costs.

1. Wholesale Price (The price paid to the wholesale dealer.)

2. Product Loss (The risk of product loss is now even higher. The lobsters have been transported at least once, significantly increasing stress on the creature. And now they are being stored in a holding tank that is crowded, away from the ocean, and water quality is more difficult to maintain.)

3. Store Expenses (The operating costs of a retail location are significant. There will be more employees, generally higher rents and location costs, more regulation and consumer protections required, and other expenses to absorb such as theft and grounds maintenance for safe  public use.)

4. Profit

If our retailer adds $2.00 a pound to cover these costs, she is already at $6.20 a pound. And that my friends is why you do not pay $3.00 for lobster when you walk into a seafood market in Maine.

Since Gurnet Trading Co. is both a wholesaler and retailer, we are able to consolidate some of our costs and profit. Often we will pass the savings onto the fishermen and pay them above the local Boat Price.

Now, at the other end of the spectrum, if you walk into a seafood market outside of Maine you can expect to double that price. As a rule of thumb, there is a 1:1 relationship between the price of a lobster and the cost to ship it overnight.

If a retailer in Colorado has a direct connection to a wholesaler, in this example, he could get a salable lobster in store for maybe $8.40 (the $4.00 wholesale price plus $.20 for packing the lobsters, multiplied by 2 to for UPS or Fedex shipping charges. He then has to account for his own profit and a significantly higher rate of product loss.

If our Colorado retailer does not have a wholesale connection, he will be paying retail price and just to get his lobsters to his store will cost him more than $13.00 a pound.

C. Shedders or Hardshell?

The prices quoted by the media are always for a softshell lobster. A softshell lobster can not be reliably shipped and expected to remain alive. Generally, if we are shipping a softshell lobster it will be cooked first.

Hardshell lobsters, particularly when lobsters are cheapest, are caught less frequently than shedders. Due the lack of supply, they command a premium; further increasing the price you may see in your local fish market.

Shedders can survive the transport to a local market, but markets more than a day's drive will be selling hardshells.

D. Truck or Plane?

The media also neglects to mention transport costs. Lobsters are hardy creatures, but they do not like to be out of the water for more than a day. To get to destinations outside the "one day ground" region, lobbies have to hop a plane.

E. "Lobster is cheaper than ground beef."

Gah! I hate this statement. It makes me so angry. It is bold faced lie and only shows how little someone knows about the food they eat.

The top grade 91% lean ground Angus beef at my local Hannaford is currently priced online at $5.29 per pound. Gurnet Trading Co's current in-store price for chick lobsters is $4.99 per pound.

Yes, at first blush the price of ground beef is more expensive than the price of a whole and live lobster.

But, not withstanding the whole "Pink Slime Controversy", that pound of ground beef for $5.29 is 100% edible. It does not contain hooves, horn, hair, bone, cartilage, innards or any other inedible part of the cow. The $4.99 lobster, on the other hand, includes all of the above. $4.99 buys you about 3/4 of a pound of cartilage, shell, water, and organs.

It takes between 5 and 7 pounds of live lobsters to make 1 pound of 100% edible meat. Do the math boys and girls. That makes lobster meat worth $25.00 per pound before you have even paid anyone to actually pick, package, and store the meat. Still want to say lobster is cheaper than ground beef?

Are you trying to scare us away from eating lobster? 

Absolutely not. I want you to eat lobster for your every meal, if you can stomach it. I am, however, trying to inform you. I am trying to help you understand the true cost of a lobster. I am trying to repair the damage done to the lobster industry by the media, who only tell half the story.

I'm trying to help you understand why you might walk into our market and pay $10 for a lobster roll or $30 for a pound of lobster meat. It is not because we are raping the fishermen and realizing huge profits instead of passing on the cost savings to the customer, it is because lobster prices are more complex and much higher than people are led to believe.

One last thought.

Besides the fact that the media has made consumers think retailers are overcharging for our products, they have also harmed the wholesaler's bargaining power. Boat Price is highly proprietary. In an industry where a single nickle can make or break you, keeping your prices private is critical to making profit and being able to maintain both a customer and supplier base. We have seen fishermen leave our wharf for less than a 10 cent price difference, while we have also seen them stay for free hot dogs and soda. It is a tough business and it is not made any easier by armchair analysts and reporters.

So the next time you balk at a price in front of you, think about why you feel it should be less and consider carefully what it took to get it to the store shelf.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Small Business Big Game

A few weeks ago my mom mentioned that we should sign up for the contest to win a Superbowl commercial. I'm not a big fan of contests because the amount of work required usually outweighs the terrible odds of winning, especially in nationwide contests. So I ignored her, especially because she didn't give me any details about how to enter or who was running it.

Last week an ad popped up in my Facebook feed, normally I pay about as much attention to these as I do my mom, but this one caught my attention. It was something along the lines of "Only 2 Days Left to Win a Super Bowl Commercial." In a moment of weakness, I clicked on it and started the entry process.

The first step was pretty easy: create an account and tell us about your business in 600 characters. I skipped the usual sappy story and went for something a little more obscure in the hopes that it might pique people's interest to at least visit our website. If I was going to lose, I might as well do it with a piece of writing that pleased me.

A couple of days later I was notified that I had made it through the first round (as I'm sure everyone had). This is when the real work kicked in. I had a choice to make: throw in the towel or go to work and play the game. The second round consists of 5 parts: answer 4 questions and create a 90 second video. Oye!

The challenge of putting together clear and succinct answers to broad questions about your business is enough to lose the interest of casual entrants and slow down those serious about competing. But a 90 second video . . . that is real work.

Now I have no hopes of winning this thing. We are a small seafood market in a tiny town in a tiny state. While we think of ourselves as big shots around town with pretty strong brand recognition, we are nothing when you leave our radius of influence. So, naturally, with dismal odds and hopes of maybe selling a few boxes of lobsters, I plunged in.

Why do they love your business? https://www.smallbusinessbiggame.com/ME/Gurnet-Trading-Co/387729/392096

What's your best advice? https://www.smallbusinessbiggame.com/ME/Gurnet-Trading-Co/387729/389628

What makes your business special? https://www.smallbusinessbiggame.com/ME/Gurnet-Trading-Co/387729/393548

What's been your proudest moment? https://www.smallbusinessbiggame.com/ME/Gurnet-Trading-Co/387729/400191

This was the toughest question. We have so many proud moments. We have survived the rise and fall of the urchin industry. We forced our way into the cutthroat lobster wholesale business. The retail market made it past the dreaded first year in which most small businesses fail. We managed through theft and vandalism. We held the top seat among local restaurants on Trip Advisor. We survived the Great Recession that closed so many. We were selected for an expose by a Boston TV news. We have been included in two books: one about the best lobster shacks in New England and another about unique New England stories. We even have the 10 Year milestone is in the review mirror. How do you pick just one thing? Pick something that can never be taken from you, because it runs deeper than awards or milestones.

90 Second Pitch: https://www.smallbusinessbiggame.com/ME/Gurnet-Trading-Co/387729

Well, I have answered the questions and submitted my video. Now all I have to do is get people to vote for me. LOL. So click on one of the links above and vote. You can vote once a day.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

They are on their way!

Guess what? After three long months, Belon Oysters will be back on September 15th!

I am my father's daughter

Showing off one of our oysters

The Belon Oyster (left) is much larger than the locally cultivated American Oyster (right)

Also known as the European Flat Oyster, these are a special treat. Most oysters in the United States are farm raised. But not these sweet puppies. We harvest them in the wild. Get ready hipsters and foodies, I'm going to use one of your favorite words. Our Belon oysters are Free Range.

I'm not a big fan of slapping labels on products to try and make them sound fancier, healthier, or tastier. Take the Maine lobster as an example. I was in a grocery store the other day and saw a "Free Range" sticker on the side of the lobster tank in the seafood section. What is a free range lobster? Lobsters are not farm raised. To my knowledge, every lobster bought and sold within the State of Maine is a free range lobster. Is it not a bit redundant to stick a label on the critter? That label certainly does nothing to help the consumer differentiate between that lobster and those being sold down the street in a different fish market. If anything, it only serves to confuse the consumer.

Some fish and products are farm raised (salmon, tilapia, shrimp and oysters to name a few) and the Free Range description actually means something. Aquaculture, is a dirty business. Literally. Thousands of fish penned up together create large amount of feces. In order to prevent disease and death, antibiotics and genetic modification are utilized. Additionally, unintended in-breeding creates a weaker and inferior creature which could not survive in the wild. Or worse, if it did survive, it could taint the wild population. This is such a risk that aquaculturists are researching ways to better sterilize their fish and reduce the risk of contaminating the natural environment.

Oysters are a bit different though. They have a relatively low impact on the environment, being filter feeders they actually clean the water in the area. They also require little human intervention in terms of reproduction and disease control. These factors have led to the proliferation of oyster cultivation. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch states that 95% of the oysters consumed world wide are farm raised.

But this is what makes our oysters so special. Only 5% of oysters consumed are wild. These are a unique product. Their flavors will vary depending on where they are harvested, while flavor is more controlled in a farmed oyster. These are ideal for the adventurous oyster eater who is looking for something different and something not easily found. A farm raised product is like your standard jelly bean; no surprises, you always know what you are going to get (green tastes like green and red tastes like red). While a wild product is more like a Jelly Belly; you occasionally get one of those weird flavors but you don't care because eventually you get one that makes you say "wow, what is that? That is awesome!"

The absolute best thing about our wild oysters is that they are responsibly harvested. Diving is one of the least invasive ways to harvest any product. There is virtually no by-catch and undersized or oversized product can be left on the bottom, completely undisturbed.

If you can't tell, I am more than a little proud of our oysters. That is why I am celebrating the opening of the Belon oyster season with $10 off all oyster orders placed before September 15th.

Monday, September 9, 2013

My Hero: The Lobster Roll

I hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend. I don't know about you, but I earned my Monday off.

The Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass festival (August 29th - September 1st) was quite an event. Dozens of bands performed and, from what festival goers had to say, some of them were really quite famous in the bluegrass world. I don't know a whole lot about the genre but I do know that it provided some pretty chill background tunes for working.

Zachy and I worked our butts off all weekend, each putting in more than 60 hours over the four day span.

Thursday was a slow start, dedicated mostly to setting up our booth and trying to explain to folks what exactly we were selling.

Can we talk about these signs the Fish Queen made for us? Pretty awesome if you ask me.

This was our first "event." Zach does his lobster bakes in people's homes and my mom prepares product in the store, but we have never before had a booth at a fair or festival. So, I was pretty impressed with our set-up.

On Friday business picked up a little as more people arrived at the festival. We cooked some lobster bakes, sold a few live lobsters and handed out a ton of business cards but mostly we took pre-orders for Saturday.

Saturday was busier. We did a nice dinner sitting and had quite a few happy customers. We even had a few customers show up for seconds. But it just wasn't enough.

As it turned out, lobster bakes at a festival are tough. First, many of the festival goers were camping and were cooking their own food back at their campsites. Second, we were competing with sausages, french fries, fried dough, lobster rolls, and other snackables. While some were looking to sit down and have a nice meal and listen to music, most just wanted to grab something quick and move on. You can't really eat a whole lobster while walking around.

By Saturday night, Zach and I were pretty down. We had come into the festival pumped up and ready to serve a ton of classic Maine lobster bakes. Not only had we failed to do that, we had also spent three days directing people to the cart across from us who was selling lobster rolls, fish and chips, fried clams, and various other seafood. That absolutely killed us.

For the last 10 years my brother and I have been focused on trying to convince people to eat OUR seafood. So, it goes against the grain for us to shake our heads and point to the other guy. All weekend we were mobbed with people coming up to our booth and telling us how much they love Gurnet Trading Co. and asking if they could get a lobster roll. We had to delicately explain to them that we were only allowed to sell our lobster bake meals and live lobsters, if they wanted something else they would have to go to the other guy. Making us send business to a competitor is a sure fire way to dampen our spirits and crush our souls.

Thoroughly broken and ready to give up, my brother begged an audience with the festival manger on Sunday morning. Just as I arrived at Zach's Country Store, I received a text from my brother telling me to start loading stuff without him; he had a plan. We were late opening up our booth; but when we did, it was rearranged as a lobster roll assembly line.

We sold more than 150 lobster rolls, obliterating Gurnet's one day record. In fact, we sold so many lobster rolls in such a short period of time the Fish King and Queen were cooking and picking lobsters themselves to make sure we didn't run out.

Our lobster bakes had covered our entrance fees but the lobster roll saved the day and justified my brother's and my hard work.

I'm not sure we will go back to the Bluegrass Festival as vendors, but I do know we walked away on Sunday feeling damn good about providing a quality product to folks in the 11th hour. We received a killer shout out from one of the bands and had people coming back for seconds and even thirds. That is what we are about, even if it means taking a beating sometimes.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Bluegrass here we come!

Oi! It's been a long two days.

I have spent the last two days processing our first shipping orders through the new website. It is pretty exciting to get an automated notification letting you know you have sold product and that all the hard work has paid off and things seem to be working as intended. There is a bit of a learning curve and a lot of room for improvement, mostly because I am terrified of making a mistake and am spending a lot of time checking my work. Good for the customer, bad for me. But with practice, I'm sure, it will get smoother and I will be able to automate some of the steps that I am currently doing by hand.

The last two days have also been filled with prepping for the Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival. I have been putting together pricing sheets, business cards, product information packets and various informational handouts and signs. My brother has also had me making "lobster bib roll-ups" which are a nice little packets that consist of a bib, napkins, cutlery, and a wet nap.

David and I spent some time getting pictures of our bacon wrapped scallops and crab cakes.

While the pictures came out great and a lot of hard work came together to create some really nice looking products, I am most pleased with my latest Inkscape creation.

Keep your eyes peeled for some pictures from the festival. Or better yet swing by, listen to some tunes, visit our booth, and end up in some of our pictures.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Online Lobbies and Bluegrass

I have two big projects that I am currently working on for expanding our seafood realm.

First, I have been working on building Gurnet Trading Co.'s online store. We currently have more than a dozen of our great products, including live and cooked lobsters, for sale online. We have customer's that visit us every summer and come from all over the country, now they can get their favorite seafood shipped direct to their doors. 

Right now we have the basics but will be adding more as time goes on. We have been shipping our lobsters and products for years, but we never had the capacity to ship more than a box here or there for the odd customer who comes into the store and wants to ship lobsters to their mom for her birthday. Recently we ramped up capacity by adding more lobster tanks and storage for packing materials. Our goal is to be able to bring the great taste of Maine and our home cooking to those who can't come to us. 

Lobster Roll Kit
1 pound of fresh lobster salad and 6 New England style split top buns 
Build Your Own Lobster Dinner
2 live lobsters, 2 pounds of clams, 2 whoopie pies,
 and your choice of two appetizers 

Casco Classic
2 live lobsters, 2 pounds of clams, 2 whoopie pies, 3 appetizers
 and your choice of chowder

Readers of the The Flying Lobster can get $10.00 off their online order 
by using the coupon code FL813. 

Second, I have been preparing for a big Gurnet Trading Co.  first. We will be selling live lobsters and taking orders for travel and shipping at the Bluegrass Festival at Thomas Point Beach during Labor Day Weekend. We will be there with Zach's Lobster Bakes, who will be serving up a classic Maine feast of lobsters, clams, corn, potato salad, cole slaw and blueberry cake.

Stop by the festival and enjoy some great music and local food!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Catch Up After a Long Hiatus

My last post was on May 12th. Three months. Yep that is not good . . . not good at all. This summer has proved to be much busier and more challenging than originally planned.

So if the Fish Princess hasn't been blogging and ruling the Fish Kingdom, what has she been doing all this time?

I wish I could say sitting on a beach in Hawaii, drinking mai tais and snorkeling. But I suppose the truth is the next best thing.

Barge Driver

Back in April I mentioned Ramps and Floats and said that it was a short brutal season of installing dock systems for the summer season. Well as it turned out, the short brutal season transitions into a longer more mellow season of repairs, mooring inspections, new equipment installations, and salvage.

The months of April and May were dedicated to hauling people's floats off from beaches, anchoring them, and hooking them up to a stationary dock.

Step 1: Get the float off the beach

Step 2: Push the float into place

Step 3: Hook the float up to the wharf

David does the heavy lifting and hookup while I drive the barge and hold everything in place against the wind, tide, and currents. Initially I had not really intended to be a part of Ramps and Floats, but after my first season I am glad that I am. It is source of pride, not only that we installed over 100 systems this spring, but also that driving the barge has become second nature.

At first operating the twin engines and controlling the big blue pig took every bit of my concentration and focus. I had to think about every action and move I wanted to make and work it backwards to figure out how the force of the engine would impact the barge, which in turn would impact the floats and ramps that I was pushing. Now, after months of practice, I just do it. Without thinking, the barge does my bidding.

Mud Master

In June we transitioned into mooring inspections. Inspecting moorings, while being much slower paced than Ramps and Floats, is infinitely more dirty. The basic idea of a mooring is to hold a boat or float in place using a combination of rope, chain and some sort of an anchor. Usually, our anchors are cast iron mushrooms or blocks (granite or concrete).

We build and install new moorings for customers, but the majority of our work is inspecting and repairing them. We use our winch to lift the smaller ones to the surface so we can check for corrosion and damage. When they come to the surface they bring with them mountains of black mud, kelp, rocks, fish, crabs, tiny creepy crawlies and even an occasional lobster trap that has become tangled.

For moorings that are larger than 5,000 pounds and I have to suit up in my dive gear and perform in water inspections and repairs. This was the part of the job that I had loads of experience in. During college I had worked as my dad's diver.

It wasn't until David and I took over the operations that I learned about the rest of mooring repair and construction. This summer I have learned how to splice three strand nylon and use an oxy-acetylene cutting torch. I can design, build and set a mooring from beginning to end.

David splicing eyes for a new halter
A granite mooring block on deck for inspection and relocation
When was the last time your mooring was inspected?
This customer was very lucky that we inspected when we did.

The new 1/2" chain next to the old 1/2" chain to be replaced

Repair and Construction

At some point this summer we also became marine carpenters. 

A new gantry

New runners to extend the life of this float

A New Float

Our New Deck Hand

While we worked hard up until the end of June, real life came to a screeching halt on June 28th when we picked up our new deck hand.  

Our first time meeting Nemo

The day after we brought him home

Nemo's First Sail

Nemo's first camping trip

But eventually we had to go back to work and Nemo had to learn to be a barge dog.

At first he did a lot of sleeping on the job.

But now he is starting to get the hang of it.

So you can see I have not been completely idle these last three months. Things have slowed down a bit, we have begun to figure out our new lives and schedules and I hope that I will be able to get more focused on being the Fish Princess and pick up where I left off.


If you happen to need any mooring work done in the Harpswell / New Meadows area I can be contacted at soperoceanservices@gmail.com or you can visit me on Facebook