BEHIND THE BUSINESS
Perspectives from a Seafood Insider
Nathan King of Seaview Crab Company, Wilmington
Seaview Crab Company has seven locations, including its Midtown Market at 1515 Marstellar Street in Wilmington. Nathan King co-owns Seaview Crab with Sam and Joe Romano.
What motivated you to work in the seafood industry?
Sam and Joe are I are childhood friends who grew up in the same neighborhood in Virginia Beach. We often teamed up with one another to do odd jobs – mainly yard work, so we had established a strong working relationship with one another before we left for college.
Their earliest exposure to commercial fishing occurred when their father worked with a crabber on Knotts Island, North Carolina.
Joe and Sam graduated from UNC-Wilmington, and while in school, Sam worked for a local seafood wholesaler and saw the strong demand for Atlantic blue crabs in the Wilmington area.
I got an engineering degree from Virginia Tech, but I had no interest in a desk job, so I teamed up again with Sam and Joe in Wilmington, this time to test the market demand for local seafood.
In the beginning, we sold only blue crabs to local retailers and restaurants. After about two years of catering only to wholesale markets, we set up a 10’ x 10’ tent on the side of Carolina Beach Road to sell blue crabs directly to consumers at retailer prices. We learned our business could not be sustained long-term selling just crabs, so we added shrimp and sales increased. Later, we began selling a variety of finfish and shellfish to diversify our retail offerings.
You’ve been building a seafood business since 2005. Describe a typical day running your operation.
Mainly I keep my eye on the revenue streams, and these tell me what items to add and which ones to eliminate. My goal is to quantify our efforts so we make good decisions.
I allow our managers to oversee the daily activities in the retail markets and the kitchen while I focus on the numbers to learn what is working well in the business, what is not, and what activities need to be modified to improve our business efficiencies.
Do you make a strong effort to sell North Carolina seafood?
We do because our customers appreciate local seafood. We keep our supply chains close to home to keep money in the community and because we value the personal relationships we have with fishermen. Also, buying seafood locally allows us to buy high quality products.
Unfortunately, we cannot source enough local seafood to satisfy the demand for it, especially in inland markets. Inland communities two or more hours from the coast can be “seafood deserts” and are where strong market opportunities exist for us.
What is your best-selling seafood and why?
When we first opened Seaview Crab Company, shrimp was in high demand in Wilmington because it was a “shrimp town.” Now fish of all varieties are in high demand. Flounder is popular with our retail customers, and blue crabs continue to be a strong seller.
We are exploring convenience seafood products. We offer cooked hard crabs for sale online because we want to offer niche products that are not widely available from other seafood businesses.
We update our customers every Friday through email blasts, Facebook and Instagram to highlight our offerings and to tell a seafood story of the week.
What opportunities do you see for your business?
Digital platforms definitely enhance communications with our customers, but we also take orders by phone for those who are not comfortable with technology.
We are exploring the demand for prepared foods like seafood spreads and seafood chowders because we recognize a portion of our customer base values convenience in buying meals and preparing them quickly at home.
What are the challenges?
Training. Seafood has so many peculiarities that it is difficult to include all the important details in one training manual.
We also want to provide growth opportunities to our team because it is important for the team to grow with the company. Our growth is dependent on their attitudes and capabilities.
Another challenge is sourcing enough local seafood to meet our market demand. We produce crabs, clams, and oysters with our own boats and licenses, but the bulk of what we sell is from other fishermen, dockside fish houses, and dealers. Unfortunately, the number of active fishermen in our area is decreasing.
A third issue is meeting the regulatory requirements of local and state health officials because some of our products fall under the purview of both county public health and state agencies. But we are working with health officials to meet their expectations in a way that maintains and enhances our business efficiencies.
A North Carolina farmer once said, “The ticket to success is learning about your customers. You have to work until your product is so good your customers want to tell their friends about it.” Do you agree?
I do agree, and we use technology to communicate with our current customers and to attract new ones. We have built a directory of our customers from the emails we collected since our days operating roadside stands. We learn from them very quickly what species are in high demand and what conveniences they need that we can offer.
We shy away from billboards or ads in newspapers. Digital platforms offer us immediate feedback that tells us how well our current and potential customers are engaging with our online advertising.
How do you envision your business operating five years from now?
I’d like to see us enhance our customers’ access to North Carolina seafood, particularly people living distant from our coast. I’d also like to see us doing more with value addition, such as expanding our meals-to-go category or introducing more varieties of smoked seafood.
Cut-to-order fish is another opportunity, but that category demands a great deal of wrist action from workers. We need to learn if we will have the workforce to expand that offering to our customers.
People do not come to Seaview Crab Company just for the seafood but also to consult with our staff. So we want engaging people who can educate customers on what we offer and how to have the best experience cooking and eating our seafood at home.
What one thing would you like to share with people that you believe best distinguishes Seaview Crab Company from other North Carolina seafood retailers?
Seaview is still a young, ambitious company. I believe we excel at developing new sales strategies and products to help our customers access and prepare seafood beyond the traditional ways of buying and cooking and eating seafood.
We are not afraid to lose some money to find the right approaches to getting North Carolina seafood to the people who want it.