Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Selling My Lovely Oysters

Believe it or not there is world-wide demand for the plump and tasty oysters that are grown here on the West Coast of Canada. When we first purchased the oyster farm I decided I would like to take on the task of contacting and dealing with the buyers of our oysters. I consider myself a pretty good salesperson ,and if there is food product involved even better as I would rate myself up with the best of BC's "foodies". The trick is to try and find a buyer that will pay some decent money for them and one that you sort-of like.
I should mention we would dearly love to be able to sell our oysters directly to restaurants and retail shops but as we do not have our own government approved processing plant to "process" the oysters we can not do this. A processing plant requires all sorts of building requirements including floor surfaces, wall surfaces, a certain type and number of bright glaring lights all properly covered with mesh wire, several large sinks with running "govt approved" water, separate sink areas for washing down dirty employees, miles of stainless steel drains and of course proper disposal of the icky stuff . It seems the Department of Fisheries and Foolishness can not separate fish and fish gut processing from handling ,sorting and packing up oysters. All of this nonsense costs a heap of dough to get together and somehow we have resisted the temptation to apply to create our very own processing plant.
Back to selling oysters.
When we first purchased the oyster farm our oysters were mainly sold to our Asian buyer. Rick, the former owner, seemed to do well with this buyer and as he is not exactly a warm and fuzzy kind of guy I can see why. The young woman who now heads up this company was trained well by her dragon-lady mommy. On a good day she is tough , all about business and abrupt. When contacting her to see if she has any need for your oysters there is no first discussing "how you are doing or feeling", or the usual comments on the nasty Vancouver weather. Instead, when I call she always sounds as if I am a thorn in her side and somewhat irritating to talk to before asking me what she can do for me. Once we get on to the oyster discussion things warm up a bit. I am sure I drive her a little crazy as the foodie in me makes me SELL my tasty oysters. The little ones so perfect for slurping icy cold and raw, and the larger ones making for a mouth-watering Asian seafood stew . What this buyer really wants to hear about is just size and numbers and when you can deliver.
She really surprised me one day when I received a call from her asking my opinion about her buying and operating her own oyster farm. I wondered why she would ask me of all growers but then thought she must have figured if an old city-chick like me could manage to grow thousands of oysters it was something she should look at. I decided there was no point in painting a rosy picture of oyster farming and told her the grim truth. I gather she came to her senses and never went ahead with the plan. All in all dealing with the Asian gal is ok. Just takes some getting used to which is made bearable by the fact that she pays more than most other buyers.
Once we had a few sales under our belts I decided we should seek out other buyers. I started my search by contacting a fellow in our neighbourhood that owns a wonderful seafood shop and restaurant. He was of particular interest to me as I also knew he co-owned a couple of oyster farms on Quadra Island a few miles north of our property. One early fall afternoon Bob and I sat down with him and a bottle of his favourite red wine. It took him a while to believe we were serious about continuing on with our crazy venture but he did finally come through with some good buyer information. He recommended I call a fellow called Alan at another shellfish company located in Richmond. According to our restaurant friend this company sold most of their oysters to buyers in the United States. At that time we had a huge supply of really perfect looking extra small oysters and I thought they would be of interest as the American Thanksgiving holiday was not far away. I called the shellfish company and ended up speaking with Alan. Well, what a treat compared to dealing with the Asian gal. Alan wanted to know all about our where exactly our oyster farm was located and all about me. It turned out Alan had been involved in growing oysters and clams on the BC coast for years and even owned some recreational island property of his own. I arranged to drive out to meet Alan and took a small lunch cooler with some of our oysters for him to look over.
I liked Alan the moment I met him. We talked about everything to do with oysters and lots about our past histories. Alan is a fellow with many interests , a great sense of humour and a natural gift for story telling. In the end Alan was very impressed with the small slurper oysters and agreed to include us in his next shipment coming down from the Powell River area . We sold seven hundred or so dozen oysters to Alan on that first shipment. The money was not as good as what we had received from the Asian company but dealing with Alan was a pleasure and at least we did not have to pay for the trucking costs. We have gone on to sell many more oysters to Alan and I now enjoy the odd lunch and always great conversation with him. There are more tales of approaching the really big guys when it comes to selling oysters but I have blogged on enough for now and will save them for later.