Q: I am a fisherman and own a small day boat. Most of my catch is sold to a processor and used in the food service sector. I was thinking about setting up my own processing business to supply my local market in the west. I would welcome your opinion.
A: I have heard several restaurateurs complaining, that while fish is landing at their local pier, they find it impossible to source any directly. One Donegal-based restaurant even told me recently that in some cases the fish goes to Dublin to be processed and comes back two days later for him to purchase from a larger wholesaler.
Historically, all of the coastal towns in Ireland had a fishing fleet and some of this catch would end up going directly to local restaurants and hotels. Nowadays it seems to be more of a challenge. Consumers are demanding more local foods and hotels and restaurants are under pressure to source more produce locally – you should focus on this.
You would have to do a feasibility study on the size of the market and your ability to compete with larger wholesalers, but you have a huge advantage by catching, processing, and selling your own seafood. Many restaurants would be delighted to tell that story on their menu. The public are now truly interested in a story behind any product they buy. For a restaurant not to be able to source local fish seems like an anomaly and you may well have the genesis for a good business idea.
You need to conduct lots of research to be sure that the market really exists and to scope out what would be required from your side by way of investment and expertise.
Q: I have had a lot of difficulty with the manufacturing side of my business and as a solution have stepped back into the role of production manager myself. Now the sales side is struggling and I feel under enormous pressure.
A: This is a classic problem very often associated with SMEs. You sometimes hear the phrase “working in the business not working on the business”. I don’t know enough about your finances to determine if you can afford additional resources, but it sounds to me like you are really overstretched and the business is at some risk.
The question might be: “Can you afford not to employ another senior manager?” Sometimes where the owner becomes task-orientated, bigger opportunities are missed.
Decide which area needs your time and expertise the most and consider employing an expert to cover other parts. You could employ someone outside of the business. However, it could also be the case that with coaching from yourself and some external training, you might be able to develop one of the team to share the management tasks.
It seems certain you need to take action quickly.
Q: Sales are sluggish, and I feel I am partially responsible as I lack structure and the business lacks clear direction. We flip flop around without clear direction. Can you give me some advice?
A: If you lack structure, then the business is going to lack structure. I would compliment you on an honest appraisal of your own skills, and solving this is probably the first step to solving the business challenges. For decades I have said that if the owner/manager is not in the right place, then it is impossible for the business to perform properly.
Some business owners prefer to work with a mentor whose role is to challenge you, and to provide direction. You could find it good to have someone else to bounce ideas off, particularly with regard to how you conduct your own role.
You could also consider participating in one of the many great owner/manager development programmes run by third parties. The combination of academic learnings and the interaction with other business owners on the same programme can be invaluable.
An alternative approach might be to recognise that there will be limitations to the changes you can make in your own style, and instead employ an operations manager who would be given the responsibility for the day-to-day running of the business, under your direction.
You need to be ready to let go if you make this move. There is no point in taking on the operations manager and then continuing to micro-manage them.
Surrounding all of this you need to put a good business plan in place to give the business direction and clarity.
You could find that these actions become a watershed.
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