August 28, 2013

A Word With the Boss: Summers on a skiff led to very big things

By Edward D. Murphy
Staff Writer

John and Brendan Ready started Ready Seafood in 2006 in Portland, after the two had completed college and spent a couple of years lobstering full time. John Ready entered a business plan competition at Northeastern University and won $60,000 to put toward the lobster-marketing business, which he had planned to start with his brother.

click image to enlarge

Brendan and John Ready, co-owners of Ready Seafood, are seen with 120,000 pounds of live lobster in Portland.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

The competition not only provided seed money, "it gave us a tremendous amount of goodwill and support from others in the business," Ready said.

The company has 80 employees, more than 150 customers worldwide and buys about 10 percent of the state's total lobster catch (of about 123 million pounds, worth $331 million in 2012), Ready said. He declined to provide figures on operating income or reveal what he and his brother are paid per year.

The company received approval in July from the city to expand its 11,200-square-foot facility at Portland Ocean Terminal on Maine State Pier to 24,000 square feet. 

Q: What's your background and how did it lead you to your business?

A: We were lobstermen. Our uncle was a commercial lobsterman and as kids we worked for him. It was fun and independent and we got paid in old lobster traps. All winter long, we'd fix them and that's how we got started lobstering.

We had a 16-year-old skiff that was gold to us and our parents watched us from one end of the beach and our grandparents at the other end (as they tended traps in Alewife Cove in Cape Elizabeth). They looked at us with binoculars the whole time we were out there. We invested everything into lobstering, with bigger boats and better traps, because that's all we wanted to do. Our parents convinced us to go to college. Lobstering is a lot of hard work, it's a lot of labor and going away to college gave us the view that there were other things and convinced us that maybe we wanted to be on the other end of the business, doing marketing and selling the lobsters. While we were still lobstermen, we started running a truck to Martha's Vineyard and that was a real test (of whether they could be successful marketing and selling lobsters) and then we started running a truck to Boston, too.

When we first started on Hobson's Pier, we had a 40-foot lobster boat and 800 traps and we'd sell lobster and not make a paycheck because we reinvested in the company. Everything we made went back in, and we kept getting a little bigger and a little bigger and then started hiring people until we reached the turning point where we could go from being harvesters to being marketers. That was probably one of the greatest sacrifices I ever made -- I gave up something that I really love. It gave me a lot of respect for the fishermen who work up and down the coast. When it's good, it's good, but when it's bad, it's really bad. 

Q: Why did you switch from lobstering to operating the company?

A: One of the reasons we started the seafood company was we were sleeping on a cot in the office. We took turns and we had no lives. We were too cheap to pay rent (on apartments) because we wanted to re-invest in the business. There wasn't enough time in the day -- I'd head out to lobster at 3 in the morning and get back at 10 or 11 at night, so we made the commitment to focus 100 percent on promoting Maine's brand and creating new markets. We looked at how that whole side of the business worked. We got involved with the Maine International Trade Center and we booked a trip with them to Brussels and went on a trade mission to the world's largest seafood trade show. About six weeks later, we made our first shipment (to Europe). It wasn't easy and it seemed for every step we took, we'd get knocked down -- from having things break down to workers' comp claims. It gave us an understanding of the real world and it made us question at times why we were doing this and why we weren't lobstering. But our phone just kept ringing and ringing and ringing. 

(Continued on page 2)

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