Pier 99 Products Ltd.
Cap-Pele, New Brunswick, might seem like a sleepy seaside fishery town on the surface, but the area is actually home to one of the largest lobster distributors in Atlantic Canada. At any given time there are hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of lobster and fresh seafood being processed and shipped from Cap-Pele to end users, and Pier 99 Products Ltd. (Pier 99) is right there in the thick of it keeping pace with the best. The company has been dealing in fresh lobster, never frozen, since 1986, and today Danny Cormier has the privilege of steering the company towards further growth as Pier 99 president. Pier 99’s primary business is sourcing and supplying food service companies through wholesale distribution, but in recent years Cormier has kept a keen eye out for new opportunities.
Pier 99 started humbly like many companies in the area, beginning as a simple mom-and-pop operation with just a single pickup truck. “My dad started the company, but he retired eight or nine years ago, and since I took over we have really pushed for grow,” beams Cormier. While at its core Pier 99’s approach to the industry isn’t very different from the rest of the competition, Cormier and the Pier 99 team’s aggressive approach and lean operating structure has allowed the company to step out in front of the competition.
Lean and Mean
Pier 99 has found consistent growth by looking to neighboring communities to source lobsters consistently depending on which areas are producing during specific periods of the year. It might seem like a straightforward approach to expand market share, but the logistical arrangements of tracking regional productivity to meet demand can be daunting.
While many companies are bogged down by excessive overhead, Cormier takes a cue from the lobster itself. As a highly perishable good, lobsters need to be taken quickly from the ocean to the client, and at Pier 99 the operating philosophy is to make that transfer as efficient as possible. Pier 99 does a fair amount of business with food processing companies that will either freeze and pack the lobsters under their own labels or will process them for meat destined for cruise ships and other large-scale consumers of lobster products.
There isn’t a minute to be wasted when dealing with a perishable item like live lobsters, so Pier 99 looks for ways to eliminate redundancies and preserve freshness. Pier 99 keeps a fleet of eight highway tractors with refrigerated trailers to take the lobsters from the pier to Pier 99’s clients as quickly as possible, only taking a quick stop at Pier 99 headquarters if necessary. “When our trucks come to pick up the lobsters, we simply trade empty crates for crates full of lobster to cut down on transfer time and avoid having to pack them ourselves,” explains Cormier. Additionally, the warehouse that Pier 99 does maintain is stocked only with all the equipment necessary to transport the goods within the ideal window of 24 to 48 hours.
In recent years, Pier 99 has expanded into selling bait to the lobstermen in addition to buying the lobsters caught as the result, which has helped Pier 99 streamline the process a bit and wets its feet in a new, but still related market. Overall, the sales of bait account for less than 10 percent of the firm’s total revenue according to Cormier, but the move has solidified its supply of lobsters somewhat.
Balancing Technology with Mother Nature
Advances in technology have made this need for impeccable logistics feasible. “I make a living with a headset,” jokes Cormier. In all seriousness, though, incorporating these modern efficiency means is one of many reasons Cormier was able to exceed his father’s biggest sales record by 10-fold in 2010. Distributors can keep track of shipments in real-time, and, as a result, records can be made and broken in the matter of minutes with just a phone call.
In general, the lobster business is a notoriously volatile affair and every technological advantage the company can swing is fair game. “This isn’t a cut-and-dry kind of business, because we have to deal with Mother Nature so our sales goals are a moving target,” explains Cormier. The environmental constraints of the lobster industry aren’t going anywhere, but in today’s world it’s easier than ever to track storms and prepare for pricing adjustments accordingly.
Additionally, financial tracking software has made it easier than ever to stay on top of accounts payable and receivable, enabling the firm to manage its relationships with suppliers better than the competition. “I’m very hands on and we’re proud to have earned our credibility in an industry where big deals are still set with handshakes,” says Cormier. Pier 99 clients plan and prepare for a certain amount of product and Pier 99 takes pride in upholding its reputation for fulfilling promises and settling all agreements on time so everyone can get back to business.
In 2010, in addition to smashing its all-time sales record, Pier 99 was recognized by The Fisheries Exchange, an industry resource to provide the industry with business intelligence. The company was recognized as a top five seller of lobster for both dollar value and volume, which Cormier sees as a positive sign. However, he isn’t prepared to rest on his laurels. “We still have room to grow, which is the most important thing,” emphasizes Cormier.
Operating on a proactive philosophy of efficiency and accountability, Pier 99 Products Ltd. has established the means to raise the bar even further in the coming years.