Stavis Seafoods muscles up its business model

Published on
June 9, 2016

Stavis Seafoods has had quite a year – numerous staffing changes, the announcement in March of its expansion into a new USD 40 million facility on the Boston waterfront and the tragic ammonia leak in its cold storage warehouse that resulted in the death of an employee.

Company CEO Richard Stavis – who represents the third generation of his family to run the 85-year-old business – told SeafoodSource in an interview that while it hasn’t all been easy going recently, he’s firm in his vision and his plan for the business.

“For the last one-and-a-half years, we’ve been moving forward with a lot of work that will get us into the next market,” he said. “Seafood is being bought differently than it was five years ago. As a result, we’ve changed our business model. We’re scaling up and changing a lot of our approaches so that we can better serve clients with a broader range of needs.”

Specifically, Stavis wants to grow his company to a size where it can handle larger clients with larger needs, both in quantity and types of species.

“We will continue to offer our existing seafood customers the service, quality and broad range of items they’re accustomed to,” Stavis said. “But we’ve found there are companies that are 25 times our size who are looking for what we can offer but in order to be a direct sourcer and seller to them, we need to scale up.”

Attracting larger customers will help alleviate the squeeze familiar to the seafood industry and other commodity-dependent businesses, Stavis said.

“Seafood has always had razor thin margins,” he said. “Frankly, what we’re looking at as we reinvent ourselves is to create a more consistently profitable operation, rather than worrying about how the next big headline might affect us.”

To aid in this conversion, Stavis Seafoods hired Greg Burgess as company president last year, Brett Heidtke as director of operations in December 2015 and Marc Desmarais as the director of sales in March 2016. Richard Stavis said those hires were made with expectation that they would help the company grow, particularly by attracting larger customers.

“We have changed a lot of our approaches to be able to address the needs of those types of customers,” Stavis said. “Our goal with those hires is to have them guide us in hitting that market that is looking for seafood that is high quality, responsibly sourced and consistently available, even at larger quantities. And we want to offer market information so our clients are able to bring seafood into greater context amongst the proteins they sell.”

Moving and shaking

In line with this strategy, Stavis Seafoods has expanded its product line – it now offers 1,100 different products, including about 150 to 200 fresh items, sourced from 51 countries and 20 coastal U.S. states. Stavis enjoys saying his company desires to be his clients “back pantry.”

Beginning in September 2018, Stavis Seafoods will move into a 90,000-square-foot company headquarters currently under development in the Massport Marine Terminal in Boston. The leased space will include freezer, cooler, processing and office facilities and will bring all of the company’s operations in the Northeast under one roof for the first time.

Other changes at the company include the day-to-day work of Richard Stavis himself. After stepping down as president following Burgess’ hire, Stavis took over the role of director of sales for a year. Following Ruth Levy’s announced departure as chief business officer last week, Stavis said he will be assuming the role of director of frozen purchasing in addition to continuing his role as CEO.

“Since stepping down as president, I’ve used the opportunity to take on different roles in the company, with the goal of drilling deep into our business to make sure we’re really addressing the market right way and meeting all our customers’ needs. As director of sales, I learned intimately what our customer base is and what we need to do to meet the needs of our customers. In the role of director of frozen purchasing, I want to make sure we tie our sourcing more intimately into the needs of our customers.”

Regarding Levy, Stavis said “she will be missed” at the company.

“I have tremendous respect and affection for Ruth. She worked here for 27 years and we were enriched by having her as part of our organization. We wish her well,” Stavis said. “But I also want to say that there’s a certain excitement that comes with change and creating that connection with selling and sourcing. This is going to be a really fun opportunity for me and I think it will serve us and our customers very well.”

Stavis said he also wants to devote time to becoming a “seafood champion.”

“The world – and the industry - don’t celebrate fish enough. In order to broaden our range of customers, we need to get people who would never consider buying seafood to buy it and make it part of their diet,” he said. “A lot of what we’ve been doing at Stavis Seafoods is creating that product that has that consistency that can be stocked and sold in ways that are similar to other proteins. We believe that’s necessary in order to get into the mainstream market and compete against other proteins.”

Staying simple

Besides consistency, simplicity is another goal the industry should strive for, Stavis said.

“It’s unambiguous – you’re going to be better off if you eat fish than if you eat something else. And yet, even though consumers are told over and over again to eat more seafood, the data shows they’re eating less,” he said. “A lot of it because it’s so darn hard to buy it. We want to bring the complexities of seafood into a simpler message so people get more comfortable buying and eating it.”

Stavis said, more than anything else, it’s the idea that selling more seafood can make the world a healthier, better place that drives him and his company’s aspirations.

“We see it as our mission to remove barriers to eating seafood and help people to eat more,” he said. “It’s the only protein complex that can aspire to be noble.”

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