Seattle Moms Succeed in Seafood by Keeping It Simple

by M. Sharon Baker on October 24, 2012

When Tina Montgomery’s husband began working for a seafood distribution company, T.H. Seafood, the family was suddenly awash in high-quality, fresh fish, a bounty they shared freely with their friends.

One day in 2004, Montgomery was chatting with one of those friends, Jennifer Hanseler, and the two cooked up a business idea — one that would allow both of them enough flexibility to take care of their young children and enable others to enjoy the fresh seafood too.

The result is Surfin’ Seafood, a home-delivery company in the Seattle area that fulfills online orders of seafood once a month.

“I had just wrapped up seven years of part-time project-management work … when I had my first child, and I was trying to figure out what to do next,” Montgomery recalls. “Jennifer worked full-time before she had kids, but had been a stay-at-home mom since her oldest child was born. I then talked to my husband about it, and he thought it would be a great idea to deliver seafood to homes, like the home-delivery organic produce companies that were starting to pop up.”

Unlike many of those early home-delivery companies — HomeGrocer and Webvan to name two well-known flops — Surfin’ Seafood has thrived. How? Montgomery and Hanseler (pictured) have kept the company small. They employ only one driver, who makes deliveries one day a month. Orders are made online or over the phone and handled by Montgomery and Hanseler.

Surfin’ Seafood caters directly to its market. Consumers in Seattle, especially foodies, are very interested in buying local products. Surfin’ Seafood’s catch mostly comes from Alaska, Oregon, and Washington. Its supplier, T.H. Seafood, the firm where Montgomery’s husband’s works, vacuum-packs and flash-freezes the seafood, which keeps the product fresh. Unlike in most grocery cases, the fish is never thawed; customers receive it frozen.

Although the business is successful, Surfin’ Seafood has no plans to expand outside of the Puget Sound area, where it serves more than 1,000 customers, Montgomery says.

“Shipping frozen seafood is extremely expensive, and it’s an art, an entirely different business from doing home delivery,” she says. “After dabbling in shipping during the first six years of our business, we ultimately made a conscious decision to stick with what we do well: seafood home delivery.” (They refer anyone outside the area to one of the company’s suppliers.)

Montgomery and Hanseler have only had minor challenges with their first-time business venture. “In the very beginning, we didn’t realize we would have to spend one day a month sterilizing coolers and cleaning gel packs to reuse the next month,” Montgomery says. “But, other than some of the less-than-glamorous aspects of dealing with seafood and delivering seafood in a minivan, starting and running this business has far exceeded our expectations.”

The company’s business motto, “Keep it simple,” has served its owners well. “Whenever things start to get too crazy, we ask ourselves if we are keeping things simple enough,” Montgomery says. That’s advice other small businesses can heed, too.