This fish market is 5 times busier, and even hiring more workers, thanks to the pandemic

FultonFishMarket.com CEO Ryan Fibiger.
Courtesy FultonFishMarket.com

The coronavirus pandemic is causing companies large and small to go out of business. Recently, Pier 1 Imports, Gold's Gym, and JCPenney are among the big names that have filed for bankruptcy protection. Overall, between January and March, business bankruptcies were up 6% from the same period in 2019, CNBC reports

Though the pandemic undoubtedly poses challenges for employers, some small businesses have been able to use it as an opportunity to innovate, pivot, and even grow. One of those companies is FultonFishMarket.com, a seafood retailer based in New York City.

How FultonFishMarket.com is thriving during the pandemic

While retail and restaurants have been hammered over the past few months, FultonFishMarket.com is far from floundering. Founder Jody Meade, who built the company up from a small side hustle to a multimillion-dollar operation at the Bronx's Fulton Fish Market, shared his story with Grow last year.

Meade, who remains in an advisory role at the company, handed off most of the business operations to new CEO Ryan Fibiger in February of this year. The company has been doing extremely well. Despite some supply chain disruptions, Fibiger says, the company is now "processing around 3 to 5 times the number of orders we were doing at the beginning of March." 

The key, Fibiger says, was the company's ability to pivot. Prior to the pandemic, most of FultonFishMarket.com's business involved supplying seafood restaurants with bulk orders. Only a small share of its orders were direct from consumers.

But when restaurants around the country started to shut down in early March, the company shifted toward filling a larger number of orders for individual customers and households. In other words, the market is shipping a larger number of small orders rather than a small number of large orders.

Courtesy FultonFishMarket.com

Many people were stuck at home and looking for alternatives amid shortages of meat, and those turned out to be ideal circumstances for a mail-order seafood company.

Handling more orders meant the company had to increase its staff, too. While thousands of businesses across the company were laying off or furloughing employees FultonFishMarket.com was one of the few that was actually hiring. That isn't easy in the midst of a pandemic, especially when you're looking for workers with specific skills and knowledge pertaining to seafood.

'People want their comfort food'

Part of the company's pivot to catering toward households and individuals rather than restaurants also involved fishing for new customers. Julia Blanter, FultonFishMarket.com's director of digital marketing, says that most people are finding them through search engines.

"People are cooking at home," she says, "and are looking for alternative protein sources."

By investing in SEO and bolstering their digital advertising campaigns, they were able to capitalize on that search traffic to draw new customers to the company's website. "We've seen a huge increase in organic search traffic," Blanter says, "and a huge spike in traffic on our recipe pages."

Interestingly enough, one of the most popular recipes driving traffic to their site is one for homemade fish sticks. "People want their comfort food," says Blanter.

How to help local businesses during coronavirus

Video by Courtney Stith

To keep his employees safe, Fibiger says the company has installed "rigorous processes," including how and when people arrive for their shifts, and splitting up workers in the market. In all, the company has about 60 employees, and 35 of them work in the market, picking, packing, and fulfilling customer orders. The remaining workers, for the most part, are doing their jobs remotely.

Fibiger says business is "showing no signs of slowing down," and by being nimble during the crisis, the company will be better off for it. With a new base of individual and retail customers, Fibiger says that restaurants reopening will bring back large, bulk orders, further increasing sales. 

"We probably just hit fast-forward through the next five years," he says.

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