June is prime time for fishing in South Florida, as the weather turns favorable for trips to the Bahamas and easily caught dolphins are abundant and hungry. But at Capt. Harry’s Fishing Supply, the local catch is only half the story.
In addition to a retail store near Miami’s Little River district, the company operates a catalog and Internet business. From a second-floor warehouse filled with closely spaced floor-to-ceiling shelves, pickers fill orders from nearly every U.S. state and 120 countries.
Since the early 1980s, Capt. Harry’s has relied on overseas sales to balance the ups and downs of the domestic market. “This is our business plan,” said company president Carl Liederman. “We drive our business through our international exports.”
That strategy helped Capt. Harry’s increase sales by 24 percent last year, while fishing-supply sales in general rose about 5 percent, said consultant Rob Southwick.
“Marine fishing went way down when the economy took a dive,” said Southwick, who heads Southwick Associates, a fish and wildlife research firm in Fernandina Beach. “It looks like they’re doing better than the average,” he said.
The company’s international focus was born in the early 1980s when visitors from Latin America flooded downtown Miami to go shopping. About 40 percent of the foot traffic in 1982 was from foreign customers. So the store created a small catalog. “Everyone who came into the store walked out with a Capt. Harry’s catalog,” Liederman said.
Soon after, the store began getting mail orders from tourists who took the catalog home. When Latin shoppers migrated away from downtown in the 1990s, there was already a comfortable base of business coming in from overseas.
Capt. Harry’s reaches out to global markets with its 148-page catalog and through attendance at overseas trade shows, advertising in foreign fishing publications and its command of complex international shipping rules.
A random check of seven outbound orders on a recent weekday found one shipment headed for Connecticut. The other destinations: Antigua, Australia, the Marshall Islands, France, Slovakia and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
This year, Liederman and Harry Vernon III, vice president and the son of the company’s founder, are debating the firm’s Internet strategy. Although e-retailing is more cost-efficient, many in the shop’s prime age demographic of 40 to 55 prefer to browse the catalog first and then place their order online, rather than click through the site.
Sometime in June, the company will bring website operations in-house, which will allow for faster price and selection changes. Eventually, Liederman expects everyone to use the Web for remote shopping.
Although Latin America and the Caribbean are currently prime catalog territories, Capt. Harry’s also gets orders worth tens of thousands of dollars from Japan and wealthy buyers in the Middle East. Its shipment to Guantánamo Bay is going to the military Base Exchange, where it holds a license to export fishing gear.
The top international market varies from year to year, sometimes because of currency fluctuations. Overall, the business has revenue of between $5 million and $10 million, Liederman said, with about half coming from foreign sales.