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Plenty of Fish in the Seafood Business

grilled fish

The buzz is all over the neighborhood. Some kind of mysterious truck is regularly pulling up to Rittenhouse Square, opening its back doors, and handing out fish.

What's up with that truck?

It took a bit of asking around. The resulting email read, "Good fish source! If interested sign up before Thursday AM. Order on Thursday for Friday pick up in front of Ethical Society. Restaurant supplier making seafood available on a weekly basis. Excellent quality." During a pandemic and economic hard times, Small World Seafood is thriving.

When restaurants shut down in April 2020, seafood purveyor Robert Amar discovered a brilliant way to get product directly to consumers. He would park his truck at a known location and then hand out pre-orders. Shoppers couldn't just walk up to the van. Rather, they'd signed up, ordered and prepaid via an online form.

How to Build Lasting Customer Relationships

At least twice a week, customers hear from Robert. Every Tuesday, he sends out a nice long chatty email to his list. It's personal. It's authentic. It feels like the kind of message your friends used to send a decade ago, before texting and social and sliding into peoples' DMs. The Tuesday ones are reminders to customers. Is it time to order yet? Whew, no, it's just a preview and a chance to start dreaming of what to order. It makes people feel like they are friends.

In the Tuesday email, Robert talks about the challenges of sourcing good fish, and product he's had to send back that's not up to standards. He adds a recipe or two, and even links to a music video he's loving at the moment. It gets his customer base hooked for the upcoming order form, mailed out Thursdays at 9 am.

I asked Robert about marketing strategy, open rate, and other geeky metrics that marketers are always chasing. He said, "We can call it marketing or whatever, but it is honest and authentic. People who already knew me know that this is really who I am. Not some fabricated voice meant to drive numbers."

He said that the weekly emails reinforce relationships. "I get to know everyone though feedback loops making me more aware of who I am selling to. Therefore, I am more selective and want to make people happy OVER making money. From the other side of things, I think that you all get to know me better and develop the trust that that is true and therefore you can trust that the seafood will be good, by extension. This dynamic of trade kind of disappeared from us and it is nice to get back to it. I feel like I am getting seafood for my family and you feel like I care."

Fish, Like Marketing, Best When Fresh

The best marketing isn't canned. Almost by happenstance, Robert has accomplished something businesses dream of: the establishment of trust and a growing customer base. He is up front about everything, including when things go wrong.

The other tactic Robert employed was the sense of mystery. What's that truck? People love a mystery to solve. It's how our brains are wired. While Amar wasn't necessarily aware of the innate desire to crack a code (not to mention a lobster), his beneath the surface selling method got people talking. There's a bit of a speakeasy vibe. Customers congratulate themselves on knowing the secret source.

Member of an Elite Club

It is an incredibly powerful marketing tool: the creation of a mystery and the satisfaction of an answer discovered. Customers take the chance at first of ordering sight unseen, without any relationship yet. Small World's quality and value are always excellent, so people have come to trust it solidly.

Customers are happy to walk over, knowing they will see Robert in person and exchange a few words. He's very likable. Craig Laban recently wrote about him the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Business success is a combination of so many factors. Amar happened to hit on a winning formula. He's recently purchased a much larger van to accommodate the thousands of pounds of fish he delivers every week, and has expanded to five drop off locations, including Fairmount, Northern Liberties and Society Hill. His base of operations is now at 444 North 4th Street, where he's begun a storefront.

A lot of businesses complain that the pandemic has destroyed them. Here's a case of a business that has grown exponentially through trust, love, and the best seafood Philadelphians can get.

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