Catch of the day

Supplying fish to the UAE for the past two years, Mark and Jacky Allan have cornered a niche market with their company, Wet Fish Trading. However, they now look forward to increasing business further.

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By  Laura Barnes Published  January 9, 2007

Supplying fish to the UAE for the past two years, Mark and Jacky Allan have cornered a niche market with their company, Wet Fish Trading. However, they now look forward to increasing business further.

"We originally started out with just six boxes of fish per week; now we are at the airport four or five times a week," comments Mark Allan, managing director, Wet Fish Trading.

Supplying fish to the UAE for the past two years, Mark and Jacky Allan have cornered a niche market with their company, Wet Fish Trading. However, they now look forward to increasing business further

More than two years ago, Mark and Jacky Allan decided they were ready to leave London for a complete lifestyle change, and set up their own business in Dubai. However, wanting to stick to their roots and the industry they knew, they set up Wet Fish, a supplier of high quality fresh fish and seafood.

But establishing a new business was not easy. Not only did they need to find a sponsor, but most importantly, they had to find the right location for their warehouse, as well as their customers.

“We gave ourselves three months to get a trade licence and find a factory, after that we were in a position to go out into the market and sell our products,” says Mark Allan, managing director, Wet Fish Trading.

“By March 2005 we were ready to trade, and we actually saw our first deal come from Nad Al Sheba Club for the Dubai World Cup. Nad Al Sheba went out on a limb to support us as we were a new company, but it really helped us get a foot in the door,” he adds.

However, a lot of work went into building up contacts, and Jacky Allan, executive director of Wet Fish, went to meet chefs, procurement managers and general managers across the UAE. But it wasn’t long before the company had secured contracts with the Jumeirah Group, Emirates Flight Catering, Jebel Ali Hotel and Resorts, and Hilton Dubai Creek, among others.

“We pull out all the stops for our customers. We deliver, re-deliver, and take orders in the middle of the night. But you can become a slave to the business. Our intention was to come here to enjoy the lifestyle as well, so it is all about finding that medium,” comments Mark.

And Wet Fish has certainly found its place in the market, as companies are increasingly looking for niche suppliers.
In recognition of this, in November last year, Wet Fish won the Lloyds TSB Small Business of the Year Award. Awarded to a company that has made a marked improvement to its specific industry, Mark says the company’s dedication to personal service and its international standards have proved popular with chefs.

“I believe the key to success is to give chefs what they want, and not what they need. If they want 5kg-7kg of turbot or line-caught sea bass, give them that, not frozen fish or excuses that it isn’t available. They are all sick of hearing sob stories,” comments Mark.

In November last year, Wet Fish generated a turnover of AED1 million (US $272,000), a far cry from its first AED8000 ($2180) deal two years ago.|~|Although it’s a small company, in November last year, Wet Fish generated a turnover of AED1 million (US $272,000), a far cry from its first AED8000 ($2180) deal two years ago. With refrigerated vans, as well as having HACCP in place that it hopes will be certified by Dubai Municipality early this month, Mark believes the company is lifting the bar for fish suppliers.

Indeed, part of this is due to the company’s strict HACCP policy, which it has had in place since day one. Working alongside Johnson Diversey, Wet Fish has already had its pre-audit and is now awaiting certification, but Mark says this may take some time as the Municipality is currently concentrating on certifying five-star hotels across Dubai.

Now approaching its second year of operation, Wet Fish has also increased its product portfolio. Originally supplying only imported fish it now supplies local fish as well, thanks to a deal it secured with Jebel Ali Hotel to supply all its local fish supplies. However, the majority of business is still for imported fish, accounting for 60% of business.

“We originally started out with just six boxes of fish per week; now we are at the airport four or five times a week. In fact, we have just bought a seven-tonne truck because we can’t get the pallets of fish into our smaller vans,” comments Mark.

Using various suppliers across the UK, including Severn and Wye Smokery for smoked fish produce, supplies also come from Holland and Norway, carrying Dover sole, turbot, monkfish, plaice, sea bass and salmon, among others.
For local produce, Wet Fish purchases hammour, kingfish and snapper from a local source, however, for other local fish, staff at Wet Fish trawl the markets for the right produce.

“It is all about the eyes and what you see; that is the only way to get high quality produce. However, the fish is bought whole and all filleting and portioning is done in our facility,” he says.

“We offer the complete package. A hotel does not always have the time or manpower to portion fish or fillet it, so we can do this for them, we have a very strict system in place,” adds Mark.

When filleting salmon, for example, Mark says that yields are very important, and for 10 boxes of salmon — which will weigh 227kg — Mark says he should have 160kg of filleted fish at the end.

“We work on making around 72% fillet to waste, and if it goes below this then the guys are trimming too much, and making too much waste. Even just a fraction of a percentage point brings your margin right down,” comments Mark.

With seven members of staff currently working for Wet Fish, Mark and Jacky look after their employees, believing that if you pay silly wages, you get silly staff.

“They are very hard working, but if you pay them well and respect them, you get that in return. They are great guys and work hard for us,” says Jacky.

“Dubai is growing at a rapid rate with more hotels and restaurants opening each month, so business can only grow. We are still a husband-and-wife team, but we are now looking forward to hitting that AED2 million ($545,000 million) mark,” enthuses Jacky.

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