Smooth Sailing: How this Mackay-based fishing business optimised trade during COVID-19
For Belinda and Michael Sawtell, the effects of COVID-19 were felt early on through their independent fishing business.
For husband and wife duo, Belinda and Michael Sawtell, the effects of COVID-19 were felt early on through their independent fishing business, Two Brothers Fishing, located in Mackay.
“Our model is largely supported by international export of trout, so when the international markets crashed, we had to decide pretty quickly how to keep the business going,” Belinda explained.
Named after their two young sons, Grayson and Sascha, Two Brothers Fishing launched in mid-2017 after the purchase of a commercial trawler. With Michael having been in the fishing industry for years, and his father in the trade all his life, it seemed a natural progression for the young family.
Fast forward two and a half years, now with five fisherman and a skipper on staff, business had been steady building until internationally imposed restrictions quickly halted trade virtually overnight.
We’ve been blown away by the response. Before this we didn’t think about selling in the marinaBelinda Sawtell, Two Brothers Fishing
However due to the quick thinking of Belinda and Michael the duo decided to start selling their catch down at the local marina, allowing Two Brothers Fishing to not only retain their staff during this largely uncertain time, but also see a substantial boost in their sales since making the innovative change.
“We’ve been blown away by the response. Before this we didn’t think about selling in the marina,” Belinda said.
“We have predominantly exported our product overseas as that was simply where demand is. While we have always had some regular wholesale buyers in Australia, the demand just wasn’t there for local consumption. But that has completely changed.”
The trawler continues out to sea on a 10-day rotation, but now, instead of exporting live trout to international markets, the crew catch, process and pack fresh fish as they return to the docks each day, selling to locals straight off the boat. This not only keeps costs down; it also means they can sell incredibly fresh produce back to the local community.
“We’ve set up a Facebook page where our customers can order in advance. Right now, we’re making life easy and offering small, medium, or large mixed boxes. With the orders in, the boys go out to fish and prepare the catch as they’re coming back into the marina. Customers can come straight to the docks and pick up their fish fresh from that morning.”
John Deguara, Suncorp's Agri Manager for North Qld has been on the ground supporting Belinda and Michael through these challenging times and has praised the business owners for their quick thinking and entrepreneurship.
“Mick and Belinda were very quick to look at alternatives and have utilised the power of social media to market their produce locally,” said John.
“Suncorp was able to support this adapted business model, fast-tracking a mobile GPRS merchant solution. It has ensured Two Brothers Fishing can keep the process easy and safe for the public when purchasing, and for transactions to be received the same day which strengthens their cashflow.”
“These tough times force everyone to look at their business for any efficiencies they can achieve,” John continued. “It is early days, but the response from the local community has been very encouraging.”
As to whether they’ll continue on this route of diversification, Belinda says absolutely.
“We’re definitely going to keep this going. We’ve had such a good response from the community. It is supporting our business and our family, and we can keep all our guys on. It’s really hard to find fishermen!”