2013-01-18 / People

Neighbors

Brothers’ story will inspire at SMCC business conference
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


John Ready John Ready PORTLAND — About three years after brothers John and Brendan Ready started their own business, Ready Seafood Company, they were finally starting to make some money. After they both graduated college in 2004, the Cape Elizabeth natives had put in long days of hard work catching then selling lobster, taking turns sleeping in the office.

Business had taken a turn for the better, and the brothers decided they wouldn’t go into the office the next day. It was Christmas Day. They’d spend time with their family, have a normal Christmas, and enjoy 24 hours of time off for the first time in years.

Big mistake, John said.

“The power went out and our pump was dead,” John said. “Half our tank was dead lobster.”

So instead of a “normal” Christmas, the brothers called up family members and friends in the area and spent Christmas night picking through tanks to sort out dead lobster.

“When things are good, something bad is going to happen. Businesses prove themselves in their bad days, not the good ones,” John said.

That was about six years ago. Today, Ready Seafood is thriving. The lobster wholesale company staffs 50 employees who work to bring in lobster, primarily from Maine and Canada, grade each one, separate them by size, pack them, then ship them off to vendors around the world. They now run an affiliate business, Fresh Maine Lobster, to offer their product directly to consumers.

The brothers, now in their early 30s, will be the keynote speakers at Southern Maine Community College’s “Launch or Grow” Small Business Success Conference on Friday, Jan. 25. The primary message John wants to get across to prospective small-business owners, he said, is go all-in, or don’t start at all.

“They better be willing to put in the hours, because if they’re not going to, they might as well go home,” John said.

That may sound blunt, but he stressed that everyone who wants to start their own business has the same opportunities he and Brendan had. Lobster is not a product that’s especially rare or unavailable, John said, so he and his brother had to differentiate themselves by building a stellar reputation. When they began, they sold lobsters they caught and packaged themselves, and could personally stand behind the quality of their product.

Around 9 a.m. on a Friday morning, when the operation at Ready Seafood is hitting its peak, the process moves like clockwork. A few dozen employees grade lobsters for quality and size, then move them down the line and into 100-pound crates, which are stored in an enormous tank in a large holding facility on the Maine State Pier. The tank holds almost 200,000 pounds of lobster, and is nearly fully stocked.

Being short on money wasn’t the only hurdle the brothers had to overcome to get their business off the ground. After graduating college, Brendan from Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., and John from Northeastern University in Boston, the two had to make a major lifestyle change as well.

“At 2 a.m., I was out loading trucks, getting texts from my friends on the west coast, in New York or Boston, or wherever else, saying I’m out at this killer party, or I’m at the bar come meet us. I’m in my overalls unloading a truck. That’s my lifestyle,” John said.

Today, the lifestyle changes are for the better. The two take some time to travel in early January, but stay in touch with the business through email and phone. Brendan, in Costa Rica on a fishing trip the week of Jan. 14, sent John three emails before 5 a.m. one morning.

However, the company’s growth hasn’t cut down on the challenges, John said. This summer, when lobsters flooded the market, he heard from one fisherman an extra tractor trailer full of lobster was coming in that night to an already full facility. John said he and Brendan stayed up all night on the phone until about 2 a.m. stressed and scrambling before they eventually found a home for the unexpected product.

The Readys’ interest in lobstering and their competitive spirit got started early. Before heading to college, they went out on the water in their father’s 16-foot skiff – “a piece of crap,” according to John.

“My uncle got me involved in lobstering when I was 7 years old. We lived in Cape, right on the water. We would walk down from our house on the beach with fuel in one hand and bait in the other, row out to a little boat, and fish out in front of our house. Our grandparents would watch us with binoculars. Literally we were 7 years old in a boat by ourselves,” John said.

“Money was never, and still today, is not a motivation factor of being a businessman,” he added.

For more information on the Launch or Grow conference, visit SMCC’s website at www.smccme.edu.

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