Sena Wheeler, Founder of Sena Sea

Episode Transcription

Glenn Harper [00:00:00]:

Hello, everybody. Welcome to another edition of the Empowering Entrepreneurs podcast. I’m Glenn Harper.

Julie Smith [00:00:04]:

Julie Smith.

Glenn Harper [00:00:05]:

No coffee today.

Julie Smith [00:00:07]:

I know. They didn’t have the order ahead, and, you know, I’m always running late. So

Glenn Harper [00:00:11]:

Well, there you have it. We’re stuck with drinking some water. Well, we’ve got a really treat today. We got a special guest all the way on the West Coast. We’re gonna do a brief introduction here. Sena Wheeler, a hardcore nutritionist with a panache for fishing. Her passion to perfect techniques for handling fish, to providing education on the fish food group, to providing the fishing industry with a model of how to run a 3rd generation family fishing business. She took her education experience from Mega Corp, Continental Mills, and founded CNSC.

Glenn Harper [00:00:42]:

This entrepreneur found a niche to create the direct link between the fisheries, fishes, fishies of Alaska. I put that in a purpose with a bad word because I thought it was cool. The fishies of Alaska, the fishermen of Alaska, and the people love to eat fish. She almost she’s almost manic on her passion to share the health benefits of fresh fish for the human body. Who wouldn’t wanna move to Alaska to put food science, and technology be at a good use? We we can all agree with is that when one cooks fresh fish properly, there’s nothing like it in the world. Thanks, Sena, for being on the show.

Sena Wheeler [00:01:12]:

Thanks so much. I love the intro.

Glenn Harper [00:01:14]:

It took a little bit of effort to do that. I I had to stalk you quite a bit.

Julie Smith [00:01:19]:

But if if you’re if you’re looking for a new employee, I think he’d he’d be there in a second to go to Alaska. So that’s all he’s talked about.

Glenn Harper [00:01:26]:

Soon as I saw, I was like, oh my god. This is this is gonna be a fun show. And, it’s funny how people end up where they end up and do what they do. And and the fun of this of this show and and sharing with other entrepreneurs and people that listen is just what that journey’s like. And we started off, it looks like you lived on you grew up on an island, Vashon Island in Mhmm. Washington, which is literally an island. There’s no bridges. It’s just ferries that go there.

Glenn Harper [00:01:50]:

Right?

Sena Wheeler [00:01:51]:

That’s right. You’ve done your research.

Glenn Harper [00:01:53]:

Yes. And I’m trying to figure

Sena Wheeler [00:01:55]:

But, yes, my husband, Rich, and I both grew up on that small island. No ferries, but it’s big enough for schools and all of that. We had, you know, one Dairy Queen. That’s the, you know, one fast food place, that kind of thing. But, my husband grew up only a few miles away, And so, yeah. That’s crazy.

Julie Smith [00:02:15]:

So would, like, the big outing be on the weekends? Like, you would go to go someplace else, or did you always stay on the island?

Sena Wheeler [00:02:23]:

So there’s ferries. And so, there’s ferries. And then the ferry, you go right to Seattle or right to Tacoma. So it’s this really interesting upbringing because you live on the island, but you can get to Seattle quite easily. You know, the ferry, then SeaTac, the airport is right there. So you’re you’re away from it all, but you have access. So, yes, it would be like when we would take my dad, you know, drop him off to go fishing. You know, you’re already in town.

Sena Wheeler [00:02:49]:

You’ve already taken the ferry, so it’d be like, well, let’s do some shopping and, you know, kinda make an outing of it before we head home.

Glenn Harper [00:02:56]:

That’s crazy. It’s so close. Yeah. You could probably sit there and look at the space needle in your background and just see what’s going on, but you’re really not in the city, which is kinda which is really it was very intriguing to see that. So when you live there and all of a sudden, you know, at some point, you’re deciding that you’re gonna go, you know, your upbringing there, it’s it’s different, but it’s not unlike everywhere else in the world. Right? You’re just doing

Sena Wheeler [00:03:21]:

what you do. You you

Glenn Harper [00:03:21]:

make do what you have. Mhmm. How did you why did you decide to go away to college, and how did you pick food, nutrition, and science?

Sena Wheeler [00:03:30]:

Well, my upbringing so my dad was a fisherman. My uncles were all fishermen. My grandpa was a fisherman, you know, multigenerational fishing family. And that’s out of Ballard in Seattle, most of my family, besides us, you know, my extended family. And so definitely grew up around fishing boats and fish, and then my mom owned a health food store. And so, we ate healthy just it wasn’t preached to us like, oh, you have to eat healthy, but it was just a way of life. And when you do eat healthy food, you feel good. And so when I went into college, I tried a few things.

Sena Wheeler [00:04:04]:

You know? At first, I was gonna be a pilot. I mean, that’s very different. Luckily, I tried it first. You know? I was actually flew a plane, and I was like, oh, yeah. This is not for me.

Glenn Harper [00:04:18]:

That’s something different.

Sena Wheeler [00:04:20]:

You know, that’s what college is about, kind of finding your way. And I took nutrition class and was like, this is just feels like something that I would go read on my own. I just found it so fascinating. And then, kind of took a lot of the nutrition degree focus use you towards an RD, so being in a hospital environment. And and I did my internship, and, again, some of the best things you learn are what you don’t wanna do. I did an internship in the hospital

Glenn Harper [00:04:47]:

and was

Sena Wheeler [00:04:48]:

like, nope. Don’t wanna

Glenn Harper [00:04:50]:

do that then.

Sena Wheeler [00:04:51]:

Don’t wanna do that. So I took kind of a right turn and went into the and really doubled down on the food science aspect of the nutrition and food science degree. So I I like the lab stuff, doing the food stuff. So I I got my master’s in food science at Oregon State. And in that process, I was again, I’m just thinking about food and laboratory food science, which I actually love. It’s so clear cut. It’s like, you know, when you do this, something happens. You can taste the result.

Sena Wheeler [00:05:22]:

You know? And then when I was, going into my master’s program, it’s like you have to find the professor and you have to be accepted and all these things. And I’m perusing these professors, you know, kind of behind the 8 ball a little bit. And this professor was, you know, food science in fisheries, and he’s going, oh, I need somebody that, you know, is comfortable on a fishing boat. They can they’re gonna be studying fish. They can go and pour their own samples and be comfortable on the boat. And I just wrote one email. It’s like, oh, yeah. You know, my dad’s a fisherman.

Sena Wheeler [00:05:53]:

I had been going up fishing with him in the summers in Alaska. We’re in Washington state, but I’ve been fishing in Alaska with him. I wrote one email, and he was like, great. You’re on, and, and we’re gonna pay for all your grad school. And I was like, oh, great.

Glenn Harper [00:06:11]:

So so I got so when you the fishing, is it when the where you grew up on the island, like, where everyone is putting out to sea, is that nearby and and everybody’s fishing year round, or was it just a seasonal thing?

Sena Wheeler [00:06:25]:

It’s seasonal. So, in the we’re in the Seattle area.

Glenn Harper [00:06:29]:

Yep.

Sena Wheeler [00:06:29]:

And so it’s not that unheard of in the Seattle area. We have a large fleet of fishermen that fish in Alaska. So what they’re gonna do is on a bigger boat so this is a longliner. We also do salmon, and that’s different. Yep. But for longliners, it’s like a 5 guys on a boat, smaller than the deadliest catch boats, but, almost, you know

Glenn Harper [00:06:50]:

k.

Sena Wheeler [00:06:51]:

Almost that big. So they take the boat down for the winter. They’re gonna do the repairs down in their own harbor, like, in in Seattle, and they work on the boat all winter long. Everybody does. All boats require maintenance all winter long. And then they take the boat up in the spring. So they, in those boats, it takes a week or 10 days to drive the boat up. They go very slow.

Sena Wheeler [00:07:15]:

And then the boat typically is gonna stay up in Alaska fishing for the season, so spring, summer, slightly into the fall. And if they have a a layup or they have a couple weeks off, they’re they’ll fly home and leave the boat for the season. And then the last trip of the year, they’ll load up the boat. They’ll usually fish their way down, load up the boat, and then take that last load down to Seattle and sell so they can sell and get Seattle prices, and then the boat’s there for the winter.

Glenn Harper [00:07:45]:

So when you would say you go fishing with your dad, you’re, like, going fishing for, like, months when you’re

Sena Wheeler [00:07:50]:

a kid. So when I was high school and college, I would go, say, right after school was out, I would fly up to Alaska and then take a couple trips with them and maybe time it. So I would, take the boat down too. So I would do a few trips, several weeks, be out with them. Yeah. A little bit different than what people think of fishing with your dad, you know. No problem.

Glenn Harper [00:08:16]:

Well, that’s what you’re thinking. Like, that’s a that’s not a trip. That’s a an expedition, basically. I I mean, you stand on the boat the whole time. Right? I mean, it’s a

Sena Wheeler [00:08:24]:

Oh, yeah. You can’t get off the boat. You can’t see land the whole time. So you it it’s really fascinating. When you’re out there in the in the night, you feel like you could be on the moon. I mean, you can’t see anything. You learn you know, I learned all the radar and all the navigation. I would actually drive the boat at night.

Sena Wheeler [00:08:41]:

So one of my roles when I was just starting out was they’ll rotate the guys, so everybody there has to be somebody out watching the boat even if it’s just, you know, drifting, in the ocean. And so they would rotate and be up at night. So everybody has to have a 1 hour shift. And so I would sometimes, just do the night shift. And so I could do be up, steering the boat. I would had my dad would put me on some course. Okay. Drift for an hour.

Sena Wheeler [00:09:10]:

You know, you have a plotter. Drift for an hour, and then in an 1 hour exactly, start up the engines, find your way back to the point. So drive us back to the same point you were at, and then shut the engines off. And then you have to lay the boat. You have to turn the boat so that you’re in the trough. So they only wanna row side to side because the guys are sleeping.

Glenn Harper [00:09:32]:

Mhmm.

Sena Wheeler [00:09:33]:

And there’s a door on one side of the boat, on the starboard side. You don’t have the wind coming in the door because that’ll wake everybody up. You gotta turn the boat around so that the wind isn’t coming in right. So it was very interesting to do at night by yourself. You just kinda slowly move in the boat around.

Glenn Harper [00:09:52]:

So this is crazy cool because, like, thought, like, somebody’s going up in the crow’s nest. You got a pirate flying, hanging out there, but it’s not like that. Right? You’re just but somebody you gotta stay awake all day and all night, so then you take turns. So you literally have a full full full day plus. Right?

Sena Wheeler [00:10:06]:

Working on

Glenn Harper [00:10:07]:

the boat.

Sena Wheeler [00:10:07]:

So if I did that and I did the night shift, I would maybe sleep in and then go out on deck when I when I woke up, and and then there’s a deck rotation. So on deck, there’s a whole rotation on a long line boat. You know, who’s doing what, and they they rotate around. Otherwise I mean, you get carpal tunnel anyways, but these motions are very repetitive. And so, they’ll, like, switch on every skate. So it’s like, when you’re a full share guy or a person is when you can join the rotation. So you’re not just doing the special jobs. You’re not just cutting bait.

Sena Wheeler [00:10:39]:

You’re in the rotation. Now you’re you’re taking a load off everybody, so that’s when you’re, like, a full share guy.

Glenn Harper [00:10:46]:

And when you say long line, this is when you’re actually individually lines or you’re doing nets or what how are you fishing for this stuff?

Sena Wheeler [00:10:52]:

So long line is how we fish for halibut and black cod, fish that is very deep. It’s it’s practically they like to be on the shelf where it’s gonna go really about to go really deep, actually. But it is well, my dad when we were fishing, my dad would say, it’s about 3 space needles deep.

Glenn Harper [00:11:10]:

Oh my.

Sena Wheeler [00:11:11]:

But it’s very deep. There are deepwater fish, and it is one long line. And so they’ll put in, like it’s like an anchor Mhmm. That has a a line up to a buoy and then one long line along the bottom of the ocean, and it’ll be several miles long. And every 3 feet is a ganyan with a hook. And so, long line is considered one of the sustainable preferred methods because there’s no dragging. It’s very specific. You would think a hook would catch anything, but the exact hook size makes a really big difference.

Sena Wheeler [00:11:50]:

They can even, like, kind of get this size of fish or that size of fish based on the hook size and then the bait, of course. But, also, they could just they could go out and they go for black cod. And then another trip, they’re going for halibut. Well, they’re gonna use the same gear, the same hooks. They might change the bait. They just change the depth and where they lay that line because they know where these fish are. So it’s very specific.

Glenn Harper [00:12:16]:

The the science of fishing is crazy for any type and species, whether you fly fish in the pond. I it is unbelievable, which and I think to the point that I’m I think that I’m just trying to get to this is the fact that, you know, being an entrepreneur or wanting to go into the family business, it’s hard work. It is total commitment. It is long hours. It is a thankless job, and you’re out there floating in the middle of the ocean. Like, people just can’t even comprehend it. But that’s how it feels like as a normal entrepreneur.

Julie Smith [00:12:46]:

I just can’t imagine my summers in college being on a boat for weeks on end with my dad fishing. Like, I just I’m I’m having our time just comprehending that in a in a nutshell, but I’m gonna bring us back to so you get this opportunity, to get your master’s degree. Is that where we’re at? And you get this because you know fishing. So tell walk us down, you know, this journey that you had while getting your masters with the fishing knowledge that you have while wanting to go into nutrition.

Sena Wheeler [00:13:17]:

Yeah. So it’s just one of those funny things. If, you know, now is so full circle. Now it’s like, oh, of course, I’ve got my master’s degree studying fish. But at the time, I was like, hey. I just want the degree. I just this worked out perfect because I feel comfortable doing this work, and I enjoy doing the the research. And and it was funny because, the research project I was doing was, quantifying the omega threes in albacore tuna, and they were saying, we wanna be like Copper River salmon.

Sena Wheeler [00:13:46]:

They have great marketing. It’s all about their omega threes. That’s what we wanna be. Well, I didn’t know later I would end up you know, we sell Copper River salmon. So it’s this whole fur full circle that, like, you don’t you don’t know when you’re doing it, but it worked out great. And then what I really wanted to do was work at a food company in a lab, and I did that for straightaway out of that, I went to, Continental Mills where I worked for a national food company. We did brownies, pancakes, and nothing to do with fish. And, we’re putting the dry mix in the box, and we you know? And I loved that too.

Sena Wheeler [00:14:20]:

I mean, I’m one of these peep I just love everything I’m doing. You know, mostly, I end up doing too much and taking it all on. But, you know, I love it all. That’s, like, probably my biggest problem. But I really loved that job. And I was doing, like, the scientific equipment. I was doing, statistical process control, you know, making sure that, the brownies come out perfect. How do you test a brownie? You know, all brownies are good, but we would measure the brownies, all the measurements to make sure that it is right.

Sena Wheeler [00:14:51]:

And so, I did that for 8 years until we were getting ready to have our 3rd kid. And Rich is gone. He’s gone 6 months out of the year. He my husband is fishing. Like, he’s gone on

Glenn Harper [00:15:07]:

for 6 months?

Sena Wheeler [00:15:09]:

He’s he’s gone gone fishing. We

Glenn Harper [00:15:12]:

How do you get

Sena Wheeler [00:15:13]:

that deal? We’ll try to do little visits, once a month. We try to see each other, but, he’s mostly gone. Yeah.

Julie Smith [00:15:21]:

Wow. So did he do kind of what your dad did? Kind of went in those footsteps. Did his I know we’re getting off track, but did his dad do that and that’s kind of how he got there? Or because it’s interesting that you guys both have kind of the same passion.

Sena Wheeler [00:15:36]:

No. He just like my dad, he’s the son-in-law that came into the family business. So my dad was trained by my mom’s dad who is Norwegian and immigrated from Norway. So this Norwegian way was taught to my dad as the son-in-law. And then, Rich, right around the time I was getting my masters and working on the food, Rich was breaking into our family business and would break into our boat. And so breaking in is the term, but, you know, was a greenhorn and learned the trade. So from that time on, he’s been fishing, and he, took a he fished on my dad’s boat, and now we have our operation, up in Alaska, but he long lines halibut, black cod, and he does salmon.

Glenn Harper [00:16:25]:

I bet, you know, by the time the 3rd kid come around, I bet Rich is just like, man, this is really hard having all these kids because he’s, you know, home for 6 months trying to deal with that. So poor guy, I I feel distressed for him.

Sena Wheeler [00:16:36]:

He he told me, oh, we should have more. We should have more. I said, listen. Our 3 kids is like 6 to me.

Glenn Harper [00:16:41]:

Literally. Literally. Well, you know what’s cool about this is, like, you have this practical, like, hard work experience of in the trenches, you know, producing, fish, making that happen. But at the same time, you got this thing in your head that you’re like this, geeked out scientist that wants to know how it all works. And then -Right. -to get the opportunity to be able to go and get the scholarship to explore that fully, know that you got this in your hip pocket, you can go get your experience at the Mega Corp, then you’re like after a while, you’re like, alright. I’m done with the science in this industry. I’d like to merge them together.

Glenn Harper [00:17:16]:

And that’s when you said, I’m gonna start a company? Or how did you, like, decide Well, I

Julie Smith [00:17:19]:

don’t know how she walked away from the brownie making, to be honest.

Glenn Harper [00:17:22]:

Well, she

Julie Smith [00:17:22]:

still got people in. Hard.

Glenn Harper [00:17:24]:

That was hard. People there. She’s got people.

Sena Wheeler [00:17:26]:

That was hard. I mean, we would have, like, bread machines. They have, you know, a dozen bread machines. And in the mornings when they’re doing the bread, they’re testing bread, they have a dozen bread machines going. The as you walk in, this, like, bread

Glenn Harper [00:17:39]:

Heaven.

Sena Wheeler [00:17:39]:

Making smell is wafting in, and you’re just like, oh, am I in

Glenn Harper [00:17:43]:

heaven? Wow.

Sena Wheeler [00:17:46]:

So that was super hard to leave. We I we actually, we built a cabin very rural. And at that time, it was like, okay. We’re we’re just gonna raise our family and just kind of go back to roots, and we just lived very rurally. We had our 3rd child. I was able to stay home. It was really amazing. So, you know, 4 years into that, I’m I’m, like, thinking, okay.

Sena Wheeler [00:18:09]:

Great. Now I’m now I’m doing a lot of home cooking. Our kids have allergies that I’ve discovered because I’m home and have a little more time. I’m doing a ton of home cooking, from scratch and things like that, and we took our road trip. We’re going to see my family for Thanksgiving. And Rich was fishing for salmon now, and he was on the marketing association board. So they’re marketing for Copper River. Right? And I’m just chirping away.

Sena Wheeler [00:18:35]:

Oh, you should do this. You should do that. You should market it like grass fed beef. You should do this. You guys should do that. And Rich just finally looks at me and goes, you should. And I was like, what? And he’s like, you should sell my fish. We are doing so many special things on the boat.

Sena Wheeler [00:18:52]:

Like, because of my, you know, experience at Oregon State, I was studying you know, part of what I was studying was onboard handling techniques and how they correlate back to quality. So it’s like, okay. You have to bleed the fish right away. You know, any flopping on the deck causes bruising, all of that stuff. So so he’s doing all of this special technique on the boat, but then his fish is going in with everybody else’s when he sells it at the dock. So at that moment, he was like, you should sell my fish. You know I take care of it better than anybody out there. Our fish is the best.

Sena Wheeler [00:19:29]:

Copper River is already the best on the planet. There’s literally no better fish, and we know what we’re doing. So why don’t you sell it? And I was like, okay. And by the time we got to Thanksgiving, we arrived, and we said, hey. We’re starting a business. It’s called Senesee.

Glenn Harper [00:19:50]:

The best. So here you are sitting in, you’re sitting in Antioch, Washington, a thriving metropolis of 13 126 people. And you’re living off the grid. And next thing you know, you’re gonna be a corporate raider and building the building the brand. That’s awesome.

Sena Wheeler [00:20:08]:

We decided to build an online business. And at that time, we had barely any Internet. So we we had satellite Internet, which is if anybody knows when they know when you know, you know, it is just horrible to deal with. And, you know, you can’t you could do email or something light, but you could only do video, say, download video or stream. You can, from 8 PM to 8 AM. So you can do stuff in the night. And so here we go. Rich leaves for Alaska.

Sena Wheeler [00:20:39]:

I’ve got 3 small kids, and I’m, like, trying to figure out this whole Internet business thing with my bad Internet. And I took an online course, and it was video. So it was like, alright. Well, I have to get up at 6 in the morning and do my video course while I have this Internet window. And, it was one of those things where, you know, I think it I did better because it was like, no. I have to get up at 6 in the morning, and I have to do this video and get it done before the Internet goes out. And it just so happens my kids are sleeping and things like that. And so it kinda forced me to just, well, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Sena Wheeler [00:21:18]:

You know?

Glenn Harper [00:21:20]:

Did, how big is your company now? How many employees do you have? And

Julie Smith [00:21:24]:

Wait. I wanna know at what point you get really upset about having to do this Internet from 6 AM to 8 AM that you decide, hey, I’m gonna go back on the grid and I’m gonna make this easier for myself while I raise my kids.

Sena Wheeler [00:21:40]:

About 4 years.

Julie Smith [00:21:41]:

Oh my gosh. I would have made

Glenn Harper [00:21:42]:

it 4 days. The discipline, it pays off. Discipline.

Sena Wheeler [00:21:47]:

Yeah. Yeah. We’re about 4 years later, we, moved down. It was like, okay. You know, let’s let’s really do this. And I’m going, oh my gosh. Internet all day. I don’t even know what I’m gonna I mean, like, wow.

Sena Wheeler [00:22:01]:

I don’t have to go, you know, go drive an hour, literally an hour to the Starbucks to do something.

Glenn Harper [00:22:09]:

That’s crazy.

Julie Smith [00:22:10]:

That is insane. So how much did your company grow from day 1 to the day you decided you needed better Internet?

Sena Wheeler [00:22:19]:

Well, we, from the beginning, I would say we doubled about every year. And moving into Internet definitely, made a huge difference. And then, that was

Julie Smith [00:22:32]:

the 15 5, what was that what did that growth look like?

Sena Wheeler [00:22:38]:

So I would say, Quadrupled? No. I we doubled, but it was like, you know

Glenn Harper [00:22:46]:

The bigger double. Yeah.

Sena Wheeler [00:22:47]:

A big you know, every double is bigger. Yeah. So I would say I’m I’m trying to remember exactly, but probably from about, like, 250,000 to, like, 500,000. You know? Like, we took that was a big step. Then our other our other big double, we we luckily, we were already we had moved into Internet, which was really great, and we’d moved into a bigger warehouse. And then, COVID hit, and we were ready. You know, we were already doing we were shipping to people’s stores. We already had the shipping worked out.

Sena Wheeler [00:23:20]:

We’ve been doing this, and that was another big doubling that was just, actually we quadrupled overnight. It was just like,

Glenn Harper [00:23:29]:

Question. What is the warehouse in Alaska, or is it in Washington?

Sena Wheeler [00:23:34]:

It’s in Washington, so I did skip a step. So the same year that we moved into into Internet

Glenn Harper [00:23:41]:

21st century.

Julie Smith [00:23:42]:

Out of

Sena Wheeler [00:23:42]:

the out of the mountains. We also so we’ve been fishing, and we’ve been getting our fish cut by this small, fishing processor. They were small. Everybody else is the big guys. Right? The tridents and the people shipping to Costco, but we have this small plant cutting our fish. And that’s a huge part of what people like us are doing. Nobody wants to deal with, okay. I’m cutting your fish and giving it back to you.

Sena Wheeler [00:24:07]:

I’m packaging it into 6 ounce portions. They don’t wanna deal with it, but we had this little plant that was doing it. And then about 4 years in, they said, hey. We’re gonna sell. And, they came to us, which was we were just these small little direct marketers, but we were doing enough fish that they were like, hey. We see that you’re doing something because we see how much fish you’re moving. Do you wanna buy this plant? And we were like, what? We’re just we’re just fishermen and and these direct marketers. But we really thought about it.

Sena Wheeler [00:24:36]:

And it was you know, if we didn’t buy it, probably the the one of the big operations we have 3 or 4 big operations in town. They would have bought it just to

Glenn Harper [00:24:45]:

Put you down. Mhmm.

Sena Wheeler [00:24:47]:

Just to monopolize, just to have so nobody else does. And this is where all the community cuts their fish. We do a lot of subsistence stuff for the locals. You know, you need a small facility. And so, Rich went to work that winter, found 10 investors, and we bought it. Awesome. And so now we have we’ve we still fish. We also open buy from fishermen that we know and trust, and then we have the processing facility that we run and process our own fish.

Sena Wheeler [00:25:21]:

We can create do however we want, and nobody can do that. And then we have the warehouse down in Washington. So Rich gets it all fished and cut and in 6 ounce packages, and then he sends it to me in Washington. I have a warehouse. It’s just a big freezer. And we aren’t doing anything down here but counting it out, and we’re putting it into small boxes to ship overnight to people’s store.

Glenn Harper [00:25:47]:

Got it. So let me see if I got this straight. Because, again, I’m so intrigued. You have no idea. So here we are. We’re going we’re fishing higher. We’re fishing on the boat, and we gotta and then do we clean them and freeze them there, or do we put them in the live well?

Sena Wheeler [00:26:03]:

So there’s several types of fish, but up there, we’re doing we’re right on the salmon ground. So we’re right on the Copper River ground. Right. So these boats live in the harbor, And they go out to fish, and they come back that night with their fresh fish.

Glenn Harper [00:26:16]:

Unload.

Sena Wheeler [00:26:16]:

And so we have a dock operation. So we can, load them right off the dock, and then we put them in totes. So we take them straight into the, to the plant. And then we head and gut and then portion and freeze immediately. So this is what they’re talking about with this frozen at peak of freshness. All of that is is they’re caught, and then they’re cut and frozen. And then, individually, we we actually wrap with parchment paper so they don’t touch plastic. We individually freeze a 6 ounce and put it in our commercial freezer.

Sena Wheeler [00:26:52]:

So it’s all about that really good freezing.

Glenn Harper [00:26:56]:

Mhmm. And

Sena Wheeler [00:26:57]:

so at that point, we have this fully packaged, cut, frozen. It’s actually sushi quality now because it’s been frozen for proper time and time. People get that wrong. They think it should be fresh. But now we have this sushi quality frozen, and that’s what we ship down to Washington. So in Washington, it’s just a freezer and a packing line. We’re not we’re not there’s no, people walk in, they go, it doesn’t even smell like fish. It’s like, no.

Sena Wheeler [00:27:24]:

It’s

Glenn Harper [00:27:25]:

All frozen. There’s yeah. So the key to this thing is the technique that the Norwegian Ancestry had taught you guys how to do. When that fish comes off the line, which gives a nice massage, gets it all squared away. So we unload it. The fish is real happy, and then we do our processing. So it’s a it’s a good it’s not a traumatic process, if you will. Right.

Glenn Harper [00:27:43]:

Now, all this fish that you guys catch, at the beginning, he’s still going in boatload after boatload, but you guys aren’t using it all. So, you’re just putting in the general population to sell. And then now, you guys have got such success with your warehouse in selling these things. You’re not only getting your boats, but you’re buying from other folks that you know that are doing it the same way. Correct?

Sena Wheeler [00:28:05]:

Mhmm. Yeah. That’s right.

Glenn Harper [00:28:07]:

So it’s the same fish out sitting

Sena Wheeler [00:28:09]:

out there.

Glenn Harper [00:28:10]:

Yeah. Same fish. I catch it. Someone else catches it, but somehow when it gets to your warehouse, it’s gonna taste better than that, guys. Because they’re not they’re

Sena Wheeler [00:28:17]:

gonna eat. All about time temperature. So when you’re talking fish, it’s time temperature. You that fish comes up over the rail, and the clock starts ticking. And this time temperature is is the biggest deal. So, you know, you’ve gotta get it to it’s time temperature till you get in the freezer, and then it stops. So from over the rail to in the freezer. And this is the the fallacy of people going, oh, I want fresh fish.

Sena Wheeler [00:28:39]:

I wanna go to my grocery store and get fresh fish. Well, that means nobody’s stopped the clock. The time temperature is going. So our fish is pulled up over the rail. It needs to be handled properly and the temperature reduced right away. So we have bleed boxes. We have water. We have RSV.

Sena Wheeler [00:28:57]:

So we’re getting it on ice immediately, So cooling that fish immediately onboard the boat. And then at the plant, processing it very quickly, getting it to the freezer. So we’re just taking that time temperature window and just at the grocery store, you’re at 10, 14 days. We’re going, okay. It’s just day hours, and then we’ve got it in the freezer.

Glenn Harper [00:29:19]:

Is this like a proprietary process that you have that nobody else uses, or you just figured out on your own or is this I mean, obviously, you’re

Julie Smith [00:29:26]:

protecting masters

Glenn Harper [00:29:27]:

degree in this. But I’m but I’m asking is, like, is there anybody else doing it this way or did you guys crack the code and you guys you got the secret sauce?

Sena Wheeler [00:29:36]:

I would say, we’re anybody could do it really well like we do if they cared enough and just did it if if they had top quality their as their top priority, then they can do it. But what helps us is our small plant and that we’re committed to doing it right. But the time temperature and the the steps that give you the premium quality aren’t top secret. It’s just

Julie Smith [00:30:01]:

Whether or not they apply

Sena Wheeler [00:30:02]:

it. Right? Yeah. Yeah. And doing every step.

Julie Smith [00:30:04]:

Whether or not they apply.

Glenn Harper [00:30:06]:

Right. Right. I well, I’m gonna buy some fish here as soon as I get off this call.

Julie Smith [00:30:09]:

I know. I’m, like, gonna

Glenn Harper [00:30:10]:

get shipped

Julie Smith [00:30:11]:

directly. Love salmon, so this is awesome.

Sena Wheeler [00:30:13]:

Oh, yeah. So

Julie Smith [00:30:15]:

You’re in so I wanna I’m gonna go go back. So you’re in with the no Internet phase. How many employees do you have at that point?

Sena Wheeler [00:30:23]:

So at that point, it’s just, me. Rich is gone fishing, and he’ll send the fish down. And, I mean, I’m going to the airport and picking it up. I’m taking it in. I’m doing the Internet stuff. And then I have a guy that, may we ship on Mondays. That’s when we get the dry ice and we get stuff out. And so at that time, I have a guy, a warehouse guy that’s coming in on Mondays.

Sena Wheeler [00:30:49]:

But, then walk me through

Julie Smith [00:30:53]:

that. So you’re you’re doubling every year. Right? And you’re making some big doubles. What does that mean in terms of people?

Sena Wheeler [00:31:01]:

So down here, we have actually okay. I will say everybody out there, hire before I did. Right about the time we quadrupled with COVID, would’ve been a great time to be hiring. Of course, at that point, we were packing as a family. We we couldn’t hire. We you know, you it was COVID. So we we had when we doubled, we doubled our warehouse space. We have a big warehouse and a big freezer.

Sena Wheeler [00:31:30]:

And my warehouse guy comes you know, he’s, like, 3 days a week. But down here, this operation is very lean. We have a, you know, a guy that drives a little bit, and we have a packer. I’m just starting to get help with social media and, doing some, you know, more online, but it’s been a bit of a kind of a one woman show down here. And then Rich has about 25 guys seasonally up in Alaska that, at the processing facility.

Julie Smith [00:32:00]:

And has your dad been able to watch this progression and what you’ve been able to build?

Sena Wheeler [00:32:05]:

Oh, yeah. He he really loves it. He actually he went to UW and has a degree in communications, and I think that he and then he was always a fisherman. And so I think he always felt like, oh, I didn’t use that degree. And I think that watching this process, watching us do it totally differently, he’s been really involved. A big part of what I do is I write these, email newsletters, and they’re very very personal, very story based, and it’s really about our journey and about us. And he gets a real kick out of that, and, he proofreads them. He he, because I I told him well, he would I’d send it out, and then he’d be like, oh, this or that.

Sena Wheeler [00:32:46]:

You know, you misspelled Gail or something. And I’m like, okay. Well, if you’re gonna, do that, then you can do that for me before I sit. But he’s gotten a real kick out of it.

Julie Smith [00:32:58]:

And how about your mom and her nutritional store? Has she been able to use what you’re doing in there?

Sena Wheeler [00:33:04]:

She sold that, a long time ago. But she,

Glenn Harper [00:33:13]:

I

Sena Wheeler [00:33:13]:

would say just even her cooking style is is so much when we get together for family stuff and I come in. And now when we get together, it’s like, I come in. I’m I’m gonna bring a bunch of fish. I’m gonna cook it all up, you know, because that’s what I do. And and, but our cooking style is still so much the same that I’m like, I’m doing this and bringing this. Don’t buy that because I know the children just have all the same stuff. So it’s it’s it’s super fun to get together and cook together. You know?

Julie Smith [00:33:41]:

And how old are your kids now?

Sena Wheeler [00:33:44]:

Okay. Well, the website, they look really small because they are those pictures are so cute, and I cannot bear to take them off. And the on the website, they’re, like, probably 3, 6, and 9. And right now, they are 12, 15, and 18. And so it’s a different look, and I know I should switch it out.

Glenn Harper [00:34:04]:

Are you putting are you putting them to work in the family business, I assume?

Sena Wheeler [00:34:08]:

Yes. They have a lot of experience. They go up on the boat every summer. When we could go longer when they were small, but now they’re so they have so many sports and so many things. We go at least 2 weeks on the boat, and, it’s a very small boat. This is salmon boats are small, built for 2 guys. But, we they they have their jobs on board. Our son is 18, so he’s fished on our boat and other people’s boats so he could fish.

Sena Wheeler [00:34:36]:

And then our middle daughter, she’s taken the food science route. She loves to cook. And she right away, we said, well, everybody has a job on a boat. You know? And she said, I’ll be the cook. So from, like, age 9, she said, okay. You at least learn how to do pancakes or something. So she’s been cooking, and so that’s her her thing. She cooks.

Sena Wheeler [00:34:54]:

And then we have our little redhead who is she goes out on deck with dad. And and on a salmon boat, you can drive the boat from on the open deck and be up on the bow and, you know, the spray, and she’s the one that’s out there with dad going, yeah. She loves it.

Glenn Harper [00:35:11]:

This is awesome. Yeah. So when you’re doing this thing, it sounds like, you know, most people, when they have to scale their business, they have to just, you know, do crazy amounts of things to make that happen with people and things. You didn’t really have to do that. You just kinda I mean, you worked harder, but you didn’t add a 1,000 people and 12 distribution centers and add a bunch of people. You just were able to keep what you were doing and just kind of scale up. Well, how big are you gonna get or how big do you wanna get before you’ve gotta go to that next stair step and bring in a bunch of people and grow the business? Are you are you planning on doing that, or you just wanna kinda maintain where you’re at?

Sena Wheeler [00:35:47]:

Well, that might be where Rich and I differ a little bit. But I’m I am very logistics minded, so that’s probably why and my our next growth goals are like, well, we’re gonna receive we’ll have efficiencies here, and we’ll have efficiencies here. So, you know, we could double again and with probably very similar look in people, and just gain some efficiencies with our shipments and things like that. But, I am very careful because I don’t really wanna run a business. My husband loves he’s got 25 guys. That’s one of his favorite parts. He likes managing people, and I don’t really love that part.

Glenn Harper [00:36:26]:

Hate people. I I mean, she did live in

Julie Smith [00:36:29]:

the mountains with no Internet.

Glenn Harper [00:36:30]:

I get it. You’re speaking to the choir.

Julie Smith [00:36:32]:

I I actually don’t mind that.

Sena Wheeler [00:36:34]:

Yeah. And I think it’s just being honest with yourself. We did do I skipped there’s a part where we grew with farmers’ markets. So we were doing up to 12 farmers’ markets a week. And then during COVID, we we stopped all of that, and we and then our online quadrupled. And I was grateful because running 12 farmers markets, we did have people doing that, and that’s a lot of management, and that’s hard, hard work. And we did put our time in at the farmers markets ourselves a lot. So not doing that.

Sena Wheeler [00:37:02]:

We do the one now that’s local, and we have, and Brett does that for us. But it’s, so I’d I really like keeping it the size that’s pretty manageable and efficient. And so I’m not after exponential growth. I’m after really efficient growth, and and I would say we’ll probably stay fairly lean down here. Now you talked to my husband, and he distribution centers, multi this, multi that, across the country. He’s a little more interested in that.

Glenn Harper [00:37:36]:

Well, you know, once the kids

Julie Smith [00:37:37]:

That might be your daughter’s thing. You know?

Glenn Harper [00:37:39]:

She might

Julie Smith [00:37:40]:

be the one who takes that over somewhere.

Glenn Harper [00:37:41]:

I mean, honestly, once your kids get up and out, I mean, what are you gonna do with all your time?

Sena Wheeler [00:37:46]:

Right.

Glenn Harper [00:37:46]:

And so there’s there’s and that’s what’s cool. So the cool thing about this is that you don’t have to grow a massive company to be successful at what you do. You just gotta enjoy it and know what that looks like. And you’ve had a lot of again, those quiet nights alone by yourself thinking with no Internet, I think you get a lot of introspection.

Julie Smith [00:38:03]:

Well, that’s when she had the Internet, was it?

Glenn Harper [00:38:05]:

No. No. No. No. Well, maybe that’s the case. But, yeah, you get to really figure out who you are and what you want. So all your listeners out there, like, find some quiet time. It really will probably come to you at that point.

Glenn Harper [00:38:15]:

I’ve got this crazy question here because it says I’m supposed to ask this question, but, like, Copper River Salmon. Why?

Sena Wheeler [00:38:26]:

Oh, why is it so special? Why is it the best fish on the planet?

Glenn Harper [00:38:31]:

Yeah. I thought Isn’t

Julie Smith [00:38:33]:

there a time frame on that too? Like, there’s like I don’t know. This is these are rumors I hear because I’ve never been to Alaska. But isn’t there like a time frame where that’s it only happens in this time frame?

Sena Wheeler [00:38:45]:

Yeah. So that’s it’s one thing that makes it so special. So Copper River so salmon always you catch it when it’s so salmon lives in the river. It goes out to the ocean, and then it comes back. And so you catch it when it comes back. So we’re at the mouth of the river. We’re not in the river, but we’re in the ocean as the salmon’s returning. So you you catch it when it returns.

Sena Wheeler [00:39:06]:

We you could go out there right now. You’re not gonna catch anything. But, all every species of salmon, it comes back to its own river. So it’s it’s Copper River is a species. It’s because they return to that river. So for one thing, the Copper River is totally pristine. No deforestation. No mining.

Sena Wheeler [00:39:26]:

No nothing. I mean, you wouldn’t believe it out there, but it’s very cold. It’s very, rugged, very fierce. And so one theory is that these fish, they put on more omega threes. So they have higher omega threes for this journey back for their spawn. But, overall, the Copper River salmon have more omega threes. And on fish, it’s kind of like beef. You know, the higher the fat content, kind of the better the quality.

Sena Wheeler [00:39:53]:

Mhmm. But in fish, it’s great because the higher the fat quant content, the better the quality, the better it tastes, and the better it is for you. So we got that on our side too, which is really nice. And so it’s that high fat content. And when you see the color, you you’ll get some, and you’ll see the color. And it is bright red. We have people all the time on social going, well, that’s photoshopped. It’s like, well, then you haven’t had wild Alaska and sockeye because it is bright red.

Sena Wheeler [00:40:22]:

And, so it’s got that gorgeous color, the high omega threes. And then it happens to be commercially speaking so there might be some small rivers that they they might spawn first, like, way up in the Yukon or something like that. But commercially speaking, like, big enough to come down and sell at the grocery store, Copper River is the first species to go to return. And so all I mean, now there’s farmed fish, right, that is sort of like, I don’t know, sort of available all year, which I don’t trust that. But if you’re talking wild salmon, there’s literally no wild salmon all winter long. So you’ve eaten frozen or kind of refreshed at the grocery store, but that’s also the big deal. It’s the first big commercial run of the springtime. And so the grocery stores, the people, everybody is just craving this wild salmon, and it’s the first one.

Sena Wheeler [00:41:17]:

So it’s a really big deal.

Julie Smith [00:41:19]:

So when do we order that?

Sena Wheeler [00:41:22]:

So it’s the run opens mid May. We don’t even know. They count fish as it comes. And so we don’t fish until they get their 1,000,000 fish gone through. So it’s it’s it’s it’s very, very regulated for sustainability, I mean, on a daily basis. And so we don’t fish until we’ll find out the opener days before, but it’s right around mid May. And we start preselling it in early May because that’s how popular it is.

Julie Smith [00:41:51]:

Well, I’ve gotta set an alarm on my phone. Okay.

Sena Wheeler [00:41:54]:

Yeah. Right around May first, we start preselling. And then and then I’ve mentioned the sockeye, but the Copper River King, they run at the same time. So they’re bigger fish. They’re even fattier. They’re thicker. The the the fat the omega threes is off the charts. It’d be like your Wagyu.

Sena Wheeler [00:42:10]:

You know? And it’s one of these fish where it’s like, if you’ve had it, then you just know. And if you’ve never had it, you really wanna try it. And so at the same time, we’re selling Copper River King. And Copper River King, we just don’t know how much is gonna be there. It’s much more limited quantities, so we presale really carefully. And then as we catch, we sorta open up a little bit more, and I’m on the email. Okay. I opened up a little bit more, you guys.

Sena Wheeler [00:42:35]:

Okay. Jump on right now. There’s there’s a little bit more, but that’s as we’re catching or selling. And then we bring it down. The end of May, we do 2 weeks of fresh, which our whole business is around premium frozen. But during that 2 weeks of May, we’re catching it so fast and sending it down so fast, we literally don’t have time to freeze it. We’re getting

Glenn Harper [00:42:58]:

it straight to the bottom of the flesh.

Julie Smith [00:42:59]:

I’m like, we don’t have enough time.

Glenn Harper [00:43:01]:

I got so the first question is, if you do their your process and it gets frozen, how long does that fish last frozen where it still tastes good and still good for you? Is that like a 6 month, 3 month, a year, 2 years? How long does that last?

Sena Wheeler [00:43:15]:

We say a year. And I and and I feel really confident about that because we eat it all winter long. And so we eat it all winter. It’s no problem. We we know we freeze it to last a year, and then it’s like magic. Right around right around when that fresh fish comes from the next season, you’re like, yeah. Pass.

Glenn Harper [00:43:34]:

So second question then is so in Ohio, if we wanted the fresh one that comes in, we could get on the list, maybe, and we could get fresh for a

Julie Smith [00:43:43]:

couple weeks. Getting on that list.

Glenn Harper [00:43:44]:

And then Yeah. Then it goes back to frozen.

Sena Wheeler [00:43:46]:

Yeah.

Glenn Harper [00:43:47]:

And Mhmm. From a taste standpoint, does the fresh like, like, here’s the frozen and here’s the fresh flavor. Is it noticeable?

Julie Smith [00:43:56]:

Our our people listening can’t hear you. So he’s doing

Glenn Harper [00:43:58]:

something arm like a a a chart here, like

Julie Smith [00:44:01]:

a Like like 6 inches above, 12 inches above.

Glenn Harper [00:44:06]:

Is the flavor that much better? The fresh versus the frozen.

Sena Wheeler [00:44:10]:

I would say, you know, we specialize in premium frozen. And so our frozen is probably pretty close to the fresh. Yeah. And the frozen is a little more convenient because you can get it. You can put it in your freezer. You can defrost it when you want. But it’s still so appealing to get that fresh and just be like, there’s no better.

Glenn Harper [00:44:34]:

Well, literally, that the season starts, we got fresh fish coming. This is I mean, it’s just like any hunting season, you get the first buck. I mean, you get it’s like a you look forward to the buzz. Alright. So we gotta get another

Julie Smith [00:44:43]:

Well, we got we’ve got the buzz going. No. I’m got the buzz. You better get another boat out there after people listen to this.

Glenn Harper [00:44:48]:

I’m going.

Julie Smith [00:44:49]:

But what if someone wanted it now? Do they just have to get on the list to get it? Like, I can’t get the ship shipping out on Monday. I just have to get on the

Glenn Harper [00:44:58]:

because it’s not ready? Free. There’s no

Sena Wheeler [00:45:00]:

So our Copper River sockeye yeah. We try to freeze enough for the whole winter, so we really try to have Copper River sockeye. It’s kind of our bread and butter. We try to have it year round. We have several species. Right now in you know, as we’re getting in close to April, May is when we start selling out of species. You know? Selling out, selling out, and we’re trying to manage that perfectly. We try to have it frozen all year until we have the next season available.

Sena Wheeler [00:45:27]:

I mean, that’s tricky, but somehow we we usually manage to manage each species right up until we have the fresh. Sometimes we sell out of the sockeye a little early, but but that’s so we’re selling the frozen. It’s still great. It’s still good. And then when the next season comes, it’s like, oh my gosh. You know, it blows the doors off because it that’s the deal.

Julie Smith [00:45:51]:

We’re gonna have to try both, the now and then Yeah. 6, 8 weeks.

Glenn Harper [00:45:56]:

It’s crazy, to have a business where you’ve able you’re able to create this buzz where people just they got to have it. Like, I need that. Right? And and that is the kind of the I mean

Julie Smith [00:46:09]:

But it’s her passion. And I mean, I give you so much credit for that. Like, coming into this, I’m not really a salmon lover. I’ve, you know, heard, read, you know, feed it to the kids, do all the things. But now I’m like, well, I got now I’m like, can we take a moment and I can get on the list right now. Right? But, like, before this podcast ends. So your passion truly comes forth in what you’re doing, how you’re doing it. I love that it started, you know, with your your dad and how that started with, you know, it’s like the whole generation, the whole family, You know, I don’t think my kids care about what I go to work and do.

Julie Smith [00:46:43]:

Right? Like, they’re just, you know, mommy goes to work. Right? And so you’ve been able to breed that passion generation to generation. And I mean, I’m gonna make my kids listen to this podcast so that they can understand that. But I think we have a couple questions we have to ask because it’s what we have to do. And unfortunately, we can’t keep going down. We can’t keep going down, you know, our our curiosity. So I think you’ve answered we kinda understand where you stand with the team and growing and scaling, and I think efficiency is amazing, and I love that that’s where your mind goes. But for our listeners, what is your superpower?

Sena Wheeler [00:47:21]:

So my superpower is well, I think of it as logistics. Like, you know, I came in as the scientist and I I’m doing the testing. And so I’ve always thought that it’s the logistics on the shipping side. You know, we have we have an algorithm that tells us how many, you know, portions in the box and all of that. Like, you know and that is a huge part of our success in keeping us very efficient. But I I I have to say that I am learning that perhaps, I write my emails and and explaining about fish just like you just said, which was very moving, and I very much appreciate, just being able to to share our passion for fish, has been it’s it’s been amazing to know that I have this story in me because when we started, I didn’t know. You know? I didn’t know how it would come out. I didn’t know that I would write an email every week for 10 years and still not be running out of topics.

Glenn Harper [00:48:23]:

That’s crazy.

Julie Smith [00:48:24]:

Maybe the next is, like, salmon brownies. How do you get all of that together?

Glenn Harper [00:48:28]:

Salmon and milkshakes. So, you know, one thing you didn’t mention that a lot of our guests do and our entrepreneurs have is they have these peaks and valleys and things. And it seems like from just our conversation, you can correct us wrong, but you’ve just had a pretty steady floating along on the boat, doing what you do. You’ve not had any major things that you shared yet in this journey. Is that a true statement or have you been through the schnizzle?

Julie Smith [00:48:55]:

I think she’s been through the schnizzle.

Sena Wheeler [00:48:57]:

There’s always there’s there always are peaks and valleys. I think that one of my things is I’m a stabilizer, so I’m the one home with the kids. Like, I’m no constant. Right? I don’t go. So I am I’m, like, constantly I’m trying to stabilize all the time. But but like COVID, I mean, quadrupling overnight, that was a peak. But I had to keep reminding myself, this is what success feels like because it felt like a valley.

Julie Smith [00:49:23]:

Yeah. That’s funny you say that.

Sena Wheeler [00:49:25]:

Yeah. It was that was it was a hard, good time, But, you know, so sometimes in business, it’s it’s hard because it doesn’t feel you know, success is hard work. It doesn’t feel the same. So but but yes. And we do a subscription service, and that’s a really big this time of year right now in the in the winter as we’re selling out is kind of a a traditionally a slower time. But I really lean into our our cycles are yearly, so we have a a peak at the at the May, June, and then we and then again in slide through it. So it’s

Julie Smith [00:50:12]:

and I’m taking this, you know, take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt and either lean into it or be like, I have no I can’t relate to that. But it would feel like for your family, the business success has this peak in the summer and in December. But for your family personal time, not business, you’re able to kind of lean into that in the off business times, if if that makes sense at

Glenn Harper [00:50:33]:

all. Mhmm.

Sena Wheeler [00:50:35]:

Oh, yeah. For sure. So in July early August, it’s actually a slow time for our business just because there’s fresh fish and fresh salmon available everywhere. So so you’d think maybe July would be big because we have a ton of fish at the plant, and we’re just like, there’s fish everywhere, but it’s actually a little bit of a slow time. And we that’s when we go up to Alaska. And so, it’s been awesome that I can leave. And and Brett, my warehouse guy, is amazing, and he can kind of take care of it mostly because it’s it’s like, okay. These numbers I can handle, and then we go up to Alaska and do our thing and and just really enjoy ourselves.

Sena Wheeler [00:51:17]:

And so being able to enjoy ourselves when when we can during those slow times is really nice. It’s the Christmas peak is kind of like, yeah. That’s tough. That’s Christmas for us too.

Glenn Harper [00:51:30]:

Well, I think the only other thing we haven’t talked about, and I’ll leave it at this, but I think the next $1,000,000,000 business idea is, like, idiots like me would love to go up there for 2 weeks and sit on a boat and figure out how to do this. Well, you have to have a job. You’re older. Right. But a whole ecotourism. I would do it. I would be the cook. I would do whatever.

Glenn Harper [00:51:47]:

I just think that, you know, going to a dude ranch, like, go to a go to a fishing boat. How if you’re not doing that, that sounds like I would be signed up for that tomorrow.

Julie Smith [00:51:55]:

I feel like the liability. My my mind goes to the business aspect of that.

Glenn Harper [00:51:59]:

I mean, how bad can it be? I I’ve gotta wear that all purpose suit that they wear, the survival suit because it’s headless catch. I

Sena Wheeler [00:52:05]:

don’t wanna die. I have thought about that because I we worked farmers markets, and and every male between 18 80 tells me the same thing. And I’ve thought about it. And once we gave we we did a a fundraiser, and we gave 1 a trip away. And then it was like, oh my gosh. What have we done? Like, our boat is small. They gotta live there. It’s like being in bunk beds.

Sena Wheeler [00:52:27]:

There’s no private space at all. You gotta really like these people Yes. And be in very close quarters.

Glenn Harper [00:52:34]:

We’d have a whole separate boat for these people. We just give them the experience, but it’s really not the real experience. Yeah. Right? Because there’s a movie in our way of everything. But I tell you what Right.

Julie Smith [00:52:41]:

We we have one more question, and I’m sorry.

Glenn Harper [00:52:44]:

Oh, yes.

Julie Smith [00:52:44]:

I know our time is coming to an end. But what is your end game?

Sena Wheeler [00:52:51]:

Oh, that is a really good one. So, one idea is somebody comes in and offers to buy it all and we just go, like, awesome. That’s just what we dream about sometimes. But mostly on the hard days. But I we I also have a vision of us just, sort of scaling back or or Rich and I, fishing together on the boat, you know, when the kids are gone and sort of fishing as a semiretirement, you can fish kind of slowly and carefully and just kind of doing that. Like, if I was to scale way, way back, I would, we would probably find ourselves just on the boat just doing the fishing, which, you know, I would love.

Julie Smith [00:53:36]:

Well, what I love is that your true honest answer was there’s no end game. You will continue to do something somehow with fishing, whether it’s big or small. So I I love that.

Glenn Harper [00:53:48]:

Oh, great. Well, I tell you, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show. I’m I’m thinking everybody that listens to this is gonna be flocking to buy some stuff you

Julie Smith [00:53:55]:

wanna do. How to get on the list.

Glenn Harper [00:53:57]:

Yeah. Give us the plug of of what we have to do to get on your company.

Sena Wheeler [00:53:59]:

Yes. Yes. So go online, Senasea.com, Sena Sea.com. Check out what we have. I do recommend our subscription service because you’re gonna get like, if you do our salmon seasonal, then as soon as the Copper River hits, you’ll get the fresh. You’ll or not the fresh. You’ll get the newest, latest frozen. And so, jump on our website, see what we have, and definitely get on our email list.

Sena Wheeler [00:54:28]:

That’s where I really share the passion, and that’s where you’re gonna hear as soon as I open up the presale, I tell the email list. So that’s where you got the goods.

Glenn Harper [00:54:38]:

Well, awesome. You’ve been you’ve been wonderful. I think our our fans are gonna love this one. So thank you very much, and, wish you the best in the season coming up in, what, 6 weeks, 8 weeks maybe? Yeah. 8 months.

Sena Wheeler [00:54:49]:

Coming up.

Glenn Harper [00:54:49]:

Alright. Well, great seeing you. Thanks a million.

Sena Wheeler [00:54:52]:

Thank you.

Episode Show Notes

This episode is brought to you by PureTax, LLC. Tax preparation services without the pressure. When all you need is to get your tax return done, take the stress out of tax season by working with a firm that has simplified the process and the pricing. Find out more about how we started.

We dive into the world of fishing and entrepreneurship with our special guest, Sena Wheeler, the passionate force behind the family-run business that provides top-quality Copper River salmon to seafood aficionados.

Sena not only shares the lore behind the highly sought-after Copper River salmon, known for its rich omega threes, lush red color, and exceptional taste, but she also peels back the curtain on the logistics and timing that make this fish a seasonal spectacle. As these prized salmon make their challenging journey back for spawning, we discuss the bustling activity during the premium weeks of freshness in May alongside the strategic approach of offering high-quality frozen fish to sustain demand throughout the year.

In true entrepreneurial spirit, Sena delves into how her background in fish science and nutrition led her down the captivating path of fishing alongside her husband, Rich. They’ve coupled their expertise in quality control and commitment to maintaining standards to grow a business that not only sells fish but also honors the generational art of fish handling taught by Sena’s Norwegian ancestry.

We talk about peaks, valleys, and the pivotal role of internet access in scaling their online business. With a clear vision for maintaining manageable growth, Sena remains grounded in efficiency and quality even as she dreams of the future, whether it involves scaling back or taking full advantage of ecotourism opportunities.

So, if you’re hooked on the idea of fresh fish, entrepreneurial grit, and stories of a family business navigating the tides of change, you won’t want to miss this episode.

Be sure to visit Sena Sea for the true taste of the Copper River and subscribe for insider updates.

Personal Storytelling in Business: “A big part of what I do is I write these, email newsletters, and they’re very very personal, very story based, and it’s really about our journey and about us.” — Sena Wheeler

Top Takeaways

1. Quality Through Adversity: The harsh environment of the Copper River requires salmon to develop high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, making them a premium product due to their fat content and taste.

2. Anticipation Builds Demand: The seasonality of the Copper River salmon creates excitement and demand, illustrating the value of offering a “first of the season” product in a business model.

3. The Fresh vs. Frozen Debate: Sena’s business highlights that properly frozen fish can maintain quality akin to fresh fish, which becomes an important selling point during off-seasons.

4. Scaling the Business Wisely: Sena Wheeler advocates for controlled business growth, preferring efficiency to unchecked expansion, illustrating the need for balance in business development.

5. Family Involvement & Legacy: Sena imbues her passion for the business into the next generation, with her children actively involved in the business and highlighting the intergenerational aspect of entrepreneurship.

6. Seasonal rhythms in Business: Acknowledging the peaks and valleys of a seasonal business allows for strategic planning and personal time, as exemplified by Sena using slower periods for family activities.

7. Logistics as a Superpower: Sena Wheeler sees logistics, particularly efficient shipping, and portion control, as critical to the success of her business, emphasizing the importance of operational mastery for entrepreneurs.

8. Educational Background Pivot: Sena’s shift from a focus on nutrition to a master’s degree in fish science and eventually starting her own business showcases the adaptability required of entrepreneurs.

9. Technology as a Business Enabler: Despite initial hurdles with internet access, the importance of technology proved vital in reaching a bigger market and scaling the business effectively.

10. Environmental Responsibility: The technique of longlining taught through Norwegian ancestry and the emphasis on proper care in processing fish not only ensures product quality but also stresses sustainable fishing practices for entrepreneurs mindful of their environmental impact.

These concepts not only demonstrate the specific insights from Sena’s experience but also broader entrepreneurial lessons that you can apply to your own business and personal venture.

Memorable Moments

00:00 Entrepreneur links Alaska fisheries and health benefits.

05:22 Master’s program acceptance due to fishing experience.

07:15 Fishing boat in Alaska, trips to Seattle.

10:07 Night shift, deck rotation, repetitive motions, full share.

15:36 Son-in-law joined family business, now fishes in Alaska.

16:41 Practical experience merges with geeked-out science.

20:39 Balancing family, online course, and poor internet.

24:07 Company considered buying plant.

26:16 Dock operation involves catching, cutting, and freezing.

35:11 Scaling business without adding extensive resources. Growth plans?

36:34 Transition from farmers’ markets to online sales.

47:21 Logistics are my superpower.

Running a business doesn’t have to run your life.

Without a business partner who holds you accountable, it’s easy to be so busy ‘doing’ business that you don’t have the right strategy to grow your business.

Stop letting your business run you. At Harper & Co CPA Plus, we know that you want to be empowered to build the lifestyle you envision. In order to do that you need a clear path to follow for success

Our clients enjoy a proactive partnership with us. Schedule a consultation with us today.

Download our free guide – Entrepreneurial Success Formula: How to Avoid Managing Your Business From Your Bank Account.

Copyright 2024 Glenn Harper

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