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December 12, 2016
2016 Fastest Growing Companies in Maine

Medium company winner: Maine Coast's rapid growth fueled by export sales of lobster

Photo / Tim Greenway
Photo / Tim Greenway
Tom Adams, the founder, owner and CEO of Maine Coast in York.

Maine Coast

15 Hannaford Drive, Unit 2, York

Founded: 2011

Top leader: Tom Adams, owner/CEO

Sales growth 2013–15: 71.9%

Number of employees: 35 in York, five in Boston

Contact: 207-363-0876 www.mainecoastcompany.com

Five questions

How would you describe your company's core mission? Our mission is to provide superior lobster quality and world-class customer service, support Maine's lobster industry by constantly innovating and exploring new opportunities and maintain a safe, healthy and fun work environment for our employees.

What were the key factors in your company's growth? Our fastest growing market is Asia. An estimated 30 million people enter the middle class every year in China. We are seeing increased demand from Europe as well as emerging markets in Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia.

How have you adjusted to the rapid growth? We have constantly reinvested in both infrastructure and a skilled workforce. In 2016, we added a satellite facility in Boston for easier access to Logan Airport and the Boston and southern New England markets. In addition we have added staff in operations, sales, marketing and administration.

Do you have plans to hire additional employees? We hired three new employees to join the sales team in Q4 2016 and will continue to increase staffing when necessary.

What can we expect for 2017? In the first half of 2017, we'll be adding a 9,000-square-foot addition in York that will provide two new loading docks and 30,000 pounds of additional lobster storage, bringing our total capacity in York to 180,000 pounds. We will continue to explore new markets, both at home and abroad.

Tom Adams had more than paid his dues when he created Maine Coast, his York-based live lobster wholesale company, in 2011. With almost 30 years in the lobster business, he had a clear vision of how his company could distinguish itself from the competition and grow.

He set his sights on international sales, in particular the emerging Asia market, which in 2011 was showing signs of great potential with China beginning to show interest in the iconic Maine lobster as a tasty alternative to lobsters shipped from Australia and New Zealand. In a mature market, he says, Maine Coast would have to take away market share from someone else; in an emerging market, the future was wide open.

His instincts have paid off handsomely.

Since 2011, Maine Coast has achieved an enviable record of yearly double-digit growth. Top-line sales hit $15 million in 2012, $24.6 million in 2013, just under $40 million in 2014 and $42.2 million in 2015. He's expecting to close out this year with sales of more than $50 million.

Between 30% and 35% of those sales are in Asian markets, with another 15% to 20% being in Europe and roughly half in domestic sales. In just five years, Adams' company has become a major player in Maine's lobster industry, which accounted for $331 million in total export sales in 2015 and 12.2% of the top 25 Maine export commodities.

Employment has tracked Maine Coast's rapid sales growth, with Adams reporting 20 full-time employees in 2013, 26 in 2014, 35 in 2015 and 40 in 2016.

Accolades have come along with his business's success: Maine Coast was named 2015 "exporter of the year" for Maine by the U.S. Small Business Administration and earlier this year Mainebiz selected Adams as one of 10 outstanding forward-thinking business leaders who were honored Nov. 3 as members of the 2016 Next List.

Even so, Adams is the first to admit there've been some challenging moments along the way, such as losing "several hundred thousand dollars" in his second year to an international customer who didn't pay his bills.

"It almost put us out of business," Adams says of that classic valley-of-death moment. "I've hit every pitfall you can imagine, but I didn't give up. I'm extremely passionate about exporting shellfish and expanding the Maine brand to international markets."

Besides investing heavily on marketing his company and the Maine brand, Adams says he's made a point of making strategic investments designed to sustain continuing growth. In July he opened a live lobster facility on the Boston Fish Pier, which puts his brand in the heart of Boston's vibrant food scene and also enables him to respond quickly to last-minute orders for southern New England and other domestic markets.

"We sell Maine," he says. "I named my company 'Maine Coast' for a reason. If we can get people to come to us here in Maine, it's a slam dunk. We've got them as a customer. If they can't come to us, we bring 'Maine' to them through our website and videos."

He says exports will remain a key focus of the company's business plan.

"China alone has to import 50% of its food just to feed its population," he says. "The opportunities are endless."

Read more

Large company winner: Specialty drugs propel Apothecary By Design's triple-digit sales growth

Small company winner: Opportunity knocks for Cheating Gourmet's co-founder brothers

Large company runner-up: Tilson

Large company runner-up: OTTO Pizza

Medium company runner-up: Horch Roofing Inc.

Small company runner-up: Energy Circle

Small company runner-up: Maine Foodie Tours

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