Tom Adams added to Mainebiz NEXT List

Since founding his York-based lobster startup business Maine Coast in 2011, Tom Adams has achieved an enviable record of yearly double-digit growth. 

Tom Adams, Maine Coast live lobster facility in York, Maine
Tom Adams, Maine Coast Founder/CEO

Tom Adams globally exports an iconic Maine brand

Originally published by Mainebiz. October 3, 2016.

By James McCarthy

Since founding his York-based shellfish company Maine Coast in 2011, Tom Adams has achieved an enviable record of yearly double-digit growth. Top-line sales hit $15 million in 2012, $25 million in 2013, just under $40 million in 2014 and $43 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.

Obviously, he’s flown past the “valley of death” many startups face in their earliest years. Adams says he’s now paying closer attention to other details of running a successful business, such as making sure his employees and the community are able to share in that success. He sees the company as being in the phase of consolidating its growth and establishing a sustainable structure that’s capable of managing increasing levels of revenue, maintaining strong customer relationships in a global marketplace and managing an expanding workforce.

“The important step we took last year is that we wanted to slow growth a little bit,” he says. “We were conscious of the risks of growing too fast. We wanted to continue the growth of the company in a fashion that would be sustainable over the long term.”

Adams made his first executive hire in 2015, enlisting an IDEXX veteran, Michael Delahanty, to be controller. “One of the reasons he was attracted here was our fast growth,” Adams says, adding that Delahanty is helping him to scale the business to ensure there’s a proper balance between revenues, expenses and having sufficient reserves to take advantage of growth opportunities when they arise.

Reflecting the commitment to marketing that he made from Day 1, Adams hired a marketing director, Annie Tselikis, who also serves as part-time executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association.

“Maine Coast and Tom aren’t afraid to talk about their successes,” Tselikis says. “I want to work for a company that is proud of being successful.”

“It’s to promote Maine lobsters,” Adams says, explaining that with success comes a social responsibility to the fishermen he buys lobsters from, his employees and the state his family has called home for many generations. It’s a team effort on every front, he says.

“It’s an iconic brand, an important part of the Maine culture,” he says. “The money we spend on marketing, going to trade shows, meeting officials in China on a trade mission with the governor of Maine, I try to do it on a professional level. We’re a tiny company, but we’re doing our best to shed a good light on Maine and lobsters in general.”

Personal contact is the key to success in both the Asian and European markets, he says. The company recently sent a delegation to Hong Kong for a seafood exposition and this fall Adams will spend two weeks in Korea, Taiwan and China meeting with existing and prospective customers.

“Face-to-face is incredibly important in Asian culture,” he says. “It might not have an immediate return on investment but it’s important for them to see us.”

Expanding to Boston

In July, Adams made a strategic decision to open a live lobster facility on the Boston Fish Pier. The 5,000-square-foot leased facility has the capacity to hold up to 30,000 pounds of lobsters as a complement to the 150,000 pounds of lobster stored in four holding tanks at Maine Coast’s York headquarters. Surprisingly, he says, it’s the first venue on the pier dedicated to selling lobsters; at the other vendors, lobsters are just part of the mix of available seafood.

“It’s not very far away, but it puts us in the heart of Boston,” he says. “It’s a way for us to put our name out there in a vibrant city. It also puts Maine and the Maine lobster industry onto one of the most iconic fish piers in the world. It’s a showcase for what we do here.”

Maine Coast has six full-time employees at its Boston facility. The expansion south is already paying dividends, he says, with Maine Coast picking up business with Boston restaurants that routinely buy seafood on the pier. It also enables Adams to respond to last-minute requests for orders in southern New England and other domestic markets, particularly on occasions when the last daily truck has left the York headquarters.

“Now we can accept that order and do it out of Boston,” noting that Logan Airport is a short distance away.

But Adams’ business focus isn’t entirely outward.

“It’s become incredibly important to me to share our company’s successes with the people who make it happen,” he says, noting that Maine Coast provides health insurance, a 401K plan with a company match, and a quarterly incentive program that pays bonuses to every employee for banner days. He also sponsors quarterly offsite staff events, where everyone can “have dinner and a couple of beers.” There’s even a quarterly “Golden Claw Award” with a Visa gift card that’s given to employees nominated by their peers.

“I wouldn’t be running a $50 million company if it weren’t for the people I have working for me,” he says.

About the Mainebiz NEXT List

Mainebiz is proud to introduce you to its 2016 NEXT list. These are 10 people changing Maine’s economy for the better. Some of them wear suits to work, others waders or jeans. But they’re all playing a role in hiring people, training people or attracting people to the state. They all have a vision for Maine, and we applaud their efforts. Read more about the 2016 NEXTers.