MATTHEW Beagley has been involved in the seafood industry for almost a decade, which is a significant period of time considering the Partridges co-owner is just 24 years old.
After leaving school at 15 to study marine tourism and fishing operations at Tafe, Mr Beagley went on to become a commercial fisherman out of Fremantle.
Looking for additional part-time work, he took a job at Nedlands-based seafood wholesaler and retailer Partridges.
After three years with Partridges, as he approached 20 years of age, Mr Beagley decided he wanted a new challenge and considered becoming a commercial diver.
When Partridges’ [then] owners became aware of his plans, however, they quickly moved to dissuade him from this course of action.
“The previous owners told me to hang in there and that they would eventually sell the business to me,” Mr Beagley said.
“So I hung in here for two or three years and they would say ‘not this year Matt’, then another 12 months would pass and they would say to me again ‘not this year’, but last July the dream came true.”
He had to self-fund his half share of the business and said he had great difficulty securing finance from the banks.
Now, 14 months into his new role, Mr Beagley said Partridges’ turnover had increased by more than 25 per cent, and he had secured arrangements to provide seafood to more than 50 new restaurants, including Rockpool at Burswood.
However, being taken seriously by customers was and still is one of the biggest challenges he has had to face in the day-to-day running of his business.
“Most people’s opinions are that nobody at the age of 24 can own and run their own business,” Mr Beagley said.
“People often tell me I look very young to be here ... but I love the seafood game and it’s all about delivering good service, top-quality seafood and if there are any problems they can come directly to me and I’ll sort it out.”
Mr Beagley said a key to maintaining the growth of the business was never being afraid to seek advice from mentors, and feedback from customers.
“I want to learn from others and apply that to the way I run the business,” Mr Beagley told WA Business News.
“I speak to the previous owners everyday and get advice from them, and that’s because I think it’s really important to get advice from people who have done it before and hear about the mistakes that they have made.”
Mr Beagley said his staff’s knowledge of seafood and how the business promotes sustainable fishing are some of the ways Partridges sets itself apart from other wholesalers.
“We cut all fresh fish to order; we’re not here to store fish, we are here to sell it and we get the best sustainable fish that we can buy,” he said.
“And we give the restaurants all the advice and information about the seafood that we can so they can make an informed decision, and that’s the same with our retail customers.”
With supplies of some species dwindling, Mr Beagley said wholesalers needed to do more to educate their customers about alternative options.
“People seem to think if a fish costs around $100 a kilo it has got to be good, but I think all the fish around $40 a kilo or under are really nice fish ... and we need to educate people that there are other good fish out there,” he said.
Working 80 hours a week and managing 10 employees hasn’t come without its challenges.
But with his business partner managing the administration side of the business, Mr Beagley has been able to maintain a hands-on approach.
“With some of our competitors, the owners aren’t downstairs cutting the seafood, watching the seafood go out and talking directly to their customers, and that’s the difference with us,” he said.
“When you call Partridges you can speak directly to me, and if I’m not contactable on the mobile I’m standing on that filleting board, cutting the fish, bagging it, pin boning it and scaling it.”
Other than a basic website, Mr Beagley said he hasn’t felt the need to invest in a marketing campaign to further promote the business.
“I still have the philosophy that word-of-mouth is the most important type of advertising that you could possibly have,” he said.
Mr Beagley plans to double the size of the business over the next three years, continue to promote sustainable fishing and hopes to encourage more young people to enter the industry.