Fishmonger casts wider Net

Southfresh, currently an Auckland-based fish wholesaler, is changing its business from fish to Internet exchange management.

Southfresh, currently an Auckland-based fish wholesaler, is changing its business from fish to Internet exchange management.

"If we're going to be put out of business, we might as well do it ourselves," says managing director Toby Warren.

With the Internet increasingly taking the place of the "middleman", Warren could see his business changing rapidly. "So we decided we wanted to go online and Web enable our sales process, making things easy for buyers and sellers," he says.

On the site, which went live in mid-November, sellers can list exactly what stock they have at any one time, while buyers can look up and order what they need.

Auckland-based software developer QED has developed the exchange application, called DBC (Direct Business Connectivity). Shops, hotels and restaurants all want the freshest fish available at any time, but the supply in New Zealand is limited because 95% of the fish harvest is exported, says Warren. The "virtual market" lets each fish supplier enter their catch of the day via a Web browser and buyers can scan and buy what's available. The site refreshes every 30 seconds - soon to be reduced to 15 seconds-- so that quantities and prices are constantly up to date.

The DBC system will be linked to CourierPost's online service by mid-December, says QED marketing manager Andrew Blewdon, so CourierPost knows what to pick up and where. It will also allow Southfresh to track each delivery and catch any problems early. Courier notification, invoicing and labelling is all managed electronically.

Southfresh is currently still acting as the "broker" in the deals, buying from the suppliers and shipping to the customers, but will soon step back and allow buyers to pay directly.

"We'll just 'clip the ticket' on each sale, taking a percentage of the value," says Warren. That percentage will vary from 0.2% to 4%, depending on the seller and how much business they do, he says.

And from there, why stick to fish? "Why not cheese? Or any products that come from various suppliers, need to be sold and shipped while they're fresh - there's no reason why not," he says.

Supermarkets love the idea, says Warren, "because it creates a whole new buying paradigm. They can tie it in with their own database, link it to what's sold in-store and cut down on the number of salespeople visiting the store. They're very keen to start".

Neither Foodstuffs nor Progressive fish buyers were available for comment.

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