smells FISHY here
Gary Hirsch has been preparing to
run a fish market since high school
Business First (Revised
Hirsch's first job following his graduation from Ballard
High School in 1982 was selling fish at a seafood shop
in Michigan. And in his business class at Michigan State
University, Hirsch used a fish market as the central theme
of every paper he wrote about starting a company.
had been a fisherman my whole life," explained Hirsch,
whose enthusiasm for the sport was the subject of a newspaper
article when he was 13 years old.
turned his passion into a business, Highland Fish
Market, four years ago.
Hirsch, whose only shop is located in Middletown Professional
Park off Shelbyville Road, now have ambitions of taking
his concept for displaying and selling fresh- and salt-water
fish to other cities, as well as expanding throughout
and Indianapolis are targeted as part of the growth strategy,
but Hirsch won't go into many details except to
say that upper-income neighborhoods not served by established
specialty seafood stores would be likely locations. "I
am trying to get this off the ground," he said.
was looking for a spot in the Highlands
area when he noticed a man hanging a "For Lease"
sign on the storefront of the original Lotsa Pasta Italian
specialty store, which had been relocated to Lexington
Road in St. Matthews.
was serendipitous," he said. "I signed a lease
the next day."
months later -- after the Hirsch spent $30,000 from
his savings for stock, signs and decorating -- Highland
Fish Market was ready for walk-in trade. Sales the first
day totaled $352," Hirsch said.
considered that a success," he said, as he
had projected they could break even at $200.
1997, annual sales at the store reached $200,000. Besides
selling an assortment of fresh and fresh-frozen fish,
the store sells seasonings, rice, sauces and related products.
Such delicacies as alligator tail and squid steaks also
are stocked, and a variety of Lotsa Pasta foods are available
at the request of the store's first customers, Hirsch
he didn't know it at the time, Hirsch said, he was writing
the business plan for Highland Fish Market when he was
researching and typing his college term papers. Lenders
were not as excited about his proposal for a small business,
however, he said. "No bank would touch me."
finance the first store, Hirsch painted houses
20 of them in the Owl Creek subdivision alone.
said: "For every house I painted, I put away $800
until I could afford to buy equipment. It took a total
of eight months."
In 1996, Hirsch and a partner experimented at the downtown
Haymarket, opening a 700-square-foot seafood section in
a corner of the grocery store in the downtown food-and-flower
experiment ended after a year. "It did well,"
Hirsch said, but the size and location did not fit into
his new development plan.
next venture took Hirsch to Prospect, where the former
Carmichael's Bookstore was converted into a Highland Fish
Market in 1997. That outlet was on target to finish its
first year turning a profit on sales of $300,000, Hirsch
said. Hirsch wanted to devote his attention to
a new Middletown store, so he sold the business to Don Dissell, who renamed the shop Prospect Fish Market.
1,600-square-foot Middletown store opened in May 1998
after Highland Fish Market's lease expired at the Bardstown
Road site and the landlord leased the space to another
retailer, according to Hirsch.
$85,000, start-up costs for the new store were more expensive,
Hirsch said, but sales have been "right on target,"
as $400,000 in seafood and other products were sold during
the first 12 months.
Hirsch said Highland Fish Market is successful because
it sells more than fish.
business is built on education," said Hirsch, who
has decorated the store with nautical charts, posters
on various seafood, cookbooks and a "Fish Tails"
pinball machine. "Fresh fish is about color and smell.
I encourage people to smell the fish," he said.
Hodge, an Oldham County resident who is a frequent customer,
said she appreciates Hirsch's expertise. "He is very helpful with recipes. He once suggested a less
expensive frozen crab over fresh crab for a specific recipe."
advice is one reason Hirsch said he is able to draw customers,
although he admits his prices are higher than the larger
grocery chains that dominate the market. "Do we try
to compete with the bigger stores? Of course not. But
then, they can't do what we do."
today's lingo, Highland Fish Market is considered a "boutique
business." Hirsch refers to it as a return to simpler
times when shoppers stopped at the green grocer, butcher
and fishmonger to put food on their tables.
almost to the year 2000, and it's still like way back
when," he said.
Hicks, president and chief executive officer of the Kentucky
Grocers Association, said specialty shops such as Highland
Fish Market and health food stores are succeeding because
people are more health conscious and have more disposable
income. "It is a reflection of our attitudes in this
robust economy," Hicks said.
Highland Fish Market wants to go back to their roots in another way,
addition to scouting sites outside Louisville for new
locations, he wants to reopen in the Highlands neighborhood
that gave their business its name.
we are, Highland Fish Market," he said, "and
we don't have a market in the Highlands."