Magnus Houston, the founder of Coast & Glen and Fishbox, has continued with the company’s expansion of their fish and game distribution with the purchase of a new factory and offices in Alness.
The EY Entrepreneur of the year and the IoD young director of the year acted quickly to take over Summer Isles Foods when it closed its doors due to financial difficulties.
Magnus said, “It was a fantastic opportunity for Coast & Glen as we have outgrown our current facility”. Magnus’s wholesale company that he started 7 years ago now supplies over 300 hotels and restaurants in the Highlands and Islands. This year it has moved into the London market with great success.
Coast & Glen’s sister company, Fishbox, started 4 years ago by Magnus and his wife Fiona and consists of a retail box of fresh fish, sent directly to consumers all over the UK within hours of being landed. Fishbox now has in excess of 2000 subscribers with 100 new customers signing up every month. Both companies have been growing at more than 25% year on year.
Coast & Glen now has a turnover exceeding £2.2 million, making a combined turnover for the two companies at the end of this year over £3 million. Magnus adds “The current facility has made it harder for Coast & Glen to maintain the same growth and we have had to turn down opportunities due to our production capacity but now we are full steam ahead with our first orders going to New York and Paris this week and a trip booked to set up trade in Dubai in October. I am also pleased to say that we are about to receive our first shipment of King Crab (as seen on TV in Deadliest Catch) which we are going to be the main distributor of in the UK.”
What makes Magnus’s story so unique is that he is not from a business background or even a fishing background. Magnus is a former professional motorcycle racer, racing for Suzuki in the world championships.
After his career ended after a bad accident, Magnus had a long recovery that included learning how to walk again. He was on the hunt for another adrenalin rush, but after rock climbing, mountaineering and doing over 100 solo skydives, the latter ones in a flying suit, he couldn’t quite find what he was looking for. Then, after a chance afternoon on a fishing boat, he thought “this is the life for me”. Magnus bought a small 21-foot fishing boat, finished his job at a local cycling shop and started fishing. Magnus had no experience and taught himself from YouTube and Google. After experiencing the best Scottish seafood for himself, Magnus decided to start selling his own catch. The demand was so high that he then started selling catch from other boats. With the high demand from restaurants for a wider variety of products, Coast & Glen was born.
For a year, Magnus worked by himself but with demand growing, he took the plunge and employed his first employee. He talks to me about doing business in the Highlands “The backbone of any good business is good staff and a great product and we have both, the rest will take care of itself. We have not only had and have some fantastic staff but 90% of them have never worked in the fishing industry before. I’m amazed at the adaptability of people that embrace their job, make it a better experience for our customers and their work colleagues.
I have always thought it’s very important to support the local community with jobs. It would be much easier for us to send fish to Glasgow to get processed just like the majority of the salmon companies do and the whiskey companies do for the bottling of their whiskey, but that would have an impact on the area I was born and brought up in. This was the reason that I put a lot of time pressure on the people involved in the transition of the purchase of Summer Isles Foods. It had to be fast enough to retain the Summer Isles employees, keeping their jobs secure, which is just fantastic for us and the local area and we look forward to creating more jobs and putting something back to the community.”
Magnus believes that the Highlands is the place to do business as he has had incredible support from HSBC, EY, Safferys, HIE, The MacDonald Partnership, Morison Solicitors, Seafood Scotland and Scotland Food & Drink. Without these companies, the growth of both Coast & Glen and Fishbox would have been greatly reduced. Magnus does admit that the road network and broadband speed could be challenging!
What’s not a challenge to Coast & Glen is a good product. Magnus believes that Scottish seafood is second to none and he explains to me all the technical and scientific things that make the fish and shellfish he buys the best in flavour and texture. It is his opinion, of course, he could never promote someone’s product over another. “What does make perfect sense to me is the difference between very fresh seafood over old products and because of this, Coast & Glen and Fishbox make sure the product goes out to the customer as fast as possible with the majority of products shipped to the customer the same day that it comes in on.