How many fisher folks do you know? A handful, perhaps? How many of them are women?
Meet Diana Pascal. She is my friend, and the owner of Blue Runner Tackle Store, a growing player in the fishing industry in Dominica.
Two things are fascinating to me about Diana’s journey:
- She chose a non-traditional career
- Fishing is a male dominated industry
Being the curious person that I am, I was interested in learning the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of it. Mostly, though, I am in awe of Diana for forging her path in a sea of testosterone! Of course, this concept is not new, as over the past decades women have been pursuing careers that are traditionally androcentric, such as engineering. Nonetheless, the fishing industry in Dominica remains (mostly) a man’s space. In June 2019 The Food and Agriculture of the United Nations (FAO) released a Fisheries and Aquaculture report on Dominica which says:
“In 2017, 912 people, of which 17 were women, were reported to be engaged in fishing.”
17 women out of 912! The report does not specify areas of involvement. However, the fishing process includes retail, boat construction, net repair and other related activities.
So, where does Blue Runner Tackle Store fit into the process?
First, a Little Background
Diana has an infinite love for her childhood village, Riviere Cyrique, a picturesque community nestled in the interior of Dominica. It is a farming community, therefore Diana did not grow up with fishing on her mind. The last of five children with adult siblings, her domestic responsibilities were heavy and this contributed to her embracing independence at an early age. Diana attended the Morne Jaune Primary School in the neighboring village, and later, the Convent High School, where we met. A lover of hiking and nature, she finds comfort in her community’s tranquility and fresh mountain air for meditation, rejuvenation and spending time with her chickens. (I don’t get it, but she adores fowls!)
On The Path to Business
As a young woman, Diana envisioned herself in a management position and armed her mind with the educational tools to achieve that goal. After graduating from the Clifton Dupigny Community College, now the Dominica State College, she obtained a Diploma in Management from University of Leicester and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Studies (first class honors) from the University of the West Indies (UWI). She’s held managerial roles including overseeing the fishing store at Fisheries Division, project management at Digicel, and Executive Director at Crime Stoppers Dominica. Impressive, right?
A Window of Opportunity
After graduating from UWI in 2014, Diana had moved on from her job at Fisheries and was employed elsewhere. Later on, she identified an opportunity in the fishing industry and with her experience in that area, capitalized on it with very little resources.
“The fishermen needed access to products. They needed variety and flexibility. I gave that to them.”Diana
In what I consider a very astute move, Diana started a side hustle with a start up capital of EC$320. She invested in fishing baits, which are fast moving goods. Relying on public transportation, she brought the baits to various fishing villages across Dominica including Fond St. Jean and Marigot. Although transportation was challenging, delivering customized orders proved to be a nugget of gold. Diana’s one-on-one interactions with customers allowed her to build relationships and discover that there was a need for other products. She found her niche.
“I was surprised by the multitude of fishing supplies required to catch simple little fish and the science/skill involved!!”Diana
Worthy of note here is that the FAO report indicates that in 2017, the fishing fleet in Dominica consisted of over 430 vessels. This is a reasonably sized market for a small business. Diana struck the iron while it was hot! She obtained a loan from the credit union in her village – National Cooperative Credit Union, St. David’s Branch (Riviere Cyrique) – and on her third stock order, expanded her product line and increased her stock.
Y’all. EC$320 is not a lot of money. And the idea of hauling around fishing products from bus to bus seems really daunting. But here’s what I’m learning from this: we can start from anywhere, with the limited resources that we have. We just need to have the right mindset!
“I wanted to be my own boss”
Remember, Diana has valued her independence since childhood. Actions like waking up early every morning, going through traffic to labor for someone else, mandatory reporting, and seeking permission for everything were becoming irksome. Diana wanted control over her time, energy and independence, not only for herself but also to take care of her mother. She wanted to be her own boss. And she was prepared!
Blue Runner Tackle Store (BRTS)
Having built relationships with clients and suppliers, and learned the ropes of operating a business, Diana turned her side hustle into an incorporated business in 2020. She has since purchased a motor vehicle and currently operates from Lower Belfast. A typical work day for Diana involves selling (and haggling because some customers will negotiate discounts for items costing as low as $0.20), recording entries, reconciliation/accounting and liaising with suppliers for purchases.
BRTS has a network of regional and international suppliers, largely due to referrals. They’ve partnered with the Fisheries Division for the hosting of their Basic Fisherman Training Course where they display basic fishing tackle and Fisheries officers demonstrate how they are used.
BRTS acquires customers mostly through word of mouth and social media, and its customer base includes individuals and similar type businesses. One selling point of the company is its flexibility, as the store remains open till 8:00 PM. Another competitive advantage is the maintenance of the mobile aspect of the business, where Diana delivers products directly to customers. Now, she sells out of her own car!
I’ve seen people sell clothes, household products and groceries in that way, but not fishing products. I don’t know if any other person has done this in Dominica, but I think this business model is genius. By the way, if like me, you are curious about the name of the company, ‘Blue Runner’ is actually a fish known locally as Kawang, one of Diana’s favorite fish. In several countries, it is used as bait. How fitting!
Challenges and Celebrations
With everything there are challenges. Natural disasters affect business. Suppliers disappoint with late or wrong orders due to miscommunication or unreliability. There is a steady increase in prices of products. There are concerns with quality consistency . Customers can get difficult. Shipping costs and freight increase. There are delays with orders.
Diana has the temperament to rise to these challenges by being patient, tolerant, empathetic and focused. When things go awry, she finds ways to communicate more effectively or sources new suppliers. According to Diana, her biggest reward is meeting customers’ needs.
“It’s a plus when they leave, they are happier than when they came because they got more value, more items than what they came to buy, they are satisfied with prices and great customer service/friendly interactions. That makes my day. Some customers are so chill..lol”Diana
Diana has learned many business strategies over her period of operation and continues to learn and grow. Here are some of the things she shared with me, which can also help other small business owners, especially start-ups.
- To prevent loss from natural disasters she learned to prepare better to secure her shop and the bulk of stock.
- She studies the market, does all research possible, identifies customers, draws up a plan (to include pricing) and starts small, then marketing, marketing (Social media is free); and she does not give up.
- She did not have a separate business account until later when she went into the business full time. She has since adopted better financial practices including making allowance for a fixed monthly salary.
- When times get tough she takes a break, meditates and recharges…she does not quit.
Diana values the independence and freedom that operating her own business allows. There is comfort in being more present to care for her mother. Also, she is motivated by the engagement with her customers and suppliers, and the support they give to each other. She plans on expanding by moving to a larger location and increasing her portfolio of products.
Although Diana encounters other women in her line of work – mostly suppliers and women who accompany their partners at sea or purchase supplies for them – she thinks it would be interesting to see more women in the fishing industry.
I love the fact that Diana, as a woman, ventured into that territory and is owning her place there. I love that she pursued the independence she wanted for herself and is living her dream.
Cheers to the continued success of Blue Runner Tackle Store!