This is the second in a series of occasional posts about small business owners in my community who embody the idea of being a “Linchpin” as defined by Seth Godin in his book, Linchpin.

I’m fortunate enough to live near the Atlantic coast, which means one thing: fresh fish from Gloucester. I’m even more fortunate that I can purchase my fish from a fishmonger. (Ok, yes! I love it that I can use the word “fishmonger” in a blog post. 🙂 )

Family-owned and operated by the brother and sister team of Jennifer Donahue and Mark Donahue, Donahue’s Fish Market was started by Jennifer and Mark’s father in 1970, when he began selling seafood from the back of a truck.

What I love about Jennifer and Mark — and their employees — is that they take the time to talk to you. In the years I’ve been purchasing my fish from them, I’ve learned the differences between wild and farm-raised salmon, how much fish to serve per person, how to cook fish, and the government regulations regarding commercial fishing.

Technology replaces local knowledge
Just a few weeks ago, Mark spent about 15 minutes explaining to me how he now buys fish. In the old days, a fishmonger relied on his knowledge of the environment, weather, the local fishing industry and the individual fishermen when it came to buying fish. Mark said, for example, that you knew when the boats were going out and that if a boat were out for too long the fish might not be as fresh.

Now, however, technology has replaced the “old ways.” To purchase fish, Mark and others “bid” on lots of fish via an online lottery — which means he drives to Gloucester with a laptop. He has no idea who caught the fish or what the fish look like. He also has no idea who he’s bidding against — but the bidding does include the “big boy” supermarkets, which drives up the cost of fish.

And, because you can now buy your fish at a supermarket, people don’t want the inconvenience of making a separate stop at an establishment like Donahue’s. They also don’t know the difference between fresh fish and supermarket fish. (The difference is that supermarket fish is *nasty.*)

Mark said that he sometimes pays more for fish than what he can charge in his shop. He keeps the price as low as he can; to offset the loss, he and Jennifer offer other items. In addition to fish, you can purchase from a limited selection of meats and veges, boxed pasta and rice, coleslaw and other prepared items, and take-out food, such as fish and chips and fish platters.

Donahue’s makes a mean coleslaw
Yes, I pay more for my fish at Donahue’s, and yes, I do have to make a separate stop to get it. However, the benefits outweigh these “inconveniences.” One, I get the freshest fish available and two, I’m treated to excellent customer service, which in this day of rudeness run rampant, is worth every penny.

Because they offer other items, I’m able to run in on my “rushed” days when I’ve forgotten to take something out of the freezer and buy the components for a complete meal — without having to stand in the long lines at the grocery store.

And, I get the best coleslaw on the planet. I’m serious. I love coleslaw and Donahue’s make the best stuff I’ve ever eaten. I’m addicted to it. When I told Jennifer that one day, she laughed and said, “You’re not the only one.”

Technology has changed how all of us do business — and it’s changed our business relationships. However, what hasn’t gone out of style is old-fashioned customer service and values such as integrity and offering the best of yourself.

Jennifer and Mark are Linchpins because their “art” is providing these things. Be sure and “Like” them on Facebook.

  • Local Linchpins are invaluable. There’s such a “revolution” happening in the food industry, in particular, that it wouldn’t surprise me if fishmongers, and the like, make a resurgence. It can be well worth it when you get local, intimate knowledge of a niche product.