After nearly three decades in business, the owners of specialty foods distributor Ocho Rios International are no strangers to the challenges and demands of growing a business.
In 2014, when a credit line became vital when negotiating with potential suppliers, COO Aston Lue sought the guidance of the SBDC at FIU. The quest for cash had drawn Lue away from the daily operations of the business and he needed to act quickly.
“As the number of credit worthy customers grew, we required a line of credit because the products we import are in high demand and require prompt payment,” said Lue, who founded the company in 1987. “We needed a cash outlay because many Far East suppliers are C.O.D.”
Lue describes the SBDC at FIU mentor that worked with Ocho Rios as “a wizard at financial matters,” helping secure a line of credit from Capital Bank. Working closely with Lue and his partners, they put Ocho Rios on the right track for continued growth.
“The depth of experience of the consultants, the relationships, their work in technology, marketing and social media can help us grow in this environment,” said Lue. “We’re a dynamic team working on the present and the future of Ocho Rios International.”
An immigrant from Jamaica, Lue arrived in Miami in 1986 and opened Ocho Rios the following year, operating out of a small self-storage unit on Sunset Drive.
The company grew quickly as Jamaican, Caribbean, and Hispanic consumers expanded their footprint in South Florida. Many sought out the flavors of home, and Ocho Rios was there to deliver. Its product lineup includes Ackee, Cool’n SparklinR cucumber beverage, green pigeon peas with coconut milk, Scotch Bonnet pepper sauce, jerk and curry seasoning, jet-fresh spiced buns.
Today Ocho Rios is a major distributor of Caribbean products throughout the US, Canada and the Caribbean. In 1995 they expanded into Atlanta, establishing a distribution center with regional operations.
Advice was instrumental.
Lue recalls that traditional channels for adding suppliers and getting more products onto grocery shelves in markets throughout the U.S. weren’t yielding the expected results. That added one more component to the assistance Ocho Rios sought from the SBDC at FIU.
“They analyzed our needs and worked to create a solution, guiding us and giving us access to experts who could help us,” he noted.
It wasn’t only about financial matters, operations and growth strategy; key factors included staying true to Ocho Rios’ mission and, marketing the business via new and traditional media.
“We learned that building relationships is just as important,” said Lue. “Ultimately, in business, success comes down to the relationship between the brand and the consumer.”