Case study - Errin Todd, Lobster Pod

Errin -Pittenweem -180210Errin Todd perfectly captures the spirit of entrepreneurship which is driving the seafood industry forward. As CEO of Lobster Pod, an innovative shellfish transportation company which she founded with her marine biologist husband Dr Keith Todd, she is helping to find new and creative methods for storing and transporting shellfish while also creating a profitable business model.

Growing up in Dunfermline, Fife, Errin did not always dream of a job in the seafood industry but when a new aquarium opened near her hometown in 1993 she was keen to work there "as it seemed glamorous and paid well."

It was while working there that she met her future husband, Dr Keith Todd. Errin then began working as a secondary school teacher, while her husband started a business supplying lobster tanks. Around 14 years ago Errin decided to take a career break and help her husband with the business, but she soon discovered that she loved the work and has been happily working with him ever since. She told us, "Now that I have spent 14 years working alongside fishermen I can't imagine doing anything else and I really love my job, especially the contact I have with our customers."

As the "Sea-E-O of the company", Errin is responsible for the finance, sales, marketing and operations, or as she calls it - with characteristic good humour - "Chief Buck Holder". Dr Keith and Errin's businesses include Todd Fisheries Technology (manufacturers of bivalve depuration systems, lobster tanks and lobster hatchery equipment) and Lobster Pod which manufactures innovative live shellfish storage and transportation systems.

Errin tells us, "We could see one of the biggest challenges facing creel fishermen and merchants was keeping the shellfish in great condition and stabilising supply i.e. being able to hold onto shellfish when it was abundant and sell when the price rises." And by responding to this challenge in an innovative way, Lobster Pod was born.

For some people working with their spouse would be a recipe for disaster but Errin tells us, "I really enjoy working with my husband as we make a great team.  We employ two young graduates and training them and helping to embrace their ideas and energy is fun. I am a real people person and we are lucky we get to work on such diverse projects as lobster hatcheries, research aquariums and fish farms as well as supplying shellfish systems. Inventing new technology to help our customers is really exciting and we have a real focus on research and development. One of my favourite parts is doing presentations as I love talking."

Errin's enthusiasm for her work is boundless and means she can find the humour in some very challenging situations. When we asked her if there were any funny situations she has faced as a woman in this industry, she recalls:

"I was the first woman to ever enter a certain lifeboat station for a meeting with the local fishermen.  They decided to bring in a piper to mark the occasion.  I really didn't know how to react.  I also misjudged a visit to a Tilapia farm wearing a skirt and full make-up.  After our tour, which included climbing ladders and 24 degrees heat, I did not look my best.  The customer was too polite to say anything but I still got the contract to fit the hatchery systems for him!"

But what are Errin's ambitions for the future and what's next for their burgeoning company?

"We want to grow Lobster Pod into a global brand with the new technology used on boats, as long term storage and in transportation in every continent.  We have recently won several awards including the Best Small Business in Scotland at the British Chamber Awards, VIBES (Vision in Business for the Environment of Scotland) Best Micro Business Award and I won 2 Silver Great British Entrepreneur Awards for Best Manufacturing and Best Start-Up Business.  I want to build on this success and continue to innovate and grow.  We want to deliver outstanding customer service and be the 'go to' people for the shellfish industry."

With Errin and her husband's passion and expertise there is no doubt the future is bright for their enterprises and the world is truly their lobster .

We also spoke to Errin about women in the seafood industry, and her experiences throughout her career.

  1. Could you describe the industry when you entered it - were there many (if any) women - and also could you describe some of the changes you have seen in the industry since you entered it.
    At the first Fishing Exhibition I worked at in the SECC in Glasgow in 2002 I was the only woman I can remember working on a stand.  By 2004 there were many women but mostly wearing few clothes and draped over boats (I kid you not!).  Now I notice lots of women at exhibitions, conferences and networking events and many of them are event organisers or work for organisations such as the Marine Stewardship Council.  There are very few fisherwomen but many in aquaculture and science roles.
  2. Do you know of any other women who work in a similar role to you, and if not, do you think there is a reason for this?
    Our Research and Development Assistant is Laura Johnson making our small team 50:50 gender split.  She is really smart, capable and a rising star.  There are many other women in the industry I admire such as Claire Pescod at MSC, Sharon Boyle at Mara Media who organises the Skipper Expo, Pamela Houston who got the Kilkeel Lobster Hatchery off the ground and Jane Grant from Scot-Hatch, the new scallop hatchery in Scotland.  I think women do remarkable work behind the scenes whether that is helping with the paperwork or supporting local community groups e.g. development trusts or fundraising e.g. for the RNLI etc.
  3. Did you ever have any doubts or fears about entering this industry and do you feel it is an industry that is adaptable and open to change?
    I never really thought about it.  My role (finance, operation, sales and marketing) can be done by men or women.  Other than the couple of situations I mentioned above I have never really had any issues or negative feedback just because I am female.  I enjoy working in the industry and feel it is a good career option for young women.
  4. What are the biggest challenges of working in the seafood industry from a personal and professional point of view?
    We occasionally get customers who ask to speak to a man but once I chat to them they realise I have enough knowledge about the industry and especially our products.  As a mum it can be hard to attend events or travel to our clients who are all over the UK and Ireland but luckily, as I work with my husband, we work around it.  This would be the same with any job however and is not specific to the seafood industry. 
  5. What advice would you have for women who were thinking of a career in this industry?
    Go for it!  Try to get some work experience and try it out first but if you have an interest in food, science, engineering, boats or the outdoors it could be a great career for you.
  6. Finally, in reference to the furore surrounding the term 'fishermen' - do you think we need a gender-neutral term for fishermen?
    No, I think any fisherwomen out there can hold their own!

CEO of Lobster Pod