Small Business Development Center at FIU helps international foods distributor expand

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 to negotiating with potential suppliers, COO Aston Lue sought the guidance of the Small Business Development Center 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.

Aston Lue

“The depth of experience of the consultants, the relationships, their work in technology, marketing and social media can help us grow in this environment,” Lue said. “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; and jet-fresh spiced buns.

Today, Ocho Rios is a major distributor of Caribbean products throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. In 1995, the company expanded into Atlanta, establishing a distribution center with regional operations.

Lue recalls that traditional channels for adding suppliers and getting more products on grocery shelves in markets throughout the United States 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,” Lue said. “Ultimately, in business, success comes down to the relationship between the brand and the consumer.”

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