• Ann Vicary. (SBS)
SBS World News Radio: How did online sales help boost Ann Vicary's one-woman operation out of regional New South Wales?
By
Small Business Secrets

21 Feb - 2:00 PM  UPDATED 5 Apr - 3:18 PM

You can send just about anything in the post these days, but who would have thought you could send fish?

"Nobody! It is bizarre. But anything is possible if you just work at it!"

And in three years of selling her smoked trout online, Ann Vicary says she's barely had any difficulty.

"Nine out of ten times I think, out of all - I've done about 800 orders and I think we wouldn't have even had one per cent problem."

From her secluded farm in Grenfell in the NSW Riverina, Ann's trout has made it on to dinner plates across the country, thanks in part to an online selling platform.

"I heard a radio interview on the ABC country hour and they were talking about Farmhouse Direct, so I gave the girls a ring. Not quite sure how it was going to work or if it would work, and I can say that it's been fantastic. It's been a bit of a challenge, because computer skills had to be improved, doing a different kind of marketing, working out how to package it was a big, big thing. Mostly it was trial and error."

Farmhouse now makes up 20 per cent of Ann's business - not a bad boost for this one-woman operation, whose only other income stream is a farmers' market in Canberra.

And Ann's traditional, chemical-free method for preserving the trout is partly what's made them so popular.

"First of all we put them into a brine which has been cooked for three hours in a mixture of Nordic herbs, it's my husband's original Swedish recipe, which was his grandfather's, so it's pretty ancient! And then the fish stay in here for a minimum of 12 hours."

From there, the trout are ready to smoke.

"I usually like to smoke before ten o'clock in the morning because it's cooler. So I start work around 5 in the morning."

On average Ann smokes about 80 fish a week.

Each one takes an hour to smoke - and they're all done individually - with a maximum of six on the go at any one time.

"Because then I have control of the flavour. You can control how much smoke they get. In a big commercial product it wouldn't work because people wouldn't be able to spend that much time - so therefore I have a really unique product which is a kind of boutique thing that people like."

She's now got packaging down to a science too.

"Then there's gel packs that have been in the freezer for well over a month. And then I put one in the bottom, put the fish in the centre, another one here in the side, and then I pack it."

In there, the trout can last 4 to 5 days.

So it seems sending fish in the mail is a viable option - if only for the most dedicated of merchants.