SBA winner: Unique, quality products equals success

Yesterday I reported that the SBA has released its Maine award winners in various categories, including Business Person of the Year Michael Cote, president and CEO of Look’s Gourmet Food Co. in Whiting.

I couldn’t reach Cote yesterday by deadline – he’s down in Boston for the big seafood show. Amazingly, Cote called me today and we had a quick interview on his success as a small business owner.

I say ‘amazingly’ because this guy apparently does not stop! He had started out earlier in the week in Anaheim, Calif., at a natural foods expo, then caught the redeye out to hit the Boston show — after which he was heading back out to Anaheim, for the remainder of the expo!


“Being a small business owner is not easy,” said Cote when he had a (rare) moment to chat.

“You got to take the bull by the horns – nobody represents your products the way you do.”

Cote bought Look’s in 2003, after a career in the foods industry that includes Pepperidge Farms for 18 years and a solid tenure at Odwalla, before it was sold to Coca-Cola. Look’s had been founded in 1917, and Cote bought the assets of the company.

“That immediately told me I had to change how things were run,” said Cote.  “We reinvented this entire brand. We differentiated ourselves in the marketplace – we do those niche things bigger, better than our competitors do. That’s been the main focus of our company. We don’t just do seafood products; we do unique, qualitative seafood products.”

They market products under the Bar Harbor Foods brand. Products include Indian pudding, clam chowder, clam juice, lobster chowder, crab bisque and many more.

That focus on value-added products, and a diverse mix of them, has allowed the company to be successful as other seafood canneries have fallen by the wayside, one at a time. There used to be 42 up and down the Maine coast, Cote noted. Today, Look’s is the last.

Cote said he was very proud to get the award, but said it was really a recognition of the work his 26 employees are doing.

“I just think it’s a great thing for our company,” he said.

Cote and the other award winners will be feted on May 17 at the SBA’s awards ceremony in Augusta. The SBA put out a bit more information about winners in the other categories, too.

  •  R. Scott Robinett, manager of Computer and Information Technology at the Maine Small Business Development Centers —  Veteran Small Business Champion of the Year award.

From the SBA: Through his work at the Maine Small Business Development Centers, Robinett is known as a highly regarded information technology professional; one who successfully combines technology with his own personal experience of  growing up in a military family, to provide high tech solutions to assist our veterans in starting their own businesses, and to help existing ones grow. 

  •  Sherry Brown, Susan Pope, Jane Harmon and Bonnie Pothier of Key Bank’s Key4Women Champions —  Women in Business Champion of the Year award.

Brown, Pope, Harmon and Pothier comprise the Key4Women Champions in Maine, which is recognized for its contributions to women and minority business owners through advocacy and partnerships with Women, Work & Community, the Maine Women’s Policy Center and the Maine Small Business Development Centers.

  •  Patricia Rice —  Minority Small Business Champion of the Year Award.

Rice is Chapter Chair of the Bangor SCORE, an SBA Resource Partner, and has also served as State Director of the Maine Procurement Technical Assistance Center, which is located at Eastern Maine Development Corporation in Bangor.

  •  Black Dinah Chocolatiers — Home-Based Business Champion of the Year Award.

Black Dinah Chocolatiers is located on Isle au Haut and produces truffles, caramels and assorted chocolate confections, which are available year-round in 16 stores from Portland to Orono.  The company has obtained loan guaranty funding from the SBA, and has also received technical assistance from the Women’s Business Center, an SBA Resource Partner.

  •  Howell Laboratories/Shively Labs — Small Business Exporter of the Year Award.

Howell Laboratories is a small employee-owned business located in Bridgton, and manufactures fluid processing and instrumentation equipment for shipboard use.  The Shively Labs division is located in Raymond, and manufactures FM broadcast antennas and related equipment.  The companies were formed in the 1960’s and joined together in 1981.

  •  Harold Clossey, Executive Director of Sunrise County Economic Council – Financial Services Champion of the Year award for Maine and New England.

Clossey has served as Executive Director of Sunrise County Economic Council since 2006. During his tenure, Clossey has developed extensive partnerships with private sector companies, federal, state and local governments. These collaborations have generated more than an estimated $290 million in funding and capital investment for local projects.