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Clams are a highly popular shellfish that people enjoy in many dishes. They appear in everything from inexpensive fried clam baskets to pricey trays of clams casino, not to mention the clam chowder that many New Englanders and New Yorkers grow up on.
Many of the clams that people eat are harvested by small business owners who dig for clams in dirt and mud along the shoreline. While there are some boats that fish for clams in deeper waters, small clamming businesses dig and rake up millions of pounds of clams every year.
Who is this business right for?
Anyone who likes being outside near the water and isn’t afraid of hard work may enjoy running a clamming business. Business owners spend hours outside on the shore or in shallow water searching for clams. Working in the muck is guaranteed to make a person dirty and reaching down for clams is physically tiring, but few other jobs allow people to spend their work day near the ocean and return home each night.
Clamming can be especially good work for someone who’s looking for a part-time job and has other obligations. While business owners must be available to work at specific times -- there are only 4 to 5 hours of work per day (see below) -- children can be brought along when necessary, and there is the flexibility to take a day off when the need arises.
What happens during a typical day at a clamming business?
A clamming business owners’ day is dictated by low tide, as Luke Jenks explains. Luke and his clamming partner Mike start their day 2 to 2.5 hours before low tide and continue working until 2 to 2.5 hours after low tide. Outside of this time frame, the water is too deep to work effectively. Most clammers don’t work in the middle of the night, which is why work is limited each day.
After arriving at a clamming location by foot or boat, business owners begin searching for clams. Luke feels around for them with his feet, but others use rakes or shovels (see Jump-Starting). Once clams are gathered, they’re put into a bucket and sorted at the end of the day. Many clammers use an innertube to stabilize and move the bucket. Sorting can be done by hand or with a mechanical sorter.
What is the target market?
Clams eventually make their way to seafood shops, grocery stores and restaurants. Clamming businesses, however, sell to clam wholesalers who are middlemen in the supply chain.
How does a clamming business make money?
Once clams are sorted, they’re sold to a wholesaler in the area. Most clamming regions have only one or two wholesalers.
What is the growth potential for a clamming business?
Clamming businesses remain small, and most are one-person operations. There are few barriers to prevent would-be employees from establishing their own businesses, and the profit margin often doesn’t justify hiring employees. Additionally, work in many states is seasonal.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful clamming business?
Running a clamming business requires little more than knowing how to find and harvest clams.
There are classes on clamming (e.g. Rob’s Basin Tackle and The University of Rhode Island offer courses), but taking a course is often unnecessary. Business owners can usually find a fellow clammer in the area who will teach them the tricks of the trade and not charge a fee for doing so.
What are the costs involved in opening a clamming business?
The costs associated with opening a clamming business are minimal. Business owners need:
- A commercial shellfish license
- A metal gauge for measuring clams
- A few 5-gallon buckets
- Footwear that offers protection (wetsuit shoes work well)
If desired, a rake, inner tube and rolling machine (for sorting) may also be purchased. Even with these items, it’s often possible to outfit a clamming business for just a few hundred dollars including any necessary licenses.
Business owners who need a boat to reach clamming grounds will have to spend more, but a used rowboat or skiff suffices and doesn’t cost much.
What are the steps to start a clamming business?
Once you're ready to start your clamming business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your clamming business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your clamming business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Recommended: Fizzle.co offers video courses and a supportive online community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Try one month membership for free.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a clamming business?
How much a clamming business makes depends directly on how many clams are harvested. There are several ways to harvest, and which is the most effective depends on what type of clams are being harvested and what the harvesting area is like. The main techniques are:
- Treading (feeling for clams with the feet and then picking them up by hand)
- Raking (using a rake with a wire basket attached to collect clams)
- Shinicocking (another type of raking)
- Digging (using a shovel akin to a post-hole digger to get “digger clams”)
How to promote & market a clamming business
Business owners don’t need to worry about marketing their clamming business. As long as there’s a wholesaler in the area, that wholesaler will purchase clams that are brought to them.
Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.
How to keep customers coming back
Business owners can set themselves apart by being professional and making the clam-buying process as streamlined as possible for the wholesaler they work with. This won’t get business owners extra sales, but it may earn them preferential treatment when everyone brings in their clam harvests. Being offered the front of the line at the end of the day is never a bad thing.
How and when to build a team
Most clamming business owners don’t hire employees. A few may work with family members, but these working relationships are generally more like a family business than a typical employer-employee arrangement.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
In most states, it is necessary to obtain a Clamming license. Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a Clamming business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
When selling food, you will need licensing from a local health department; all establishments serving food are required to pass a health inspection. Tips for faring well on a health inspections
There are federal regulations regarding what can and cannot be added to, sold as, and processed with food. Attached is a resource from the Food and Drug Administration detailing the process of starting a food business: How to Start a Food Business
How much can you charge customers?
The wholesale price of clams is determined by the market. Most clams sell for around $2.25 per pound, but littlenecks can command higher prices.
What are the ongoing expenses for a clamming business?
The ongoing expenses for a clamming business are almost nothing. If a business has a powerboat, then fuel and oil must be purchased. Otherwise, the only main ongoing expense is whatever annual fee must be paid to keep licenses current.
How much profit can a clamming business make?
Business owners can earn between $100 and $200 per half-day of work. Exactly how much business owners make depends on how hard they work and how plentiful the clams are.
How can you make your business more profitable?
In addition to harvesting clams, business owners may also be able to gather certain crabs or mussels that they come across while working. These won’t be major income streams, but they can provide a little boost if there’s someone in the area who will buy them.