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  • Writer's pictureThe Crab Place

Crab Place Origin Story

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Crabplace.com, Inc. has been shipping premium seafood from our dock to your door for over 25 years. Check out what owner and founder Greg Cain has to say about those early days…


The Origin: How It All Began

Greg Cain and Matt Cain prepare boxes for shipping

“In roughly 1995-96, I was working as a network administrator at the Wicomico County Health Department in Salisbury. Dial-up internet was “brand new,” and the state was assigning us three accounts to start acclimating to this new technology. I was one of those that received an account to test. After surfing around a little, I knew this was something cool. ESPN had the scores up from the previous night. Updates could happen quickly (not like the newspaper that only came out once a day). You could instantly reach people anywhere in the world with a message. Early on, I had this desire to use this tool to see if I could connect people across the country with a product or service they wouldn’t typically have access to. But identifying that something as crabs or seafood didn’t happen instantly. I stewed on the idea for some time. Insurance? No, everybody has access to insurance. Stuff like that went through my head. Then one day, driving down 413 to Crisfield, I thought, would people want crabs anywhere in the country?  Most people wouldn’t have access. I had a background in the seafood industry from working various jobs throughout the summers while in school; and being strategically located in the Crab Capitol of the world, it felt like I’d finally found something that clicked.



Matt Cain, co-owner of CrabPlace.com, pack hard crabs in a cooler to be shipped to a customer.

Setting Up The Website

After deciding what product I was going to connect people all over the U.S. with, I bought a PC for home and a book on html and stayed up late many nights over the course of a month or so writing the first website. It was crude. Shopping carts and secure checkout hadn’t been created yet. So the checkout page was simply a form people filled out with their billing/shipping information and chose their products from the dropdowns that I provided. It was on the customer to add up the total and enter it into the form. They also had to figure out the shipping from the guidelines and add that in as well and total it. From there, they gave their credit card information, and the form was submitted to me by email. Even hacking unsecured emails hadn’t become a thing yet.

 

The original company name was the Chesapeake Crab Co. and the website was housed at Delmarva Online which was owned by WBOC the local TV station. Back then the only real major search engine was Yahoo and they organized content by categories (similar to the Dewey decimal system used in libraries). You had to apply to be listed in up to two of the categories, and it took weeks to get approved. The category I originally chose was something like Business:Food:Seafood, and I petitioned them to add the subcategory of Business:Food:Seafood:Crab which they did. There were no other sites at that time actively selling products on the Internet. Gorton's Seafood was the only actual seafood company listed in Business:Food:Seafood and they just displayed a brochure of the products they carried that you could find in grocery stores.


Crafting The First Email

the original crab place facility

So, I waited for the site to get listed so I could get online traffic.  In the meantime, I had the idea of creating an email list to try to jumpstart notifying people that the company existed. There were about 5,000 other vendors listed with emails on Delmarva Online, and although they were locals to the Eastern Shore - and likely already had access to crabs - it still seemed like a good opportunity to email them all to kick off the launch of the site.

 

At the time, I had no idea of the term “spam” or what it represented. I’d asked the sales rep at Delmarva Online if he thought there’d be any issue if I emailed the group of vendors, and he didn’t see a problem, ha! Little did I know… Again, I stayed up late crafting my very first email to my newly created mailing list. I hit send and held my breath. Within 30 minutes or so I had about 10 responses. All of them negative. “You’re going to be the death of the Internet,” “Stop using the Internet to spam people!” etc. I was pretty discouraged. But finally, I got a positive one. Something like “Hey, I’m in Easton. Can I get two dozen crabs delivered by the weekend?” And I had my first sale. I probably had 6-7 sales over the next few days from local people wanting stuff delivered somewhere on the Eastern Shore. So I’d run around and buy crabs from local vendors, take them home and start steaming them up, sort them and package them, and then hop in the car to drive all over the place to drop them off.  I wasn’t making a fortune, but it was fun!  


Maryland Avenue Crab Place facility original building

The First Real Order

After the “spamming” fiasco, I was scared to continue sending emails to that group, so I decided to wait until Yahoo listed me, and finally they did. Within a couple of days after being listed by Yahoo, I had my first real order from Utah - a bushel of live crabs (which as far as I know was the first transaction of seafood across the Internet). This was what I was envisioning. However, I hadn’t thought through how exactly I was going to get the crabs there. I ran out to the local crab store and bought the crabs. Then I went to Staples to find a box. All they really had that made sense was a cardboard box for moving. It wasn’t waterproof and had no insulation. I bought a bag of ice and tied the knot real tight so the crabs would stay cold. Then I called FedEx to schedule a pickup. The guy who ordered the crabs called me when he got his delivery and told me “the crabs were great, but you’ve gotta work on that packaging.” Unsurprisingly, the knot hadn’t held the water as the ice leaked and the FedEx guy had to handle a wet mush of cardboard with crabs trying to bite him on the way to the front door. I eventually discovered that one of the local vendors for crabs sold insulated boxes that worked better for shipping. I switched to those and swapped out the bags of ice for frozen gel packs.


Making Progress

Remember the spamming fiasco? Well one of those emails belonged to one of WBOC’s on-air reporters. She saw the email and reached out wanting to do a story on this new local online crab company. I wasn’t expecting this, but I agreed to have her come do the story. She came to my house where we were cooking up crabs for some of those local Eastern Shore deliveries that had come in. Later that night, we were on TV! Ironically, the next day I got a knock on my door from the local Health Department Inspector informing me that you’re not allowed to cook food for sale in your house. Oops!


Maryland Avenue Crab Place facility (2024)

Although shipping crabs was more of a hobby at the time, I did move forward with renting a commercial building in Crisfield so I could continue fulfilling orders the right way. In 1997 the company was rebranded from Chesapeake Crab Co. to The Crab Place. I continued adding improvements to the website I had built in an attempt to make it more user friendly; and I began to develop the email newsletter. At this point

my brother came on board and we began shedding our own soft crabs. We housed our business in various locations over the years, but finally in 2010 we bought the current location on 504 Maryland Avenue which we are proud today to call home."

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