David Hirsch knows what it's like not to have access to favorite snacks or to run out of everyday health care items while working at sea.
That dilemma led Hirsch, 43, and his wife Ashley to launch Crew Concierge in November 2005 to fill a void he'd found while working on cruise ships, after returning to life onshore.
"It's the everyday stuff we just kind of take for granted," said Hirsch at his Pompano Beach warehouse Friday, pointing to mouthwash, shaving cream and other products stocked on shelves.
Today, with five employees, the company services 40 ships across the globe, providing their crew centers or stores with more than 2,500 convenience, beauty and health care products sourced primarily from the U.S., Philippines, U.K., Scandinavia and the Caribbean.
When cruise ships are docked in South Florida ports, some crew members have to stay onboard to fulfill duties in case of an emergency, or to get rooms and restaurants ready for another cruise within a few hours, Hirsch said.
And trying to buy toiletry and sundry items at tourist ports of call is often two to three times more expensive, he noted.
Still, crew members with shore leave can sometimes find convenience stores in port or nearby to shop for supplies. At Port Everglades for example, the nonprofit Seafarers' House has a convenience and electronics store on-site that caters to them.
For ship employees unable to get ashore, an onboard convenience store near their quarters below the decks used by passengers is often a lifesaver.
"I wish there was this kind of service when I was on crew," said Hirsch, who's worked as a DJ and cruise director on Royal Caribbean International ships.
He recalled a stint at sea when he hankered for a bowl of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and couldn't find it.
Crew Concierge also supplies ethnic snacks that international crew members often crave a taste of when away from their hometowns.
Among them: Shirley Biscuits, spiced bun and banana chips popular in the Caribbean; Nagaraya snacks, or peanuts in a cracker shell from the Philippines and jars of Marmite yeast extract or crab spread for the British crew.
Other popular items are Oreo cookies and laundry detergent, he said.
Since landing its first piece of business in April 2006 — a $5,000 order from Royal Caribbean International's Radiance of the Seas — the company has grown sales to $3.2 million in 2013.
Customers include Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, FleetPro and Resorts World Bimini, Hirsch noted.
His typical pitch to cruise lines is: "A guest experience is heavily dependent on the crew. How about doing something for the crew members?"
Last summer, in response to growing demand, Crew Concierge moved into a warehouse nearly three times its previous size and eight months later, it's already growing out of room, said James Labossiere, 38, director of operations. "Let's see how long we can last here," he said, smiling.
In South Florida, the company delivers the crew store supplies directly to the cruise ships while they are docked at Port Everglades and PortMiami.
On Thursday, employees were readying pallets of goodies to be delivered to Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas and to its Majesty of the Seas cruise ships.
"We're not only providing a service to the cruise ships, but the profits that come from store sales go back into crew welfare," said Hirsch. "That makes me feel good."
Staff writer Doreen Hemlock contributed to this report.
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