Segrest Farms Inc.
On the shores of Apollo Beach, Florida, Segrest Farms is one of the world’s leading suppliers of tropical and ornamental fish, serving everyone from the local fish store to massive aquarium displays at prominent resorts across the country. Tropical fish are one of the major items shipped out of Tampa Bay, an area that is home to many species. Segrest Farms raises freshwater species and also sources an array of colorful and unique tropical fish, as well as small reptiles, amphibians, marine corals, live rock and aquatic plants from around the world.
“We raise our own fish at seven different hatchery sites, but we also import fish from all over the world,” says Elwyn Segrest, president of Segrest Farms. “First and foremost we offer superior quality fish, but we also have a tremendous variety — more than any of our competitors in the world.”
To ensure the best quality, farm-raised tropical fish, Segrest Farms has set up outposts all over the South Pacific. “My son Quintin Segrest and I have helped build facilities for our global suppliers around the world,” says Elwyn. “We build the facility and train our local suppliers on how to collect good quality fish. Over the years, they slowly pay us back for the cost of the facility. It helps us assure quality and provides a good opportunity for suppliers.”
This unique business model has allowed Segrest Farms to quickly swim to the top of the wholesale fish distribution food chain. The business started out as a modest fish farm in 1961 with just 16 aquariums.
Elwyn, who has always had a passion for fishing and boating growing up on the shores of Tampa Bay, started Segrest Farms with a small sum of money handed down to him from his grandfather. “My grandfather served in World War II and when he returned, he gave me what amounted to $500 in war bonds for my birthdays,” he recounts. “I took the money and started my own business in 1961.”
The company has slowly but steadily grown over the years and is now one of the world’s largest wholesale ornamental fish distributors, supplying more than 1,000 pet shops, public and private aquariums, hotels and casinos, resorts, restaurants and research institutions every week with wholesale tropical and aquarium fish. “We’re one of the only two producers of GloFish, a genetically modified fluorescent fish in an assortment of neon colors,” says Elwyn. “We also sell saltwater fish and invertebrates, marine coral and live rock, aquatic plants, amphibians, small reptiles and marine animals, some tropical birds and live food.”
Segrest Farms’ main location is in Gibsonton, Florida, just outside of Apollo Beach, but the company also has distribution operations in Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama. “We have more than 700 fish ponds and some 5,000 or more concrete vats,” says Elwyn. “We now have more than 6,000 fresh water aquariums and more than 5,000 saltwater aquariums.”
At home in Florida, Segrest Farms employs 150 individuals, but on a global scale, including supplier farms, Elwyn says that number is closer to 500 employees. “We sell to everyone from pet stores to major clientele such as Sea World and Disney World, major public aquariums and even high-end casinos and resorts in Las Vegas.”
Sink or swim
No matter the type of specialty fish or quantity, Segrest Farms' customers enjoy first-class customer service and rapid distribution, including 24/7 Web access and ordering. “We certainly felt the effects of the market crash, but we’re still in business while some of our competitors went out because of our selection and customer service,” says Elwyn. “We were forced to lay some people off, but we found that we didn’t need such a large staff to operate after all.”
By downsizing and running a tight ship, Segrest Farms managed to stay afloat during lean times. “One thing I’ve always made sure to do is to save for a rainy day,” says Elwyn. “We don’t have any debt and I’ve always saved from day one, so when things get rough we have our bankroll behind us.”
Lately, Elwyn says the biggest expenses for the business have been software upgrades to ensure all of Segrest Farms' facilities are running on the same page. “Personnel is another major expense and we’re always combating freight costs,” he says. “But by keeping a close eye on these costs, we can manage them.”
“The hobby fish business tends to do well in a recession because it’s a relatively inexpensive activity that people can do from home,” adds Elwyn. “Pet shops sell more when people are at home. Sales go up through the long winters up north and hot summers in the South when more people have to stay inside.”
Business continues to move swimmingly for Segrest Farms. “We’re shipping nearly 365 days a year; the only time we’re not shipping out is on Christmas Day,” says Elwyn. “We’re also always expanding — we just added another freshwater site in Atlanta. The way I see it is if you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind.”
This kind of dedication to service, coupled with actively monitoring costs and a colorful selection has paid off for the company and Segrest Farms Inc. now enjoys its position as a global leader in tropical fish distribution.