Blue Ocean Trading Inc
Javier Bravo took his love of the sea and turned it into a business. In 1993, he and his wife, Frances Rios decided to stablish an export business for the Caribbean. Blue Ocean Trading Inc. became the couple’s supply and logistics business based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Together, the co-owners work with a team of 11 employees to provide food, paper goods and other necessities to retailers on 21 islands in the region.
Javier has a background in sailing and exports. “My father was a merchant marine,” he explains. “As a kid, I was always on the water. In college, I raced sailboats at regattas and fell in love with the islands. After some years, I moved to the United States and when I came back to Puerto Rico, I was looking for an opportunity with a company for a local market. Because of my background, my new employer thought I would be perfect for the export division. I started working in the islands in the early 1990s for Borden.”
While working in the islands for the large food manufacturer, Javier made connections with distributors and retailers all over the Caribbean. He began to field questions from these clients, seeking access to different products. While such foods, drinks and other goods were readily available in Puerto Rico, no one was running the logistics necessary for efficient distribution in the islands. Javier saw his opportunity.
Starting small and staying that way
Javier and Frances started the company out of their house. While the business has grown significantly since the early days, customers still expect the same personalized service of a small operation. In 2015, Blue Ocean Trading has more resources to draw on, making it possible to better serve customers with sales over $25 million over the last four years servicing 21 islands from Grand Cayman, USVI, BVI, St. Marten, St. Bart, Anguilla, Saba, St. Eustatia, St. Kitts, Nevis, Antigua, St. Vincent, Dominica, Monserratte, Anguilla, Barbados, Grenada, Aruba and Curacao.
“When we started out, we had one line servicing our customers,” Javier notes. “Frances was driving the truck, I drove a van and we were doing sales out of our house. Over 20 years, we now have a more formal commercial operation. We buy direct from more than 100 companies with over 10,000 products chilled, frozen and dry groceries and we have no warehouse, so our logistics keep products moving throughout the Caribbean.”
Javier estimates he ships approximately 30 percent of goods through larger cargo companies and around 70 percent with smaller cargo boats for the port of San Juan. These boats deliver straight to the islands, servicing supermarkets ashore. Many smaller boats are fixed with chillers for refrigerated and frozen goods and offer storage for dry goods, paper products and fuel, such as gasoline, diesel and propane gas.
Filling customer needs
Blue Ocean Trading specializes in small markets, the island communities that larger distributors cannot effectively and profitably service. “We thrive on relationships,” Javier explains. “We don’t have customers, we have friends. These tiny markets become like family. They appreciate our efforts and the products and services we provide. After more than 20 years, I think I have more friends on the island than I do locally.”
It comes as no surprise that Blue Ocean Trading has such a strong and loyal following. Javier and Frances have longstanding relationships with suppliers, meaning the products these island customers need are in constant supply.
“Service is the name of the game,” Javier notes. “Especially on the islands, it is important for us to have knowledge of how delivery works and what can go wrong. We understand how the boats run and we know what can get in the way of a delivery. Weather can be a big challenge. Often we find that in route for delivery, weather might come in.”
Frances also plays an important role in service. As head of the financial end of the business, she maintains margins and keeps Blue Ocean Trading streamlined for efficiency.
Furthermore, Frances knows when to put her foot down when it comes to relationships with suppliers. “We have worked with people before who could not honor their commitments,” she explains. “It doesn’t matter if you have the best product on the market if we cannot get it to our customers.”
She and Javier both take great pride in the business they have built together. On top of providing a strong supply chain for island customers, the company also helps to promote growing small, local businesses through marketing Puerto Rican products to customers on the islands.
“So if you go shopping for your vacation villa in the USVI and get some fresh poultry, bread and juices or you are provisioning your charter boat in the BVI with snacks, water, sun tan lotion, soda or enjoy few days and shop in Anguilla for groceries, or have any friend at the School of Medicine of Saba and St Kitts and they have craving for U.S. products and the most important when you enjoy a Piña Colada or Rum Punch in the Caribbean think that’s part of Blue Ocean Trading effort and success for over 20 years,” Frances and Javier say proudly.
With 21 small markets in the Caribbean, the couple provides turnkey service from start to finish, leaving little for customer to worry about. Over the coming years, Blue Ocean Trading Inc. will continue to grow with a reputation for reliability, quality and friendly service in the islands.