If you have an ornamental fish or two gracing your pond or fish tank you are bound to know the name Qian Hu (SGX: 552).
The Singapore-based company breeds, imports, exports and distributes ornamental fish including its speciality, Dragon Fish. The company also manufactures and distributes aquarium accessories to both local and international customers.
But surprisingly – and like another popular Singaporean company, Sheng Siong (SGX: OV8), Qian Hu’s roots are firmly embedded in pig farming.
From pig farmers to fish breeders..
Yap Tik Huay and his brother were successfully running their family’s pig farm in the 1980s when the Singapore Government, in an effort to make room for residential developments (as well as reduce pollution) decided to shut down its pig-farming sector.
The brothers (who by now had been joined by Yap Tik Huay’s three sons) decided to transform their property into a fish farm, converting pigpens into concrete ponds in which they could breed guppies to sell to local exporters.
However, bad luck, coupled with the family’s lack of knowledge and experience in the fish farming industry were soon to result in some costly mistakes.
The Great Singapore Flood
In 1989, Singapore was hit by horrendous storms causing many areas of the country to be flooded. The Yap family’s fish farm was one of those affected – and the family watched in horror as its entire stock of 4,000 fish was washed away.
High Fin Loaches
What’s more, times were to get even harder. The family decided to start again – this time by raising the expensive, but popular and highly prized High Fin Loach or Chinese High Fin Banded Shark fish. At a cost of $100-$200 per immature fish, the aim was to raise them until they were at a desirable size for sale when they could be sold for a premium.
Unfortunately, this time inexperience was to be their downfall. Whilst in the midst of moving to expand their premises, all of the fish were killed.
The family had failed to understand that high fin loaches are particularly sensitive to vibrations – and the drilling from the power tools used to install the new fish tanks was far more than they could tolerate.
Left with nothing, the family had to start again. Deciding a new name meant a new beginning Qian Hu was born.
Mr Yap’s youngest son, Kenny, who had just returned from University, joined the firm with two of his cousins.
Understanding the business
Realising the fish farm had faced other problems, such as fishes dying before reaching their destinations and inappropriate fish tanks being used for breeding, Kenny Yap took it upon himself to learn about his new profession. He read up on fish farming and breeding practices and started to understand the best direction for the firm to take.
Rather than define the company as agricultural (like most other fish breeders) Kenny believed ornamental fish to be more of a lifestyle product and as such, wanted to become a “one-stop shop” for anyone wishing to keep fish.
By 1990, the company was offering a wide range of ornamental fish including koi and goldfish as well as aquarium equipment with island-wide distribution.
The company then decided to look into manufacturing its own aquarium accessories.
By 1992, Qian Hu had started importing ornamental fish to export worldwide – as well as its own aquarium accessories and by 1993, had begun a joint venture in Beijing, China, supplying fish and accessories. Its accessories distribution expanded to include Malaysia and Thailand by 1999 and in 2000, Qian Hu Corporation Limited was listed on the Singapore Exchange.
It wasn’t until 2003, that Qian Hu started breeding its speciality – the Dragon Fish, when it bought Malaysia’s leading breeding company, Kim Kang Aquaculture.
Qian Hu – The Pet Family
By 2004, Qian Hu was realising its “one-stop ornamental fish specialist” dream and opened its first retail chain stores Qian Hu – The Pet Family, across Malaysia, China and Thailand. Customers could walk in and purchase not just ornamental fish, but all of the equipment required too, as well as other pet accessories.
Over the next few years the company were to buy a 20% stake in UK-based Arcadia Products and spearheaded cutting-edge research into the in-vitro breeding of Dragon Fish.
But did you know…
- Qian Hu means “Thousand Lakes” in Mandarin
- Despite the terrible losses suffered the High-fin Loach fish was made Qian Hu’s mascot – used to remind the company not to make the same mistake twice.
- Fish are incredibly popular pets in Singapore, believed by the Chinese in particular to bring luck. Especially prized is the bulbous-headed Luohan – it may be an ugly fish with garish markings but it was blessed to be named after the eight immortals of Chinese Taoism, no two fish look the same and some Luohan markings even resemble Chinese characters.
- Singapore is responsible for exporting one third of the world’s ornamental fish
- If you’re a Qian Hu employee don’t expect to be able to gossip about the boss at lunch – Kenny Yap is a strong believer in treating employees as part of the family, to the point he joins them for their coffee breaks to foster a sense of strong teamwork, camaraderie and commitment.
Executive Chairman Kenny Yap remains committed to concentrating Qian Hu’s core business on what it knows, while constantly researching and introducing new ways of doing business.
Indeed, Qian Hu currently has four strings to its bow:
- Fish Breeding – the company breeds and distributes of 1,000 species of ornamental fish to over 80 countries worldwide
- Pet Accessories – it manufactures and distributes over 3,000 aquarium and pet accessories to 40 countries worldwide
- Plastic bags – Qian Hu manufactures its own specialist plastic bags for transporting fish, as well as for the food and electronics industries, which it distributes to third party suppliers
- Retail – it runs a successful chain of Pet Care retail stores throughout China, Malaysia and Thailand.
Today, Qian Hu remains a family-based business with three ISO 9002 certifications, it’s a globally recognised name in ornamental fish and the winner of numerous awards – not bad for a family that had to rapidly teach itself how to breed fish, not pigs.