Central Florida Couple finds continuous success offering koi for sale
October 20, 2012 (PRLEAP.COM) Business NewsWhere it all started-
Long before there was a company name, there was a passionate interest in all things aquatic. Cheryl and Joe Pawlak grew up over 2000 mile away from each other. Both enjoyed the outdoors and all types of recreation. One thing always seemed more interesting than the rest and that interest was fish. It did not matter if it was one of Jose's numerous aquariums or Cheryl's love of fishing or just exploring the local pond. If had had anything to do with fish, they were interested.
Both attended college in Alexandria, MN and studied aquaculture (fish farming). The couple met on a trip to New Orleans for a week long seminar that brings together the world's top aquaculture experts. From that point on Cheryl and Joe enjoyed exploring what the world had to offer. They moved to Sacramento, California and worked in the industry. Cheryl worked for a mom and pop water garden store cultivating plants and fish. Joe worked for a striped bass and largemouth bass facility that utilized methane to generate power and heat raising over 200,000 pounds of largemouth and striped bass inside the city limits of Elk Grove. Joe's main focus was the development of new feeds to teach a predatory (bass) to eat a stationary pelleted food. Both loved the hard work and the pursuit in uncharted territory their positions allowed.
Eventually the couple moved to Florida, both working for the world's largest Fish Farm supply company, Aquatic Eco Systems, designing and building various products and systems while meeting many interesting people worldwide. During those ten years, the couple's insatiable appetite for industry led to their first land purchase and construction of their home. This is where Blackwater Creek Koi Farms was born. The couple thought it would be a great side line business offering koi for sale to the public. "Keeping our feet wet and generating a little extra money to pay for some toys was the plan" said Joe.
It did not take long for that plan to change. With continuous guidance and support from the couples families and Bob Heideman, the founder of Aquatic Eco Systems, Blackwater Creek Koi Farms grew and grew and grew. Within a few years the once small business had built an additional 20 acre farm, and purchased a government built 40 acre facility in NW Florida. This solidified the fact that Blackwater Creek was going to be more than a sideline business. After ten years with Aquatic Eco-Systems, the couple left to pursue their dreams full time.
"Lucky Breaks"- "Joe calls them lucky breaks. I saw them as more of strategic chances for growth" said Cheryl when asked about how they grew so fast. Their growth came from the recognition of opportunities that happen all the time. When the large 40 acre facility became available, the couple could not afford to buy it. They were able to negotiate a long term lease. This helped them test the market without any large commitment. "It took all the income we had to support the operation of that facility. It was nearly 300 miles from our home office." "This facility had everything except the fish. We added staff, and fish and we were ready to grow. Business took off in the early 2000's around 2003" said Cheryl. "The economy was doing well and people had discretionary income to spend. Our expenses were low and it seemed the harder we worked, the better things got."
Turning Points- During the ramp up of the business, a major supplier to the fish industry in the Blue Ride Mountain area of North Carolina had contracted a viral disease that was on the "important list" for the Federal Government. The disease name was SVC or Spring Viremia of Carp. After some investigation, this farm was required to eliminate all fish from the ponds and facilities and sterilize/shut down for two years. During this time Blackwater Creek continued to grow and gain market share. The competition in this industry is robust. We are not talking about a 99 cent goldfish. Many fish sell at wholesale prices above fifty dollars apiece. Many farms compete for a relatively small piece of pie. We asked Joe what the secret to success is. "I believe honesty, drive, and the love of what you do are the top items … the rest is just business. We were a small business once and were treated by some banks etc. with scrutiny. Those business's that chose to work with us then are still working with us now and we have proven ourselves."
Regrets- Joe said they have few regrets about how Blackwater Creek evolved. "It's been a great time, not without heart ache, but that is to be expected. We had to take some licks to learn about business that cannot be taught without experience. When the competing koi farm was able to start farming again, they came to us to ask for breeding stock because our koi were clean and did not have any viruses. I thought it was the right thing to do. Yes they were competition … but I thought it would be a good gesture. Then, just a few years later we find that they had stolen a dealers list from our website and start marketing. I called them and the response was "Sorry but Business is Business and we needed the customers." I learned from that and we still do help people out but my guard is up just a little more after that experience." Looking back, I have very few regrets. The decisions we made then were based on the facts at that point in time. I do chuckle some times when I tell people how we could have bought the adjoining large parcel of land for an additional two hundred dollars a month with owner financing. At the time it was out of our budget."
Claims to fame- What made you successful? Specifics please. "Doing the right thing when there was faster money to be made." and "Attention to details while not following the herd" Back in the early days, importing koi from Japan was the only game in town. Fly over and select fish from multiple places, bring them back and sell them. That was how it was done and the couple spent money in the six figures buying fish for resale. When they brought the fish back to the farm in Eustis and held them in quarantine, they would find that some fish would develop diseases and sometimes die or become scarred and unsalable. It was never a specific farm, but over time the couple discovered that by mixing fish from multiple places caused some koi to contract diseases that the other koi farm's fish were tolerant of. Joe said "it was like kissing too many people … sooner or later your gonna catch something." Unfortunately each farm in Japan only raises a few varieties and to sell fish in the USA … you must have something for each person's taste. So almost 10 years ago, the couple stopped buying and reselling fish and instead focused on producing a high quality koi in the USA. Some resistance and pushback occurred from the buyers initially but after realizing the benefits, Blackwater Creek Koi farms have become the "go to" place for healthy koi. "We stick our necks out for voluntary testing. It costs us thousands of dollars each year. The results are in the facts and the test results"
The History of Butterfly or Long fin koi – "I just chuckle when I hear a koi judge tell me that a long fin or Butterfly koi is not a koi. " Joe said. In the past decade, we have produced koi with nice long flowing fins in varieties never seen before. It had been done in Japan on a small scale but the market would not accept them. The history of long fin koi goes back to Mr. Atushi Suda who had crossed an Indonesian long fish carp (a very close relative) with his famous gin rin showa (a sparkly black, red, and white fish) to improve the body shape of his koi. The results were a few fish with beautiful long flowing fins. The market was not yet ready to accept them in Japan so the fish were not promoted or bred much until they reached farms in the United States where production began on a larger scale. "Yes butterfly koi are real koi and they have become very popular. We raised over half a million butterfly koi in one year alone."
Looking forward – So what is in the future? The couple said that they will continue to innovate and expand the koi farms beyond the current 3 locations and sixty five acres. Their second company, Aquatic Nutrition Inc. , manufactures and sells various ornamental diets including koi foods, treats, and sport fishing goods including a popular line of fishing chum. This business has seen tremendous growth with modest profits that make it difficult for others to compete with. "We want to be in business where it allows us to enjoy our efforts every day. Life is too short to do anything else. Passion equals success." Raising our kids, meeting new people and helping current friends and customers succeed make life great.
With all the talk of gloom in the economy, it is nice to run upon businesses that are succeeding in spite of challenges. Putting happiness and passion top on the list seems to be working for Cheryl and Joe. For more about their company please visit their website at www.koisale.com