OUR HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
Sunbeam Aquarium was set up as a freshwater tropical fish wholesale exporter in 1972 in 2 storey shophouse by Patrick Chin, our founder when he was barely 19 years old. Level one of the shophouse had served as office, packing room and quarantine room whereas living quarters was on level two.
Back then, the airlines were eager to expand their business and thus assisted in matching up sellers and buyers. Payment was not an issue as airlines offered COD facilities (cash on delivery) and it was almost guaranteed as long as you are able to deliver the shipment. There was also a striving local breeding community as fish farming was a lucrative livelihood especially for Singaporeans who had little education. Singapore achieved its independence barely 7 years ago in 1965. On the other hand, the quality of fish shipped then left much to be desired. Seizing the opportunity, our founder, Patrick decided to venture into the aquarium fish export industry but with an entirely different focus on quality, size and minimum losses, rather than price.
With this, Sunbeam made our first tropical fish shipment to Sweden with resounding success. Following the positive feedback, we gained more referrals from the airlines and made our foray into the remaining Nordic countries, Benelux and western Europe. Within a year of establishment, Sunbeam became the top exporter of tropical freshwater fish from Singapore to Europe. As the top performer, our founder, Patrick was sponsored an air ticket by KLM to Amsterdam in 1973. To a young man of 20 years who had never travelled any further than Singapore and Malaysia, it was both a major accomplishment and challenge.
1972 – Where it all began
“I thought I could easily check into any hotel but by the time I arrived in Amsterdam, it was close to midnight. All the hotels I had gone to were full and I was extremely hungry and cold but no restaurants were opened. The taxi driver who had been driving me around took pity and offered to rent me his bed since he worked his night shift and his wife had already ran away. I gladly took it. Unaccustomed to the food and feeling the pinch from the high exchange rate, I ate mostly eggs the next few days.”
– Patrick reminisced.
What was ornamental fish export in the 1970s like? Imagine a world without mobile phones, computers, emails, internet, faxes and international calls were almost cost prohibitive! Orders arrived by snail mail usually with a casher’s order enclosed. Stamp collection naturally became a hobby since it was easy to collect stamps from so many different countries. Packing lists were painstakingly handwritten and fish were ordered to breeders over the telephone by reading out each item line by line. Thank goodness the typewriter was already invented so we could produce at least professionally typed invoices and health certificates for clients.
In the 1980s, Sunbeam invested in a telex machine. It cost almost USD 1400 which was a huge sum of money in the 1980s; in today’s value, it would have cost USD 4,500. Orders started coming through the telex. Our excitement opening the office each morning cannot be contained as we look forward to rolls and rolls of telex communication representing orders which came through over the night.
However, as our business grew, the manual administrative work became just too much to handle. As a believer of continued innovation, we made our first purchase of a computer in late 1980s even though it cost a whopping USD 6,000 (USD 12,000 in today’s value)! It was a good call and our reputation as the top freshwater ornamental wholesale fish exporter from Singapore continued to grow as we remain committed to our success philosophy of good quality and size and quick service.
In 1985, we moved to a larger premise at an exporters’ area in Seletar West Farmway which has been zoned by the Singapore government in support of this industry. In 1990s, we invested in a marine facility following the demands of many customers who wanted similarly good quality as our freshwater fish. We stayed for almost 30 years although in reality we were bursting at the seams by 2013 when we moved out. Tanks could be found in almost every corner or empty space on the farm. We had 4000 tanks to stock tropical fish for export but it was still insufficient for our use.
The recent move to Chencharu Link was a $ 4m investment but the expansion was much needed to cope with the growing volume. 40 years forward from our founding days, we now face different challenges. Manpower constraints and cost, shrinking pool of supply, instability of supply due to changing weather conditions mandate the quarantine of more kinds of fish. The move allowed us to revamp the farm in a way that work could be done more effectively and efficiently, thereby allowing us to be remain competitive.
2017 and forward, we will continue to stay true to our business philosophy of good quality, size and quick service.