Economy

Not merely ornamental, but paying too

R. Balaji | Updated on March 23, 2013 Published on March 23, 2013

R.S. Prabakar, Director, Taiyo Feed Mill

Prabakar is 40 years old and a first generation entrepreneur, who converted his hobby of maintaining ornamental fishes into a thriving business over the last 10 years.

An aquarium at home grew into a 100 sq.ft. shop for selling ornamental fish. This then got transformed into a business of making and selling pet feed.

From one shop assistant, he now employs over 120 people. Business has grown from about Rs 15,000 a month to over Rs 9 crore a year now. Not bad for someone who has studied up to the 10th standard.

“I travel a lot to China and South-East Asia to keep track of developments in the business,” he says. His wife Premila Lakshmi, a commerce graduate, looks after the business when he is away.

Prabakar operates three manufacturing units, a fish feed producing unit he started in 2003. The 100 tonnes a month unit has been running at full capacity for the last seven years. It makes fish feed for over a 100 varieties of ornamental fish, turtles and other small animals under 3-4 brands – the largest brand is Taiyo and the others are Aini and Sakura. In the last two years, he has set up two smaller units for making ornaments for aquariums and for toys for the aquariums – life-like tree stumps, forest setting, buildings and such.

He is expanding the feed factory to about 1,250 tonnes a month and will make the entire gamut of feed for small pets, including dogs, cats, birds and other small animals such as hamsters and guinea pigs. The new unit will be ready in a few months and that will help grow his business several fold in the next six years, he says.

The first unit was started with Rs 1-crore loan from Repco Bank in 2003-04, and he repaid it in five years. The expansion, a Rs 9-crore project, includes a Rs 6.5-crore loan from Punjab National Bank.

Pet lovers were dependent on imported feed which was costly, quality was uncertain and accessories and decorations for the aquarium had to be imported. All had to come from South-East Asia.

For the first eight years from 1995 when he set up the shop, he too was dependent on imported feed from Malaysia.

“I match the cost and quality of imported goods, if not out-do them,” says Prabakar. Over the last decade, every aquarium dealer in India stocks Taiyo and other brands under the Taiyo umbrella.

This range is now being exported to Sri Lanka and the South-East which once dominated the Indian market.

He has identified new segments. People, especially in North India, love to keep turtles. He now makes about 15 tonnes of turtle-feed per month after starting with about 100 kg in 2004.

He gets all the raw material for production locally – corn, soya, fish meal. Only some specialised inputs are imported. Some of the feed that assure added colour in pet fish come with guarantees. Also all inputs are ‘human grade’ and safe. The fight was in gaining a foothold in a market dominated by imports.

But with a clear understanding of the market needs, he has grown to be a market leader. Over 1,800 dealers across the country stock his range of feeds and accessories. “Give me one piece of an ornament imported from China that goes into an aquarium and I can mass-produce it in my factory. The quality will be better and if it is Rs 10 from China, it will be Rs 10 from my factory,” says Prabakar. He has big plans on growth, including diversifying into the feed market for aquaculture fishes.

Published on March 23, 2013
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