PIJAC Behind the Scenes: Segrest Farms
By Ed Sayres
I was lucky enough to spend one day recently visiting longtime PIJAC member Segrest Farms, one of the world’s largest and most successful distributors of wholesale ornamental fish.
Being new to aquatics myself, I am out to learn as much as I can about the field – the animals themselves as well as the issues that are most important to them, their owners and the businesses that serve them. Knowing that Segrest was an excellent place to start, I traveled to Gibsonton, Florida, a few miles southeast of Tampa along Florida’s west coast, the mecca of tropical fish, where the company is based.
Elwyn Segrest founded the business in 1961, with an investment of just $475 and 16 aquariums in his garage. (The garage became his headquarters only after his wife had grown weary of the aquariums on every flat surface inside the house). His is an enviable story of turning a personal passion into a thriving business.
Today Segrest Farms supplies over 1,000 pet shops, public aquariums and research institutions each week with wholesale freshwater, tropical and cold water aquarium fish, GLOFISH, saltwater fish and invertebrates, marine corals and live rock, aquatic plants, amphibians, reptiles, small animals and live food.
My expert guide for the day was Sandy Moore, vice president responsible for managing Segrest’s Florida companies and handling chain store accounts.
Sandy Moore knows fish. Sandy started working for Segrest Farms part time in 1980, after collecting and selling native snakes for retail in the pet industry. After a brief stint at Dun & Bradstreet after college, Sandy returned to fish, working in many facets of the business over the more than 20 years she has been with Segrest. She is a director of The Florida Tropical Fish Farms Association and serves as its representative on the PIJAC Board of Directors, where she co-chairs the Aquatics Subcommittee. She also serves on the board of Ornamental Fish International and on the HABRI Steering Committee.
My time with Sandy included a tour of the indoor intensive culture of fish, outdoor pond production and holding and shipping. The facility is immense. It is extremely clean and meticulously organized. It is outfitted with the most innovative technologies to assure high standards of care and environmental sustainability. This includes sophisticated, climate-controlled receiving and acclimating systems in the freshwater and saltwater facilities, and protocols ensuring that the fish are treated for parasites and bacteria before being introduced to their new homes. Employees are remarkably caring of and well informed about the animals in their care.
Sandy loves every aspect of the business and takes pride in the company’s high standards of care, thorough oversight and focus on continuous improvement. This effort includes ongoing partnerships with regulatory agencies and the scientific research community to sustain and advance industry best practices.
Elwyn Segrest started and has always led his company with the guiding philosophy of “We learn something new every day.” (As became clear during my visit, that philosophy works just as well today as it did 50 years ago, and it certainly resonates with me as a new student of aquatics.) Long tenures are typical among Segrest employees, convincing evidence of the supportive culture Elwyn has built over the years. Many on staff have been with the company for 20 years or more, amassing along the way a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge and expertise that they are eager to share. The company maintains an open door policy to show people what they do and how they do it, giving tours of its shipping facilities almost every day, welcoming about 200 people a month.
This is just a preview. We’ll be sharing here in the future more of Segrest’s story as well as its resident expertise on a range of topics affecting the aquatics industry. I’ll also be attending Aquatic Experience in Chicago in early November. I look forward to meeting with many representatives of the aquatics field, learning more and filing a dispatch about my experience.