You never know where — or when — you are going to get the idea that turns around your struggling company.
For Epicore Bionetworks, it came in the early ’90s in Indonesia, on a trip to sell a microbial ecosystem that helps dissolve grease in water.
“If you fly into Jakarta and drive into the city, you pass by row after row of shrimp farms,” said William Long, CEO of the Eastampton-based company. “It was kind of a natural thing for a marketing guy to say, ‘Boy, if we had something for that, there’s a whole lot of that here.’”
It turns out, Long had the solution.
The same product that was designed to dissolve grease could also help clean up the water in the shrimp farms. The product, a microbial ecosystem that detoxifies ponds and hatcheries, has since become the company’s flagship product, known as Epicin.
The product works to eradicate the toxins from the ponds and increases the survival rate of the shrimp. This not only increased the survival rate of shrimp (thus increasing the profit margins), it helps the shrimp grow larger, which is great for the purchaser and the consumer at the market.
It also great for Epicore Bionetworks, which had revenue of just under $8 million in 2014.
“That started a whole other leg of the business,” Long said. “When I joined the company in 1995, the grease digestion part of the business had pretty much withered away and, by then, the company had concentrated on shrimp aquaculture.”
By the time Long was appointed CEO in 1997, the transition to aquaculture was almost total. Long, however, had another idea for growth: Central and South America.
“I started a program in South America because many of the countries in Central and South America are big into shrimp aquaculture,” he said.
That decision turned out to be fortuitous and, as the company gained its footing in the Americas, the Indonesian market began to falter.
“The Epicore person who was running the business didn’t get along well with one of the largest customers and (the client) took its business somewhere else,” he said. “It undermined the whole effort in Asia and, so, for a period of time, Epicore stepped out of the Asian market and we concentrated our efforts here closer to home.”
This method provided what is often described as the best kind of growth: slow and steady.
“One farmer at a time, we just kept adding farmers and selling more product; we added products to our range, made our overall offering more attractive and hired some really quality people — particularly in Ecuador,” he said.
The company, which Long said is 40 people split evenly between its New Jersey location, where the products are manufactured, and its Ecuador office, was eventually able to support itself through its efforts in the Americas, an aspect of the business that is still growing today.
Long credits customer service for the growth.
“These days, marketing can be entirely impersonal because a computer does all the work,” he said. “But, for the most part, marketing is a personal thing and you need people to do it.”
With the company’s dealings in the Americas bearing the economic burden, Epicore was able to refocus on its efforts in Indonesia roughly 10 years ago.
“Now we pretty much sell to every shrimp-growing area around the world,” Long said.
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Company: Epicore Bionetworks
One more thing: Though the company has diversified its offerings, shrimp aquaculture still accounts for a large portion of its business: “(It) represents in excess of 95 percent of our business. Some years, it’s 99 (percent),” CEO William Long said.