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304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124

Honly Company

location: 335 Beach Road, Singapore 199564

Fishing Far and Wide

Name of business:Honly Company
Name of business in other language:豐利魚網私人有限公司
Business location:335 Beach Road, Singapore 199564
Business type:Nets, Ropes, and Marine Accessories

Honly Company was established in the 1970s selling nets, ropes, and marine accessories at Beach Road. However, with years of land reclamation, the sea has moved further away from Beach Road. Nevertheless, Honly Company continues to thrive due to the ingenuity and determination of its second-generation co-owner, Mr. Derrick Khoo. His innovative ideas and resolute perseverance have enabled Honly to expand as a business and overcome difficult times.

Sitting snugly in the middle of the stretch of shophouses along Beach Road, this store which sells nets, ropes and marine accessories may appear rather unassuming. Yet Honly Company has its own quirks. Peer into the shop and you would find shelves of neatly bundled ropes on the left, and a row of employees working at their desks on the right. Honly Company utilises the compact first floor of the shophouse for both its retail store and office. A signboard catches the eye of anyone who passes by the store and inscribed in gold are the Chinese characters: 豐利 (fèng lì). The coinage of “豐” meaning “豐盛” (bountiful), and “利” as in “有利益” (beneficial), reveals the meanings that form Honly’s name.

Founded by Mr Derrick Khoo’s father and his partners, Honly started out as a trading company in 1970 that focused on fishing nets and ropes. As a child, Mr Khoo remembers how the location of the store was chosen for its proximity to the sea. Customers would visit the store for its easy access to fishing products, and fishing boats would be a common sight. Today, the sea is further away from Beach Road after years of land reclamation. Stores like Honly, along with the road’s name, are the remaining traces of Kampong Gelam’s association with the sea. Mr Khoo has grown up with Honly over the years. He watched customers patronise the store since he was a child, helped his father with the business at 34 years old, and eventually took up the baton as a director.

When his father asked him to help out, Mr Khoo was hesitant about joining Honly. He was previously working in the financial market, a far cry from the sale of fishing products. Used to typical days of attending to customers in the financial industry, Mr Khoo felt like a fish out of water when he found himself promoting fishing nets to uncles and fishermen. Unlike his previous job which involved mostly office work, he now had get used to travelling frequently to countries like Indonesia to visit his customers. Not only did he need to overcome the generation gap between him and his elderly customers, but he also had to familiarise himself with the numerous specifications of his products. It was overwhelming, but Mr Khoo pressed on, slowly but surely becoming accustomed with the fishing industry as he used each hurdle as a learning experience.

Under Mr Khoo’s vision, Honly took on challenges that boosted the company’s growth. To find good quality products as well as discover opportunities for expanding the business, Mr Khoo looked into emerging markets like Africa, the Maldives and countries in the Indian Ocean. He made cold calls, trying his luck based on any snippets of relevant information about the country’s fishing industry. Once, his friend told him that there were some fishing ropes similar to Honly’s in the Maldives, and Mr Khoo jumped on the opportunity to contact potential customers from Maldives. His efforts paid off. The Maldives’ main mode of transport were vessels and speedboats, due to their geography comprising islands in the Indian Ocean. Mooring ropes and other related products thus were high in demand there. Additionally, Mr Khoo found that nets could be used for purposes beyond fishing, and diversified to provide safety nets, lifebuoys and climbing ropes. This use of existing products to enter related sectors was one of the many ways that Mr Khoo devised to expand his business far and wide.

One of the biggest challenges Mr Khoo faced was venturing into the food industry to sell surimi, also known as fish paste. He had no prior knowledge about handling food products, and barely anyone else in the family had much relevant experience, apart from his uncle who was a wholesale food seller and worked in a fishball factory as a manufacturer. Having his uncle and one of his Indonesian customers as partners, Mr Khoo dived into the new territory of producing fish paste. He engaged the best Japanese expertise to train the employees in the technical know-how. He also took up a course about handling food products and did the marketing from ground zero. The fish paste venture turned out to be a success. When he looks back, he reminisces with a tinge of fondness. “Facing obstacles, I never enjoyed (them), but solving the problems and getting the fruits of it, I find that it’s very worthwhile,” he says. “There’s the satisfaction. Not the money, the money is not much, it’s the satisfaction.” Today, he continues the efforts to expand the business, looking into new importers and suppliers as well as brainstorming ideas for new possible products.

Honly faces new challenges in the next 5-10 years. Innovating the business to attract the younger generation, not only to purchase their products but also to join the company is a crucial concern. Regardless of what the future has in store, Mr Khoo hopes that Honly will be able to stay in Kampong Gelam. Aside from it being a “happening” place with good food, Kampong Gelam is special to Mr Khoo because it is a place of “怀念”, or nostalgia. He loves the “kampung feel” where “there’s trust, and friendship among the neighbours”, and believes that it is something that cannot be replicated anywhere else.

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