Why own one crocodile when you can have thousands of them? William Belo, whose Wilcon Depot dominates the Philippines home-improvement market with 57 stores nationwide, was already on the path to business success when he decided to try his hand at something different, and started an egg farm in 1989 as a weekend activity. Then, he needed to figure out what to do with the chickens that were no longer able to lay. I n the mid-1990s, he thought about feeding them to tigers before settling on crocodiles. He bought about 1,200 of them over three years after learning that a crocodile conservation farm in the province of Palawan was looking to sell some of its stock. “My plan was just to have a farm with a small number of animals and fresh eggs for personal consumption,” Belo says in an interview in Manila. “One thing led to another. We brought in crocodiles to feed the chickens [to that] we didn’t need.” Today, he owns about 23,000 of the semi-aquatic reptiles, for which he has found more lucrative uses. Their skins are supplied to luxury brands such as LVMH , and the meat is found in a variety of food products, including Hungarian sausages and a popular local dish called sisig . The food products are sold under the Dundee brand name – a tribute to the 1986 movie Crocodile Dundee . Belo now has two crocodile farms, one for breeding that’s on 10 hectares (24.7 acres), and another that’s seven times larger, for culling and managing animal waste. The venture has about 800,000 chickens and 5,000 hogs, and he sells about 2,000 to 3,000 crocodile skins a year for US$200 to US$250 apiece. “It’s hard to turn this into a larger scale [industry] because food can be very expensive and there are issues of inbreeding which affect the quality of the skin,” Belo says. “You aren’t allowed to bring in crocodiles from other countries to fix inbreeding and there are few left in the wild.” The price of crocodile skin has dropped because of oversupply prompted by weaker demand for luxury products by Chinese consumers, who he estimates easily account for half of global demand for high-end bags. “It’s hard to grow this into a bigger industry because we don’t have breeders and there is a limit to the market now,” Belo says. Still, he’s doing just fine. Wilcon is thriving amid a construction boom sweeping the country under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure push. The value of construction projects rose 22 per cent in the second quarter from a year earlier to 123 billion pesos (US$2.4 billion), with residential developments accounting for more than half of that total, according to official statistics. Wilcon targets middle- to high-income homeowners, selling everything from plumbing fixtures to tiles and taps. After graduating from high school, Belo studied engineering at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila while working evenings at a construction-supply company partially owned by his father. In 1977, he finally opened his own store in a space no bigger than one-bedroom flat and worked for decades to build a company that is now the leading retailer in the Philippines’ home-improvement market. In an interview last year, he said he was undaunted by Ikea’s plan to open its first store in the country in 2020. “When you want to build a house, you don’t go to Ikea, you go to Wilcon,” he said. While Belo still goes to the office five days a week, he now oversees the business as chairman emeritus while leaving day-to-day operations to his three children. That’s given him “more time to relax”, he says, and perhaps devote more time to other pursuits – like raising crocodiles.