Riding the Natural Wave
For retailers who see customers pick up a product and read its ingredients list, it is obvious that today’s consumers are paying more attention to what they put in their aquariums. After all, every fish owner only wants the best for their fish, and using products that are made with all-natural ingredients helps people feel they are doing the right thing by their small, brightly colored pets.
Customers also have a growing awareness that everything they put into those tanks eventually gets flushed into the water system with each water changing, seeping into the groundwater and eventually into our drinking water sources. So, the fewer chemicals, the better.
Cultural considerations are just one of the many changes within the medication and supplement category for aquariums. The FDA is also putting into effect tighter regulations on the manufacture and distribution of over-the-counter medications for fish, which in some cases has made production more expensive.
“Change is coming to the industry, even if it might be a slow change,” said Scott Berke, national sales manager at Ecological Laboratories. “All of this together is opening up the opportunity for natural and herbal remedies and supplements, and in the past year or so, we’ve seen dramatic growth in these products.”
Get on Board with Herbal Treatments
Many retailers will be familiar with the herbal and all-natural treatments available for aquariums, since this isn’t necessarily a new category. But it is one that is getting attention currently because of renewed interest on the part of consumers, which makes it important to have a good selection on the shelves for customers.
Ecological Laboratories has been producing herbal supplements for about eight years, starting with Microbe-Lift/Artemiss, an herbal, immune-enhancing stimulant that reduces bacterial and fungal infections. They have since added Herbtana, made of multiple herbal extracts that help prevent parasitic diseases and which comes in both a saltwater and freshwater formula.
Fritz Aquatics also has a line of all-natural products within the company’s Mardel line. BacterShield, ParaShield and ProtoShield all make use of the polymer chitosan, found in shrimp shells, which is used as a flocculant.
“Mardel’s researchers found that if you inject this polymer into herbs, it creates a negative charge that coats the fish, helping fight off parasites and fungal infections,” said Mike Noce, sales manager of Fritz’s Specialty Division. “This means you are treating the fish rather than treating the water column, which is something that appeals to consumers.”
Not Just for Illness
Supplements can do more than fight off parasites and bacterial and fungal infections. They can also be used to help stimulate appetites, which is an important step in keeping fish healthy.
“Vitamin and nutrient deficiencies can lead to issues such as stunted growth, skeletal deformities, loss of weight, and in severe cases, erosion of tissues and fins,” said Amanda Neese, supervisor of sales, support and education at Seachem Laboratories. “Regular use of supplements can help solve issues of nutrient deficiency when they appear in aquarium fish.”
Garlic is one of the popular ingredients used in nutrition supplements, and can be found in Seachem’s Garlic Guard and Kent’s Garlic Xtreme. Vitamin C is another important ingredient, found as a base in Seachem’s line of supplements as well as in Kent Marine C.
In addition to boosting the nutrient intake of fish by using these products as a food soak, they can also help finicky fish. Entice, from Seachem, is a banana-scented flavor enhancer that works on all fish, but particularly with saltwater angels and butterflies.
Medications Not Obsolete
Even with the growing popularity of herbal and all-natural remedies and supplements, there is still a need for medications.
“While herbal options can be used for treatment, they don’t work as fast as antibiotics and chemical treatments in most cases,” Berke said. “There are times, when you have a fish in a dire situation or a widespread infection in your aquarium, when the chemical option is still the way to go.”
Luckily, there are plenty of trusted products available to give your customers options when it comes to medications. Ecological Laboratories has discontinued some of its medications but still produces its broad-spectrum disease treatment.
“With costs of production going up, we decided to streamline our offerings, so we went with the product that treats a broader range of diseases,” Berke said.
Fritz Aquatics and Seachem also offer a variety of medications, including broad-spectrum antibiotics, copper treatments and fungal and anti-parasitic treatments.
Become the Expert
When people get sick, we go to the doctor. If our dog or cat acts under the weather, we take them to the vet. But it’s not that easy to transport fish, so many fish owners are left to diagnose and treat illnesses and other issues on their own. In addition to providing a good selection of herbal treatments and other medications, retailers also serve as the leading expert for customers looking for help on figuring out the different types of diseases and how best to treat them.
Luckily, there are plenty of resources available to help educate you and your staff. Both Seachem and Fritz Aquatics have detailed information on their websites. Seachem also offers a fully staffed technical support department available to answer phone calls and emails five days a week. You can also invite manufacturers to host in-store seminars to educate the entire staff.
The important thing is to make sure you and your staff are prepared to help your customers, because healthy fish mean happy customers.
Just Keep Swimming
Pixar’s “Finding Dory” opens in theaters nationwide on June 17, and for anybody in the fish industry, now is the time to follow your feelings. That familiar feeling deep inside is the memory of just how big the first movie in this series, “Finding Nemo,” was for the industry. The thing to do now is recognize that feeling and follow your instinct, preparing for just as big an effect from “Finding Dory,” if not more.
“As soon as ‘Finding Nemo’ came out, kids started showing up in the store shrieking, ‘There’s Nemo!’ and it’s been repeated every single day since,” said Sally Trufant, general manager of B&B Pet Stop in Mobile, Alabama. “We set up small aquariums with a clownfish and an anemone and they sold like hotcakes.”
B&B Pet Stop wasn’t the only store that benefitted from increased sales thanks to Nemo. According to the Content Marketing Institute, the immediate and somewhat unforeseen popularity of the movie caused a worldwide shortage of clownfish, and sales of fish tanks, cleaners and other décor went through the roof.
“Finding Nemo” made $937 million in global box office revenue, and with Pixar’s ever-increasing popularity and an intense pre-release marketing campaign, it shouldn’t be surprising if “Finding Dory” surpasses that.
Merchandise and More
Penn-Plax, a leading manufacturer of licensed fish products, has been working with Disney to produce a great line of products specifically for the new movie, not just as an addition to the current “Finding Nemo” products. Dory merchandise depicts favorite characters from Finding Nemo while highlighting characters from the new movie including Hank the octopus, Bailey the beluga whale and Destiny the whale shark. These characters are featured on betta tanks, in resins of three different sizes and on eye-popping backgrounds.
It’s a given that retailers should stock up on Dory products and maximize sales with marketing techniques such as hanging movie posters in the store window and putting Dory stickers on the fish tanks. But it’s also important to build excitement in your store by hosting special events tied to the movie.
“We host fun events at our store every month because we believe that’s what sets us apart not only from our local competition, but also from the Internet,” Trufant said.
In addition to the store’s regular monthly fish swaps and sales, they plan to have a contest where kids can bring their ticket stubs from “Finding Dory” to the store and enter to win a saltwater tank containing Dory and her friends. Other ideas for events and promotions include classes on how to care for a saltwater tank with a Dory theme, “Finding Dory” birthday parties and movie ticket giveaways.
Dory’s Not the Only One Making a Splash
This summer, “Finding Dory” isn’t the only big movie marketed to families that will have an aquarium tie-in.
“Teenage Mutant Ninjas 2” releases June 3 and the characters are pretty popular in aquarium décor as well.
“In the world of Nickelodeon, the TMNT franchise is five times bigger than Spongebob,” said Ivan Fielman, vice president of national accounts at Penn-Plax.
Retailers can also look for excitement over Disney’s “Moana” in the holiday season, a movie about an epic adventure in the ocean, and the fifth installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise next spring. Penn-Plax will have a variety of resins, betta tanks and backgrounds available for those movies as well.
Hitting it big with licensed products is an art, and in more ways than creating beautiful resins. Part of the success comes from finding the right movies and franchises to promote. Not every big movie with beloved characters will find its way into the resins and other aquarium décor.
Successful products usually have some link to the water, whether it’s Spongebob’s underwater world or the ships of Jack Sparrow. That connection is part of what helps franchises remain popular for many years.
For example, “Finding Nemo” came out in 2003 and “The Little Mermaid” in 1999, and both are still very popular in aquarium sales. And there are exceptions to the water rule, such as TMNT and the characters of “Frozen,” which continue to do well.
“After years of shipwrecks and castles, it seems like licensed characters have taken center stage,” Trufant said.
And these eye-catching items are a great way to not only increase sales and traffic—they are also helping bring new people to the hobby.
“The idea is that when a kid sees Nemo, Dory, Spongebob or another of their favorite characters on a tank, they’ll ask their parents for the tank and then grow to love the fish,” Fielman said. “Our motivation is to drive the category, to get people into the hobby. It benefits the entire aquarium industry, the people who make the plants, water conditioners and food, and the retailers who sell it all.”
In the Clear
Every living creature needs clean water to live, but dare we say water is even more important for fish? After all, water isn’t just what fish drink—it’s also their home. A well-balanced, clean tank is vital for fish to stay healthy. And of course, it’s also important for fish owners because a tank that is beautiful to look at is a lot more pleasing than one that is cloudy and dirty.
Not much changes when it comes to the basics of water treatment from month to month or year to year. The science of making tap water habitable for freshwater or marine animals and the other treatments that adjust pH and mineral levels remain pretty much the same. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t new things in this category. New products that make keeping water at optimal levels easier for customers and healthy for fish are always being introduced, and today you will find many formulas in easy-to-dispense tablets or products formulated for different types of fish to help customers take an active role in managing their water parameters.
“We are seeing better understanding and sales around regular maintenance products like conditioner, pH buffers and bacterial products,” said Tim Plafcan, senior product manager of consumables at Spectrum Pet Home & Garden. “In the past, many aquarists just added water care products when they had a problem. Now they realize being proactive is a better path and much safer for the fish.”
Easy Care with Apps
One way of helping customers manage their aquarium is by providing the tools they need to monitor the water and make appropriate adjustments. In the past, it was up to retailers to provide education at the store and hope that it was carried out at home. Today, in-store education is still vital, but with the introduction of some apps that can be downloaded on a tablet or smartphone, it’s easier for customers to get the information they need right at their fingertips.
The API Water Care app is easily accessible through a computer or smartphone, and the Tetra Water Care app and the Marineland Water Care app are both available for download on Google Play, the App Store or Amazon. All three use owners’ test results to provide a treatment plan for the tank size, as well as allowing the user to set reminders and track test history. The Marineland and Tetra apps are designed to be used with their brand of test strips.
Use signage and in-store education to alert customers of these new tools at their disposal. Anything that makes water care easier to understand is a welcome addition to your marketing arsenal.
Making water care easier on the customer is also why retailers are seeing more species-specific products in the water treatment category.
“We have seen a growing trend in consumers that like to shop by the type of fish they have, similar to the dog food industry that has breed-specific formulas,” Plafcan said.
A customer that has one betta or a few GloFish at home can feel confident in the fact that they are doing the right thing for their fish when they buy water care products or food that is marketed specifically for their type of fish.
Specialized products are about more than marketing techniques to draw people into the store and help them stock up on all the products necessary for their tank. In the case of bettas, water conditioners for these fish are slightly different formulas created specifically for small tanks.
“Our Aqueon BettaBowl Plus and Kent Marine Betta Bowl essentials are formulated to dose for 1 gallon of water or less,” said Pam Morisse, associate brand manager, Central Garden & Pet. “This is more manageable for fish owners, as bettas are often kept in aquariums smaller than 10 gallons, the size our Aqueon Water Conditioner is formulated for.”
Tetra’s BettaSafe and Elive’s Betta Water Conditioner are also formulated for small tanks.
In addition to betta products, Tetra also has products tailored to goldfish and GloFish. Each species has its own water conditioner, and you will find a GloFish Color Booster formulated to reduce harmful fluctuations in pH and to lower nitrates, which helps enhance the color proteins of the brightly colored GloFish.
While small tanks have become more common thanks to the popularity of betta, GloFish and nano tank keeping, there is also a trend going the other way, with more customers interested in monster fish and big tanks full of fish. To meet the needs of these specific customers, Fritz Aquatics introduced Monster 360 and Monster 460, concentrated formulations of its popular Fritzyme bacterial product for either freshwater or saltwater tanks.
Helping customers understand the intricacies of water care is an important and sometimes time consuming job for pet industry professionals. Tools such as apps for the smartphone, easy to use test strips and products formulated for specific species can make water care easier on the customer and take some of the burden off the retailer. But even with the advanced tools and new products, customer education is a primary concern whenever retailers and store associates are selling water care products.
First, be a model for your customers. Make sure the water in your tanks is monitored regularly and adjusted for healthy levels, and conduct regular cleanings. Second, educate your team so everyone is fully prepared to answer questions and help customers as they care for their fish. After all, healthy fish mean happy customers, and clean, well-balanced water is the key to having healthy fish.
Décor Brings Your Shelves to Life
When Ivan Fielman, vice president of national accounts at Penn-Plax, was a boy growing up in Queens, N.Y., he and his dad would go down to Petland Discounts on Austin Street one Sunday each month to stock up on fish food.
“We would spend hours in the store looking at fish and checking out the shelves to see what was new,” Fielman said. “I really looked forward to those trips and the time with my dad. We usually ended up buying something to drop in the tank along with the food—a new skull or maybe a plant. It not only made the trip more exciting but it was fun to jazz up the tank when we got home.”
As Fielman’s story shows, décor is a category that is not only a necessity for aquariums, providing a place for fish to hide and find comfort in the tank. It can also be an impulse buy or even a gift purchase. Part of the fun of keeping an aquarium is the ability to change up the look with a plant or ornament every now and then or even do a complete makeover. The numbers don’t lie: the 2015-2016 American Pet Products Association Pet Owners Survey found that within the past 12 months before the survey, 41 percent of fish owners bought ornaments and 57 percent bought plants.
Keeping with Tradition
Traditional décor items such as skulls, shipwrecks and treasure chests that were on the shelves when Fielman shopped with his dad are still big sellers today.
“Part of the popularity with the traditional décor comes from the fact that it just makes sense that it’s what you would put under water,” Fielman said. “But some of the appeal comes from the sentimental value as well. There are people like me who had these things in their tanks as kids, and now they’re raising children of their own and want to recreate that experience.”
Backgrounds and skulls are two items that have been part of aquarium décor for years, but some updates help keep the items interesting to new consumers. For example, Penn-Plax’s Gazer line, introduced a couple of years ago, uses bright jewels as eyes in skulls, dragons and a tiki statue, adding an intensity to the traditional décor. New lenticular technology helps Penn-Plax create 3D backgrounds that add depth to an aquarium’s design.
Glow in the dark items are another popular category that retailers might find familiar from years past.
“Glowing décor isn’t something new, but it’s really come back into favor in the past few years,” said Matt Allen, vice president of marketing for Elive Pet. “Improvements in lighting technology have added to the popularity, with lights that can switch from white to blue very quickly to make the aquarium pop when it’s full of glow in the dark elements.”
Just last summer Elive added décor to its range of aquarium products, and the Glow Elements line has been a success.
“Display is key in grabbing sales in this category and we help retailers out by providing a motion-sensor LED light with our décor package,” Allen said. “When a customer walks by the display at retail the light comes on and those elements really phosphoresce.”
Updated features on traditional décor help grab people’s attention, but so do some of the new items that feature interactive qualities. Adding some excitement to the tank are the H2shOw Wonder Kits from Hydor that integrate the company’s Bubble Maker Pump and lights with a resin ornament to make the aquarium come to life. The kits come as a volcano, a pyramid, or the newest addition, Ice Mountain. The items work well with Hydor’s H2shOw Worlds décor kits of Lost Civilization or Earth Wonders themes. They’ve also expanded the line to include H2shOw Ocean Wonders, saltwater-themed decoration kits. This includes a blue clam, jellyfish, starfish and crab that all light up.
The interactive allure extends to items that float within the tanks, such as jellyfish or rocks, providing something at any level to attract attention and provide cover for the fish. Aquatop has introduced a line of jellyfish to meet customer demand for more playful ornaments. The products attach to the tank with an adjustable suction cup and float seemingly freely.
“This line is a great way to bring new ‘life’ to an aquarium,” said Geoff Ebling, sales manager at Aquatop.
Penn-Plax also has floating ornaments within their Real Rock group of products. The Real Rock Floating Orbs include a monofilament tied to a suction cup, allowing the rocks to suspend at different depths within the tank. People can grow moss on these for a realistic effect in a natural aquascape or allow them to float around bare.
Make it Natural
Natural aquascaping is a growing trend with aquarists.
“A large contingent of aquarium keepers want their tanks to look just like the reef, lake or river where the fish would be found in nature,” Allen said.
Of course, rocks and plants play a large role in this type of décor, and while live plants might be the most realistic option, it’s not always the most convenient due to the care they require.
Today’s plastic plants are much more realistic than in years past. The relaunched Natural Elements line from Elive has updated colors and a new, more substantial resin base to hold plants in place in the aquarium.
In addition to plastic plants, silk plants such as the line available from Aquatop are popular for their natural appeal. They respond to the currents within the aquarium, providing a life-like feel. And of course, a natural landscape wouldn’t be complete without logs or rocks for fish to hide in.
As with almost any type of marketing in the aquarium category, it is important to display décor within your store tanks. But décor can also be displayed well on the shelf, grabbing impulse customers and improving incremental sales when someone comes in to pick up water treatments or food. Have décor out of the bag or box and on the shelf where customers can touch it and play with it, falling in love with the ornaments or plants even before putting them in the tank. After all, it’s that feeling of excitement that brings people back for more.
Brighten Up with GloFish
Cosmic Blue, Electric Green, Galactic Purple, Sunburst Orange, Moonrise Pink and Starfire Red—these snazzy names might bring to mind types of candy. In reality, they all belong to a specific kind of fish. If you’re familiar with GloFish, you’ll know these are the six colors available in the popular line of fluorescent fish, and you’ll also find it fitting that the color names inspire an out-of-this-world sense of adventure.
The attraction of the eye-catching colors is apparent to any retailer who has set up a display of GloFish.
“We have a couple of sections dedicated to GloFish in our freshwater rows, with special lighting to really highlight the colors,” said Eileen Daub, marine biologist at That Fish Place in Lancaster, Pa. “It’s a good pop of color, and certainly gets people’s attention.”
On the market for a little over ten years, GloFish have seen pretty fast growth within the fish category. What started out as just one type of fish in 2003 (Starfire Red), has turned into a category that includes 12 lines of fish from three species that come in six different colors, as well as more than 100 products designed specifically for GloFish.
“We estimate that about 10 percent of aquarium owners have GloFish,” said Alan Blake, CEO of Yorktown Technologies, which owns the license to breed and distribute these fish within the aquarium industry.
Sales from Segrest Farms, one of two licensed GloFish breeders, also attest to the success of these fish. The Electric Green and Starfire Red Danios are in the top 20 bestselling fish in terms of individual fish. Even more impressive is that, if you look at GloFish as a group, their numbers would put them up in the top 10.
The popularity of GloFish comes primarily from two factors: the vibrant color and ease of care.
“The fact that these fish are easy to care for makes them a great choice for beginners, but the vibrant color appeals to a wide range of customers, including long-time hobbyists,” Blake said. “We see a lot of people who have had aquariums for a while purchase GloFish to refresh things in their tank. They’re an easy addition to any aquarium.”
Making it Easy
A good display is an important selling tool when it comes to the GloFish category. Blake recommends setting up a tank with black gravel and blue LED lights to really highlight the colors.
“We provide free merchandising support for retailers, because we know that having the right mix of fish and the right lights is crucial to having a successful GloFish display,” Blake said.
That sentiment is echoed by Catherine Langford, product manager for environments at United Pet Group Aquatics (UPG), who said that many customers end up making an unplanned purchase of GloFish when they browse through a store and are amazed by the beautiful colors. To take advantage of those impulse sales by first-time fish owners, UPG offers GloFish kits through its Tetra brand in a variety of sizes and shapes. The kits include an aquarium, a filter, a pump, and a blue LED light stick. Some kits also include samples of food and water conditioner.
It’s also easy to add GloFish to an existing aquarium, since these species of fish get along well with other fish. In addition to kits, the GloFish product line includes a selection of ornaments, plants and gravel that fluoresce under GloFish LED lights, which makes it easy to transform a traditional tank into a “Glo” experience.
Tetra recently relaunched its entire plant line, shifting away from solid bold colors to new and brilliant fluorescent colors which react under their GloFish blue LEDs. These plants take advantage of the popularity of GloFish and make it easier to transform existing aquariums into a GloFish experience.
“With the right display, GloFish can create a tremendous upsell opportunity for independent retailers,” Blake said.
Building a Niche
GloFish are fluorescent variations of some common fish species—including zebra danios, skirt tetras and tiger barbs—which means that caring for GloFish is no different from their non-flourescent counterparts.
There are some reasons for products engineered or labeled specifically for GloFish. One is that consumers tend to shop by type of fish. Also, many GloFish products are designed to enhance the fluorescence of the fish. For example, GloFish Light Sticks are blue LED lights, which make the color of the fish pop, especially when all other lights are off. GloFish Flake Food is specially formulated to enhance the color of GloFish.
“Our teams in the United States and Germany worked together to develop a specially formulated nutrition that helps brighten the colors of the fish, and an added benefit is that some of the flakes glow under blue spectrum light,” Langford said.
With over 100 products bearing the GloFish name, it’s obvious that GloFish have become a very popular niche within the fish category, and one that is still growing.
Keeping it Real
Cloudy or partly sunny skies, bright noonday sun, soft glowing sunsets, cool moonlight–for fish living in their natural environments, the light they experience changes throughout the day. For fish owners striving to make their aquarium environment as natural as possible, lighting is a key ingredient in the overall design.
“When it comes to lighting for aquariums, the goal is always to replicate the natural light of both the sun and the moon,” said Phil Bartoszek, research and development product manager for Elive Pet. “Whether it was with fluorescent lights or now as people are moving into more LED lights, it helps that designers are all working toward the same goal.”
A Customized Approach
The increasing affordability and popularity of LED lights is making it easier for aquarium owners to customize their lighting and create a more natural appearance.
“Gone are the days of a simple on/off switch,” said Bryan Lowe, account executive at Finnex. “Consumers now are interested in fixtures that allow the manipulation of colors as well as light intensities.”
Many LED strip lights give people the ability to customize according to their own specific preferences. Whether called pods or chips, LED strip lights can hold a number of different, small LED lights, allowing for total customization.
For example, Elive Pet’s series of LED track lighting includes interchangeable pods, so customers can choose to stick with the standard lighting mix or change out red, white or blue lights for different colors or intensities. Color can also be manipulated without having to change pods. Elive’s track lights include a blue-channel dimmer to regulate light intensity, and Current’s Satellite Freshwater LED+ and Orbit Marine LED+ light systems let aquarium owners control through a remote which color chips are on or off, which in turn customizes the light’s color and intensity.
One goal fish owners have with customization is finding the perfect combination to really highlight the inhabitants of the aquarium. Whether the tank holds tropical fish, a coral reef or lush plant life, the lighting requirements for optimum viewing pleasure and to promote the appropriate growth vary. Current’s product line includes lighting specifically for freshwater or saltwater environments. Elive Pet has introduced a line called High-Def Color, a specially tuned RGB LED pod that is designed to make the reds, greens and blues of the aquarium pop without compromising any of the other colors.
Another benefit of customization is the ability to mimic the natural environment of the fish. Brand new for 2016, Aqueon has introduced the OptiBright+LED Light that includes the ability to program sunrise and sunset modes to replicate a natural day/night cycle. In addition to day and night, owners can also control the “weather.” The aquarist can simulate cloud cover by dimming the lights, or Current’s Satellite and Orbit lines take it a step further, with preset weather features including cloud cover and lightning storms.
With aquarium lighting, it is not just the light output that is an important consideration.
“While lighting is essential in the overall health of the environment, it also provides a better viewing experience for the hobbyist, which means aesthetics are an important factor in new lighting designs,” said Karina Esquivel, senior brand manager for Central Garden and Pet, makers of the Aqueon brand.
Customers are not just looking for systems that illuminate their aquarium at optimum standard—they are also looking for slimmer designs that keep the focus on the aquatic environment, as opposed to a bulky fixture. Luckily, you don’t have to sacrifice light quality when slimming down the fixture. Fixtures from lines such as Current’s TruLumen and Finnex’s Ultra Slim tout high output even with the minimum amount of hardware.
It’s not just bulky fixtures that can serve as a distraction for aquarium viewing. Every thing that goes along with keeping fish—filters, heaters, pumps and anything that goes in the tank—each has its own cord and plug. Current is working on a product that will integrate all of these features into the lighting control, eliminating some of the clutter associated with aquariums and further improving the viewing experience.
“We’re known for lighting, but we’re also looking for ways to make tanks more aesthetically pleasing,” said Tara Robertson, sales manager for Current. By integrating all the systems needed for an aquarium into one place, the aquarium will look more streamlined and less cluttered.
One of the great things about the aquarium lighting category is that it is constantly changing and improving. While fish owners usually do not go out and buy a new light for their tank as often as they might buy things like food and decorations, the new features and better-quality products available help make lighting products more than just a one-time purchase. New offerings from manufacturers will also go a long way toward enticing those impulse buys from customers.
One thing to look forward to is some of what are now considered high-end features becoming more affordable, like Wi-Fi or software controlled features. As work continues on LEDs, more colors and improved efficiencies will make these products even more appealing to the customer. For now, more products come with remote control, which allows customers to control the lighting in their tank without ever leaving the couch—making for a fun, more interactive viewing experience.
“Overall, a nice aesthetic and better viewing experience goes a long way toward making fish owners happy,” Esquivel said. “And the happier the hobbyist is with their set up, the longer they will stay in the hobby!”
Cast of Characters
It’s no surprise that the awards for movies and television shows include awards for best supporting actors and actresses in addition to awards for the lead roles. After all, in many cases the supporting actors play just as large a part and sometimes outshine their leading men and women. The supporting cast is vitally important in movies—and aquariums.
For years, invertebrates have had an important yet supporting role in aquariums. Snails and crabs eat algae and uneaten food, sea stars and sea cucumbers take care of unwanted waste and serve as great natural aerators, and anemones make excellent homes for clownfish. These creatures are beautiful and interesting in their own right, and thanks to some new varieties of invertebrates and new types of equipment, more of them are getting to play leading roles in aquariums.
One of the up-and-coming stars of the invertebrate category is jellyfish. These creatures are fascinating to watch as they glide through the water, but their delicate bodies have made them challenging to keep in home aquariums. Advances in lighting and filters have enabled specialized aquarium kits for jellyfish to hit the consumer market, making it easier for people to own jellyfish. Both Jellyfish Art and Cubic Aquarium Systems have kits that include everything you need to make start up easy.
“One of the things that is really important for healthy jellyfish is the proper temperature,” said Joe Turner, general manager, Jellyfish Art. “They like a stable temperature in the mid-60’s to only as high as about 78 degrees. Our kits come with an air pump that doesn’t input heat into the system. We also use LED lights, which provide great visual effect without the heat of a traditional light.”
Jellyfish Art aquariums also come with a substrate, salt and a bio starter for set up and food for the jellyfish.
“Introducing jellyfish to the consumer is a good way to bring more diversity into the category,” said Patrick Egan, store manager and invertebrate curator at Absolutely Fish, based in Clifton, New Jersey.
“We’ve definitely had a lot of interest in our store displays; it’s the first place most of the kids will go. But it’s important to keep in mind these are delicate creatures that take a lot of maintenance. Customer education is very important when choosing to add these products to your inventory.”
Vibrant Freshwater Shrimp
Another category that is seeing growth lately is freshwater shrimp, thanks to their hardy nature and new varieties with bright colors.
“Freshwater shrimp are pretty easy to take care of,” said Rebecca Noah, marine one aquarist, Absolutely Fish. “They aren’t too fussy about water conditions, will tolerate a range of pH values and they work well in small tanks, all of which helps make them popular.”
The fact that they’re relatively easy to care for might keep shrimp lovers happy, but it’s the vibrant new colors that seem to attract people to the species in the first place. Red cherry, blue tiger, orange sunkist and black rili shrimp all live up to their names with vibrant colors that pop when walking around in a tank with a few green plants.
As consumer interest in freshwater shrimp grows, so does the category itself.
Manufacturers have met the demand with products specifically designed freshwater shrimp. Substrates such as Aquasolum Black Humate from Seachem and Prodibio’s AquaShrimp powder have small granules that make it easier for shrimp to get around comfortably and lay their eggs. Fluval’s Shrimp Granules contain the vitamins and minerals these creatures need, including iodine which helps in the molting process.
Dedicating an endcap to freshwater shrimp is a good way to build customer awareness.
“We’ve seen the success of dedicated endcaps over the years with hermit crabs and bettas, and I think the time is ripe for a similar solution with freshwater shrimp,” said Brian Shavlik, Hydor’s sales manager.
Nothing grabs a person’s attention more than a nicely planted aquarium with a few brightly colored shrimp walking around. An endcap provides the place to highlight all of the products designed specifically for shrimp.
Mixing It Up
Single-species aquariums are gaining in popularity, but the majority of people purchasing invertebrates are still getting them for aquariums that contain a variety of fish and invertebrates. In these cases, it is important to have products that are safe for both.
Fritz Industries has recently introduced a new product in its Mardel line of treatments, Maracyn Plus, which is an antibiotic that comes with a new form of application that allows you to deliver the antibiotic straight to the fish.
“This way you can get your fish the medicine they need without changing the water quality of the entire tank and possibly affecting the invertebrates,” said Mike Noce, sales manager at Fritz Aquatics.
Another new product is the Hydor 3rd Generation pump, which comes with three different attachments, two sizes of fish guards and a flow diffuser. These options make it easier for people with a variety of species of invertebrates to set the pump to help keep animals that crawl around from getting sucked up in the pump.
“We’ve also made some substantial increases to the energy consumption, so our largest pump produces 2,450 gallons per hour of flow with just 6.5 watts of energy,” Shavlik said.
Whether kept as a single species or in a group, now is the invertebrate’s time to shine.
“Many species in this category are beautiful and interesting outside of the practical functions they provide in a tank,” said Daniel Griffin, tech support specialist at Seachem Labs.
The new color variants in shrimp, new crayfish like the dwarf orange Mexican crayfish, and new crabs like the red devil and purple vampire are just a few examples of colorful invertebrates that will draw the eye of your consumer and help create diversity and excitement in this category.
Fresh and Fun Aquaponics
What do you get when you cross aquaculture with hydroponics? Aquaponics! This growing trend in fishkeeping provides great opportunities to increase sales and attract new customers for retailers who specialize in aquatics.
Farming through the use of large-scale aquaponics has been around for quite a while. The practice of growing fish and vegetables within a safe system and creating an environment where each survive and thrive due to the presence of the other is an efficient and productive type of farming. Recently more people have become interested in aquaponics on a smaller scale, which provides a great new opportunity for retailers looking to create a buzz in their aquarium category.
There are many reasons why aquaponics is becoming more popular among aquarists. One is the fact that aquaponics provides a new set of plants to use in combination with an aquarium, increasing the variety over a traditional planted tank that uses only submersible plants. For people who are interested in both fish keeping and gardening, this provides a foolproof way to combine the two hobbies. Also, more people are concerned with recycling, eating and shopping locally, and taking better care of the environment. With aquaponics, people can grow herbs using their fish tank, which provides safe and locally sourced edible plants. And on the aesthetic side, an aquaponics system can make for an an interesting addition to any home’s décor.
Aquaponics is also popular because of the benefits that come from growing plants and keeping fish in the same environment. People with experience in planted aquariums know that the plants and their roots act as natural filters, which leads to a cleaner tank that requires fewer water changes. The fish also play an important role, as their waste is an ideal fertilizer for plants.
Aquarium Kits Make Getting Started Easy
The science of aquaponics can be daunting, but luckily there are kits on the market that can help customers get involved in this hobby.
For a customer who wants to set up an aquaponics system with a traditional filter, the Aqueon Aqua Springs aquarium kit—launched this past spring by Central Garden and Pet—is a exceptional choice. The frameless glass tank comes with a potted-plant ring adapter made for growing a plant that lives partly in the water. The plant is placed on top of the filter in a ring adapter and the roots are allowed to dangle down, which aids in filtering the water. In addition to the plant’s natural filtration, the tank also comes with an Aqueon Quiet Flow filter, which removes waste and debris from the water. These kits are available in 8.8 and 11 gallon sizes.
Elive Pet also has aquaponics kits available in 3, 10 and 20 gallon sizes. What makes this system unique is the AquaDuo filter, which can be used with a cartridge like a traditional filter or planted and used as an aquaponics filter.
“People are looking for alternatives to traditional filters that are aesthetically pleasing and also keep the tank clean,” said Phil Bartoszek, research and development product manager, Elive Pet. “The AquaDuo filter is more aesthetically pleasing with a live plant growing out of it, and it makes use of truly natural filtration, which more customers are looking for.”
Aquatop also has a new product line in the aquaponics category with its Nanoponic Aquariums in 3 and 5 gallon sizes.
“There’s a general trend right now for desktop aquariums and we felt small aquariums would appeal to a wider audience, including men, women and children, in a product that could be kept just as easily at the office as at home,” said Eugene Lee, Aquatop project manager.
These kits come with a plant tray, a quiet filtration system with a replaceable cartridge and an LED light for the fish.
Managing the Input
The practice of aquaponics creates a closed system that requires fewer water changes than traditional aquariums, which means it’s even more important to pay attention to what is added to the water.
“You have to be careful that what you put into the tank is safe, because minerals and heavy metals might build up over time,” Bartoszek said. “This is especially important if you’re growing vegetables or herbs that you might want to eat.”
For this reason it is important to look for substrates that provide a healthy growing medium for plants without artificial dyes or added chemical coatings. CaribSea’s Eco-Complete and Seachem’s Flourite and Onyx Sand are all good options for aquaponics.
“Eco-Complete is a geologically recent volcanic soil, which means it is full of all the trace elements plants need to grow without us having to add anything manually,” said Betsey Moore, vice president, CaribSea.
Flourite is also an all-natural product, made up of naturally mined clay stone rather than volcanic soil. The Onyx Sand is different because it contains some carbonates, which increase the hardness of the water slightly.
“This can be beneficial for people with soft water or aquariums with African cichlids that appreciate higher hardness,” said Daniel Griffin of Seachem’s technical support team.
Food is another input for aquaponics systems, and Elive Pet’s Fusion Flake is advertised as “aquaponics approved.” Made from whole ingredients such as bloodworms, brine shrimp or mysis shrimp, the flake is five times thicker than traditional flake food, which means you don’t get as many small particles and dust in the water.
Set It Up and Educate
Nothing increases incremental sales like having something new to offer customers. Set up a system in your store and be prepared to answer questions and talk about aquaponics with your customers. When people see the clean water, healthy fish and vibrant plants, they’ll be ready to try aquaponics in their own home.
Small Is Big
When it comes to the fish category, there are basically two to consider—and we’re not talking about freshwater and saltwater. The two important categories on retailers’ minds include new fish owners and the tried-and-true hobbyists. After all, long-time hobbyists are more likely to make big, more expensive purchases, while new fish owners are important to keeping the category growing.
A tricky line to walk can be having fish in stock that appeal to hobbyist looking for something unique for their tank, while at the same time having plenty of fish that are relatively easy to care for to keep a beginner interested. The same goes for equipment and supplies, not to mention the type of education you need to give your staff for them to be able to help a new fish owner get started, while at the same time holding an intense discussion on water testing and treatment with a long-time hobbyist.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a product that appealed to both new fish owners and the more advanced hobbyists? Well, that’s exactly what retailers have found with nano tanks.
“Recently the nano aqauarium has grown into a great, profitable category for retailers,” said Dave Chai, president of Aquatop. “Many stores market these tanks for either freshwater or saltwater fish and they are a consumer-friendly entry into the hobby, as well as a great environment for creating specific habitats such as mini-reefs for the hobbyist.”
These smaller aquariums have taken off in popularity. According to the 2015-2015 American Pet Products Association survey, each fish owner has an average of 2.1 bowls and 1.9 desktop aquariums, which means many people own more than one type of small habitat for their fish.
There are not specific guidelines on what qualifies as a nano tank. Some people define them as anything 10 gallons or less and others going up to 15 gallons. Some manufacturers of small tanks under 15 gallons don’t even use the nano label. In the end, what it all boils down to is there is a market out there for small tanks, no matter what you call them.
Keeping Clear of Controversy
Hearing the phrase nano tanks might not evoke the same type of passionate response as puppy mills or trophy hunting, but it’s important to note there is some controversy in the industry when it comes to this category. Many times the tanks are small and are often sold as kits, which are easily marketed to people just starting out in fishkeeping.
Some avid hobbyists object to this, arguing that smaller tanks need special attention to be taken care of properly. This is due in part because smaller amounts of water can allow parasite densities and biological wastes to increase at a greater rate than in a bigger tanks, and temperature changes and fish stress levels are more pronounced in smaller aquariums.
One way to avoid offending anyone is to stay away from the label of “nano.” This is one approach taken by the marketing team at United Pet Group, whose Tetra brand is coming out with a new Tetra Crescent Aquarium in three and five gallon sizes.
“We refer to our smaller tanks as desktop aquariums or lifestyle kits as a way of staying out of the controversy,” said Sean Raines, director of marketing – equipment, UPG Aquatics.
Another thing retailers can do is make sure themselves and their staff are talking to customers and helping them out with purchases when it comes to small tanks. If someone wants a small aquarium that isn’t part of a kit, they need to be sure they are buying the right type of filter and lighting to keep the water safe and the fish healthy. Advancement in lighting and filtration systems have meant that these pieces of equipment are better at keeping the environment healthy for fish in small habitats.
And whether you’re selling an aquarium or an entire kit, retailers need to be informed about the different types of fish that enjoy small spaces and won’t outgrow the tank. Some good species for small tanks are small clownfish, gobies, bettas, least killifish and the Boraras species.
New Offerings Keep Things Fresh
The popularity of nano aquariums is positive for both retailers and their customers because it means manufacturers are constantly coming out with new products to keep the category fresh.
Along with the Cresent aquariums, Tetra has introduced a new half-moon shaped bubbling LED kit. The crescent and half-moon shaped aquariums feature seamless, curved fronts that allow for better viewing of the fish and an even bolder decorative statement in the home or office.
Coralife’s BioCube, which has been a popular offering, is being enhanced with new features, including an upgraded cooling system, a quiet submersible pump with a better flow rate than what was previously included in the kit and a clear glass back panel. Both the BioCube and Tetra’s small aquarium kits come with LED lighting and an appropriate-sized filtration system.
Seamless aquariums are just one new trend in the small aquarium category. Aquatop is introducing a rimless tank as well with its Euro bow-front tanks.
“These tanks offer customers a more European style and provide a great look to add to any room,” Chai said.
Another exciting new entry on the market is the Nanoponic three and five gallon aquariums from Aquatop. These aquariums combine the two hobbies of hydroponics and fish-keeping in one place. In addition to a built-in filtration system and a waterproof LED light, the Nanoponic aquarium comes with a top-mounted plant tray that can be used to display the artificial plants that come with the aquarium or to plant herbs and other small plants that can take advantage of the nutrient-filled water of the aquarium.
It’s clear there are big advantages to thinking small when it comes to the fish category. Whether you cater to avid fish keepers or new pet owners, having a wide variety of small aquariums and appropriate accessories can help increase sales. Now is the time to be sure you have the right options available for people looking to expand their hobby.
The Feeding Is Easy
For fish owners, feeding their fish live or frozen foods might be seen as a good alternative or addition to the typical flake or pellet diet. The live and frozen foods diet is one that closely replicates what a fish would be eating in the wild, something that is becoming more important to pet owners—who themselves may be trying to eat a more wholesome, natural diet. Live and frozen fish foods also help fish thrive, leading to more colorful, healthier fish. There’s also a fun aspect of it. It’s more stimulating for a fish to chase down and eat real organisms that wiggle and smell like food than to graze on a flake floating through the aquarium.
Live and frozen fish foods are already popular with advanced hobbyists, especially saltwater aquarium owners. Seventy-five percent of saltwater fish owners reported buying frozen or live food in the past 12 months, as opposed to 8 percent of freshwater fish owners, according to the 2015-16 American Pet Product Association’s National Pet Owners Survey. The results show this is a category with plenty of room for growth, whether you’re expanding the reach in the saltwater market or targeting freshwater fish owners for increased sales.
Making it Convenient
Breeding live foods has always been an interesting venture for hardcore hobbyists, but it can be a tedious and somewhat messy process. Sustainable Aquatics is introducing a line of live foods this fall that will give customers an option of live food without the mess of culturing it themselves.
“We have been using these products in-house, and our customers knew it and constantly asked if we could make it available at retail,” said Matthew Carberry, president, Sustainable Aquatics. “After testing it out in our own retail shop, we realized there was a fairly big demand and decided to offer it as part of our product line.”
The foods, including rotifers and plankton, are shipped in breathable bags or containers with the same methods the company currently uses to ship its fish to retailers. The containers have a shelf life of several days.
Live fish food isn’t the only product with a reputation for being messy.
“In our research, we found that some customers said they don’t like using frozen food because they have to touch the animals,” said Matt Allen, director of marketing for Elive Pet.
In addition to touching animals, thawing the food out and working with that form can be uncomfortable or inconvenient for some fish owners, leading them to choose flakes or pellets for the mess-free convenience, even if they prefer live or frozen for its nutritional benefits and more natural state.
Elive Pet has introduced a line of frozen foods in a new type of packaging to eliminate the mess. The product comes in individual cups, which are packaged in a resealable bag. The fish owner removes as many cups as needed for his or her aquarium, lets them thaw for a few minutes and then takes off the cover of each cup and dumps it in for the fish. This method makes portion control easy, but it also eliminates possible freezer burn or damage to the food not being used at the time.
Ocean Nutrition also has an innovative frozen food that eliminates some of the associated mess.
“We’ve been working on developing a better binder for our formula foods that is nutritious and digestible, but it also increases the density of the foods, making it so the product will sink without having to work it with your fingers,” said Andreas Schmidt, owner of Ocean Nutrition and San Francisco Bay Brand. “This line also provides customers the ultimate in convenience because they can be put in the aquarium frozen, there is no need to thaw them first.”
Better Nutrition for Healthy Fish
“I like to say the next best thing to fresh is frozen. It’s a step away from the ocean,” Schmidt said.
In addition to improvements in convenience, fresh and frozen food products are constantly being improved and expanded to offer a better variety to customers. At Ocean Nutrition, it has stopped using any artificial colorants and has reduced the amount of copper in its frozen foods.
“You need some small amounts of copper for nitrifying bacteria, but we know that it’s bad for invertebrates, so we have worked to almost eliminate it from our frozen foods,” Schmidt said.
Variety is important when feeding a live or frozen diet as well. Bloodworms and brine shrimp have been common foods for many years, but other types have gained steps up the popularity ladder, such as cyclops and daphnia from Elive Pet and chopped clams and chopped squid from Ocean Nutrition. Ocean Nutrtion even offers a variety pack, which makes it easier for fish owners to find out which products their fish prefer.
Get in Front of the Customer
The best way to promote sales of frozen and fresh fish food is to have it prominently displayed.
“Don’t bury the freezer in the back of the store where it’s dark and hard to find,” Allen said. “Putting it up front by the sales desk gives you a great opportunity to interact with customers, to let them know about the new types of food available and highlight what you have to offer.”
Investing in the right equipment is also helpful in making the sale. You want something that is safe for the product, but also attractive for customers, encouraging them to reach in and grab some frozen fish for their pets. There are plenty of freezers from manufacturers such as True, Turbo Air, Summit and Alibaba—and their sales representatives will help you find the size and features right for your store. For stores that aren’t currently selling live or frozen foods, the initial investment in equipment will pay off as soon as you add a new source of revenue.
“There are some potential customers you’re losing just by not having frozen foods available,” Allen said.
Adding frozen to your store will not only attract customers already dedicated to the product, but will also provide a new way to increase sales with your existing customer base.
Bettas Brighten Business
For years, bettas have been seen as an entry-level fish. While the small size and ease of care are beneficial to first-time fish owners, it is the variety of bright colors available in this fighting-fish species with the graceful fan tails that gets people’s attention and encourages impulse purchases. And that beauty found in bettas, along with their interesting personality, is helping the category grow and widen its reach into the market of long-time hobbyists looking for new and interesting fish to add to their aquarium.
“We are seeing growth in the ‘specialty’ betta types, the unique strains such as the Dragonscales, the Twintail Halfmoon and the Dumbo Super Delta,” said Michael Griffith, marketing specialist for Segrest Farms, an ornamental fish wholesaler. One of the newest varieties offered by Segrest Farms is the Koi Betta. The name derives from the red and black spots on its white body, which resemble a tri-colored koi fish.
“These designer fish are an emerging category,” said Matt Allen, director of marketing for eLive, a provider of innovative and stylish aquarium products. “If you have room, it’s worth it to allocate space to these higher-end fish. They are attractive to the customers who come in your store on a regular basis, looking for something new and exciting.”
A variety of species, colors and price points are important in growing betta sales, but no matter how great a selection is, the fish won’t move off the shelf if they’re not attractive to the customer. Make sure the bettas are healthy and well lit to show off their bright colors. eLive offers a retailer display for bettas that can highlight these fish in your store. The display contains shelves for individual betta cups, each of which has an LED light underneath and an air pump that connects to each cup to keep the fish moving and active.
It’s important for retailers to note that there is continued growth in this category that was already strong.
The 2015-2016 pet owner’s survey from the American Pet Products Association reports that 39 percent of freshwater fish owners have bettas, up 4 percent from the previous survey. With these numbers, it’s no wonder that betta products take up a large portion of shelf space.
Better Betta Habitats
While designer bettas are a growing category, there’s no denying the betta’s allure for first-time fish owners. What better way to grab that customer than with a betta kit? They come in many different designs and styles. Seen as more than just a fish bowl, the product includes a flashy built-in LED lights. Tetra’s Betta Bubble Kit is popular due to its unique design that jazzes up the traditional round bowl with a stylized base.
Aqueon, a premium aquarium product designer, offers a couple of different options that can house more than one betta. Its BettaBow 2.5 Desktop Aquarium Kit has a divider separating the living space into two different areas, and the Betta Falls Aquarium Kit, just introduced last year, features three individual chambers with frosted panels to keep the bettas from seeing each other and trying to attack each other.
For a different look, eLive offers a Betta Bowl and Planter option, which offers an exotic desktop or tabletop item with a betta and live plants rooted at the bottom all in one. The company also offers a service for customers that allows them to print a personalized background for the Betta Bubble and Betta Cube enclosures, adding a unique type of customization to their product line.
Unlike many freshwater starter kits, betta aquarium kits often don’t include a filter. In their natural habitat, bettas live in stagnant water, so they don’t prefer a lot of fluid movement. But filters help keep the bowl clean, so eLive Pet has introduced a betta filter designed especially for smaller habitats.
“Our small, air-driven filter creates gentle movement within the bowl, to give betta owners the ability to filter their aquarium without disrupting the fish,” said Allen.
Central Garden & Pet also has a filter that works well for betta aquariums. The Aqueon QuietFlow Filtration system offers four stages of filtration for clean, clear water, including a patented Bio Holster that removes ammonia and nitrates. The filter is included with the Betta Falls Aquarium Kit.
The Betta Specialty
With an abudance of betta owners out there, it is advisable to make a betta section in any store as a destination point. Set it apart as a separate segment within the store’s fish category, displaying items specifically for bettas—everything from food and water treatments to accessories to help clean the bowl, all in one place.
It may come as a surprise that food sets bettas apart, one quality strong enough to differentiate them in a store.
“As carnivores, bettas feed on insect larva and invertebrates in their natural habitat,” said Andy Hudson, research and development product designer, Central Garden & Pet. One of the newer foods on the market from Central Garden & Pet is the BettaMin Select-A-Food. The multi-section canister lets you choose from three types of food. The variety of this selection provides the nutrition bettas need to support digestion and improve vitality, as well as naturally providing carotenes to enhance the color of the fish. Another fun product is the Aqueon Betta Treat, composed of freeze-dried bloodworms, which also helps improve coloration. It should be partnered with a pelleted food to ensure a balanced diet.
Betta accessories are also another lively way to draw customers in.
“We developed products to help people maintain and care for the bowls, which are smaller than most aquariums,” Allen said. eLive offers accessories, such as a mini-siphon, to help with water changes, smaller fish nets and a soft sponge brush for cleaning the inside of the bowl.
Running betta-themed promotions that highlight betta products will help increase sales growth at most stores.
“Promotions not only highlight bettas as a great pet, but also drive consumers to a specific destination within the store,” said Lenitra Friend, brand manager, Central Garden & Pet. “Once there, they will have exposure to the different types of habitats, décor and maintenance items, hopefully becoming loyal, repeat customers.”
Get Growing with Reefs
Imagine snorkeling off the coast of a Caribbean island. You’re already in a great mood because you’re on vacation, miles away from the stresses of everyday life. When you finally get in the water, the cool waves wash over you as you follow your guide to what he promises to be a spectacular view, and it is.
All of a sudden, you’re swimming right next to some of the most interesting, colorful fish you’ve ever seen. Bright blues, oranges and yellows flash by, and big, flat fish with round, bulging eyes and thicker fish with big mouths all seem content to share their stunning aquatic surroundings with you.
The entire area is teaming with life as the fish swim among swaying corals and anemones. There’s just something magical about experiencing that tropical environment, full of movement and color. As aquarium hobbyists know, you don’t have to take an expensive snorkeling vacation to experience it.
Reef keeping is a growing hobby, as more people learn the joys of having these eye-catching habitats in their own home. Watching tropical fish swimming through beautiful corals can be entertaining and relaxing, both at the same time. Advances in technology have improved equipment—including lights, filtration systems, water pumps and circulators—which helps people see greater success with reef keeping. And a larger variety of aquacultured fish, corals and other invertebrates has helped make the hobby more accessible.
Of course, while the equipment, water treatments systems and food are all an important part of having a healthy reef system, the real star of the show is the livestock and this is where retailers can differentiate their stores from other establishments and online businesses.
“Corals are one of the areas where a strong retailer can demonstrate a clear advantage over alternative sources,” said Michael Griffith, marketing specialist, Segrest Farms. “Superstores rarely have live corals and it’s hard to know what you’re getting if you shop on the Internet. Retailers who can stock a wide range of high-quality, healthy corals and have employees that are knowledgeable about the products can really set themselves apart from the competition.”
It’s easy to set yourself apart when some of the top producers are constantly coming out with new varieties. Last year, ORA was able to introduce three new corals for retailers to offer their customers: the ORAnge Setosa, the blue polyp Capricornis and the shortcake Acro, which combines greens and pinks within its branches. Segrest Farms has also seen interest in the branching Euphyllia species that includes the hammer, frogspawn and torch corals, all of which have great colors and bring movement to the tank.
It’s important for retailers to have a selection that appeals to all levels of reef keepers, from the experienced hobbyist to the beginner. Sustainable Aquatics, which is well known for its clownfish, is expanding its catalog to include a larger variety of species, including corals. They are focusing on easy-to-care for corals for entry-level hobbyists.
A&M Aquatics is also aware of the need for making corals available in different sizes and price points.
“On one end of the spectrum we have tank-raised coral big enough to go directly into a display tank but on the other end of the scale we are selling smaller pieces at a lower price point to allow retailers to compete with local fraggers,” said Bill Backus, president of A&M Aquatics.
And Segrest Farms offers frag packs that enable retailers to offer several different types of corals for a lower price than buying them individually.
Another way to differentiate your store is to become known as the place to find new and rare varieties of fish. Serious marine aquarists are always looking for something new and different to add to their tank and, thanks to improved breeding techniques, a number of species that are hard to get have become more available over the past few years.
“We offer a variety of cardinal fish, blennies and gobis, all from captive-bred sources,” Griffith said.“And, of course, there’s always a seemingly endless variety of clownfish. One of our most recent additions is the nebula percula clown.”
Sustainable Aquatics is excited to introduce the longfin clownfish later in 2015, a new addition to its extensive clownfish collection.
In 2014, ORA added 13 new fish to its catalog, including the white-spotted pygmy filefish. This species is rarely distributed outside of Japan but it is thriving with ORA’s aquaculture methods. This year looks to be just as exciting, with a new goby and a dragonet species coming out on the market soon.
Reducing the Impact
Today’s customers are looking for color and unique species but they are also more concerned than ever before about making purchases that are good for the planet. While wild-caught fish are still a large percentage of what is available for consumers on the marine side of things, especially when it comes to the popular yellow and blue tangs that haven’t been produced in captivity, sustainable farming practices and aquaculture are growing to supply retailers and hobbyists with the products they want.
“Aquaculture is important from a sustainability standpoint,” said Dustin Dorton, president, ORA. “We sell a large number of clownfish every year and we’d be stripping the oceans of clownfish if it weren’t for producers.”
Another benefit of aquaculture is its reliability. Not only are retailers able to get what they need, when they need it but when it comes to corals, farm-raised products help ensure retailers are providing pest- and parasite-free corals to their customers. While many hobbyists will already be aware of the differences in wild-caught versus captive-raised fish, it is important for retailers and their employees to be able to explain the differences. A greater understanding of industry practices and the reef environment isn’t just beneficial to retailers, who can help customers enjoy a long-term hobby of reef keeping, it is also good for our planet.
“People protect what they appreciate and seeing a healthy reef tank is often the first—and maybe only—way many people will experience a coral reef, leading to an appreciation that encourages us to want to protect our planet’s reefs, which is something we might not think about otherwise,”
Light It Up!
Light fixtures have always been an important accessory for aquariums. After all, a good white light helps us see what’s in an aquarium, whether it’s brightly colored tropical fish or unique decorations. But thanks to advances in technology, the lighting products available today give pet owners more options when it comes to light intensity and color, really helping to make what’s inside the aquarium stand out.
The Switch to LED
LED lights have been part of the aquarium lighting category for a number of years but there is still a lot of room to grow with these products. More new styles and designs are coming out all the time, which enables consumers to create the unique environments they want for their aquariums.
It might seem like a no-brainer to purchase LED lighting but many aquarium owners are entrenched in using traditional fluorescent fixtures. According to the most recent survey by the American Pet Products Association, 46 percent of saltwater fish owners currently own a compact or standard fluorescent light and only slightly more than half that proportion, 27 percent, own an LED light.
Getting a customer to switch from fluorescent lighting to LED fixtures isn’t only an added sale for the retailer, it is also better for the customer and the fish.
“LED lighting offers a longer life, lower operational costs and the added benefit of low heat production,” said Sean Raines, director of marketing, aquarium environments and equipment, at Spectrum Brands. “Conventional lighting of the past had the potential of raising the water temperature more than is desired for particular environment inhabitants.”
More Flexibility and Control
In addition to lower heat production and lower energy costs, the new designs in LED lighting help make these products attractive to customers, whether they’re setting up an aquarium for the first time or looking to upgrade their older equipment. Two trends are driving the design of new lights: Customers want customizable products and they want the ability to control lighting in the tank.
The new LED Track Light system from Elive is designed with patent-pending light pods that can be changed to different colors as well as added or subtracted to control light intensity. The original track light system comes in five sizes, ranging from 12 to 31 pods. Color choices include cool white, warm white, blue and red. The company recently introduced an advanced series with two tracks, providing even more flexibility.
“This product was created for the intermediate to advanced level hobbyist who wants a little more light output to truly showcase their fish,” said Matt Allen, director of marketing at Elive.
Central Garden & Pet also has a customizable fixture with their Coralife LED Aqualight. It comes with a standard number of Tri-Lamps in either red, white or blue. Covered slots allow for the addition of more Tri-Lamps to increase the light output or customize the color.
“The ability to customize color options is very important for the consumer,” said Karina Esquivel, senior brand manager, Central Garden & Pet. “It gives them the ability to create the best environment for their aquarium, whether they have freshwater fish or a saltwater setup or are growing plants.”
It’s one thing to have the choice of red, blue or green lights to really bring out the colors of the fish in an aquarium but consumers can have even more control over lighting with products that feature day and night modes or customizable intensities that can be programmed remotely.
Some of the most popular fixtures from Spectrum are the LED Strip Light, the Advanced LED Strip Light and the Reef LED Strip Light, which all provide the shimmer of natural sunlight as well as a blue moonlight mode. The latter two products feature an integrated timer to control the day and night sequence.
Finnex is taking control to a higher level with its new fixtures. The Finnex Planted+ Elite LED fixture comes with a Bluetooth-enabled app (available at the Apple Store or Google Play) that allows users to customize intensity levels at any given time of day. And the company’s Finnex 24/7 fixture with white, red, green and blue LEDs can be programmed to simulate a warming red sunrise in the morning, moonlight at night, thunderstorms and cloudy days, all of which customers can control through an IR remote.
Lights for Growth
Lighting is important for more than just accentuating the beautiful colors of fish in aquariums. Planted tanks and coral reefs are becoming popular and both of these need special lights to enhance growth and keep the tank healthy.
The Finnex Planted+ Elite LED is designed specifically for planted tanks. With true 660 nm red LED cartridges, the fixture is designed to efficiently maximize photosynthesis activity.
Spectrum also offers light fixtures designed specifically for plants and corals. The Aquatic Plant LED comes with 3-watt RGB LEDs that provide 460 nm blue, 660 nm red and green accent lighting to keep plants healthy and thriving. The Reef LED Strip Light provides the correct spectral output for reef aquariums, while the Lunar 460 nm 1-watt LED lamp replicates deep-water light for proper coral growth.
Thanks to advances in technology, the lighting industry is always changing and improving, which affects the aquatic hobby in a positive way.
“Consumers tend to gravitate to products that feature a lot of ‘bells and whistles,’ and the aquatic lighting industry is now able to offer these types of products,” said Bryan Lowe, account executive, Finnex. The most important thing is to let your customers know all the exciting options that are out there. A well-educated staff and displays featuring the latest products are the best way to attract the interest of customers and build sales.
Better Living Through Chemistry
It’s time for innovation in aquatics and it turns out that it comes in the water treatment category.
“For too many years we have treated fish like a hobby, like sewing or stamp collecting,” said Jeff Tyo, national sales and marketing director for Mars Fishcare. “It’s time to start treating it like a part of the pet industry and take advantage of the growth other categories are seeing.”
Easier Is Better
One way to achieve growth is by attracting new people to aquatics to build the customer base. That’s an arena where the water treatment category is coming into play. Water treatment is an important part of keeping fish healthy and happy but understanding the science behind it can be complicated. Water conditioners, beneficial bacteria and water chemistry stabilizers all play an important role in proper fish care. With the creation of new products that are easy to use and understand, more people will see success with their first fish tanks, encouraging them not only to continue but possibly grow their tanks.
“Our research has shown that, within the first year, half of all people who bought an aquarium leave the category and the primary reason is their fish die,” said Tyo. “Our goal is to help these beginners keep their fish alive and that’s what inspired us to create Perfect Start.”
Perfect Start is a package of water treatment products that comes with Mars Fishcare’s aquarium kits. It has three pre-measured formulas: one to use on the day the tank is set up, another to use during a water change at day 14 and another to use at day 28. The first envelope contains Mars’ Stress Coat, salt and Quick Start. The second envelope also has Stress Coat and Quick Start, as well as Ammo-Lock. The third envelope contains Stress Coat, Quick Start and StressZyme.
“By following the simple instructions, we have not only helped the customer learn that water changes are a healthy habit but that using treatments keeps your fish alive,” said Tyo.
The pre-measured, single-dose version of water treatment products is one of the innovative ways the water treatment category is staying relevant with younger consumers. As we’ve seen from the rise in popularity of Keurig coffee machines and detergent pods, Millennials are looking for convenience and are willing to pay more for it.
In addition to Perfect Start, Mars Fishcare is launching Monthly Care, which picks up where Perfect Start leaves off. It provides envelopes of pre-measured water treatments that contain multiple products to help keep tanks clear and fish healthy. United Pet Group also has water treatment products that come in a pre-measured form; it’s a tablet in a line that includes Correct pH Tablets, AmmoniaSafe Tablets and Water Clarifier Tablets.
Even water testing is more convenient with products like Tetra’s Easy Test Strips.
“We’ve taken it a step further by developing a water testing app that can be downloaded to people’s phone or tablet that when used in conjunction with our strips not only tracks your water quality but also reminds you when to test it,” said Tim Plafcan, senior product manager, consumables, United Pet Group Aquatics.
Water treatment products don’t have to be pre-measured to help customers get off to a good start. Many popular products on the market provide people with the right mix of chemicals and beneficial bacteria to maintain a healthy environment for their fish without having to go through a lot of tests or studying up on marine science.
Tetra’s SafeStart and Fritz Industries’ FritzZyme Nitrifying Bacteria both provide the necessary elements to seed the filter and introduce fish to the aquarium right away. There are also plenty of choices for easy-to-use water conditioners, including the Aqueon line from Central Garden and Pet, StressZyme and Quick Start from Mars Fishcare, and Tetra’s EasyBalance and SafeStart. Seachem has taken things a step further by packaging the treatments necessary to get up and running together in its Head Start pack.
Having a knowledgeable staff and taking the time to properly educate the customer is always important but probably even more so when it comes to first-time fish owners. In addition to providing convenient products that are easy to understand and use, it is up to the staff of the pet store to make sure their customers are walking out the door with the information they need to keep their fish alive.
“At the start of every successful aquarium is a very basic lesson in water chemistry,” said Trevor MacLean, national director of sales and support, Seachem Labs/JurassiPet Reptile Products. “It can be as easy as pointing out the simple example that humans cannot drink polluted water, and we can’t expect fish to live in it.”
In addition to that all-important one-on-one communication, there are other things retailers can do to provide customers with more information and make taking care of fish even easier. Many manufacturers provide brochures and videos explaining their products and how to use them. Have those videos available for people to watch in the store and keep brochures on display so customers can take them home for future reference. Package the basic water treatment products together and sell them with smaller, starter-size aquariums, or just sell them as a pack on their own at a reduced price. You can also offer free water tests and use that as a starting point for discussions about proper water treatment.
In the end, the primary goal is to entice new customers to aquatics and keep them involved for years to come. You’ll do that not only by getting them started on the right foot but by building a sense of trust with them so that when they do encounter trouble, they have somewhere reliable to turn for help.
Fish Tanks With Character
Earlier this year, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” was released in theaters nationwide. Usually, the release of a new movie doesn’t make much difference to a pet store retailer, at least not as far as business is concerned. But in the case of SpongeBob, it can be a great bandwagon to jump on.
Thanks to Penn-Plax’s commitment to producing high-quality, licensed products for the aquarium industry, there is already a wide variety of SpongeBob products on the market. After all, the show has been on television since 1999 and the yellow, square, squeaky-voiced character remains popular with each new generation of kids. In preparation for the movie, Penn-Plax worked with Nickelodeon to create new aquarium ornaments, including a superhero SpongeBob complete with muscles.
“We have a longstanding relationship with Nickelodeon and Disney, which helps things move through at a faster rate when necessary,” said Gerry Brostek, COO of Penn-Plax. That business alliance was helpful in getting the new superhero SpongeBob aquarium ornaments on the market in time for the release of the movie but it also helped with getting things moving on Disney’s “Frozen.”
When it became apparent just how popular “Frozen” had become, Penn-Plax worked to get products out to retailers in time for the holidays and it paid off. “We had ‘Frozen’ products in right before Christmas and they flew off the shelves pretty quick,” said Siegfried Gutekunst, owner of The Hidden Reef in Levittown, Penn.
Capitalizing on Popularity
The successful sales of “Frozen” and SpongeBob products around Christmas and spikes in sales around the release of the new movie are both good examples of why licensing can be beneficial to both manufacturers and retailers. The bright packaging and familiar characters not only liven up the aquatic area but the products also often lead to incremental and impulse sales. They also can attract new hobbyists.
“Our objectives are to bring new sales into the aquatic department of the pet store and to attract younger people and get them interested in the hobby in the hopes that they will retain that interest throughout their life,” said Brostek.
In order to accomplish its objectives, Penn-Plax has two main priorities.
First, Penn-Plax is particular about the franchises with which it will work. It looks for something that is popular and will generate sales at retail, while also trying to keep in mind it wants something with longevity, not just a flash in the pan.
“The development time from concept to product can be as long as a year, so you have to have faith in the property you commit to and look for something that will be evergreen,” Brostek said. Of course, the property also should make sense with water, which is why you see products featuring characters from “The Little Mermaid,” “Finding Nemo” and SpongeBob, rather than “Star Wars,” even though it has legions of loyal fans.
Second, the company is committed to making quality products that work.
“We want the customer to have a good experience to help them remain enthusiastic about fish,” Brostek said. “We call out in the packaging whether this is an appropriate size for a goldfish or a betta—the two types of fish kids are likely to start out with—and then we include information about feeding and changing the water in the directions.”
Working With a Trusted Brand
Licensing can be an important tool for manufacturers and retailers even with products that don’t have anything to do with movies and television shows. KollerCraft has a longstanding licensing agreement with Mars Fishcare, using the popular brand on its desktop aquariums.
“Licensing is used by brand owners to extend a trademark or character onto products of a completely different nature,” said Rand Kollman, vice president of sales and marketing for KollerCraft. “The partnership between us and Mars Fishcare helps provide unique aquarium products to the industry under a brand name pet store customers know and trust.”
KollerCraft manufactures aquariums with a unique style that includes filtration and LED lighting. Paired with Mars Fishcare’s API Perfect Start, which allows immediate addition of fish into the aquarium, the kits are perfect for people just starting out with fish. Sold only through independent channels, these kits not only introduce people to a new hobby but also, hopefully, keep them in the hobby for a long time.
If you haven’t capitalized on the incremental sales garnered in the world of licensed aquarium products, now may be a perfect time. The “Sponge Out of Water” movie has SpongeBob back in the spotlight again and there’s plenty of time to put those products front and center, especially to gear up for the DVD release. And in the summer of 2016, Disney is coming out with “Finding Dory,” a sequel to the popular “Finding Nemo,” a movie that created a huge stir in the aquatic industry.
Be prepared for the demand not only by stocking up on aquarium starter kits, ornaments and decorations but by planning a marketing strategy that will really take advantage of this exciting time for fish sales. Penn-Plax has a team of retail sales consultants who will come to your store to help with merchandising and the company also offers movie posters and signage to increase your impact.
You can also think about hosting special events, such as a movie screening in your store, or opening your store up to events such as birthday parties, if you have the space. Gutekunst has found that parties are a good way to bring more kids into a store. And when you have a fish-themed birthday party, it only makes sense that many of the gifts will center on fish.