Water Care Made Easy

It’s a simple fact that fish thrive in clean water. Keeping the right pH balance and “bad” bacteria at bay helps keep oxygen levels high and infections low. While the basic science of properly balanced water doesn’t change, there are some new innovations and trends in the water treatment category that help improve customer satisfaction, both in their purchases and in their success with their pets.

Easy-to-dispense products, customer-friendly instructions on packaging, apps for tablets to bring more interaction on the part of the consumer and a greater number of natural options are all helping grow this category.

Eliminate the Guess Work
For many fish owners, especially those new to the hobby, worrying about nitrates, ammonia or sludge can be time consuming and even complicated. Today’s water treatment manufacturers know that ease of use and convenience are top priorities for customers, and they’re coming out with products and apps to help make it easy for everyone to have clean water for their fish.

Product packaging is one way to improve ease of use for the consumer. Clear, concise directions printed on the package of most water treatment products go a long way in helping customers know what they need to purchase. Aqueon’s line of water treatment products include a calibrated dosing cap to make it easy to apply the correct amount every time. API Fishcare has combined products in a Perfect Start pack and a Monthly Care pack that include the different products needed for healthy water. Both contain Stress Zyme, Quick Start, Accu-Clear and Stress Coat, while the Perfect Start also has Ammo-Lock.

Tetra is going a step further by creating a new merchandising display for independent retailers.

“We’ve found that the majority of fishkeeping customers don’t understand water care products at a glance, including why the products are important or when to use them,” said John Fox, division vice president of Aquatic Marketing for Spectrum Brands, Inc., Pet, Home & Garden Division. “This new display gives education on water care so customers can be more successful. We are also organizing the products by species, making it easier for customers to quickly and easily find what they need.”

In-store education isn’t the only place seeing innovation. Tetra recently launched a new My Aquarium app, giving on-the-go consumers in today’s digital world the ability to track their tank’s needs on their tablet or smartphone. The app lets customers create a profile page—allowing for multiple aquariums—that will provide the ability to manage water tests and obtain instant recommendations; set custom notifications for things such as food dispensing, water testing and water changes; and track supply inventory. API Fishcare also has a water care app that allows fishkeepers to analyze water test results and receive recommendations.

Going Natural
Just because customers want water treatment to be easy, doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention to the contents of what they’re putting into their aquariums.
“We’ve seen a number of trends in the past few years, including an interest in more natural water treatment options,” said Rachel Torrence, a tech support agent for Seachem. That company’s Remediation, part of its Aquavitro line, continues to be a popular product, using bacteria to break down excess food, sludge and waste while naturally cleaning the aquarium’s substrate.

Fluval also maintains an emphasis on remaining chemical-free.

“For us, the best thing you can do to keep a tank clean is to make it a complete eco-system, using beneficial bacteria, herbs and minerals,” said Chris LeRose, aquatic division manager, Hagen Group.

Fluval’s popular Aqua Plus water conditioner uses valerium root as a natural de-stressor. Its other popular product, Cycle, combines two types of beneficial bacteria, lipotropic and heterotrophic, to break down solid waste and control ammonia levels. Tetra’s Safe Start also uses live bacteria to create a healthy environment for fish by jump-starting the natural bio filter, while also reducing the amount of ammonia and nitrate in the water.

It isn’t just treatments that are poured into water that help maintain a healthy aquarium. New innovations in filter media are using natural minerals to bind with bacteria and create a cleaner environment. Seachem has a new line of Tidal Power Filters with an assortment of accessories and filter media. This includes the Zeolite ammonia binder for both marine and freshwater, using the naturally occurring zeolite mineral to maintain healthy water for the fish.

Another choice, the Water Polishing Unit for Aqueon’s QuietFlow canister filters, uses a carbon cartridge for a final filtration step.

“This filter makes maintenance easier, less time consuming and more cost effective,” said Lenitra Friend, brand manager for Central Garden & Pet. “It quietly returns water to the aquarium while at the same time breaking the water surface and enhancing oxygenation.”

The Personal Touch
While manufacturers work hard to make the product packaging speak for itself and introduce merchandising displays to help organize and sell products, the true key to success in the water treatment category comes from taking time to talk with customers and make sure they fully understand the workings of their aquarium and how to keep bacteria at bay and maintain proper pH.

“We encourage retailers to be aware of what the water treatments they use actually do, and to be critical of any new claims that aren’t backed by true research,” Torrence said.

Being able to answer customers’ questions and lead them to products that will work well for them will help build a good relationship and encourage customer loyalty. After all, the end goal for everyone is healthy fish and happy customers!

Filter Features

Having a clean aquarium with healthy water is the most important element for success in fishkeeping. And as anyone who has had an aquarium knows, having the right filter for the tank is a key component to a clean aquarium. Of course, filters don’t eliminate the need for water changes and regular tank maintenance, but they go a long way toward improving water clarity and maintaining a healthy tank.

While the basic job a filter performs hasn’t changed much over the years, there have been plenty of advances in the category to improve the products. From UV filtration to quieter motors and easy-to-change cartridges, today’s filters are more user-friendly and better for the tank than ever before.

Smaller is Better
From nano tanks to betta bowls, the trend of smaller, desk-top fishkeeping seems to be growing. In these cases, even the smallest of traditional filters end up taking up too much real estate in the bowl or seem too large or bulky hanging on the side.

In order to give these customers better options, Cobalt Aquatics launched a new line of Clearvue internal filters, joining Penn-Plax’s existing line of Smallworld filters to do the job of keeping even the smallest tank clean. The Smallworld filters run on an air pump, which removes the motor and helps save space. The Clearvue filters have a bottom-mounted motor, which allows it to work at a very low water level. This makes it useful for terrariums as well as fish tanks. With a 20-gallon size perfect for nano tanks, the Clearvue line also has 30- and 45-gallon sizes.

Both the Clearvue and the Smallworld are internal filters, which means they are also ideal for planted tanks.

“In the United States market, external filters have traditionally been more popular, but as planted tanks are gaining popularity, people are seeking out internal filters more,” said Les Wilson, marketing and product development for Cobalt Aquatics. “An internal filter doesn’t agitate the surface as much, which can cause gas exchange and make it easier for carbon dioxide to leave the aquarium, and that gas is an important element in plant growth.”

A New Layer
For years, most filters have included mechanical, biological and chemical filtration layers within the system as a whole. Now more filters are adding a new level of UV filtration, which helps get rid of unwanted micro-organisms.

“When you incorporate UV with your regular maintenance of weekly water changing and replacing filter cartridges, the result is crystal clear water and a healthy environment for your aquatic creatures,” said Eugene Lee, project manager at Aquatop.

Two lines currently on the market with UV filtration include Aquatop’s Forza canister filters and the new Cascade Marlin series from Penn-Plax.

“We’re really excited about the addition of UV filtration,” said Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager at Penn-Plax. “With the ability to kill algae and other unwanted bacteria, it will help people have a clean tank without having to dig deeper into what might be causing the algae problems.”

New features and added abilities are also improving the filtration category as a whole. Here are a few that help make things easier for new customers and might even get longtime hobbyists to consider a filter update.

LED Indicators
The new Aqueon LED PRO Power Filters are equipped with an LED cartridge change indicator that flashes when it’s time to replace the cartridge. As the cartridge becomes clogged with waste and debris, the water level rises in the filter, triggering the LED light to flash.

“Knowing when it’s time to replace filter cartridges can be a challenge for new or even experienced fishkeepers,” said Lenitra Friend, brand manager of Central Garden & Pet. “Aqueon has put the thought and work into making it easier to know when to make that change.”

These Aqueon LED PRO Power Filters are available in a range of sizes that are appropriate for 10-, 20-, 30-, 50- and 75-gallon tanks.

Two-in-One Properties
Fluval has updated its FX series with two appealing features. One is the smart pump technology, which turns off the filter and purges out excess air once every 24 hours. The other is a valve that allows the filter to be hooked up to a hose for water changes, using the filter to transfer the water for gravel and tank cleaning.

Making cartridge changes easy is another goal for manufacturers. Cobalt’s Clearvue series not only has a clear chamber to make it easy to see when a change is necessary, but also the top easily comes off to allow the person to just take the sponge out and throw it away or clean it.

“This product was designed with the beginner fish keeper in mind, but it has a performance level the hobbyist will appreciate,” Wilson said.

Aquatop’s Forza canister filters also boast easy cartridge changes with its removable media tray.

A Loyalty Maker
Filters might not seem like the most glamorous aspect of the aquarium category, but they’re definitely a strong component of building customer loyalty. While you might only sell one particular customer a filter once or maybe twice, they will continually need replacement cartridges and sponges.

One way to start that relationship is by selling kits with an aquarium, filter, light and other products a first-time fish owner will need. Many manufacturers have kits already put together, or retailers can create their own from the brands they carry in the store.

Above all, the most important element to building customer loyalty is service. Make sure your staff is educated about the newest products and can help beginners know exactly what they need for a successful tank while alerting long-time hobbyists to some of the newest updates in the category.

“Keeping a customer coming to your store to shop for replacements will help them become more loyal, but overall what they’re really looking for is a good experience, both in your store and with their fish,” Wilson said.

An Aquatic Adventure

Bright colors, new characters and an interactive experience—this might sound like a description of the latest smartphone app, but it’s actually what retailers and consumers can look forward to from the world of GloFish. When these bright-colored fish hit the market a little over 10 years ago, they immediately started making waves, adding something new to the market that appealed to a wide range of customers, and the category continues to grow in popularity and in sales.

“GloFish is a significant and growing portion of the market in both hard goods and fish sold in the United States,” said Sean Raines, director of marketing, aquarium environments and equipment for Spectrum Brands, Pet, Home and Garden division.

Part of the reason for this growth is the very fact that the category’s description could easily be mistaken for a smartphone app or even a theme park, showing the excitement and innovation of the category that appeals to kids and young families looking for new experiences. But the appeal of GloFish casts a wide net extending even to long-time hobbyists. The colorful fish make a fun addition to existing aquariums, and the fact that there are constantly new fish and products coming out on the market means consumers find something new to enhance their experience when they come back into the store.

A Growing Lineup

One thing helping GloFish to remain popular with hobbyists is the addition of new colors and species. Last year saw the introduction of three new lines of GloFish—two longfin tetras, green and orange, and a red barb—bringing the total lines available to consumers up to 15. The red barb brings a second color of GloFish to the barb line, which is a helpful addition since it’s usually recommended to have a group of at least five barbs living together.

“Having that second color makes the barb a more attractive choice now that consumers can have more than one color in their group,” said Alan Blake, CEO of Yorktown Technologies, the company behind GloFish.

And of course, the three new fish add more color and choice to the category overall.

New fish are introduced to the public through research and development as well as traditional selective breeding of existing lines.

“Sometimes we find a really beautiful fish that comes about through natural variation in the fish or through making different crosses, and we just want to share it with the public,” Blake said. “It’s exciting to be able to continue to add variety and build the category, giving people more options and choices.”

Researchers at Yorktown Technologies are continuously working to add new dimensions to the GloFish experience, and new additions are plGloFish_ProductGroupanned for 2017 as well.

Interactive Habitats

In addition to the fish themselves, innovations in lights and décor help add to the growth and excitement in the GloFish category. While the fish themselves are brilliant on their own, adding different lights changes the way they fluoresce, making them more vibrant or more florescent depending on the color. The lights can also create an interactive experience for the aquarium. New Cycle Lights from Tetra add a new dimension to GloFish aquariums through the addition of a black light to the white and blue light experience. The black light is found in the midnight mode of the cycle light, and when used in conjunction with Color-Changing Plants and Color-Changing Décor, this light actually makes the décor change colors.

Other modes of the Cycle Lights include sunlight, which makes the vivid colors of the fish even more vibrant; moonlight, which makes the décor and fish fluoresce; and twilight, which cycles between moonlight and midnight modes.

“The Cycle Lights really tie the fish and the ornaments together, creating something unique and allowing people to have a multitude of experiences with the aquarium,” Raines said.

The Cycle Lights and Color-Changing Plants and Ornaments expand the line-up of GloFish products available from Tetra that includes ornaments and plants that stand out under blue LED lights, aquarium backgrounds and aquarium kits.

Introducing Gloria

In 2017, Gloria GloFish joins the ranks of Nemo, Dory, SpongeBob and other characters who help bring the world under water to life. Created by Yorktown Technologies, this green tetra will be used for marketing, starting with a cling that retailers can use to help educate their customers on the origins of GloFish.

“Through our research, we found that half of all freshwater fish owners would be more likely to buy GloFish if they knew the fish were not dyed, injected or otherwise harmed,” Blake said. “There are still certain misconceptions among the public about GloFish, and Gloria provides a great way to communicate with customers and helps build a personal connection to GloFish.”

In addition to the clings, Gloria will have her own storybook, “Gloria and the Aquarium of Smiles,” as a promotional item given away in Tetra’s GloFish aquarium kits.

“GloFish is an area where I feel we are able to go beyond the purchase and enrich the life of the consumer, and Gloria and her book helps us do that even more,” Raines said.

These books also provide a great marketing opportunity for stores. Retailers can hold a story time on weekend afternoons, inviting families to come to the store for a reading of Gloria’s book and light refreshments. In addition to creating a community event, the story time is a great way to bring in new people to browse through the store and have an introduction to the exciting world of aquariums.

All of the innovation around GloFish helps make it a significant segment in the aquarium category.

“GloFish speaks to the people who are seeking a connection with animal life and family, as well,” Raines said. “We’re closing the gap between just having an aquarium in the house and having it be part of the family.”

Getting the Light Right

Recently published research in a journal on “Environment and Behavior” confirmed something we have long thought to be true: that watching fish helps people relax. The study found that participants not only were in a better mood, but also had reduced heart rate and blood pressure.

This is great news for aquarium lovers, but it only holds true if people can actually see what’s inside the aquarium. For that reason, and many more, lighting plays a crucial role in aquariums. It not only illuminates the subject matter so people can enjoy watching the activity inside, but it also provides the light necessary to sustain life and promote growth.

The introduction of LED lights led to quite a revolution in the aquarium lighting industry, with the new, more energy efficient options emitting less heat. Luckily, though, manufacturers didn’t rest on their laurels after introducing LED lights.

“Significant improvements have been made in the lenses on the LED fixtures, giving the ability to spread light out more evenly,” said Karina Esquivel, senior brand manager at Central Garden & Pet. “We’re seeing other innovations in aquarium lighting as well, from wireless control to interactive abilities, bringing more versatility to the category.”

Options Abound
There are a lot of exciting trends in the aquarium category right now, and you’ll find a lighting option to fit each one. Capitalizing on the nano tank trend, Fluval has introduced lights specifically for these tanks with the Nano Aqualife & Plant Performance LED and the Nano Fresh & Saltwater LED. Designed for 5- to 10-gallon tanks, these lights are smaller and a little less bright than their counterparts designed for bigger tanks.

GloFish are another popular trend in the aquarium category, and Tetra has introduced a new GloFish Cycle Light to help highlight the colors of these bright fish. The light has four modes—sunlight, twilight, moonlight and midnight—all made up of blue, white and black LEDs. The sunlight mode makes the fish look even more vibrant, while moonlight makes the fish fluoresce.

“Lighting remains a critical component in the ability to transform the mood and look of an aquarium, which we have found to be especially true when we look at the terrific response we’ve experienced with the existing GloFish décor line,” said John Fox, division vice president of aquatic marketing for the Pet, Home & Garden Division of Spectrum Brands, Inc.

It’s not just fish that need light. Planted tanks are becoming more prevalent due to the introduction of more tissue-cultured plants, which puts lights that promote growth in high demand. The new Vivd+ fixture from Finnex combines features of two popular lines, the Stingray and the MonsterRay line, to create a fixture that supports plant growth while highlighting fish at the same time. This complements the Planted+ 24/7 SE LED fixture from Finnex that is equipped with two rows of intensive daylight and true red LEDs surrounded by a blend of red, green and blue to promote plant growth. Fluval also has lights designed specifically for planted tanks, with its Aqualife & Plant and Fresh & Plant 2.0 options.

Shining the Spotlight
Even as lenses improve, some aquariums still suffer from dead spots where light just doesn’t reach, especially in bigger tanks. Spotlights provide a great way to illuminate these areas, or just bring attention to a specific coral, pant or décor that begs for special attention. To combat these dead spots, Fluval recently introduced its Prism Underwater Spotlight. With a light that is completely sealed in ceramic housing to make it fully submersible, it comes with 80 color options and special effects, as well as a remote control to start up a lightning storm or switch colors with ease.

“I have found that on the coral side, a lot of LEDs have a lot of blue and white, so this provides a way to add color in one area to really make a show piece in a reef tank pop,” said Chris LeRose, aquatic division manager at Rolf C. Hagen USA Corp. Another spotlight, the H2Show low-voltage LED spotlight from Hydor, is available in six different colors to provide an energy-efficient way to shine a light on your favorite coral or decorative piece.

Getting Interactive
Today’s lights do more than just brighten up the tank and promote healthy growth in plants and corals.

They also provide a new way for fishkeepers to interact with their aquariums, whether making them appear more lifelike with sunrise and sunset features or adding a wide variety of colors.

“Overall we’re seeing more programmability in LED fixtures and easier user interfaces,” Esquivel said.

Central Garden & Pet has integrated these features in its two newest additions, the Aqueon OptiBright+ LED lights and the Coralife LED Aqualight-S lights, both of which come with a remote control to adjust color intensity, change color and set the timer.

Fluval’s Wi-Fi module takes away the need for a remote control completely, allowing people to control up to two different lights through an app downloaded to a smartphone or tablet. Currently the device works with its 2.0 line of lighting.

“I think we’ll see a lot more of this in the future, as people look at the functionality of products as well as the light output,” LeRose said.

While lightning storm features, submersible spotlights and wireless controls are exciting, what is probably even better news for retailers and consumers alike is that all of these features are coming out on products at affordable price points.

“Lately we’ve been seeing a general improvement in quality, particularly at the lower price range,” Esquivel said.

This makes lighting more than just a necessity, and instead something customers will look to when upgrading or sprucing up their home aquariums.

From Source to Store

When you examine what is popular in the world of freshwater fish, at first glance the category might look a lot like it did 10, or even 30, years ago. But dive a little deeper beneath the surface, and you find there are a lot of new and exciting things going on in this large and popular segment of fish keeping. From sustainable practices in fish collecting to innovations in food that help keep fish healthier and water cleaner, the new things going on are helping to not only liven things up for long-time hobbyists but also attract some new people to the fold.

One thing that has been changing over the past few years is the level of awareness on the part of customers.

Keyword: Sustainable
“We’re seeing hobbyists becoming more educated and more informed about specific varieties of fish and where they come from,” said Michael Griffith, marketing specialist for Segrest Farms.

For some customers, an emphasis is placed on obtaining wild-caught fish that they know are genetically pure. However, it also means customers are paying attention to how and where these fish are caught, focusing on sustainable practices to ensure the survival of the species and the environmental protection of the fish’s habitat.

This is where groups like Project Piaba come into play. Project Piaba is a non-profit organization researching the home aquarium fishery of the Rio Negro in the Amazon. Trade in home aquarium fish accounts for about 60 percent of the income for people in Barcelos, Brazil.

When asked what they would do if they could not sell fish, many people answered that they would sell timber or raise cattle, options that would drastically change the environment of this area of the Amazon. Project Piaba provides research, education and other resources to local fisheries to promote home aquarium fisheries at commercially and ecologically sustainable levels.

“Project Piaba helps give the people of the Rio Negro an incentive to protect their own environment, rather than farming it out or logging it, without farming the fish to extinction,” Griffith said.

Segrest Farms has partnered with Project Piaba in its quest to make ethical sourcing decisions to provide high-quality fish for sustainably-minded aquarium owners. Other groups are working on promoting sustainable practices as well, including Project Amazonas and the Sustainable Fisheries Group working in Indonesia.

In addition to the wild-caught trade, advances in breeding and fish-keeping are leading to increases in the variety and availability of tank- and farm-raised freshwater fish.

“For example, Altum is one angelfish that hobbyists really like, and it is available either wild-caught or tank-raised, from both Peru and Brazil,” Griffith said.

Benefits of tank- or farm-raised fish include the species being hardier and less stressed, which helps them adjust to the home aquarium quickly and makes them less prone to disease.

Communicating to your customers exactly from where their fish have come is very important in helping build a relationship with your customers as well as making sure they know how to care for the fish. Social media is a great tool for this type of marketing; use it to alert customers of any new species or variety of fish you have available, and also to link to educational material highlighting the importance of sustainable fishing practices and benefits of tank- and farm-raised fish.

You can also design signage for your tanks that gives information about each fish, including its country of origin, how it was procured and specifics for care. The more information you can provide customers upfront, the better off they are when making purchases. Most importantly, be sure your staff is educated on the necessary background information of the fish you have available for sale. Helpful staff who can answer questions are your best ambassadors and key to creating long-lasting customer relationships.

Beyond the Store
While sustainable farming practices and environmental concerns are highly important, ensuring the health and well-being of home aquarium fish goes beyond getting these creatures to retail locations safely. It also means providing customers with the tools necessary to keep fish healthy and happy in the home environment, and the right foods are an important part of that.

“I always tell people, when choosing fish food, turn that can around and look at the ingredients,” said Kelly Randall, marketing director at OmegaSea. “Obviously we’re concerned about the health and beauty of the fish, but we’re also concerned about how food impacts the entire ecosystem you’re trying to maintain.”

OmegaSea has a wide variety of flake foods available for freshwater fish customers, all made with a unique, patented process using fresh, whole proteins that are only cooked once. This ensures the food retains more of the natural fats and oils essential for fish, without added carbohydrates to bind the protein together that fish can’t digest.

“Our mission, from the very beginning, was to offer solutions that weren’t just innovative, but that really worked and helped people find success in fish keeping,” Randall said.

There are also new varieties of flake food on the market to entice customers. Cobalt Aquatics’ new Ultra line includes three products: Ultra Color, which has added carotenoids for making reds, oranges and yellows really pop, with extra garlic for appetite stimulation; Ultra Spirulina, which answers customers’ requests for a higher percentage of spirulina augmented with appetite stimulants and a higher fat content for better palatability; and Worm Medley, which contains earthworm, black worm and bloodworm flakes all in one can, for the bottom feeders that need a lot of proteins.

Frozen foods, which have traditionally been more popular with people keeping marine aquariums, are also finding a place in freshwater homes. New varieties and packaging are making it easier to feed frozen, such as OmegaSea’s Pod Pouches and Cobalt’s frozen cubes now in a tropical variety.

While the end goal for retailers is having satisfied customers, it’s clear that the work going on in the freshwater fish category to reach that goal is helping create a better world for everyone—from the fisheries in Brazil to the home aquariums here in the U.S.

Tiny is Trendy

Television today is filled with shows about tiny houses, restaurants have meals made up of tiny sandwiches called sliders and even fairy gardens exist to serve as miniature worlds within bigger gardens. People have become fascinated with small-scale things, and that trend extends to the aquarium category.

Nano tanks have become popular over the past few years for a number of reasons. Like tiny houses, they are less expensive and easier to maintain than a larger aquarium. And like the fairy gardens, a nano tank can be a conversation piece, or even a piece of living art work within your home. For children or people just starting out with fish, the price point and size make an easy entry point. More advanced hobbyists enjoy the size of the nano tank to create small habitats, often experimenting with more than one type.

Kits are Key
Whether your customer is new to fish or using nano tanks as a way to expand their hobby, one of the appeals of this category is that most of these small tanks are sold as kits. They contain a filter or a light and sometimes both, making it easy to get started right away.

The look of the tank is also important to customers. For people who will have these aquariums sitting on desk tops or as focal points of a room, high-quality glass and seamless designs are important. For kids, the licensed kits with popular characters, including SpongeBob and Dory, are more appealing.

Penn-Plax, well known for its licensed products, reports Dory products have sold well since the “Finding Dory” movie was released in June, with another bump expected with the release of the DVD just in time for the holiday season. Small aquariums with Dory décor are part of that line.

“Our kits serve as many kids’ introduction to keeping a pet, and they certainly contribute to the popularity of nano aquariums,” said Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager of Penn-Plax.

With kits ranging in size from half a gallon to four gallons, and containing LED light and décor, you can appeal to a wide audience with characters including Dory, Nemo, SpongeBob, the Little Mermaid and, new this fall, Moana from Disney’s latest animated movie.

For the adult customer, super-clear glass with elegant designs helps make nano tanks appealing. The Simplicity aquariums from Penn-Plax and the Fluval Edge both provide clear viewing on all sides, while Fluval Vista’s seamless, panoramic design gives the aquarium an open feel. These are available in 5.5 to 12 gallon sizes, and include LED lighting and filters.

On the bigger side of the nano category is the new Recife Aquarium systems from Aquatop. These systems, ranging in size from 24 to 48 gallons, include lighting, filtration, a protein skimmer, heater and pumps.

“These systems have everything you need to get started, allowing more time for customers to focus on décor and livestock choices,” said Eugene Lee, project manager at Aquatop.

Adding to the Mix
Another growing trend in the fish category is aquaponics. More customers are interested in using live plants to serve as filters, letting the waste from the fish fertilize the plants and help them grow, while the healthy plants help clean the water. Nano tanks are a great place to start with aquaponics.

The AquaDuo 3 is a three-gallon aquarium from Elive Pet that comes with a filter that can be used either as a traditional filter or as a planter for people wanting to try aquaponics. Penn-Plax has also introduced a new AquaTerrium line which includes the AquaTerrium Planting Tank. This kit, just under two gallons in size, includes a rockscape waterfall with planting pods for live plants. For customers that like the look of plants but may not have a green thumb, the kit comes with specially-designed artificial plants.

It’s not just plants getting the spotlight. The AquaTerrium line also includes the Lagoon Tank, which features two separate sections, allowing people to keep fish in one and aquatic wildlife such as shrimp, crabs or crayfish in the other.

“Our goal was to create interest among consumers and provide aquariums that were both beautiful and multi-functional,” Acerra said.

Accessories that Fit
With demand rising for nano tanks, there is also a greater demand for accessories designed for these smaller tanks.

“There’s a void of accessories for these smaller aquariums, so we’ve taken notice and spent some time researching and developing products specifically for these customers,” said Matt Allen, marketing director of Elive Pet.

The company just introduced a five-watt micro heater designed for aquariums sized 1.5 gallons or smaller. This is in addition to its LED Mini Track Light, which clips on with a mounting bracket and is designed for aquariums up to 10 gallons. Aquatop also has a line of heaters designed specifically for nano tanks, ranging from 15 to 50-watt output.

Take advantage of the interest in nano tanks by creating an impressive display to show customers just how beautiful these aquariums can be.

“I recommend having at least one freshwater and one marine/reef nano system so customers can appreciate the full beauty the nano systems can offer,” said Eugene Lee, project manager of Aquatop. “Placing it near or on the checkout helps draw attention and interest, as well as giving customers a positive final impression of the store.”

Get in the Green

Whether adding a few plants to a freshwater aquarium, trying out aquaponics or going for full-out aquascaping, the public is discovering that it’s never been easier to have a tank containing healthy, thriving plants. The simplicity of keeping plants is due, in part, to advancements in the category, including improved lighting, supplements and water treatments designed to enhance plant development.

The growth of the planted-tank category is also benefitted by a new trend in tissue-cultured specimens, creating a wider variety of plant species on the market.
“The benefits of these plants is they are grown in sterile conditions so there isn’t unwanted algae, snails or duckweed,” said Daniel Griffin, a sales support and education specialist for Seachem. “And they have a long shelf life in the store.”

Creating the Environment
Offering a variety of plants is essential in attracting customers, but it’s just as important to provide the necessary materials to create a successful habitat for the plants to survive and thrive. Similar to plants in an outdoor environment, aquarium plants require proper lighting and substrate to grow.

“Advances in technology have allowed users the ability to fine-tune and quantify the amount of light a fixture is producing, further encouraging photosynthesis and maximizing growth,” said Bryan Lowe, an account executive at Finnex. The company’s Planted+ line incorporates the TRUE 660nm intensive photosynthesis RED LED light to promote plant growth.

Another key to a premium set up is the medium in which plants are placed. The well-known substrates on the market include Seachem’s Flourite and Caribsea’s Eco-Complete and Floramax. Another option is Elive’s AquaDuo Hydrocorn Bio Media, which is comprised of kiln-fired clay pellets that promote healthy root systems. Used in an aquaponics filter, it aids the removal of toxins from the water and keeps the environment clean for plants as well as other tank inhabitants.

The use of soil-type substrates has also become popular with people who grow plants in their aquariums.

“In addition to the minerals found in traditional substrates, the ‘aquatic soils’ contain nutrients like nitrate and phosphate that can feed the plants and boost growth,” said Griffin, adding that Seachem’s new Aquasolum, a lightweight, porous substrate derived from humate, is the company’s version of pelletized aquatic soil in its AquaVitro line.

Substrates are crucial in growing healthy root systems, but pellets of any size are still susceptible to movement within the aquarium, leading to the dreaded “floaters.” To combat this problem, CaribSea has launched a new product called Rhyzomat, an all-natural fiber mat that sits under the substrate and helps anchor plants. It also increases the area for biological filtration.

A Healthy Habitat
As with all living things in an aquarium, plants need nutrients and proper water balance in order to thrive.

“When nutrients are imbalanced, it can limit plant growth and encourage nuisance algae,” Griffin said. Seachem’s Flourish products have been serving this need since the 1990s, with new products constantly being added to the line. The newest is Flourish Advance, a blend of phytohormones, minerals and nutrients that stimulate the growth of both roots and shoots.

Having seen a growing trend in planted tanks, CaribSea has launched a new line of products designed specifically for planted aquariums.

“The focus of our new products was to bring together some of the latest trends in horticulture, including hydroponics, while also taking into consideration the hobbyist’s desire to go more ‘natural,’” said Betsey Moore, vice president of CaribSea.

The lineup includes Flora-Spore Mycorrhizal Symbionts, a fungi that acts as an intermediary between roots and minerals, forming a symbiotic relationship with the vascular plants. The fungi help “dissolve” minerals out of the aquarium gravel to help plants grow.

Two additional new products are Jungle Leaves and Betta Leaves, two sizes of Indian almond leaves. The leaves not only create an attractive, natural cover for fish, but they also slowly release tannins that condition the water.

These products join the company’s Aquabiotic Botanical, which has recently been tweaked to improve its benefits of maintaining a healthy balance and clarity in the water. Aquabiotic Botanical is a unique combination of liquid barley extract and beneficial waste-reducing bacteria and enzymes for aquarium maintenance.

Making it Easy
While keeping planted aquariums attracts traditional hobbyists who enjoy the challenge of creating their own ecosystem, it’s also enticing to people who generally love all kinds of plants.

“With our aquaponics kits, we’ve seen some overlap outside the pet-specialty area,” said Phil Bartoszek, research and development and product manager at Elive Pet. “It’s appealing to people who find plants beautiful and are looking for something new to try.”

Whether it’s a garden lover looking to experiment with hydroponics or a fish hobbyist interested in introducing live plants to his/her tank, ready-made kits are a great way to get new people on-board with planted aquariums. Elive’s aquaponics kits come in three sizes, and include the aquarium and the filter. The company runs a promotion on these kits in the fall, through November, to help boost holiday sales.

Seachem’s Plant Packs are another great product for people new to the hobby. The Fundamentals pack includes Flourish, Flourish Excel and Flourish Iron, for people new to dosing these products, while the Enhancer pack include Flourish Nitrogen, Flourish Phosphorus and Flourish Potassium, taking things up to the next level to remedy deficiencies and boost plant growth.

Ready-made kits and advances in lighting and supplements are a way to increase sales in the planted aquarium category. As with almost everything else in a store, a great display and a dedication to customer education are the most important sales tools.

“A personal and targeted pitch will not only lead to better sales but to a better off and more well-informed hobbyist as well,” Lowe concluded.

All About Color

Green, orange, red, purple, pink and gold—with corals available in such a variety of colors, it’s no wonder the popularity of reef keeping continues to grow.

“The reef aquarium category has seen incredible growth in the last decade, and it’s still growing,” said Daniel Griffin, a sales support and education specialist at Seachem. “One of the obvious reasons for this is just how beautiful a well-maintained reef tank can be.”

The sight of a beautiful reef tank makes customers want to replicate something similar in their own home or office. That’s one reason why having a nice in-store reef display is an important part of growing sales in the reef category.

“People like to be able to see what a reef tank might look like before making an investment for themselves,” said Adam Moroz, owner of The Reef Gallery in Zelienople, Pennsylvania. “It’s also a great tool for us to use to educate customers on everything from the fish and corals to the equipment and how it is used and maintained.”

Alive with Color
Displays are a great way to showcase the color and variety available in reef keeping. As the category continues to grow in popularity, the variety of corals available to hobbyists grows as well.

“At the end of the day, when it comes to keeping corals, it’s all about color,” said Michael Griffith, a marketing manager of Segrest Farms. “Coral frags provide a sustainable and environmentally friendly resource that, once the initial colonies are acquired, doesn’t require removing anything from the ocean.”

There are a rainbow of colors available, and the growth of coral frags has made it easier for customers to buy a variety without spending a fortune.

In addition to corals, exciting breakthroughs in captive breeding are making some species of fish more available to hobbyists. Griffith reports that after working out a few kinks, captive-bred yellow tangs are now available, and the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Lab saw success breeding blue tangs just this summer.

“It was a small batch, but I believe a handful will be making their way into the hobby,” Griffith said.

Keeping it Healthy
In addition to the colorful livestock, products available to help corals and other reef animals not thinkstockphotos-516429828only survive, but thrive, have helped advance the popularity of reef keeping. Foods designed specifically for the needs of reef animals help promote color and enhance growth, and there are a variety of options available. The Coral Food powder from Cobalt Aquatics is easy to feed, and its broad spectrum formula includes squid, salmon, krill, plankton, mussels, oysters and brine shrimp proteins, along with fish oil and spirulina algae, a mixture designed to stimulate growth and color. Another option comes from Reef Nutrition, with its unique Phyto Feast formula, which provides the nutritional power punch of algae rendered in a non-viable form that makes it more shelf stable and convenient. The company also has other foods in its product line, including Oyster Feast and Beta Brine, providing a full range of nutrition for feeding multiple species.

While nutrition is important, so is maintaining balance in a reef aquarium, and Seachem has two new products to help maintain healthy tanks. Reef Reactor is a high-purity aragonite calcium reactor media.

“This product is excellent at increasing and stabilizing alkalinity, which also supports a stable pH and encourages the rapid formation of coral skeletal material,” Griffin said.

The other new product, Biogen, is a carbon-based biopolymer designed to reduce nitrate and phosphate, which can enhance coral coloration and reduce nuisance coatings of rock and decorations.

Making it Easy
Other advances in the products targeted for reef keeping are making it easier for people new to the hobby to get involved and be successful. All-in-one kits that include lighting and filters are one way to encourage people to get started with reef keeping. Instant Ocean makes it easy to get your water ready for corals and other animals with its Reef Crystals Reef Salt, a formula with essential elements in concentrations greater than what is found in natural sea water with extra vitamins, calcium and trace elements to promote the growth of corals, anemones and other invertebrates. Kent Marine offers a Reef Starter Kit that pulls together three products that are important supplements for marine invertebrates: Kent Marine Liquid Calcium, Kent Marine Strontium & Molybdenum and Kent Marine Iodide.

You can also set up your own reef kits, making a display next to the reef aquariums in your store. Putting a filter, a pump, a marine LED light and some water treatment products in a tank makes a one-stop shopping opportunity for people interested in starting with reef keeping. And with reef keeping, as with all other categories of the aquarium hobby, customer education is key.

“We are lucky to have so many great aquarium stores around the country where people can go see corals and reef fish in real life, as well as get advice on how to set up and maintain a reef tank,” Griffin said. “It’s the people who patiently explain how to set up an aquarium and walk customers through the process that keep the hobby growing.”

Good and Simple

Fish food in flake form has been on shelves of retail establishments for more than 60 years. The thin wafers filled with nutritious elements fish need provide the ultimate in convenience for fish owners.

“Flakes and pellets can be manufactured in a variety of sizes, densities and formulations so that fish of all sizes and swimming levels can feed in ways natural to their needs,” said John Fox, division vice president of aquatic marketing at Spectrum Brands, Pet, Home & Garden Division. “Flakes are synonymous with consumers’ overall recognition of what fish food should look like, as this form has been accessible to fish keepers since the 1950s when Tetra brought the first manufactured fish food to market.”

The ease and convenience of flake food help make it one of the most popular types of food sold. The American Pet Products Association’s 2015-2016 National Pet Owners Survey found 77 percent of fish owners reported purchasing flake food, a number that has remained relatively stable in the previous three surveys. But just because the flake fish food category is already popular with customers, doesn’t mean manufacturers are resting on their laurels. This category still sees plenty of innovation, from additions of probiotics, vitamins and immune stimulants to new forms such as wafers and crisps, and even new packaging to make the products more attractive and informative for customers.

A Nutritional Boost
From yogurt to dog food, probiotics are making an impact on nutrition, and now these beneficial bacteria are making their way into fish food. Cobalt Aquatics was the first to add probiotics to its line of flake food, and now Seachem has also incorporated probiotics into its flake food varieties.

“Probiotics increase the efficiency of the digestive system by helping digestive enzymes break down the food into nutrients fish can absorb,” said Les Wilson, co-founder of Cobalt Aquatics. “Our research found this can lead to an increase in growth rate of up to 12 percent thanks to better use of the food’s nutrition.”

In addition to probiotics, Tetra has enriched some of its product lines with prebiotics, which act as a nutrient source to the beneficial bacteria already present in the gut. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are not heat sensitive, which helps maintain the nutritional benefit through the manufacturing process and solves the issue of a limited shelf life of foods with probiotics.

Better digestion leads to another benefit: less waste in the tank. This provides a cleaner environment for fish, and also helps fish owners by cutting down on maintenance.

Probiotics aren’t the only healthy additions found in flake foods. Cobalt Aquatics is also well-known for its signature blue flake, which contains additional water-soluble vitamins and immune stimulants to help replace what is leached out as fish breathe through their gills. And Seachem’s NutriDiet flake food contains baseline ingredients including garlic, vitamin C and chlorella, which is an ingredient unique to Seachem. Chlorella is an algae that is high in protein and other essential nutrients, and also contains an ingredient called chlorella growth factor (CGF), which promotes faster-than-normal growth with a natural protein conversion.

Varieties Abound
While many customers are attracted to flake food because it is convenient and a good source of overall nutrition, it is still important to match the food to each species’ needs. Therefore, shelves are filled with different varieties of flake food rather than a one-type-fits-all food. Goldfish and betta foods are common, but you also find foods formulated for cichlids, discus and angel fish.

Cobalt Aquatics is taking nutrition a step further, reaching out to high-end customers with its new Ultimate Flakes. The line consists of two products: Ultimate Color and Ultimate Spirulina. These products were developed based on customer requests. The color enhancer adds more attractants to make the food appealing to the fish, as well as garlic to serve as an appetite stimulant. The spirulina formula will contain 21 percent spirulina, with an increased amount of fish oil and garlic for a high level of palatability.

“We realize these are attractive to a niche market, but by targeting hobbyists as our key customers and keeping them happy, we feel more people are exposed to the hobby and it keeps things growing,” Wilson said.

More than Flakes
These days, convenience food for fish comes in many forms, not just the traditional flake. Pellets are another popular form in this category—about 44 percent of fish owners bought pellets in the previous year, according to the 2015-2016 APPA survey. You’ll also find crisps, wafers, tablets, granules and medleys.

“There are many fish types, mouth types, species sizes and feeding levels within the water column,” Fox said. “Because of this, different fish have different feeding needs.”

The newest of these from Tetra are the crisps. These are sturdier than a traditional flake, which reduces particles in the aquarium at feeding time.

Another new product from Tetra is the Pro CoryWafers for loaches and catfish. This sinking food complements the already popular PlecoWafers, extending the line for the increasingly popular bottom feeders.

Seachem is also planning to expand beyond flakes, adding pellets to its line of NutriDiet foods in the coming year.

“Some people prefer pellets because they can float on top for surface feeders and sink for middle and bottom dwellers,” said Amanda Neese, supervisor of sales, support and education at Seachem Laboratories. “We want to be able to provide a variety of options for consumers.”

Liven Things Up
Food is a necessity, and something that brings customers into the store on a routine basis. But just because it’s something people have to get doesn’t mean the category should be taken for granted. Educate your staff about what’s new and the different nutritional benefits found in different types of food. With a little extra time and effort, you can help your customers optimize their feeding programs, ultimately ending up with healthier fish and happier customers.

Brushing Up

Combs and brushes provide the foundation for the at-home groomer’s kit. Although there is tremendous variety among consumers and the demands they place on the tools, there are a few basics that all combs and brushes need to hit: ease of use, comfort for both the dog and the owner, and affordability.

The right set of products in the grooming aisle can hit on all three of those main points. When it comes to the product mix, offering a variety is the solution to customer satisfaction. A solid assortment of traditional styles, new releases and fashion-forward products make up a successful mix.

Two-in-one brushes, like the flexible options from ActiVet, are perennial customer favorites and round out a well-curated product offering.

“ActiVet is the original flexible head, German grooming brush that will cut your brushing time in half,” said Chuck Simons, founder of Groomers Helper, distributor of ActiVet products. “With 40 percent of your non-bathing time spent undercoating, finish brushing or de-matting, the ActiVet brushes will give you back hours every single day that you can use to groom more dogs.”

Tammy Siert is an Andis Educator with more than 23 years of professional grooming experience. Siert began her competitive grooming career in 1994 and has competed around the United States and has represented GroomTeam USA. According to Siert, one of the most important sales tools for retailers is education: helping customers understand what each product is made to do.

Andis products are made to be used on any breed, plus there’s a variety of products to help every consumer have a choice.

“As a retailer, it’s important to understand the needs of the consumer,” Siert said. “Are they looking for a brush for a single or double coated breed? Do they want to remove dead undercoat? Or are they looking to remove matts? There are specific brushes and combs for each of those tasks, so you have to be cognizant of those priorities.”

“Many consumers believe that they only need to brush out their pets, but that’s not necessarily the case,” she added. “Combing is also just as important; they need to comb all the way to the skin. In order to meet the needs of consumers, retailers should be selling the consumer a comb to go along with the brush.”

That level of customer service—providing an education about each product for each customer’s specific pet—helps drive confidence among consumers. Since combs and brushes comprise a basic grooming kit that hopefully lasts, it’s important for the customer to understand how to use what they’re purchasing and ensure that they’ve made the right selection for their dog’s coat.

In addition, unique solutions appeal to customers who are looking for new, on-trend products.
According to Jay Michaelson, founder and CEO of HandsOn Gloves, there are three main factors that drive consumers to choose his product: convenience, time savings and sensitivity to natural care.

“We have [convenience and time saving] wrapped up with simply having a glove on each hand,” Michaelson said. “Grooming and bathing with two hands makes for a more efficient and thorough session. You can even handle shampoo bottles, lead ropes, leashes, control and support your animal all with your gloves on and not have to stop the process removing and picking up current-day tools. With the flexibility of the gloves and having nodules on the fingers, you can easily massage down to the skin coat all over your animals, releasing the natural essential oils all the way through to the surface coat. People are amazed at how shiny their furry friends get all over their bodies with just a few sessions.”

Michaelson said that a benefit of HandsOn Gloves is that they work for all breeds and other species, like cats.

“Some added benefits to the gloves we are hearing about range from double-coated breeds to long-haired cats,” he said. “On double-coated breeds, having our nodules on the fingers allows you to finally, easily reach through that second coat all the way to the skin, wet or dry. People are amazed how much dirt, dander and dead hair they are able to finally remove with the gloves.”

Whether your customers are looking for traditional products like those from ActiVet and Andis, or unique solutions like HandsOn Gloves, don’t forget the niche consumer—those shoppers who are interested in fashion-forward grooming trends. Currently, decorative cuts and artistic styles are rising in popularity.

“In the overall grooming industry, Asian-style grooming is a new trend, and Andis has some great combs that have a curved edge that are great for achieving the round face look that is so popular,” Siert said. “Consider merchandizing these products with your fashion apparel and accessories to offer the complete package to style-conscious customers.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about having the tools to keep pets primped.

“For at-home grooming specifically, the name of the game is maintenance,” Siert said. “Pet parents are looking for tools that will keep their pet looking and feeling great between visits to the groomer, and having the right brushes and combs are a critical piece of that pie.”

Going Big with Bettas

Walk into any pet store selling fish these days, and you’ll see betta fish and betta-related products taking up anywhere from eight to 16 feet on the shelf. You might even find some stores with an entire aisle devoted to bettas, with signage pointing customers to the betta department. It’s a far cry from a few years ago, when there was maybe two to four feet designated for bettas.

It might seem like a lot of space for a fish that costs an average of $4.99, but when you add up the other purchases that go with the fish, it’s extremely marketable,” said Matt Allen, director of marketing for Elive Pets.

Those other purchases include aquariums with dividers designed for multiple bettas, betta foods, water conditioners, heaters and other accessories such as brushes and feeding tools.

“Merchandising tanks next to accessories such as décor, maintenance supplies, food and water care is a great way to promote halo sales on betta-specific items,” said Lenitra Friend, brand manager at Central Garden & Pet.

Not only does a big betta department help increase sales, but these fish are also enticing new people to the category.

“A large percentage of betta owners are first-time consumers, which is good for the aquarium category overall,” Allen said.

The Betta Necessities
Of all the betta-specific products on the market, it’s the food and water conditioners that draw repetitive sales and get customers in your store where they can see other things such as new décor and plants, which leads to incremental sales. And there are two reasons to have your betta department well stocked with food and water conditioners specifically for bettas. First, customers who own only bettas will be shopping specifically for betta products. Second, items designed for the specific needs of a fish will allow that fish to be healthy because it is getting what it needs.

“When you can provide for the specific needs of a fish, whether it’s dietary or water conditions, the fish is going to respond in a positive way, with better health and brighter colors,” Allen said.

Aqueon’s Betta Food—BettaMin from Tetra and Betta Color Granules from Elive Pet—are created specifically for the needs of betta fish. All three contain shrimp, among other ingredients, to promote brighter colors and provide balanced nutrition.

Water conditioners designed specifically for bettas are another important item for the betta department. BettaSafe water conditioner from Tetra and Betta Bowl Plus from Aqueon are designed for the smaller bowls and aquariums bettas are kept in. They contain trace elements to reduce slime and promote proper color.

Elive Pet is also getting in the water treatment game with two new products out this month. Betta Natural Habitat is a water conditioner with essential minerals and peat extract that is designed to mimic the soft-water conditions where bettas are found in nature. The Betta Tea Tree Health is an herbal treatment for bacterial and fungal infections that can be added to water on a regular basis for preventative measures.

Beyond the Basics
In addition to food and water products, there are other accessories designed specifically for bettas that can add incremental sales to your department. The Betta EasyFeed Tool from Elive Pet helps with portion control, ensuring the fish gets the right amount of food while cutting down on waste to keep the environment cleaner.

The Betta Bowl Heater from ZooMed helps regulate the temperature for bettas, keeping it warm like these tropical fish’s natural habitat. There’s even décor targeted specifically to bettas, with ZooMed’s Betta Bling, which includes mermaids, deep-sea divers and aquatic flora.

Home is Where It’s At
The food, water conditioners and accessories might be strong drivers in the category, but the first thing every new betta owner needs is a place for the fish to live. This is where the category is really expanding, with products that appeal to first-time fish owners, especially kids, all the way to the dedicated hobbyist looking for something new and interesting.

One of the big product lines this season is the Finding Dory Betta Aquarium Kits from Penn-Plax. The kits come with an LED light as well as a background and stickers featuring different characters from the blockbuster movie. It’s important to emphasize to customers that these tanks are not designed for the Dory fish itself, the blue tang, which needs a lot more space. Instead, they’re designed to take advantage of Dory’s popularity even in the betta category.

“When we have a movie like this based on tropical fish, it’s imperative that as retailers we take advantage of this opportunity to get kids interested in the hobby,” said Ivan Fielman, vice president of national accounts at Penn-Plax.

Elive Pet’s recent Glow Cube is another product that appeals to kids. Filled with glow gravel and plants as well as glow-in-the-dark resin, this aquarium is fine for other small fish but is geared toward bettas.

On the other end of the spectrum, Elive Pet and Aqueon have designed betta aquariums for the customer with a little more sophisticated taste. One of the most recent product launches from Aqueon is the Betta Falls aquarium.

“Bettas can be aggressive with one another, and this aquarium has three different chambers to allow people to have more than one fish and keep them separate,” Friend said.

The aquarium also includes Aqueon’s patented QuietFlow Filtration and a filter cartridge to help keep the water clean, but what really makes it stand out is the cascading water feature.

From water features to plants, Elive Pet’s Aqua Duo aquarium kit allows you to have a plant in the filter for added interest. The three-gallon size also allows for more space for the fish to swim and to add more décor.

“Aquaponics is an emerging part of the aquatic industry, and this really appeals to a different consumer than your entry-level betta owner—a more high-end consumer,” Allen said.

The variety in aquariums really speaks to how broad the betta category has become. While you find everything from Finding Dory décor to aquaponics filters for bettas, the fish themselves are also just as varied, with price points ranging from $3.99 to up to $100 for the very rare varieties.

“Sales in this category are strong and we feel the category continues to grow,” Allen said. “It’s not just the old betta bowl you used to see anymore; the category has expanded to keep up with the interest, which benefits us all.”

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.

“We understand that once the retailer understands how these products work, they are much more confident recommending products to their customers,” Neese said.

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.

Specialized Products

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.”

Attention Grabbers

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.

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