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December 1, 2015

Reef aquarium keeping has never been more popular. The array of support products available today is truly endless. From consumable items to major components, such as protein skimmers, programmable lighting systems and reactors, reefers will always want and need something new for their aquarium.

Building a Reef Clientele

Reef hobbyists love to indulge in their aquariums and are usually willing to spend more money for quality and performance. Adding a new accessory or upgrading a piece of equipment is fun and typically enhances their success rate, which in turn keeps hobbyists engaged. Shops that stock reef products and offer knowledgeable advice usually enjoy strong sales and maintain a steady clientele.

“The key is building relationships with your customers,” said Ralph Cabage, president of SICCE USA. “Make it personal. Create solutions for your customers that make their desires work.”

Cabage also said that stores need to focus on products that they can earn a living on.

“SICCE sells to independents at the same prices as online vendors, making it possible to remain competitive while enjoying a livable profit margin. Authorized dealers also enjoy rebates and incentives on SICCE purchases,” Cabage said.

When deciding on your reef product inventory, Bill Trufant, owner of Mobile, Alabama-based B & B Pet Stop Inc., has some advice.

“Important factors are quality, brand recognition, customer request/demand, availability from distribution, ease of use for the customer, easily understood packaging, and reasonable pricing,” he said. “You also can’t just carry obscure brands. If you do stock these brands, have them in addition to a name brand then sell off of it.”

Something for Every Reefer

Reef products can be separated into several groups. Essential items like supplements, test kits, sea salts, filter media and specialty foods are strong sellers that support a healthy profit margin.

For additives and supplements, Seachem’s standard line and their premium Aquavitro line offer hobbyists a complete selection of support products that address virtually any water chemistry need.

For hobbyists who want test kits that combine precision with ease of use, Salifert kits have both at a fair price. Tropic Marin salt mixes can be offered as a premium option to brands like Kent, Coralife and Reef Crystals. Tropic Marin PRO-REEF Sea Salt is made especially for reef tanks.

Live and refrigerated foods designed to keep live corals in prime condition and color have evolved dramatically in recent years.

Reef Nutrition products like Phyto Feast are well researched and backed by the manufacturer. Coral Gumbo by Hikari is a frozen blend of ingredients that support the health of corals. Prohibitive shipping costs and logistics from online vendors make these foods great sellers for independent retailers.

Key mechanical devices such as circulation and primary drive pumps and heaters represent the next group of reef products. Quality is key here, since any failure could be catastrophic.

SICCE pumps are time tested and independent retailers are protected by their dealer price structure. Cobalt Aquatics offers a quality line of internal circulation pumps, including the original MJ series. All Cobalt pumps are all backed by three-year warranty. Jaeger submersible heaters, formerly Ebo Jaeger, can be calibrated to pinpoint accuracy, a major selling point for the brand. Cobalt Aquatics and Hydor offer in-line heaters that help maintain aesthetics and don’t tie up valuable space in sumps.

Protein skimmers, ultra-violet sterilizers, high output lighting systems, controllers and sophisticated filtration systems represent the last group of reef products. Perhaps the widest range of quality, complexity and pricing can be found in this group. Many retailers struggle with tying up large amounts of money in these items, as they tend not to turn over rapidly and profit margins can be slim.

“You must support brands that enforce M.A.P. (Minimum Advertised Pricing) and be willing to sell at those prices,” Trufant said. “You probably won’t make the margin that you would ideally like, but it is better to make something than nothing.”

Eshopps offers an affordable line of protein skimmers, sumps, overflow boxes and other reef filtration components that are well-built and affordably priced. Reef Octopus provides retailers a high end version of these products, as well as media reactors.

An effective strategy for selling high ticket items without tying up resources is to have working models in your store and just keep one or two popular sizes in stock. There’s nothing like an eye popping live reef display to get people’s attention and demonstrate the equipment you sell. Have all components clearly visible and invite customers to inspect and learn about them. Sales staff should be knowledgeable and trained to ask key questions to help shoppers make good buying decisions.

Some shops are reluctant to stock reef products because their customers don’t ask for them.

“You have to create demand, otherwise you’re not providing a service to your customers,” Cabage said. “You have to show people what they want, have it on your shelf and tell them how you use it in your store. Make it your solution, your sale, your show! Don’t be an order taker; be a salesman. If you build relationships with your customers, they’ll listen to you. Their success goes up as a result.”

“You can’t serve your customers properly without having the products that they need to be successful,” Trufant said. “Without the proper products you force your customers to look elsewhere!”

Reef keeping is too popular for aquatic retailers to sit on the sidelines and let online vendors reap the rewards and profits.

“Be cutting edge, focus on unique, quality products and don’t be afraid to charge a fair price for them,” Cabage advised. “Remind shoppers that you’ve helped them solve or avoid problems. Do your homework on pricing and give shoppers a reason to come back to your store.”

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