With such a bewildering variety of fish tank décor available, it can be hard to know which ones will resonate with customers. The first step to finding the right selection is to know what’s out there.
It’s useful to think of fish décor as being divided into two major categories, natural and natural-appearing decorations versus artificial or unrealistic items. Most items will fall in one of these categories. To please all customers, it’s wise to have a mix of both.
Philip Chau, owner of Pristine Aquariums in Alexandria, Va., sees a preference for the more natural items in his store.
“Driftwood is our best-selling decoration, especially Malaysian driftwood,” he said. “The Malaysian driftwood is popular because it’s dark and it sinks. This is a problem with other woods, which usually float. We probably sell over a thousand pounds of driftwood in a matter of a few months.”
Chau elaborated on topic of naturalistic décor.
“Artificial plants sell well,” he said. “They are a staple. The most consistent sellers are live plants and driftwood. Rocks sell well too, especially for cichlid tanks. Lace rock and reef rocks are best for African cichlids. They help raise and maintain the pH, which is ideal for these fish.”
Oliver Vallier, co-owner of University Aquarium and Pet Shop in Ann Arbor, Mich., sees more sales in the less-realistic items.
“Castles, structures — like ruins— and boats are some of our best sellers.”
Both men agree that when it comes to replica plants, the more natural-appearing ones are better sellers than the neon or otherwise brightly colored models.
Replica skulls have long been popular, and there are some interesting new types ready to bring a creepy touch to aquaria.
“[We have] some really cool new skulls and dragon skulls that have these ruby eyes that really pop out in an aquarium,” Paul Demas, project manager at Penn-Plax, Inc., said. “They are called Gazers.”
There are three different types of ornaments within the Gazer line: Skull-Gazers, Dragon Skull-Gazers and Tiki Gazers. All are made of durable, aquarium-safe resin.
The Skull-Gazers look, more or less, like human skulls with red-jeweled eyes and swim-through holes. They come in two sizes and plain, Celtic, and tribal designs.
The Dragon Skull-Gazers seem to come right from the pages of your favorite fantasy novel, with draconic horns and mesmerizing jeweled eyes. The Tiki-Gazers are obviously not skulls, but instead resemble Polynesian idols.
These come in two different hand-painted designs, each with the ruby red eyes unique to the Gazer line.
Of course, Penn-Plax makes less fanciful skull decorations for aquaria, too.
Their Deco-Replicas are highly realistic — except for size — resin skulls. These come in four different designs: alligator, ram, rhino and wooly mammoth.
The Classic Look
Many of the classic décor items also remain good sellers.
“Ships are always one of our most popular décor items,” Demas said. “Action ornaments are still popular to this day. People get a real kick out the moving parts and bubbles. Skeletons with treasure chests are as popular now as when they first came out, decades ago.”
These ornaments require air pumps to run, creating an additional sale.
Play to the Kids
Parents often buy aquarium décor with the kids in mind. There is an enormous variety of products aimed at the young aquarist.
Penn-Plax makes décor and aquarium kits featuring SpongeBob Squarepants, the Little Mermaid and Dora the Explorer, to name a few.
Vallier has found the SpongeBob-themed items to be especially popular in his store, while Chau sees parents buying glow-in-the-dark ornaments for kids, even though the parents often want something more naturalistic.
One of the new trends in aquarium decorations are items that incorporate LEDs.
“We are selling a lot of the new underwater LEDs,” Vallier said. “There’s a ring that bubbles and a 20-inch bar with color-changing lights. There’s an LED volcano. These have become really popular.”
Pam Morisse, associate brand manager at Central Aquatics, agrees that LED décor is a popular trend.
“The Aqueon Flexible LED Bubble Wand is the perfect touch to your freshwater or saltwater aquarium,” she said. “The flexibility of the wand allows for weaving in between other tank décor, and with the included suction cups the wand can be attached anywhere.”
Décor isn’t necessary for the aquarium, so individual taste is the deciding factor in what decorations a customer will buy.
Demas has this advice for retailers.
“We always suggest that a store carries a full assortment to hit all taste palettes, natural, whimsical and fun, functional and so on,” Demas said.
Chau agrees, but stresses the importance of catering to your location.
“Know your market,” Chau said. “You want a little bit of everything but usually some things will sell better in your area. It could be stuff for kids, or goldfish, or whatever. As you build a customer base you’ll get a feel for what sells best in your market.”
To help drive décor sales, Chau offers this tip, “put some items in display tanks so customers can see what they looks like.”
Vallier agreed that displaying the items helps.
If a customer likes the way an item looks in your tank, there’s a better chance they will buy it for their own aquarium.