There was a time when you walked into any pet store you would see a stack of 25, or more, 10 gallon aquariums or aquarium kits for sale. This stack of low priced starter kits helped create new aquarium hobbyists. Many of these hobbyists came back to buy larger sizes or multiple aquariums. This simple strategy drove growth in the aquarium hobby more than almost any other.
There was also a time when every aquarium had a stainless steel frame, because it wouldn’t rust, a slate bottom and was held together by a black non-toxic tar within the frame. Then, came the invention of silicone sealant by GE.
The Ritzow bros. in the Milwaukee area, avid aquarium hobbyists, saw the potential of gluing five pieces of glass together with silicone sealant and started making all glass aquariums using extruded plastic as frames to cover up the exposed glass edges. After a couple of years they also saw the need to improve and increase the production of glass aquariums and were one of the first to use one piece molded plastic frames. This simple, but expensive innovation, brought production from a few hundred units a day to well over a thousand. This was revolutionary because it brought down the cost significantly.
When I first started selling glass 10 gallon tanks in 1973 the distributor cost was $7.95 each. With the one piece frame that cost went down to $4.95. In the 1980s retailers were selling starter 10 gallon tanks for $4.99 as loss leaders and we couldn’t make enough of them.
I always felt that Jerry and Roger Ritzow deserved an industry award and recognition for almost single handedly growing the tropical fish hobby for over 30 years by being the leading supplier of low cost starter kits to encourage new hobbyists. Without these low cost glass boxes, we wouldn’t have sold air pumps, power filters, heaters, plants, gravel, fish, reptiles or small animals.
The Ritzow Bros. were brilliant engineers and marketers because they had a vision and developed many innovations that turned the fish aquarium into a piece of furniture that you would be proud to have in your living room instead of the garage. Their innovations included one piece plastic frames in sizes up to 220 gallon, state of the art full hoods with incandescent and fluorescent lighting, knock down wood aquarium stands, solid wood cabinets and canopies, bow front aquariums and stands in many sizes and mini-bow desktop aquariums. They started out with black frames only, then walnut wood grain finishes and ultimately introduced the revolution into oak trimmed aquariums.
With their expertise they turned a small aquarium company into the largest aquarium manufacturer in the world. They invested in technology and facilities that improved manufacturing at all levels, and year after year they continued to introduce new products that helped drive growth in the entire aquatics industry.
What impressed me most about the Ritzow Bros is the way they did business and the relationships they had with family, friends, customers and employees. In the early years, they had cash flow problems, as did all of their competitors, and had to tighten up liberal receivable and shipping policies. All of their customers rallied behind them. The Ritzow’s supported all community groups and local projects as well as the WPA, APA, PIJAC, Pet Industry Trust and many aquarium groups and societies. They are and were true gentleman and made doing business with them a pleasure.
The growth of the aquarium industry may have grown without their vision, but I doubt it would have grown as large or as fast, or would have been as much fun. Ask anyone who knows Jerry or Roger, or worked with them professionally and I’m sure you will hear how loyal, supportive and generous they were their entire career. Any dealer who stopped by to visit their booth at any trade show will remember the warm welcome they received as well as the giant cashews in the snack bowl!
In 2000 The “All Glass Aquarium” (the best possible description of the item they sold) Company was acquired by Central Garden and Pet. The brand disappeared because it was re-named. The aquarium segment of the pet industry saw a downturn. Kids today spend more time on their smart phones rather than keeping an aquarium. The stack of 25 aquarium kits has disappeared. For those of us who love tropical fish we still feel kids and parents alike would enjoy our hobby if we encouraged them with a new All Glass Aquarium.
The Ritzow Bros. are retired and doing well and still love the business. They’ve seen many changes and like me, they remember the glory days of fish keeping. We had many other friends who played important roles in the pet industry, but few had the impact or left the footprint of the Ritzow bros. Thank you Jerry and Roger for helping the tropical fish industry in becoming an important part of the pet industry.
– Phillip M. Cooper