April 1, 2016

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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