June 4, 2014

Education is critical for the aquarium hobby. After all, no one is born knowing how to take care of fish, and fish and other aquatic life need the proper environmental conditions if they are to do well.

“To deliver on United Pet Group Aquatic’s brand promise of ‘making your aquatic experience successful,’ we place education high on our list of deliverables for our end consumers and our retail partners,” Lindsay Meixsell, associate brand marketing manager at United Pet Group, said. “This is an educationally based category in respects to nutrition, water care and equipment, therefore supplying the ‘why and how to’ to our audiences is essential.”

Meixsell believes it’s about the retention of customers over the long term.

“An educated aquarium owner is going to be more successful and less likely to drop out of the hobby,” she said.

Mike Hresko, co-owner of House of Tropicals in Glen Burnie, MD., agrees that education is essential for customer retention.

“You have to have an educated customer, or you will lose the customer,” Hresko said. “These are live critters and they require good habitat and upkeep. If the customer isn’t educated, he will run into problems and quit. Without an educated staff and educated customers, you aren’t going to get very far in this industry.”

Many aquarium hobbyists get their information online. To help out the online searchers, UPG has an Information Center on all of its pet websites. Meixsell explained the Centers “contain everything from basic set up, to problem solving, to ongoing maintenance, to fish identification, to diseases and remedies, and more.”

“In addition, for those wanting to getinto the hobby or those who have just started, we’ve created the online program TetraCare,” she said. “TetraCare is a personalized program that automatically sends how-to emails that walk the aquarium owner step-by-step through the setup process for goldfish, tropical fish, bettas, and aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles.”

John Carberry, owner and CEO of Sustainable Aquatics, also believes in outreach to educate customers.

“We operate a retail store in Knoxville, The Coral Reef,” he said. “It is a kind of business laboratory for us, so we can understand and seek to solve the challenges and problems facing the independent retailer especially.”

Another lesson Carberry has learned by being on the retail side of the industry is the importance of acclimating fish, and therefore the importance of educating customers on the subject.

“We have developed our own acclimation protocols, which we think make a lot of sense,” he said. “We are starting to discuss this with customers and beginning to draft a white paper to share with our customers for educational reasons,” he said.

George Goulart, co-owner of Aqua-Life Aquarium in Providence, R.I., makes customer education his special mission.

“I spend sometimes an hour with a customer, even if he only spends $5,” he said. “That customer will get an education about the fish before he takes the fish home.”

If these customers get good results from the advice, they will keep coming back.

“We teach them to set up their fish right,” he said. “Some of my customers have had cardinal tetras that live for 10 years.”

Goulart is also focused on the next generation of aquarium keepers and aquarium retailers.

“I couldn’t help my business any better than by educating kids,” he said. “I mentor kids through local high school programs. Kids come a day or two a week and learn about the fish and the business. The kids are interested in learning about the business, how to figure pricing, including overhead, lights, feeding, etc. I give the kids the hands-on experience they don’t get elsewhere.”

Employee education is another significant part of retail success.

Hresko provides his employees with books and magazine subscriptions so they can stay up to date on the trends in aquatics. He said he has also been thinking about online employee training.

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