October 26, 2016

The aquarium hobby is increasingly influenced by modern technology, and the range of equipment available today can be mind boggling, both in sophistication and price. If you’re hesitant at the thought of stocking a lot of high-tech aquarium equipment on the grounds that it tends to have lower profit margins and turnover rates, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn otherwise.

Stocking key pieces of aquarium technology that help make your customers more successful and their lives easier can turn you into a real hero in their eyes, and having a knowledgeable sales staff to help customers make good buying decisions will make your store a destination for their every need. In addition, investing in state-of-the-art equipment and fixtures for your store will lower maintenance costs and improve conditions for your own aquatic livestock.

Many aquarists today are technologically savvy, and these hobbyists are very interested in—and not the least bit intimidated by—high-tech equipment. Some hobbyists just love gadgets, and for them, the more the better. More gizmos on your tank doesn’t necessarily make you a more successful hobbyist, though. As with anything, choosing the right tool for the job is crucial. High-tech equipment does, however, help maintain more consistent and precise conditions in sensitive systems like reef tanks and Amano-style planted aquariums, and reduces the work involved at the same time.

Upscale product lines that aquarium specialty stores should carry include integrated reef-style filtration systems, low-voltage circulation and drive pumps, protein skimmers, reactors, CO2 systems, controllers and monitoring systems, digital testing equipment and RO/DI systems.
Arguably the most significant area of advancement in aquarium technology today is high-output lighting, specifically programmable LED systems.

“Entry-level LEDs like AI Prime or Hydra start at $100 for a display unit,” said Glenn Laborda, coral and invertebrate manager at Absolutely Fish in Clifton, NJ. “Download the app to a phone or tablet and learn how to control it, and show the customers.”

Backing up knowledge with jaw-dropping live displays lets customers see for themselves that you and your staff know what you’re doing. And nothing inspires hobbyists to beef up their own setups like an out-of-this-world display. Using equipment on store displays is essential to demonstrating how products work and allows shoppers to see, touch and experience items they are considering purchasing.

“Have high-end items on display in the store to inspire customers to have beautiful displays,” said Patrick Egan, service department manager at Absolutely Fish. “This works best on tanks we do not sell from so [long-term] results can be viewed.”

To help defray the cost of installing high-end equipment on in-store displays, Laborda suggests enlisting support from manufacturers.

“Retailers should be approaching tech companies and getting free store display models or ones at a greatly reduced cost,” he said. “This lets them gain and showcase high-tech items.”

Laborda takes it one step further by encouraging stores to draw on support from manufacturers as well.

“Have reps from companies do in-store demos, offering incentives for anyone who shows up for the demo,” he said.

Consumers often think price first, and many independents are reluctant to carry high-end products because of competition from online vendors. But brick-and-mortar specialty shops offer value that online vendors simply can’t.

An important step in selling upscale equipment is establishing what your customers expect to get out of their purchases and then helping them choose the products that will best suit their needs and their budgets. Staff members need to be knowledgeable in the products their store offers, and they need to be trained to ask key questions and listen carefully to the customers’ responses to determine what products best suit their needs.

“We’re able to provide support, being able to show the advantages of one product over another,” said Todd Furmanek, Absolutely Fish’s manager of marine fish.

Egan agrees.

“We have much more experience on products and provide support that online vendors cannot,” he said.

For retailers, display systems with integrated filtration and lighting, like those designed and built by Pro Clear Aquatic Systems, keep animals healthier and make store operations more efficient and less labor intensive. They add a clean, professional look to your aquatic livestock area. Pro Clear also offers a complete line of wet dry filters, reef sumps, protein skimmers and prefilter overflow boxes. With the increase in popularity of Betta fish, installing self-service fixtures like Elive’s Betta displays or Pro Clear’s Grab ‘n Go systems can really brighten up your Betta presentation and add convenience to the shopping experience. Matt Allen, marketing director of Elive Pet, says his company’s Betta display systems have been wildly popular and have increased Betta and related supplies sales even in stores where aquatics are not a specialty.

In today’s highly competitive marketplace, independent retailers need to position themselves as destination stops for serious hobbyists as well as those looking to upgrade basic setups. Big-box stores and mass merchandisers get beginners started in the aquarium hobby, but it’s brick-and-mortar specialty shops that keep them involved and help them grow and progress. By offering enthusiasm, expertise and upscale products, you’re sure to develop a strong customer base.

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