April 25, 2017

By Sara Keegan

When a retailer has had an aquatics store for long enough, he or she sees a lot of trends come and go. And still, tradition can’t be denied.

“We are more of a natural store, but some customers are going the other way,” said Jim Kostich, manager of Aquatics Unlimited. By “the other way,” Kostich means trending toward a more artificial and colorful look for their aquarium tanks.

Greenfield, Wisconsin’s Aquatics Unlimited was established in 1969, and Kostich has been with the store since the beginning.

“It’s a fascinating hobby,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in it myself.”

Kostich spoke about aquarium décor and other aspects of the tank: how it has changed, but also, how it has remained the same.

Au Naturale
“We sell a lot of live plants,” Kostich said, explaining that those have always been a big seller.
According to the American Pet Products Association, this is true nationally as well. From 2015 to 2016, 57 percent of fish owners purchased plants for their tanks, while 41 percent bought ornaments.

Brands that sell well at Aquatics Unlimited include Penn-Plax, Hagen, and Aquatop, which Kostich says gets attention for its price point.

“You can buy a big bushy thing for half the price of some of the ‘cooler ones,’” he said of the aquarium plants from Aquatop.

Veteran fishkeepers are still generally interested in the more natural-looking plants, such as those from Aquatop. Its line of silicone plants have “realistic, life-like action” in the water, allowing for great natural scenes for owners’ fish.

And Hagen, another brand Kostich finds popular in his store, also provides more nature-minded driftwood and plants, perfect for building your favorite realistic scene.

For those who like ornaments to go with their natural scene, Zoo Med’s line of ceramic logs and wooden ornaments fit the bill. For the green-minded, Zoo Med’s Mopani Wood is a naturally grown product that is “one of the hardest and densest woods available” and “will not rot,” according to the ZooMed website.

Spicing it Up
If a retailer is interested in gaining new customers, Kostich says that, generally, newcomers to fishkeeping are interested in the more colorful, “fun” decorations as opposed to the more natural look.

“It’s more about fun rather than trying to have a slice of nature in the house,” he said.
Those who are looking to dazzle with their aquarium tanks are definitely going to want to look at Tetra’s GloFish line, which offers lights and ornaments in fluorescent and neon colors, sure to catch the eye of the future aquarium hobbyist.

“We’ve seen a terrific response to the existing GloFish decor line,” said John Fox, division vice president of Aquatic Marketing at Spectrum Brands, Inc., Pet, Home & Garden Division. “The new collection includes our popular fluorescent features coupled with a new dimension of color changing elements. Consumers can change the visual effect just by changing the light mode, presenting a multitude of captivating designs to personalize their aquariums.”

The lighting makes a huge difference in all the GloFish products. The plants, ornaments and backgrounds are all color-changing based on the different modes of light, as provided by the Glofish Cycle Lights: Sunlight brings out the vibrancy of the fish and the decor in the day, Moonlight brings out the fluorescent colors in the light, and Midnight mode is what catalyzes the decor to change color. For those who want to create an aquatic light show right in their own aquariums, there is Twilight mode, which cycles from Moonlight to Midnight, highlighting all the color changes that will happen in the tank.

LED is King
Generally, LED lighting and technology are being integrated into aquarium accessories. Aqueon’s LED aquarium kits provide white LED lighting for the daytime and blue LED lighting for night, which enhances the color of the fish and plants. These kits are great for the newcomers who are looking for a little flash and want to get started on their scenes.

“The lighting in particular is pretty much exclusively LED,” Kostich said of the general trend.
Hydor’s H2Show line is still popular for its flashy Wonder KITS, which are LED-lit bubble makers in various designs, such as the volcano, “magic ball” and clams. But the technology doesn’t end with lighting and bubbles when it comes to Hydor. The company is keeping up with the general tech trend of the Internet of Things, in which physical objects come with an IP address that allows it to connect to the internet and communicate with other internet-enabled devices, according to Brian Shavlik, national sales manager of Hydor USA Inc.

“We are taking this technology to the aquarium industry with Aqamai, the Internet of Tanks,” Shavlik said.

The KPS Wavemaker pump is a 1,050-gallon-per-hour DC pump that has Wi-Fi controllability. Consumers can download the Aqamai app on their iPhones or Android phones and control the pump’s function even when they aren’t anywhere near home.

“It’s going to come to market at $120,” Shavlik said. And there are more items to come after the KPS pump.

Kostich agrees that all this technology and flash definitely appeals to fishkeepers.

“There’s always that segment of the hobby that always wants the latest, coolest thing,” he said.

Regardless of whether or not his customers want the latest trend or to stick to the basics, Kostich remains happy with his ability to help them find what they need and share the hobby with others.

“I enjoy helping people and protecting them from the mistakes that I always made,” he said.

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