February 1, 2015

Not only is it a great time for enthusiasts and serious hobbyists, it’s also an opportunity to translate that popularity into increased sales and traffic for your store. To optimize success, it’s smart to offer exciting new varieties of fish and a wide array of products that make caring for them easier.

The Color Craze

One of the biggest current trends in aquatics is color. With bright-colored artificial plants and accessories, neon lights, and a veritable rainbow of fish to choose from, it’s easy to build an impressive tank and build excitement with customers at the same time.

“We’ve seen a lot of emphasis on bright colors, and one of our biggest areas right now is our GloFish,” said Michael Griffith, marketing specialist, Segrest Farms. Recent introductions, including Starfire Red and Cosmic Blue, will be joining last year’s Galactic Purple. “They come out with one or two new GloFish a year right now, so there’s always something to keep the customer interested,” he said.

Of course, colorful fish deserve colorful accessories.

“In answer to the color craze, we have created a complete line of kits, décor and accessories to provide a dynamic and dazzling experience,” said Tim Plafcan, senior product manager, consumables, for United Pet Group. Their recently launched ColorFusion Décor line includes products such as mushrooms and jellyfish with LED lights that cycle through the colors of the rainbow, adding an ethereal feel to the aquarium’s landscape.

Going Natural

In complete contrast to the popularity of bright and neon colors is a growing trend toward creating natural habitats. From live plants to all-natural water conditioners and treatments, some hobbyists are looking to build aquariums that mimic the ecosystems fish actually live in.

Starting with a good base is crucial, and Seachem’s Flourite clay gravel substrate works well for planted aquaria because it is not chemically coated and won’t affect the pH of the water. It comes in a variety of colors and remains effective for the life of the aquarium.

Natural ingredients and live bacteria in a variety of products also help eliminate the need to regularly dump a bunch of chemicals into the aquarium to keep the water clean.

Tetra’s SafeStart and EasyBalance both use beneficial bacteria to condition new water quickly and to keep it healthy between changes.

“We are seeing strong growth in this segment, and in turn, a decline in the use of medications as fish are kept in healthy water,” Plafcan said.

Acrylic Tank Manufacturing (ATM) also offers natural, live-bacteria-based products under its Blue Shark brand. Paradigm, its dechlorinator, uses vitamin C to detoxify tap water and help boost the immune system of the fish. ATM also introduced Supernova, a unique carbon product seeded with the living bacteria of the company’s own biological sludge remover, Outbreak, to help improve filtration within the aquarium as it breaks down organic materials.

And it’s not just an absence of chemicals helping to keep fish healthier. Improved filters, heaters and water test strips ensure the aquarium remains at optimum levels.

“We’ve designed an app to be used in conjunction with Tetra EasyStrips 6-in-1 Aquarium Test Strips, which allows owners to compare the strip to an in-app color chart that shows instant results to identify abnormalities in six key levels: nitrate, nitrite, hardness, chlorine, alkalinity and pH,” said Plafcan. “Then a personalized treatment plan is given to help resolve any water issues.”

Water temperature is very important in keeping fish healthy, and Cobalt’s Neo-Therm Heater is not only durable and shatterproof, it has a computer system that monitors tank temperature within half a degree at all times.

Attracting the Hobbyists

It may seem impossible to be all things to all people but that’s exactly what pet stores should be for anyone interested in freshwater fish. You don’t just have to be ready to provide GloFish and starter kits for first-timers; you need to be the trusted supplier for serious hobbyists.

“Where independents can gain an edge is carrying line-bred or unique fish that big chain stores aren’t going to carry,” said Griffith. “Serious fish enthusiasts are always looking for the next big thing.”

Segrest Farms tries to stay ahead of the curve by offering retailers unique fish for their customers. “Right now we’re seeing a surge in the popularity of anything platinum,” said Griffith. “We have a platinum tiger barb with a white body and black eyes and a platinum Senegalus, which is pretty popular.”

Retailers can also build loyalty with hobbyists by having specialized equipment available. For example, Cobalt Aquatics’ egg rockers are professional quality hatching systems that come in two sizes.

“It’s the type of item a lot of hobbyists use but hasn’t been available through the trade until now,” said Les Wilson, marketing and product development, Cobalt Aquatics.

One of the greatest advantages independent retailers can have in the fish category is an educated staff. When people come in to peruse beautiful aquariums filled with colorful fish, someone should be right there to provide information and answer any questions. After all, you never know… that person who just wandered in wanting one discus may become an avid hobbyist and a long-time, loyal customer.

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