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Taking an Inward Look for More Profitable Strategies


June 12, 2018

I recently experienced quite a shock. After flying a new team member into Phoenix for training, we spent the first day on our vendors’ products and what we try to accomplish during a store visit.

The second day we planned to visit stores in the Phoenix area to familiarize our new team member with what a service call entails. Imagine my surprise when we pulled up in front of the first store only to see the space was empty. We’d called on that store within the last 60 days and there had been no mention of trouble.

On to the next store. That store was out of business, too, with a notice on the door thanking their past customers for their loyalty. Again, they had been called upon by one of our team members not more than 30 days before with no mention that anything was wrong. The next store we were to visit had been for sale for months, the owner being disillusioned with the return on his investment. In the end, we finally did get the training done, but this experience has stayed with me.

Why did these stores go out of business? The obvious possible reasons would be the growth of online sales, super pet store chains and possibly personal finances. But other causes might have to do with the choices retailers make in their day-to-day business decisions.

Something I see a lot in pet stores is the duplication of categories. A perfect example of this is the thermostatic heater; I see multiple heater brands with essentially the same features stocked in most stores.

A better use of their financial resources might be to stock heaters that are designed with different features—maybe a heater that doubles as a submersible and a hanging unit, another designed as an in-line heater for canisters and sumps, an under-gravel heater for small fish bowls and a pre-set heater in different wattages for applications that need a constant temperature. This type of stocking strategy allows the retailer to recommend a certain type of heater for a specific application instead of just duplicating the same style of heater with the same features with a different brand name.

The same applies for all the other categories with the exception of fish food. Obviously, food preferences might require a wider selection of products to satisfy taste and species-specific requirements. Finicky fish need variety, but do they really need five types of frozen food lines and 10 brands of dry food?

I suggest reading the product labels and manufacturers’ literature and only stocking brands that have a good ingredient listing. If a retailer can talk about nutrition and recommend food to their customers, more likely than not their customers will buy what is recommended—especially if they feel the nutritional value of the food will produce a positive outcome.

I also often see empty tanks piled up in aquatic stores. Aquariums should be merchandised for beginners; hobbyists don’t need to see a merchandised tank, they usually know for what they are looking. If a tank has been set up, even as a starter kit or dry setup, with suggested decor, it won’t deter the hobbyist from purchasing an aquarium, but it might make the difference between a sale and no sale for a beginner.

I know that cleaning tanks is the bane of any aquatic store, but it is also necessary to present a professional and competent vision for customers. I won’t mention the store name, but I was recently in a destination store that has beautiful fixtures and a great fish room, but all the livestock tanks were algae encrusted and the water was murky. This retailer had spent a fortune creating a full-line store yet was totally neglecting the fish room. I doubt that fish sales are growing.

Without adopting strategies for the future, what I recently experienced will become more commonplace. The threats to the aquatic category aren’t only from Amazon and super chains. Some of the problems could be the day-to-day business decisions made by retailers themselves.

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