With the pet industry still booming in nearly all sectors and showing no signs of stopping, despite a global recession caused by COVID-19, it pays for an enterprising retailer to stop at nothing to find a piece of this increasing pie. Along with reptiles, such aquatic livestock as fish, frogs and aquatic turtles are an increasingly appealing sector through which a dedicated pet retailer can make significant dividends.
In looking at the role aquatics has played within the pet trade, we spoke to two of the nation’s premier aquatics wholesalers, Sandy Moore (president of Segrest Farms) and Joe Hiduke (sales manager at 5D Tropical Inc.).
“The market for aquatics is as strong as I’ve seen it in my entire career,” Moore noted. “Aquatic life calms the household during crisis and makes a great educational tool that is low maintenance.”
With quarantine and shelter-in-place orders still frequent across the country, aquatics can provide would-be pet owners with an opportunity to not only enjoy a new hobby, but also the chance to design a habitat of their own, with the nearly limitless ‘canvas’ of an empty tank. Hiduke adds to this that, despite an early dip in sales in early spring, sales have been “roaring back to be as busy as I’ve seen in the last 20+ years,” with demand at record highs and supply at record lows.
Moore confirms the trend that “fish are oftentimes a first pet, and pet stores can create their own customer base by promoting aquatics.” Since fish have a generally lower care-barrier compared to other creatures, they provide an ideal entry for young children or pre-teens, as they learn how to care for animals. Beyond this, Sandy notes that “this category also transcends pet ownership to gardening and nature, attracting multiple customer bases.”
The ability for an aquarium owner to choose new gravel or sediment, new plant life, as well as new decorations, makes for a huge variety of products for a retailer to carry. And, as we consistently note in this column, these subsidiary sales (most often after the initial sale of a pet) are where a canny pet retailer can make their proverbial bread and butter.
For a pet retailer new to aquatics, Moore recommends expanding your stock as you expand your knowledge base. She also explains that “variety drives aquatics; dedicate space to new species arrivals weekly,” as well as dedicating “space for live food to create weekly foot traffic.”
If your new pet owner returns to your store on a regular basis to buy crickets or some other live food, the likelihood for them to make some other subsidiary purchase increases dramatically.
“Aquatics are extremely knowledge-intensive,” mentioned Hiduke. “A store looking to add aquatics should start with making sure the staff is well-educated in the field. It’s not as simple as putting a bowl in a windowsill.”
For stores just starting off into aquatics, Hiduke recommends varieties of GloFish, as well as African cichlids, both of which provide a ton of color with relatively easy care requirements.
Unfortunately, just as the COVID-19 pandemic has seen an uptick in pet sales, it has also caused numerous logistical issues in ensuring that stores are properly stocked. Moore points to the fact that “the majority of tropical fish are transported on passenger flights as air freight,” which have been curtailed or limited in certain cities. However, Segrest Farms has had great success working with shipping and logistic companies as well as their airline partners to better accommodate their needs. Maintaining relationships with partners, as always, proves to pay off when it counts.
But, as with the other facets of the pet industry, the aquatics sector has faced additional hurdles in terms of over-legislation and restrictions, at the federal, state and local levels. Hawaii, particularly, has been a legislative battlefield when it comes to aquarium fishery. In March, House Bill 2154 would have prohibited “all harvesting of aquatic life for commercial aquarium purchases,” but it was shelved in committee before it could reach the legislative floor. However, this is only the most recent legislation in the Aloha State; in 2017, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the state was free to review and administrate commercial aquarium fishing permits, which mandated a review of environmental impacts before issuing said licenses.
Hawaii marks just one state that has taken steps to invasively regulate the aquatic-pet industry; similar legislation has begun to appear along many coastal states. In response to these challenges, Moore and Hiduke recommend that pet industry professionals join PIJAC.
“Our aquatics subcommittee works diligently on the challenges we face on all those levels, and is both active and effective,” she noted.