The aquatics category is a segment of the pet business that retailers often find difficult to plan for and navigate. The complexity of the hobby itself, and the wide range of products needed to address every possible issue encountered in the course of fishkeeping make it hard for retailers to support their aquatics customers. Taking a close look at the basic needs and motivations of fishkeepers helped us learn to focus on a few – yet critical – aspects of their journey to help them succeed.
It is easy to understand the motivation for owning dogs or cats. These friendly and furry pets can provide companionship, affection and fun. They interact with their owners and build relationships with them, earning a place in their heart and family. With fish, it is not their behavior toward their owners that makes them appealing, but the beauty and peace that their environments bring to their owners’ homes. In a recent study we found that 67 percent of adults in the U.S. currently own or have owned fish in the past. This number is only four percent lower than that of U.S. adults who own or have owned cats. Based on this, we can say that fishkeeping is a popular form of pet ownership. When fishkeepers were asked what prompted them to buy fish as a pet, more than half of respondents agreed in that fish and aquariums are beautiful and calming.
As simple and as intuitive as this may seem, it is this very difference between fishkeepers and other pet owners that is critical for retailers to understand in order to better serve them. For most fishkeepers, the beauty of their aquatic environment acts a direct reflection of their success in the hobby (or lack thereof), making any visible problems a source of frustration and disappointment for them.
Aquatics retailers are familiar with the excited, and overly optimistic, first-time fishkeeper. Having committed to investing in a new hobby, these folks will eagerly buy what is recommended. They will listen attentively to the retailer’s advice, holding on to a mental image of their very own beautiful and peaceful underwater world.
Retailers are also too familiar with disappointed fishkeepers returning to the store soon after starting in the hobby, looking for help as their water becomes cloudy and their algae begins to grow. At this point, they find themselves obligated to understand the complex biological aspects of aquatic ecosystems, while returning home for long hours of maintenance and monitoring ahead before they can enjoy the beautiful water feature they dreamed of. It is for this reason that 28 percent of first-time fishkeepers leave the hobby within the first 12 months, with just over half of them making it past the six-month mark.
What can the retailer do to help fishkeepers build realistic expectations and navigate the critical first few weeks of their journey? Focus on the two key drivers of attrition: Water clarity and algae control. Fish ownership research discovered that lapsed fishkeepers encountered water clarity and algae problems as ongoing issues nearly twice as much as current fishkeepers. Being unable to resolve these issues efficiently as they first appear causes frustration, and eventually of loss of interest for fishkeepers. A focus on addressing these visible issues early will set expectations for the changes that every aquatic environment will go through as it matures, reducing frustration and calling the new fish keeper to action as soon as they appear.
Be proactive: Avoid sending new fishkeepers home without introducing them to these common issues, and without discussing solutions for them. With nearly three quarters of fishkeepers beginning their research journey online, the retailer is not likely to see them return early enough to advise them before they find themselves frustrated with their less-than-beautiful underwater environment.
Encourage water testing: Regular water testing uncovers imbalances sooner than visible signs appear. In addition, a proper testing routine will provide regular opportunities to interact with fishkeepers, continuing their education and helping them maintain their initial excitement and engagement in the hobby.
In the aquatics category the retailer plays the role of veterinarian and educator, carrying responsibility for supporting and troubleshooting the fishkeeper from day one. Investing in staff training and creating simple take-home materials for fishkeepers will contribute to reducing attrition in aquatics.
As a life-long fishkeeper with over 20 years in the aquatics industry, Patricia Carr carries experience in sales and management of livestock and dry goods aquatics businesses at the manufacturing, wholesale and retail levels. As the category and insights leadership manager for Mars Fishcare North America since 2017, she has driven the aquatics manufacturer’s learning journey, conducting shopper and market research for better understanding of the fishkeeper’s journey and developing sales strategies for brick-and-mortar and e-commerce retailers globally.