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Additives and Medications

Tank supplements and additives help retailers address customers’ problems.


Treatment products aren’t necessarily a repeat sales item, but in some cases they do add to other sales opportunities.

Laconia Pet Center

Long a staple in aquarists’ tool kits, tank supplements and additives help retailers address customers’ problems from a distance and keep them in the hobby. While many products in the category are considered staples, a few new products are catching on. Popular in human diets as a way to address issues with digestion and intestinal health, probiotic treatments for fish are increasingly popular with aquarists.

“We’re really big into probiotics,” said Michael DeOliveira, freshwater manager for Absolutely Fish in Clifton, N.J. “We use a product called ProTherapy from MicrobeLift, which is an immuno-stimulant. It works by competitive exclusion, similar to the way yogurt works in your intestines.”

“It’s a liquid you add to the water,” he added. “The stuff smells like rotten eggs, but it’s really good. It basically blocks up areas where parasites and pathogens can grow, and outcompetes them where good bacteria enter in. It just helps keep a cleaner environment. Fish tend to stay healthier, and it’s harder for them to get sick.”

Absolutely Fish uses the treatment after hours because of the smell, DeOliveira said.

“There are a couple other companies that make similar products,” he added. “Doctor Tim’s First Defense, which helps boost (fishes’) immune system with immuno-stimulants. We’re definitely big with preventive measures, especially with customers who want to keep a sensitive fish, like a dwarf gourami or a German blue ram, and they’ve had no success with it even though their water tests out OK, and they have good equipment, it’s kind of like the last step to help ensure the fish has good health.”

Other retailers also expressed support for the MicrobeLift line, and for bacterial and starter cultures, which continue to be popular with aquarists.

“We carry most of the MicrobeLift line,” said Dan Stearn, owner of The Fish Store in Seattle. “We carry the bacterial cultures and the starter cultures. Outside of that, we don’t carry a lot.”

In terms of probiotics, Stearn said he prefers to offer food-based supplements. “We do offer the foods with probiotics in them, like the Cobalt foods,” he said.

Other manufacturers’ products are also popular with store owners, and there are many lines to choose from.

“We use Seachem, Brightwell and Continuum,” said Dave Burr, owner of Vivid Aquariums in Canoga Park, Calif. “We run our tanks on Seachem. We recommend Brightwell [products] to a lot of customers as well. I used to run my business on that. It’s a very good product.”

Vivid Aquariums hasn’t offered much new in the product category, Burr added, and offerings have tended to remain stable over the past three or four years.

There is one aspect of the tank additives product category that has changed, according to some retailers, at least in terms of customers’ desire to use them in-tank: antibiotics.

“There’s definitely an upswing of people preferring not to use antibiotics,” DeOliveira said.

...Herbal preventives might be popular in some areas where fish are vulnerable during the colder months.

However, he added that sometimes, when fish are sick, it’s necessary to go the antibiotic route for treatment.

Other retailers reported not seeing as strong a move away from antibiotics use.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a movement away from antibiotics,” Stearn said. “We occasionally see people who don’t want to use antibiotics, so we do offer herbal tea tree-based stuff for them. That’s something I’m not too terribly impressed with. It may work on some bacterial problems, but it’s not as broad a spectrum [treatment] as erythromycin, metacycline or the other actual antibiotics on the market.”

These herbal preventives might be popular in some areas where fish are vulnerable during the colder months.

“We offer all-natural preventives, especially during the winter months when people are buying fish,” DeOliveira said. “We keep our store at 75 to 80 degrees, and when the fish go outside, and there’s a big temperature swing, we do a lot of times recommend an ich preventive. MicrobeLift also makes these natural [products]—one is called Herbtana, which kind of smells like bug spray, but it’s all natural.”

Reef Maintenance
On the reef side of the hobby, some newer products are designed for customers to dose frequently, which can have an impact on how often they return to a retailer, both for support and to purchase new treatments.

“A lot of the additives—Red Sea makes a line—they almost want you to start dosing on a day-to-day basis and seeing how much your tank is uptaking over the course of a five-day period, making it so that you don’t have these highs and lows of nutrient levels in marine aquariums,” said Todd Furmanek, head marine curator and store manager for Absolutely Fish.

“That way, everything kind of stays on an even keel with minimal adjustments and fluctuations,” he added. “Doing that hopefully will make coral grow better and grow faster.”

Though not strictly additives, chemical resins and dosing pumps also are improving aquarists’ success rates, encouraging customers to stick with the hobby.

“We’re really excited about the Neptune Systems DOS,” said Steven Oberg, manager for Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich. “Dosing pumps have been around for a long time, but never with the quality of manufacturing of this unit combined with how seamlessly it integrates into the APEX system. It’s a really cool development.”

Resins designed to remove specific contaminants also are relatively new to the hobby, and in some corners they’ve had a big impact.

“Chemical resins, such as phosphate removers, things like that, are doing well,” Stearn said. “I’ve definitely seen an increase in sales. They are making it a lot easier, especially in the case of reef tanks. People start using phosphate removers, and they’ve got fewer problems with algae buildup, and they have better success with their corals.”

Marketing Techniques
When it comes to teaching customers about additives and supplements, retailers reported success with in-store demonstrations to encourage sales.

“We always have multiple people doing husbandry dips, trying to heal what we call nonconforming fish, which are fish that have flukes or ich, or something of that nature, or using a different medication to clean up lymph, or a viral or bacterial infection,” Furmanek said. “People always ask why we’re doing that. And we’re able to get sales that way. We’re always actively using [these products] in our own tanks.”

Starting a conversation with customers can be difficult, as they might not know what their fish is infected with, and establishing a dialogue is key to recommending the correct treatment.

“If someone comes in looking for a medication, we’ll ask them what symptoms their fish are exhibiting, and maybe half the time they’ve got the right medication for the symptoms they’re describing,” Stearn said. “[If they need something else], we’ll set them straight.”

Miscommunication and misinformation is prevalent in the hobby, especially with so many hobbyists turning to the Internet for advice and treatment options. But Vivid Aquariums’ Burr reported success reaching customers online, using that as a tool to recommend treatments and promote products to customers.

“We don’t do in-store demos,” Burr said. “We have a YouTube channel with a big following. So we do videos to promote stuff and teach people. It does really well for us.”

Treatment products aren’t necessarily a repeat sales item, but in some cases they do add to other sales opportunities.

“Believe it or not, a lot of the food and additive products we use, people come back and actually pick those items up if they’re in the store and need to pick up food or RO water,” Furmanek said.

It boils down to keeping customers in the hobby, and though repeat sales opportunities of a given additive product are nice, addressing the problems in the tank and keeping hobbyists successful is what it’s all about.

“We’re always looking out for the fish’s best interest,” Furmanek said. “It’s not worth having a customer lose a tank and being disgruntled. If that happens, we’ve lost one hobbyist. It’s always about the fish. Putting them in the best environment to hopefully thrive and do well.”  

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Pet Product News.

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