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Lighting Sales Shine Through

Business is good in the segment, and new offerings with innovative features have customers and retailers excited.


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The aquatics segment is experiencing growth, and though competition is stiff in several categories of hard goods, the lighting segment is a strong one for brick-and-mortar specialty retailers.

There are several types of lighting available in the hobby, but LED fixtures have become the standard and are the most popular.

“LEDs are where it’s all at right now,” said Daniel Schneider, manager of Fish n’ Chirps Pet Center in Denton, Texas. “They seem to be getting better than when they first came out.”

Schneider stocks LED fixtures made by Current USA, and Aqueon fixtures. Yet, while LEDs are the dominant force in the aquarium hobby, older T5 fluorescent fixtures still hold a place for some customers. 

“To me, the standard fluorescent lighting is still one of the better lights out there,” Schneider said. “I’ve had some beautiful reef tanks off of just fluorescent lighting.”

Customers are also increasingly gravitating toward lights with integrated controllability. 

“The EcoTech Marine and the Radion lights are fantastic. We find the controllability on the Aqua Illumination Hydras to be the best because it’s app-driven through your phone,” said Glenn Laborda, manager of Absolutely Fish in Clifton, N.J. “It’s super easy to use for people.”

The fixtures from EcoTech, Laborda noted, feature controllability through the company’s Reef Link software, which requires a traditional computer to operate. He added that he also likes Kessil-brand lights with the manufacturer’s Spectral Controller setup.

When it comes to freshwater aquariums, retailers reported offering a mix of LED and T5 lighting, depending on their customers’ goals.

“For the average freshwater customer, we’re still trying to provide them with Aqueon Deluxe Full Hoods with fluorescent tubes, primarily because they have a long-standing history and they were designed for the long-term hobbyist,” said Karen Zaffke, co-owner of Aquatropics in Gainesville, Fla. “The newer hoods that have come out are something that you typically ended up replacing within a year for some reason or another.” 

Though local fish stores face competition from online and big-box retailers, lighting affords them some breathing room, especially on the reef side of the hobby, as customers are incentivized to buy locally.

“Sales are very strong,” Laborda said. “Lighting is the key component to any reef tank, so that’s where you start. That’s where you spend your money on your reef tank.”

Despite the strength of the category, it still helps for retailers to show these products in action.

“Having at least one working unit on a display or show tank is the best way to showcase the functionality and benefits of a light unit, ” said Chris LeRose, aquatic division manager at the Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass. 

Industry insiders agreed that it is also important for retailers to offer a range of products in different price points to accommodate all types of customers. 

“I try to have something in stock that’ll fit everybody’s budget, so nine times out of 10, if somebody is looking for something in a certain price range, I might be able to compete,” Zaffke said. 

Price points in this category depend on the size of the tank the customer has in mind, Laborda noted, but for freshwater setups, a good fixture will usually run around $150 to $200, while reef fixtures can range from $400 apiece to several thousand dollars. 

Beginner kits are also popular, and entry-level sales can help earn a long-term customer.

“Families are looking at costs,” said Daniel Schneider, manager of Fish n’ Chirps Pet Center in Denton, Texas. “Just getting somebody started and getting them into the hobby, that’s not a bad route to go.” 

Customer Service and Education

Keep Them Coming Back

Customers tend to know what they want when it comes to reef lighting, pet specialty retailers reported.

“They’re pretty savvy at this point,” said Glenn Laborda, manager of Absolutely Fish in Clifton, N.J. “The lighting we’re talking about is pretty much step by step. I can literally email customers the program I’m running, and they just upload it to their lights.”

The aquarium hobby is full of various perspectives and conflicting information, and some prefer to stick with less technologically dependent setups.

“Planted aquariums have really become popular, but you know, there are so many different ways you can do them that everybody has their own ideas, and the internet is flooded with information,” said Daniel Schneider, manager of Fish n’ Chirps Pet Center in Denton, Texas. 

Still, education is important in the lighting segment, because it allows retailers to establish themselves as experts and keep customers coming back for advice and additional purchases.

“Retailers should focus on their expertise and ability to answer questions in real time,” said Karina Esquivel, senior brand manager for Central Garden & Pet Co. in Franklin, Wis. “ You have to offer what the others don’t, namely knowledge, service, a quality product line and healthy livestock.” 

New Products

At Your Fingertips

Manufacturers have developed several new fixtures and lighting concepts, and new products are on the horizon. In keeping with the trend toward more connectivity and greater controllability, several new lights sport features that cater to customers’ desire for more control over their lighting setup.

Aquarists using LEDs increasingly want more controllability and ease of use, said Chris LeRose, aquatic division manager at the Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass. Hagen’s Fluval brand recently released its third generation of LED units, he added.

“The 3.0 LED units have built in a Bluetooth technology,” LeRose said. “Along with the Fluval Smart app, these lights are fully controlled by your handheld device. “The Bluetooth technology built into the LED units is a new feature that we at Fluval believe is what the beginners to the true hobbyists have been looking for.”

Light outputs are also increasing as LED technology improves. Central Garden & Pet Co. has developed three new thin Clip-On LED lights, said Karina Esquivel, senior brand manager for the Franklin, Wis.-based company. 

Central-brand Aqueon offers its Freshwater Aquarium Clip-On light, which features 21 LEDs and two-way soft-touch control with a peak photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) measurement of 27. The Aqueon Planted Aquarium Clip-On light has 60 LEDs, and features a peak PAR of 67 with three-way soft-touch control. Central’s Coralife Marine Clip-On light also features 60 LEDs with a peak PAR of 47. All three lights are designed for framed or frameless aquariums up to 20 gallons.

Aqueon’s new OptiBright Max LED Lights are available in multiple sizes, Esquivel said, and are designed to provide a 50 percent increase in light output and feature an RF remote control that allows users to set 24-hour timing for white, blue and RGB lights individually.

Coralife’s new Seascape LED lights are available in multiple sizes and are designed for medium light level plants and low light corals, according to Esquivel. The included RF remote control is designed to adjust white LEDs, blue Moon Glows and color-enhancing RGB LEDs. Coralife also introduced a Mini LED Aqualight that is designed to be three times brighter than the former fluorescent version, Esquivel said, and is intended for use with small-planted aquariums, nano tanks, sumps and refugiums.

Current USA is also introducing fixtures featuring greater controllability. The company recently launched updated versions of its Orbit Marine LED lights, featuring more LEDs, higher output, and a color spectrum optimized for corals and frag tanks, said Ike Eigenbrode, chief of operations for Current USA/Ecoxotic in Vista, Calif.

The lights are Loop-controlled, meaning they feature integrated wave pump control, allowing hobbyists to control both LED lights and wave pumps wirelessly, Eigenbrode added. 

The company will be unveiling Serene Freshwater LED lights, Background LED Kits and bundles as well, Eigenbrode noted, and all three are controlled and synchronized with a wireless remote.

“The big trend now in aquatic LED lighting is controlling the lights via an app using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and a mobile device such as a phone,” Eigenbrode said. “We also launched our Loop app with Bluetooth control, allowing hobbyists to control lights, wave pumps, DC pumps and accessories all through a single app.”

Zoo Med Laboratories has also introduced LED lights. Its AquaEffects line feature natural, synchronized sound effects to the fixtures that match a selected light spectrum or weather effect, said Nathaniel Curtis, animal care specialist for the San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based company.

There are two fixtures being released in the line. The Model 1 features blue and white LEDs operated by a four-button wired controller, and includes synchronized sounds, dimmable lighting and full volume control with a built-in speaker. The Model 2 also has a speaker, Curtis noted, but is controlled with an ergonomic wireless remote control and is designed to allow for greater customizability.

“There are LED fixtures that can support huge coral wholesale warehouses, and there are LEDs that fit in cabinets to help grow refugium plants,” Curtis said. “The range in size, output and functionality is staggering.”

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