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Automate Your Sales

Controllers and programmable equipment are large potential sources of revenue.


When it comes to high-tech solutions for aquariums, controllers and programmable items are at the top of the heap. From simple timing options to fully integrated, cloud-based aquarium controllers, retailers have a wide variety of products to offer customers. The tricks for retailers is to discover the right marketing strategies and understand the benefits these products provide to customers to better cater to their needs. 

Insurance Policy
There is a wide variety of control equipment, programmable setups and automation options for aquariums. One of the most popular types of products is the all-in-one aquarium controller setup. 

“The [Neptune] Apex controller seems to be the one that people are asking for the most,” said Mark Faber, aquatics manager for Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich. “The ReefLink by EcoTech [Marine] is another add-on for the Radion light fixtures that a lot of people are seeing the possibilities with.”

With ReefLink, users can change their EcoTech reef aquarium equipment’s settings with their phone, said Adam Marquez, owner of Seven Seas Tropical Fish in San Pedro, Calif. 

While customers are sometimes turned off by the technical nature of the category or the high price points of some units, generally they are warming to the prospect of aquarium automation, retailers reported. 

“The biggest thing I am seeing is just the idea that these kinds of equipment and services are out there and people are more comfortable with using them and taking advantage of their capabilities,” Faber said.

“I think of these systems as being kind of an insurance policy for your fish tank,” he added. “The new systems with programmable feeders and dosing pumps seem to be what is raising an eyebrow.”

While some hobbyists tend to think of these products in the category as time-saving devices, really, the main benefit most industry insiders reported was the peace of mind controllers and monitors deliver.

“It’s insurance for your tank,” said Terence Fugazzi, vice president, sales and marketing of Neptune Systems in Morgan Hill, Calif. “The reason to have an aquarium controller and monitoring solution is that it’s going to monitor what’s going on in your aquarium, and it’s going to alert you if something is wrong.”

The benefits in usability and awareness might help to make reefkeeping easier for the average person.

“I’m a big Vertex fan,” said Todd Furmanek, store manager of Absolutely Fish in Clifton, N.J. “They have a Cerebra Controller that’s Android-based, and I have a couple clients who have cameras on their tanks, and they can [log in] and watch their tanks, just for viewing purposes.”

By putting aquarists in touch with their systems, controllers and automated equipment help customers keep their systems safe. For reefkeepers, especially, this can be a huge issue, with potentially costly consequences—but also the cost of losing valued pets—if even one component in a system fails. 

“To be able to watch your tank is key, especially if you have a reef tank, with a lot of money involved, but also the animals’ lives, corals you’ve grown out from frags,” Furmanek said. “To be able to make sure everything is copacetic, you don’t have to worry so much.”

Controllers can alert aquarists to potentially disastrous equipment failure, saving the lives of tank inhabitants. 

“The No. 1 reason people lose a reef aquarium is temperature,” Fugazzi said. “The amount of time it takes to kill off your aquarium because of high temperature is very small, especially in an aquarium less than 200 gallons. [It’s] the No. 1 thing and the easiest to prevent. It’s very easy to justify the cost considering that alone.”

Retailers can leverage the cost of a system’s inhabitants to highlight the need for closer control and offset consumers’ reluctance to shell out money for expensive systems. 

“I think cost [of controllers] will push some people away,” Seven Seas Tropical Fish’s Marquez said. “But when the hardcore reefkeepers come here, they want that system, because they’re buying coral, they’re buying $250 Acans, $500 Acans, or they’re spending $50 a polyp.”

Making Life Easier
Controller equipment tends to appeal to those with the most invested in their aquariums. And when it comes to high-cost coral reef setups, maintenance and ease of use also tend to be major considerations for customers.

“I’ve noticed that people with specific interests tend to be motivated to buy the automated programmable system,” Preuss Pets’ Faber said. “For example, the ‘techy’ tinkerer, and the people who want very specific results from their tank to make sure it’s calibrated exactly where it should be. Newer technology makes these systems more user-friendly than in the past. Increased computing power in things like tablets has also led to faster and more powerful systems. All of this positive forward progression has led to more approachability.”

The reality is, even simple systems require maintenance, and more elaborate systems mean aquarists will have to pay attention to more parameters. With controller equipment freeing up aquarists from doing routine tasks, they’re able to get more out of their systems. 

“The automation category appears to be growing with each year,” said Kevin Kipper, founder of Genesis Reef Systems in West Chester, Ohio. “Anything that makes the hobby less time consuming or tedious while improving aquarists’ experience and success is desirable, both from the hobbyist’s viewpoint as well as the retailer’s. The hobbyist is able to enjoy a healthier reef system without as much hands-on time. The retailer benefits because the aquarist enjoys his or her success and stays in the hobby.”

Service Angle
For retailers that offer in-home tank care or consulting, automated equipment might be an obvious item to push for customers.

“I have a lot of customers who buy the controllers not for the automation, but they travel a lot for business, and they buy it for that Ethernet connection so they can sit on their smartphone while they’re away on business, and kind of look at what’s going on with their tank,” Absolutely Fish’s Furmanek said. “If there’s an issue, they call their maintenance guy that does their tank, and he can swing by and check everything out.”

Retailers find controller equipment indispensable when it comes to providing optimum customer service for their tank maintenance clients. 

“Most stores have an associated service business,” Neptune Systems’ Fugazzi said. “Putting this product into your service should be a no-brainer. People would not only like you to be able to monitor their aquariums, but more often you would want to, as it’s your responsibility to keep [their tanks] well. We have a lot of store owners who have found that out very quickly.” 

Marketing Considerations
Controller equipment is necessarily flashy, and often it ends up hidden in tank stands or behind displays. Retailers might need to make the effort to turn automated equipment and controller equipment into a conversation piece to draw customers in and encourage them to buy.

“The best approach is to have automation devices installed on the retailer’s systems and mounted in conspicuous areas where a customer will ask about it and where a retailer can demonstrate its usefulness,” Kipper said. “There is nothing more convincing than to see a device in action, in my opinion. Videos for online retailers would be good. And of course, word-of-mouth is very effective—if someone loves a device they’re using, especially in a hobby, they’re going to tell everyone they can about it.” 

By demonstrating controllers’ capabilities, retailers might be able to close the deal more easily than if they are relying on signage alone.

“The best way to promote an automated controller such as ours is to show off its capabilities,” said Dan Howe, assistant marketing director for Digital Aquatics in Woodinville, Wash. “Signage and promotional materials are useful, but nothing would beat having an actual tank and showing how it is essentially ‘being run’ by an automated controller.”


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