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A Growing Interest

Planted tanks are increasingly popular, and new offerings are encouraging sales.



The planted aquarium hobby is picking up momentum, especially in the nano tank space. Also, new substrates and traditional fertilizer offerings continue to sell well.

Though the space is relatively well defined, manufacturers are making minor changes to their lines in the substrate category.

“We’ve had [Fluval Stratum] for a while, but we actually just rebranded it,” said Chris LeRose, aquatic division manager at Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass. “It’s a Japanese volcanic ash in pellet form. We had it under two different brands, so we merged them together as Fluval Plant and [Fluval] Shrimp.”

Seachem in Madison, Ga., has introduced new packaging with its Flourite line, allowing for easier cleaning and setup.

“You cut [the new Flourite bag] bottom open and they’ve got a strainer,” said Ed Deane, store manager for Aqua Life aquarium in Rocklin, Calif. “All you have to do is run it under the water and it rinses itself.”

Beyond these line and packaging changes, traditional substrates still tend to do well and remain popular.

“I’d say [CaribSea’s] Eco-Complete in black and the Flourite Black are probably the No. 1 sellers,” Deane said.

Other retailers echoed that sentiment, and both products came up frequently in discussions of the most popular brands.

“We mainly carry Flourite by Seachem,” said Matt Foust, aquatics manager for The Aquatic Critter Inc. in Nashville, Tenn. “We carry Eco-Complete as well.”

Some retailers like to mix it up, though, and recommend different substrates depending on the application.

“There’s Flourite Red, there’s Flourite Black, there’s black sand,” said Chi Cho, co-owner of Pacific Aquarium and Pet Inc. in New York. “We also like to incorporate a little bit of natural sand with that.”

Cho doesn’t offer the EcoComplete brand, he said, but hopes to add ADA substrates to his offerings soon. 

Though Aqua Design Amano (ADA) products are well known in the planted tank hobby, many retailers reported not carrying them but wanting to add them to retail offerings. Others said that the product line isn’t right for their customers.

“We’re not an ADA distributor,” Deane said. “They’ve got great products. But a problem I have with the ADA soil is it is so light, you can’t make much of an incline with it. And the cycle period for the ADA soil is too long. As long as you’ve got a soil with enough ion exchange capacity, you don’t need to start it off with that many nutrients. That being said, it buffers the water really well, and it’s a proven product.”

Though there’s little innovation in terms of new formulations hitting the market, the tried-and-true offerings remain more than sufficient for most retailers and hobbyists.

“We only carry Seachem, because it’s my favorite,” Deane said. “We sell mostly Flourish Comprehensive, Excel and Iron. And then we sell the Equilibrium Acid Buffer and Alkaline Buffer. I do carry its whole line, but by far those sell more than the trace nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus singles.”

Various retailers reported success with Seachem’s line of fertilizers.

“Seachem products are what we sell the most of,” said David Kee, owner of Kee’s Aquarium & Pets in Shelby Charter Township, Mich. “Their chemical line is so good.”

Fluval, as well as other manufacturers’ lines, also have a place on retailers’ shelves.

“I have great experience using the Seachem line,” said Pacific Aquarium and Pet’s Cho. “However, I will probably bring in the Amano [fertilizer line] as well. We have great experience with both Seachem and Fluval lines. Fluval is better if you have a simple tank that overall won’t require CO2. Simple plants. Fluval works really well for that.”

Driving Trends
Several aspects of planted tankkeeping are popular right now, with nano tanks, shrimp setups and more naturalistic offerings—both in terms of live plant sales and more naturalistic artificial plant offerings—are showing growth.

“Our live plant sales have increased over the last six months to a year,” said The Aquatic Critter’s Foust. “It’s not that people are moving away from plastic plants, though. We still sell quite a few of those. I think people like the idea of natural versus a fake plant.”

Some kinds of artificial plants seem to be falling out of favor.

“I can remember having a 20-foot wall of Plantastic plants that I would order every week,” Kee said. “They’ve gone away, and we sell maybe a tenth the number of artificial plants that we used to. That has gone way down.”

The market is moving toward more realistic offerings, including silk plants, to meet demand for naturalistic setups.

“People are tending to get away from the plastic, artificial-looking ones,” LeRose said. “There’s a focus on more of a realistic looking plant, using a silk material. We launched our Fluval line last year. It’s very realistic.”

Planted nano setups are increasingly popular, and that trend dovetails with the growing interest in shrimp setups.

“Shrimp tanks are becoming more popular,” Kee said. “They go hand in hand with the nano setups.”

Shrimp thrive in a naturalistic setup, retailers reported, and the three trends—natural styles, shrimp setups and nano tanks—have combined to drive a specific niche in the hobby.

“People are doing a lot of planted nano tanks,” Deane said. “I’d say over the past year and a half, but especially over the past six months, they’ve been much more popular.

“Because of all the aquascaping pictures online, most of them are aiming for higher-tech tanks,” Deane added. “They like the low carpet [plants], and with that they need the brighter lights and the CO2 injection.

“[For] people who are doing planted tanks with caridean shrimp, I’m looking at the U.P. Aqua Shrimp Sand mostly,” he added.

The No. 1 advantage brick-and-mortars have over Internet-based competition is the ability to display stunning, jaw-dropping aquarium setups in-store to entice and inspire customers.

“[Customers] don’t even realize what kind of ecosystems and designs they can create [until] they come in and see our show tanks,” Cho said. “It’s very hard to tell when viewing on the Internet, but once it’s in front of you, it really changes your mind.”

“If we don’t have anything to demonstrate with, it’s very hard to sell anything on the shelf.”

Cho goes one step further, using in-store displays for demonstration purposes.

“It definitely helps to have a show tank demonstration,” he said. “If we don’t have anything to demonstrate with, it’s very hard to sell anything on the shelf.”

Keeping displays up front, especially nanos that are driving interest in the hobby, also seems to help.

“We’ve got a nice one on our front counter,” Deane said. “I’ve had a lot of people ask, ‘Is that real? I want to do that!’ I’d say having a nice display tank sells more than anything else we do.”

It might help for retailers to display substrate products more prominently as well.

“Get those substrates off the floor!” said Jud McCracken, sales manager for CaribSea in Fort Pierce, Fla.

“Showcasing them on endcaps and, better yet, in tanks, is the way to go,” he said. “A substrate is much more likely to gain attention if it is in a tank setup.”  

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

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