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Brighten Up Lighting Sales

New fixtures continue to gain traction, but traditional offerings still play a role in retailers’ strategies.


The aquarium lighting market has changed considerably over the past few years, with light emitting diode (LED) aquarium fixtures becoming the most common type offered in pet specialty stores. These LED fixtures continue to gain market share, but for some niche areas of the aquatics market, other lights are returning to popularity.

“Because of pricing, LEDs are probably leading in sales,” said Kurt Lund, president of Aquarium Outfitters Carolina in Wake Forest, N.C.

Though LED fixture prices have come down as their popularity and availability have increased, price point can still be an issue.

“We’re selling a lot of the LEDs,” said Abraham Jimenez, associate at Exotic Aquarium in Sacramento, Calif. “Tube lighting and the bulb lighting are completely outdated. The only thing that keeps people from buying LED lights is the price. It is a little bit pricier.”

These fixtures dominate the market for freshwater aquariums, where many prepackaged beginner setups include LEDs. They are also popular for saltwater and reef setups, but many reef aquarists still prefer metal halides.

“I’ve always had people that prefer halides,” said Douglas Yaxley, manager of Fishy Business in Longwood, Fla. “What it comes down to is that the people who are really serious about growing coral want halides. The people who want to have the newest and latest, they buy [LEDs]. … The best example is, looking at coral wholesalers, generally speaking, if they want to grow corals, they don’t put them underneath LEDs.”

Industry participants widely reported that LEDs don’t offer the same level of support for reef aquarium systems that metal halides do, and that demand has shifted slightly in favor of metal halides, at least among reefkeepers.

“[Customers] are not getting what they wanted from LEDs, especially with deep corals,” said Marc Rambod, president of Hamilton Technology in Gardena, Calif., which manufactures both LED and metal halide lighting for aquarium use. “Many people are kind of upset that they’ve spent so much money on these new fixtures … and they are not getting the result they want.”

He’s seeing demand increase slightly for metal halide systems, he noted, but was quick to add that he isn’t discounting the role of LEDs in the hobby.

“[Customers] aren’t moving away from LEDs,” he said. “There’s no question that … LEDs are the future. Every year, they’re getting better in terms of efficiency and lumens per watt, and the cost is going down. But the initial things that people expected [haven’t materialized].”

One commonly cited issue with LEDs is that they haven’t lived up to expectations of superior longevity. This hasn’t hurt sales just yet, Rambod noted, but it has impacted the reputation of LEDs with some customers.

“They don’t last, and [customers] get disappointed,” he said. “I see their point.”

Making Connections

New fixtures and bulbs continue to appear on the market, and both new LEDs and metal halide offerings are available.

Hamilton Technology will soon release a new metal halide that is designed to offer a higher photosynthetically active radiation value and slightly bluer light, said Marc Rambod, president of the Gardena, Calif.-based company

Various LED setups have also appeared on the market. One such LED fixture, the Orbit IC LED light with a Loop controller from Current USA, stands out for Douglas Yaxley, manager of Fishy Business in Longwood, Fla.

“I’ve been really impressed with that light,” Yaxley said. “Everything can be controlled from one main hub. It makes corals shine, and it’s got a great price point.”

He also called out modular LEDs from Aqueon. The manufacturer came out with its LED OptiBright fixture recently, Yaxley noted, which is a good candidate to replace older lighting options, such as T8 fluorescent bulbs.

Integrated fixtures featuring controller options are increasingly appearing on the market. Aquatic Life in South El Monte, Calif., is introducing a Wi-Fi version of its Reno LED fixtures in the next few months, said Michael Elliott, co-owner of the company.

These fixtures are designed to combine LEDs with wireless capabilities through users’ smartphones, Elliott noted.

“Connecting people’s worlds is what’s hot,” Elliott said. “More than ever, hobbyists seek out aquarium products that integrate into a system and can be controlled remotely using their existing devices.”

Other manufacturers noted the trend toward greater integration, and the inclusion of more features in a given fixture.

“While many aquarists—particularly reef hobbyists—still use high-output T5 and metal halide lighting successfully, the current trend in aquatics lighting is toward programmable LEDs, both for freshwater and marine applications,” said Karina Esquivel, brand manager for Central Garden & Pet Co. in Walnut Creek, Calif. “Features such as built-in timers, dawn/dusk ramping, increased output, seemingly unlimited spectral control and the ability to daisy-chain multiple fixtures to one controller are becoming mainstream.”

Greater flexibility and a desire for more control are driving this trend, industry participants reported.

“People want control of the lighting in meaningful ways,” said Sean Raines, director of aquatic marketing for Spectrum Brands Inc.’s Pet, Home & Garden Division in Madison, Wis. “They want help understanding the lighting needs of their aquarium and, at the same time, want to be able to control the way their aquarium lighting looks.”

A Guiding Hand

Depending on the segment of the aquarium market that retailers focus on, customers might be well versed in lighting options, or they could require a great deal of help in making a selection.

“Typically, most people don’t know exactly what they come in to look for,” said Abraham Jimenez, associate for Exotic Aquarium in Sacramento, Calif. “We do have to educate them, especially about what lighting will support what life.”

This varies substantially depending on the skill level of aquarists coming in to stores. For example, many reef aquarists are very knowledgeable about the technical details of the hobby. But other customers still need a guiding hand, industry participants reported.

“We’re probably one of the larger shops in the state, and we get a lot of people who have been in this hobby for a long time,” said Douglas Yaxley, manager of Fishy Business in Longwood, Fla. “They really know what they want, and no matter what I say, I’m generally not going to change their mind, and then we get a lot of people that come in looking for advice.”

Ultimately, the best way to effectively educate customers in need of assistance is to start a dialogue in store, and to make sure sales associates are well versed in livestock needs and lighting capabilities, industry participants stated.

Set a Prime Example

Showing off lighting options on attractive display aquariums in-store is the best way to draw customers’ attention and help drive sales.

“I definitely made a point to have different displays with different lights,” said Douglas Yaxley, manager of Fishy Business in Longwood, Fla. “We don’t want anything being redundant in here as far as lighting goes. We want everything to be different. That way, we can show [customers] the different styles.”

At the Exotic Aquarium in Sacramento, Calif., there are 13 display tanks of various sizes located in-store, said Abraham Jimenez, an associate at the company.

“We have little nano tanks,” he said. “The smallest one is a 5.5-gallon glow tank; people are really into those right now. Pretty much every display we have has a different light on it that’s still functioning for that specific system.”

This helps customers see what different lights are capable of, and it makes it easier to talk about what they’ll need to support different types of aquarium livestock, Jimenez noted.

The best advice is to have fixtures over every aquarium in the store, said Michael Elliott, co-owner of Aquatic Life in South El Monte, Calif.

“Even having a fixture over a dry tank will help sell the fixture,” he said. “With everyone carrying a smartphone, it’s easy for store employees to quickly turn a fixture on or off and demonstrate [its function] to make the sale.”

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