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Tank Sales Trends

Aquariums and kit sales are helping keep retailers in the black as new offerings create interest and feed hobbyists’ needs.


High-end, larger aquariums as well as smaller, nano-sized setups and kits are strong sellers, and offering options on both ends of the spectrum helps to entice customers and grow business, pet specialty retailers report.

Generally, hobbyists opt for very large aquariums above 90 gallons in volume on one end of the spectrum or nano-sized aquariums on the other, according to retailers. 

“Customers are either looking for big tanks, meaning they want a 125- or 180-gallon tank, or a small nano tank,” said Drew Troia, manager of Amazing Aquarium in Daytona Beach, Fla. “They either want to go very big or very small. The 75- to 90-gallon tanks are very unpopular right now.” 

The makeup of a given retailer’s customer base is the determining factor, and some skew toward one end of the spectrum or the other.

“We do a lot of larger tanks here,” said Mike Simms, co-owner of Critter Pet Shop in Allen Park, Mich. “I don’t sell a lot of the nanos. Nanos sell, but not like the larger tanks.”

Kits are also increasingly popular with customers seeking turnkey solutions with less hassle. 

“Customers like kits more because they don’t have to put it all together,” said Lana Mena, manager of Aquarium Center in Clementon, N.J. “Especially for the 10-gallon size, if they see a 10-gallon kit and it comes with [all the equipment], they are definitely more prone to get that setup.”

Design-wise, rimless aquariums are currently very popular, which dovetails somewhat with the nano trend, as these types of aquariums tend to not be available in larger sizes.

“There are a lot of people looking for rimless aquariums, though they don’t come that large,” said Mike Hresko, owner of House of Tropicals in Glen Burnie, Md. “The maximum size I have is a 75-gallon rimless.”

Aesthetic considerations could be driving the trend toward nano rimless aquariums, as they’re relatively sleek-looking and attractive. 

“Smaller tanks that are wider are popular right now,” Mena said. “[Manufacturers are] making these nano tanks that are wider and rimless. People are really attracted to the rimless tanks.”

New Products

Introductions in Aquariums

There are several new aquatic tanks available in various sizes, and many nano aquariums and kits have appeared on the market recently. 

Aqueon, manufactured by Franklin, Wis.-based Central Aquatics, introduced Aqueon Princess Castle Kit, a half-gallon acrylic tank designed for younger hobbyists. It features a pink castle-shaped top, purple spires and pink flags. The company’s LED MiniCube 1.6 desktop aquarium starter kit includes LED lighting, an internal filter, and food and water care samples.

This year, Aqueon also launched the Tri-Scape LED Aquarium Kit. The triangular 3-gallon, all-glass desktop tank is equipped with concealed LED lighting and an internal filter. The company has also added a 5.5 gallon with a low-profile LED hood, a filter, food and water care samples, and a setup guide. 

“Customers want aquariums with unique and interesting shapes and dimensions, something different from the conventional rectangular or cube-shaped tanks of the past,” said Scott Rabe, director of marketing for the company. “Small desktop aquariums continue to be appealing, with peninsula tanks, vertical bowfront, angled front, and drop-off bottom designs becoming increasingly popular.”  

Paludariums, which feature a mix between dry and wet habitats, are also increasingly popular.

“We are very excited to announce the Paludarium and Paludarium Habitat Kits,” said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education director for Zoo Med Laboratories in San Luis Obispo, Calif. “These tanks come in two sizes and incorporate a vertical terrarium with a nano aquarium all into one habitat.” 

The habitats are available in two sizes, including a 12-by-12-by-24-inch setup with a 4-gallon water feature, and an 18-by-18-by-36-inch setup with a 10-gallon water feature. These tanks will also be available as kits.

“People are interested in creating natural habitats that may focus on a different part of the environment,” Rademacher said. “The paludarium takes into consideration the water’s edge where there are aquatic, terrestrial and arboreal living spaces.”

Category Sales Report

Facing the Competition

Aquarium sales offer pet specialty retailers some insulation from online and big-box competitors, industry insiders report. Meeting customer demand means stocking something competitors will have a hard time providing.

“This year has been a really good year all around, and with aquarium sales for sure,” said Mike Simms, co-owner of Critter Pet Shop in Allen Park, Mich. “We don’t see as much competition with tanks, but more with tank supplies. Customers are going to the stores for the tanks and the kits, and then they are [shopping for supplies] online.”

Small kit sales are more impacted by online competition, however.

“I see some [customers] ordering smaller kits online, because larger tanks are harder to ship,” said Mike Hresko, owner of House of Tropicals in Glen Burnie, Md. “That impacts us a little bit.”

In some cases, aquarium sales are essentially loss leaders that keep customers coming back for livestock and supplies.

“We make more profit on a bigger tank because we’re doing most of the work as far as the carpentry and fitting the tank and everything like that,” said Drew Troia, manager of Amazing Aquarium in Daytona Beach, Fla. “There’s a lot more profit to be made in that margin. [However,] when it comes to a small tank, we usually bring them in for as close as possible to what we’re supposed to sell them for, based on our MAP prices. We make most of our money off of water, livestock and live rock.” 

The industry is changing, and aquatics retailers are still feeling the impact of competition from online vendors. But aquarium sales could be the key that helps many stay afloat. 

“The retail side of the business is probably the dinosaur of the industry right now,” said Mike Calli, president of Global Aquatics & Pet Supplies in Ontario, Calif. “You have to help customers understand what they want before they spend money, but for that you need to help them get confidence. They go on the internet, and they come into the store so confused. They don’t know where to start. This is what’s kept me in business for years. I put an 80 percent emphasis on livestock and a 20 percent emphasis on marketing. That’s the key. Until I sell the tank, I can’t sell them anything else.”


Tank Appeal

Aquariums naturally take up a lot of a pet specialty retailer’s floor space, but setting up attractive display tanks can be key to generating sales. 

“We put up a good display tank with a 7-foot-long aquarium and the whole nine yards,” said Mike Calli, president of Global Aquatics & Pet Supplies in Ontario, Calif. “That’s the first tank people get excited about. Now, they’re going to have to downsize to their budget, but by the same token, it gets their interest, and that’s where you have to start. … I see a lot of smaller stores that don’t want any out-of-pocket expense, but you’ve got to spend money to make money. You’ve got to get customers excited.”

Live animals and attractive habitat displays also help support sales overall. 

“We decorate our display tanks,” said Lana Mena, manager of the Aquarium Center in Clementon, N.J. “We have tanks setup for different species or types of fish. We’ll keep a community tank with plants in it so we can show people how to handle a planted aquarium. We have an African cichlid tank, a South American tank and [others] so people can see what their true potential is when fish are older.” 

These tried-and-true display methods help keep aquarium sales going, according to retailers.

“We’re lucky that we have some higher-end customers and we can turn sales of larger aquariums,” Calli said. “We’re doing pretty well with aquascaped desktop aquariums, too. That’s the problem for fish store owners. We’ve got to increase turn.” 

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