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Aquatic Experience Chicago Attendance Up 30 Percent

Only three years ago, the Aquatic Experience was an exhibit at America’s Family Pet Expo in Orange County, Calif., showcasing how aquariums can fit into any home or office.


Piggybacking off of last year’s successful debut, Aquatic Experience-Chicago returned to the Schaumburg Convention Center in Schaumburg, Ill., Nov. 7 to 9.

The event was heavily promoted in Chicagoland newspapers, on social media, on local television and even on a billboard floating above a major highway. Vendors and World Pet Association (WPA) staff, who put together the show, were hopeful that this year’s show would eclipse last year’s in every way.

They were not disappointed.

For starters, there were 125 vendors (65 of them new) compared with 80 in 2013, for an uptick of 56 percent.

Three-day attendance figures jumped nearly 30 percent, from about 3,700 in 2013 to more than 4,800 this year.

“We’re incredibly pleased to have exceeded our own expectations as well as the expectations of the vendors, retailers and consumers with this year’s turnout,” said Doug Poindexter, WPA president.

Plans already are underway for Aquatic Experience-Chicago 2015.

Only three years ago, the Aquatic Experience was an exhibit at America’s Family Pet Expo in Orange County, Calif., showcasing how aquariums can fit into any home or office.

At that time, the WPA’s Aquatic Committee, comprised of aquatics industry professionals, made the decision to elevate it to full trade show status. 

A hallmark of the WPA is that after every show, the organization goes through vendor and attendee feedback in an effort to make future shows even better.

Breaking the Mold
So far, the Aquatic Experience model of “everything aquatic under one roof,” where marine, freshwater and pond enthusiasts—manufacturers, retailers and hobbyists—congregate together for a weekend is the only event of its kind in the U.S.

Indeed, most aquatic events try to play to their base.

One way the WPA keeps a show such as the Aquatic Experience fresh is by constantly adding new things. New this year:

·      Fancy Guppy Competition

·      Aquascaping Live! Contest

·      The Florida Tropical Fish Farms Association of Gibsonton, Fla., displayed 130-plus aquariums, housing more than 100 species of fish, along a wall in the convention center  

·      a children’s touch tank complemented the Fish From Around the World exhibit

Contestants in the Guppy Competition, presented by the International Fancy Guppy Association (IFGA) and sponsored by the WPA, vied for $1,500 and certificates for the top three places in seven categories.

In the Aquascaping Live! Contest, presented by the Aquatic Gardeners Association (AGA) and sponsored by Fluval, an aquatics brand of Montreal-based parent company Rolf C. Hagen, competitors chased $3,900 for the top three spots in the individual small-tank contest and for the top three teams in the 75-gallon-tank challenge.

Cheryl Rodgers of the AGA said the contest was modeled after the famous The Art of the Planted Aquarium contest held in Hanover, Germany.

“We would really like to get started on something like that here in the United States,” she said.

Nex-Gen Aquarists
It quickly became apparent walking the Aquatic Experience show floor that kids were the focus rather than an afterthought.

Kid-friendly activities, such as The Live Shark Encounter and Kids’ Aquarium Contest, were everywhere.

“There are 350 species of sharks, most harmless, so we want to take the fear out of the way people think about them; we do that by interacting with them,” —Philip Peters, owner of The Live Shark Encounter, Sarasota, Fla.

The Kids’ Aquarium Contest, sponsored by Seachem Laboratories, a manufacturer of aquarium conditioners based in Madison, Ga., and United Pet Group, a manufacturer of brand-name pet products based in Cincinnati, gave budding fishkeepers a chance to decorate an aquarium any way they saw fit; the best part was that they got to take their aquarium creations home with them.

Kelly Carevic of the Greenwater Aquarium Society, an aquarium club that meets in Alsip, Ill., took some time away from her club’s booth to admire the kids’ aquariums.

“They’re genius,” she said about the kids’ creations. “I would have never thought to put Barbie furniture in a tank … but it’s really cool to see that you don’t have to do just rocks and driftwood.”

During the show, the Chicago Tribune wrote online about the Aquatic Experience that “it’s just like the Shedd Aquarium on a smaller scale but just as cool.”

A Call to Action
Probably the most important event held at Aquatic Experience-Chicago 2014 was the State of the Aquarium Industry Town Hall.

Marshall Myers, who is a senior advisor for the Washington-based Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), along with a distinguished panel of industry leaders, laid out the threats currently facing the industry and the hobby, and there are many.

Myers and others such as Chris Buerner, president of Quality Marine, a Los Angeles-based distributor of marine ornamentals, called on manufacturers, distributors and retailers to become PIJAC members if they aren’t already, as well as to donate to PIJAC’s Aquatic Defense Fund (ADF).

Likewise, hobbyists were urged to keep up with the latest aquatics news at pijac.org/adf, to pay attention to Alerts, and to correspond in their own words and with detail to the agencies listed in the Alerts; to pass along important news to other hobbyists via social media; and to contribute to the ADF by joining what Myers calls the “circle of support.”

Giving Back
Vendors at the show donated some $30,000 worth of aquarium products that were raffled off over three days for the Aquatic Experience Raffle, said Alexis Barratt, WPA sales and sponsorship coordinator.

The combined three-day haul was more than $9,700 to be shared between the Coral Restoration Foundation of Key Largo, Fla., which replants corals on Florida reefs, the ADF and Pets in the Classroom, an Abingdon, Md.-based educational grant program helping teachers put reptiles, fish or small animals into their classrooms.

Hikari Sales USA, an ornamental fish food manufacturer with U.S. operations in Hayward, Calif., raised nearly $2,000 for Pets in the Classroom through its Betta Toss game, where kids tossed Ping-Pong balls into cups for a chance to win a real betta to take home as a pet.

Bob Strube, a member of the IFGA and Guppy Associates International Chicago who came for the Fancy Guppy Competition, encouraged his daughter and son-in-law to bring his grandchildren, ages 5, 7 and 9, to the show.

Strube’s grandchildren all won bettas.

“I bought the bowls,” he said.

“How exciting it was to see all these potential new hobbyists at the show inquiring about fishkeeping,” said Jeff San Souci of Fluval. “This show is a breath of fresh air for the aquatics industry.”


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