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A Tiny Trend that’s Growing

Posted: December 22, 2011, 8:15 p.m., EDT

Nano aquariums are capturing customers’ interest and helping to bring business to retailers.

Nano aquariums have clearly made a niche for themselves since their inception in the hobby, and their ever-growing popularity has established them as a bona fide category in aquaria.

Opinions vary on a single definition for the term “nano tank” (in Greek, nanos means dwarf) because a system’s size can range anywhere from less than a gallon to 35 gallons and still be considered a nano. Nonetheless, a plethora of new shapes, unique designs and accessories for nanos are constantly emerging for these scaled-down versions of their larger predecessors, potentially boosting retailers’ sales across all retail customer demographic groups.

A Niche Approach

Nano Marine Aquarium

Nano marine aquariums appeal to customers seeking beautiful aesthetics in a small space. Clay Jackson/BowTie Inc.

“People living in smaller dwellings can’t afford to have a giant 90-gallon aquarium in their living room taking up a lot of space,” said Damian Hall, Marketing Communications Manager at Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corporation located in Mansfield, Mass. “They’d rather have a scaled-down, spectacular-looking aquarium that matches their décor.”

What has emerged in the aquatic industry is a clearly defined lifestyle trend among consumers who are living in smaller homes and want to own aquariums that function as living art and fit in with the décor of their home.

To fulfill this demand, manufacturers have introduced all-in-one aquarium systems to cater to hobbyists seeking a simpler setup.   

“What we’re offering in place of the larger aquariums of 60 gallons [is an aquarium] that you don’t have to put out in your garage,” said Manny Mandalia managing director of Innovative Marine in Cerritos, Calif. “You can actually put it in your living room, dining room or kitchen and it’s going to complement your home décor.”

That small package, along with aesthetic appeal, has turned average people into aquarists. Octavio Zamora, Assistant Manager of River City Aquatics in Austin, Texas, said many customers are turning to nano aquaria as accents for home and office.

“The 2.5 gallon desktop is probably our most popular model,” Zamora said. “It has that ‘wow’ factor, where people come in and are amazed that something so small and attractive can keep fish alive on a desk or kitchen counter.”

To be sure, in 2011 some of the largest trade shows in the world like Aquarama held in Singapore have featured nano aquaria as one of the hottest products in show. Major manufacturers such as Hagen have taken to doing nano aquarium focus groups for retailers in attendance at pet industry trade shows, explaining why nano tanks are different, discussing new customer profiles and characteristics, as well as technological advances that are leading to the category’s success.

Companies that manufacture accessories for nano tanks are enjoying huge growth in this category. With that growth in consumer interest comes product innovation.

“At some point, I think we’ll see more clip-on LED lights that support growth in planted nano tanks,” said Mary Ann Giorgio, marketing communications representative for Aquatop in Brea, Calif. “Of course, aquarium décor and media replacement for filters are things that we sell that are important to nano enthusiasts. But bulbs and UV sleeves have also become a really big category for us.”

The Lure of Marine Setups
For marine reef enthusiasts looking for a new challenge or even for novice hobbyists, nano reef aquariums are an attractive option. Chris Brightwell, president of Brightwell Aquatics in Catawissa, Pa. said he believes that nano tanks serve as a means for up-and-coming hobbyists to get their feet wet before making the transition to a larger, more challenging aquarium.

“Primarily, there is certainly the ability to get a marine system established for a relatively modest price,” Brightwell said. “But for the beginner, it gives them a chance to get the experience they need before they invest in a larger, more challenging system such as a nano reef aquarium, provided they have the space to expand.”

These miniature ecosystems have become as popular in the fish keeping community as full-sized marine aquarium setups, and with the proper information and tools, they can be set up and maintained by aquarists at any level. 

The smaller the tank is, the more that can go wrong, industry participants reported. Depending on what kinds of livestock are kept in the tank and in what quantities, nano environments can be much less forgiving than larger ones. Subtle temperature changes in a larger body of water can go virtually undetected, but a temperature variance of a few degrees can have a considerable impact on livestock living in a tank of only 20 gallons, for example.

The trick is to temper customers’ purchase decisions with their level of experience of goals for the system. Woody Wood, owner of Sea Horse Aquarium Supply in Portland, Ore., said he takes a common-sense approach to helping customers buy their first nano aquarium.
“There’s a lot more to the hobby than just the smaller, all-in-one tanks, but it helps,” he said. “If you don’t get good advice from your local store it doesn’t matter what you have to work with. And I take a lot of care in selling people exactly what they need, and I test everything I sell.”

Customer service and information are of utmost importance to nano hobbyists, and some stores are being very creative in their training of staff.

“I deal with a retail store in New Jersey that actually structures raises and promotions based upon whether an associate follows through and reads recommended books about their area of expertise, which is a great incentive for learning and growing in order to help do their job better,” said Scott Kohler, V.P. sales and marketing for Red Sea North America in Houston. 

Freshwater Breakthroughs
Although nano reefs first caught on with marine aquarists, a recent shift in popularity has seen freshwater nano tanks gain more attention on a global scale, in part due to new nano-suitable species emerging from the Far East and Southeast Asia.

“With the introduction of rare breeds of shrimp such as cherry shrimp and crystal shrimp, and smaller fish breeds such as rasboras and white clouds, these species are being bred more regularly, making them readily available to the freshwater hobbyist,” said David Hale, owner of Something Fishy in Cleveland.

YouTube and other Internet sites are chock full of videos, forums and blogs dedicated to planted freshwater tanks and the various new species available.

There is a growing interest in freshwater nanos, said George Lo, owner of Aquatic Forest Aquarium in San Francisco,.

“We specialize in planted tanks, and shrimp-keeping has become very popular with most of our customers who have planted nano tanks,” he said. “I think they’ve gotten popular because they’re fun to watch, they come in lots of different colors, and they can be easily bred.”

Even the most experienced aquarist with a family can see the value in owning a nano tank that doesn’t take up a lot of space, is beautiful and sufficiently challenging yet still has that “spousal approval factor,” because of its decorative appeal as living art and a smaller footprint. As we see the hobby opening up to people from all walks of life, we can only expect to see more growth in this category, as hobbyists share ideas and push the envelope toward keeping new breeds and experiment with new lighting and accessories for that optimum wow factor. <HOME>


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