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Aquatic Marketplace: Alive and Swimming

Posted: January 27, 2014, 11:50 a.m. EDT


Recommending medications and treatments formulated to keep aquatic livestock healthy can build customer trust and sales.

By Anthony Stoeckert

One of the best ways to keep fish owners interested in and excited about the hobby is to ensure that their fish stay healthy, and many products on the market can help do just that.

Aquatic livestock medication manufacturers claim that their products can help fish overcome ailments that might result in a lack of appetite or energy. However, according to retailers, a good number of fishkeepers are unaware of these products and the medical reasons as to why their fish might not behave normally.

Possessing knowledge of these products, and their potential to keep fish swimming happily, is likely an opportunity to build solid relationships with customers and help boost sales.

For a Robust Tank
Some products target specific issues; others promote general fish health.

Knockout IP and Knockout BG, manufactured by Acurel, combine natural oils with the company’s exclusive Absorptol technology to rid fish of bacteria, fungus, ich and protozoa, according to Aaron Kline, sales manager for the Cranbury, N.J., company.

"Knockout IP is specifically for ich and protozoa; Knockout BF treats bacteria and fungus,” he said.

Aqua Meds
Staff can recommend products based on a fish’s symptoms. Katie Ingmire/I-5 Publishing at tong’s Tropical Fish & Pets

"Absorptol binds with oils and delivers treatment directly to fish for faster and more successful healing.”

Acurel also offers Bodyguard RX, a weekly vitamin booster and appetite stimulant, and Healthguard, a weekly electrolyte treatment.

"[Healthguard] is like Gatorade for fish,” Kline said. "It keeps their alkalinity levels up, which keeps stress levels down and promotes healthy immune systems. Healthguard also contains aloe vera, which boosts fish’s slime coat.

"Both Healthguard and Bodyguard RX contain the Absorptol vitamin and nutrient delivery system to take all the vitamins and nutrients in Bodyguard RX and Healthguard directly to the fish.”

It’s important to know which types of tanks these products can be used in, Kline said.

"Healthguard and Bodyguard RX can be used in both freshwater and saltwater tanks,” he said. "Knockout IP can be used in both as well, but not in reef aquariums. Knockout BF can be used in freshwater and saltwater tanks, and also is safe for use in reef aquariums.”

Malachite Green, manufactured by Fritz Pet Products in Mesquite, Texas, combats fungal infections of fish and fish eggs, and also treats many external parasites and protozoans; Methylene Blue reduces occurrences of bacterial infections and helps fight fungus on fish and their eggs, according to the company.

Fritz’s Chelated Copper Sulfate helps kill freshwater and saltwater ich, said Andy Ternay, technical sales manager.

"These products are for treating specific infections and infestations, and should not be used as preventatives, except in rare situations, such as using Fritz Methylene Blue on fish eggs to prevent fungal infections,” he said.

"For general health, the best thing that can be done is to keep the aquarium within normal parameters for the specific type of aquarium,” he said, adding that Fritz makes products that will correct ammonia and nitrite imbalances.

Fritz plans to introduce new medications.

"We are actively involved in research into advanced treatments for aquarium fish and expect to release several products in the coming months,” he said. "These new products will be safe for reef and planted aquaria.”

Retailer Recommendations
Retailers stock treatments and medications that they use themselves and can recommend to fishkeepers.

Ken Kilgore, manager at Atlantis Fish Shoppe in Clawson, Mich., said he recommends PimaFix and MelaFix, both of which are made by API, a division of Mars Fishcare in Chalfont, Pa.

PimaFix rapidly treats fungus or cottony growth, mouth and body fungus, and reddening of the fins and body, as well as internal and external bacterial infections, according to the company. The product, which can be used in freshwater and saltwater aquariums, helps with the transition from store to home by reducing the risk of disease in fish, the company stated.

Quarantine Aquarium
Encouraging customers to set up a "quarantine aquarium” can add to the bottom line and help establish long-term relationships with fish owners.
"Retailers should have inexpensive, basic, functional quarantine aquariums for sale,” said Andy Ternay, technical sales manager for Mesquite, Texas-based Fritz Pet Products. "The kit should include a simple filter, an air pump and aeration, a heater, a decoration for the fish to hide behind and a chemical ammonia remover.
"The ammonia remover is a key ingredient to such a setup because the medications used may adversely affect the biological filter, and quarantine aquariums often are not set up long enough for nitrification to be established,” he continued. "So ammonia must be removed chemically from the system in order to avoid ammonia poisoning.
Training customers to buy and use a quarantine aquarium not only means the sale of an extra aquarium; it also means fishkeepers are more likely to be successful and stay in the hobby, Ternay said.
"From the consumer’s perspective it means avoiding seeing potential aquarium wipeout when an infected fish is accidentally introduced into the display aquarium,” he added.
Fish owners should have a quarantine tank ready when giving medications to their fish, said Ryan Lincoln, manager at Aquatic Wildlife in Manchester, Conn.
"Owners should have a simple tank that can be set up to put fish in when medications are being administered, because medications can kill invertebrates,” he said. "You can use stronger medications in a quarantine tank than you can in a display tank.”—AS

API’s MelaFix, which also can be used with freshwater and saltwater fish, is formulated to heal wounds and abrasions; treat fin and tail rot, as well as eye cloud and mouth fungus; and promote regrowth of damaged tissue.

"Both can be used together in one tank at the same time, and they can be used in a reef tank,” Kilgore said. "You can also use them with other delicate fish.”

Smart Retailers Educate Customers
Retailers and manufacturers agree that customer knowledge helps boost sales. Fish owners can become just as attached to their pets as other pet lovers, and they want the best for them. When an owner expresses concern over a fish’s health, knowing just what products can help will aid in building customer trust and perhaps regular sales.

"Behavior and appearance are the best indications of fish disease or parasites,” Ternay said. "Fish hovering at the surface of the water, sunk down to the bottom of the aquarium almost motionless or appearing to scratch their skin against decorations and gravel are all cause for concern. Rapid gill movements are signs of stress and should not be ignored. Spots on the fish’s body, regardless of color or size, are a sign of parasitic infection. Patches of fuzz on the fish are usually a fungus.”

Ask customers to bring in photos of fish they suspect are in a diseased state so that educated staff can help recommend a course of action, Kline said.

There are plenty of warning signs, he added.

"Red flags include loss of appetite, stagnant or very little movement or activity, little white spots and scratching or brushing up against ornaments,” he said.

If a store’s employees are knowledgeable about fish illnesses and remedies, it’s only going to help increase sales of these products.

"Perhaps more than any other area in aquatics, this is where consumers seek guidance from the retailer on what to do and how to deal with illness, parasites and open wounds on fish,” Ternay said. "Online forums can be very confusing for the consumer when it comes to medications, and consumers instead turn to retailers for aid.”

Employees should be aware of freshwater and saltwater ich, ammonia poisoning, and bacterial and viral infections, Ternay added.

"Staff should be ready with treatment suggestions,” he said. "The initial ammonia/nitrite cycle is a critical opportunity for the retailer to build a relationship with the consumer, which helps ensure that the consumer will return to that retailer for future needs. If the consumer has the impression that employees are not knowledgeable in these areas, the consumer will take their business elsewhere.”

Knowledgeable staff members help boost sales and keep pet fish alive, agreed Ryan Lincoln, manager at Aquatic Wildlife in Manchester, Conn.

"You must know the cause of whatever the illness is and help customers who don’t have the experience of knowing a sick fish,” he said. "Staff members should be able to diagnose an ailment from a description and recommend the right medications.”

Aquatic livestock medications are a big part of business at House of Tropicals in Glen Burnie, Md., said Ray Owczarzak, fish room manager, adding that the brands the store focuses on are API, Kordon and Ruby Reef.

"Knowledgeable staff at your local mom-and-pop shop have probably been fish geeks since they were 7 years old and are more than happy to help,” Owczarzak said.

People don’t bring fish to a vet, he added, so a smart staff is a good way to develop long-term relationships with owners who care about their fish.

"A lot of people don’t know [about fish ailments], and they call and say, ‘Oh my god, something is wrong with my fish,’” he said. "And we have them describe it and ask for a photo. We can usually determine it by sight for the most part.”

For example, he said, red blotchiness is a sign the fish has been scratching on something in the tank and has a bacterial infection, eye problems are indicators of a parasite, and white buildup likely means the fish has fungus.

"The main thing as a retailer is to steer people to the right medications,” Lincoln said. "Everybody just assumes that it’s always a parasite. Sometimes it’s fungal or viral, and that can be hard to distinguish without a picture; even with a picture it can be hard.”

One tip from Acurel’s Kline is for retailers to make new fish owners aware that there is an ecosystem of bacteria in fish tanks.

"Sometimes when new hobbyists are setting up their first tank they just want to get fish in it,” he said. "They should realize that it is very dangerous to their fish if they do not first build up this ecosystem of friendly bacteria in the tank. This friendly bacteria gets rid of the very harmful ammonia, nitrates and nitrites in the tank.”

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