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Aquatic Marketplace: Promote Bettas to Grow Sales

Posted: September 28, 2012, 12:00 p.m., EDT

Whether it’s a kitschy aquarium or a miniature underwater sanctuary, new betta products can bring in new customers.

Consumers’ current lifestyles and budgets are creating a growing market for smaller aquariums and simpler maintenance. As a result, betta tanks have grown in popularity, as they brighten up drab offices and apartments without breaking the bank or violating a lease. They also generally require less care, and are often perceived as compatible with owners’ busy schedules.

Because of this, retailers have reported recently seeing a surge in sales of bettas and betta-specific products. And manufacturers are responding with new and innovative items to keep up the excitement.

Bettas are big sellers.
Retailers can take advantage of bettas’ growing popularity by displaying them in a variety of setups. Gina Cioli./BowTie Studio

“The betta category is getting bigger and bigger,” said Ivan Fielman, VP of national accounts for Penn-Plax in Hauppauge, N.Y. “More companies are introducing products specifically for bettas. The betta real-estate in the stores is increasing.”

Nano Na-New
Small aquariums have often served as a scaled-down way for customers to enjoy the aquatic world, complete with lower maintenance. With busier schedules and the need for less frequent tank tampering, nano systems are gaining in popularity.

“We have started selling a lot of the smaller aquarium setups,” said Mark Burd, owner of The Aquarium Store in Baton Rouge, La. “Lately, more of the small Aqueon Evolve [aquarium kits] have been selling well for us.”

However, not everyone has seen a rise in demand for simpler setups. Some stores have all but thrown traditional betta keeping—characterized by a simple bowl and light décor—out the window.

“I don’t carry tons of betta bowls,” said Joe Martin, operations manager for AquaTouch in Phoenix. “We carry a lot of Aqua Design Amano, smaller rimless high-clarity glass mini tanks. We utilize a lot of that.”

Other retailers also reported seeing growth in demand for non-typical homes for bettas.

“I would say [we’re seeing] more elaborate setups,” Said Emily Ellsworth, owner of Pure Pet in Salem, Ohio. “I do see that they are coming out with many of all-in-one integrated small betta aquariums.”

Various innovations abound in the marketplace. Where traditional betta enthusiasts have kept these fish in minimalist conditions, according to industry professionals, the market is now seeing a wider variety of products designed specifically for bettas. Manufacturers are thinking through old kinks in the original betta bowls to create something more user-friendly.

“Our betta tanks have a little plug on the bottom,” Penn-Plax’s Fielman said. “All the dirt goes to the bottom by gravity; the water trickles out of the drain and takes the dirt with it. You put the plug back on and top off the little tank, and you’re done.”

Betta accessories
A dedicated betta product section can garner customer attention and sales. Katie Ingmire/BowTie Inc. at Anaheim Feed & Pet Supply

Other innovations are directed at meeting bettas’ specific husbandry needs. Such products may provide retailers a new avenue of marketing products, effectively selling items customers didn’t know their fish may need.

“I like the small, submersible heaters from Zoo Med for bowls, because bettas like water warmer than room temperature,” said Norman Nemeth, fish specialist at Pisces Pet Emporium in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

One thing that varies between retailers is the popularity they see for natural-looking aquariums versus those decorated with cartoon characters and DayGlo plants. Whether carrying décor for one way, the other or both, it can add up to dollars at the register.

“We usually do glass cubes with a little stem of bamboo or peace lily to have a natural effect,” AquaTouch’s Martin stated. “I’m particular about making things look authentic even in a little micro tank. We tend to decorate with live plants and natural things.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, cartoon character decorations are perennial favorites with kids. And because bettas are considered to be beginner fish, and often require less care, they generally make a good sale to customers with kids who want to keep fish.

“Kids will buy a lot of that type of ornament like Sponge Bob or miniature Batman or Superman figures to go in there,” Nemeth stated.

Along with Sponge Bob, another aquatic cartoon character made an impact on the hobby a few years back, and is getting considerable attention again.

“We have the license to Disney’s Finding Nemo—which is being rereleased this fall in 3-D—and [we] designed a betta tank to go with it,” Fielman said.

Nice décor is popular, and can definitely help with sales, but add-on opportunities exist as well. A relatively new category has opened up: betta enrichment products. These items are designed to increase interactivity and stimulation for a fish that is often kept alone, retailers reported.

“The Zoo Med Betta Bed Leaf Hammock and Floating Betta Exercise Mirror are the most unique and innovative,” said Nica Davis, category manager for pet supplies with Pet Valu, a retail chain with locations in Canada and the United States.

Industry Voices
What’s the best way for retailers to market bettas and betta-
specific products in general to customers?

“Setting up a betta aquarium on or near the cash counter is a great way to catch the customer’s eye and entice them into purchasing a betta along with the necessary supplies.”
—Nica Davis, category manager for pet supplies for Pet Valu, a retail chain with locations in Canada and the United States

“I have my display right as you come in the door. [Customers] have to walk by them. We also have a special: buy a little tank and get a free betta. That works well, too.”
—Faye Glover, owner of Jolly’s Reef Shack in Jacksonville, Fla.

“Education is huge. It’s really important to have hands-on training for your customers. For someone [already] in the hobby, it’s a no brainer of how to set up a betta bowl, but it’s about the customer, and they don’t always know. They learn it and they get excited and they want to do it, and when they are successful, they are addicted to the hobby.”
—Norman Nemeth, fish specialist for Pisces Pet Emporium in Calgary, Alberta, Canada

“The biggest thing we do is keeping the tanks clean. When they are crystal clear, you sell a lot more.”
—Emily Ellsworth, owner of Pure Pet in Salem, Ohio

“We have a shelf right at our main counter and we put LED lights on top of them so it makes the colors pop out.”
—Mark Burd, owner of  The Aquarium Store in Baton Rouge, La.

The novel item attracts attention from customers, making it an easier sale.

“We have the leaf hammock and people seem to like that,” said Michael DeOliveira, freshwater manager for Absolutely Fish in Clifton, N.J. “It’s a suction cup attached to a fake leaf; it’s meant for the bettas to lie in.”

The product evolved through observation of betta habits, and may fill a hole in the marketplace, allowing customers who want natural accommodations for their fish to offer a platform without actually having to keep live plants.

“The Betta Leaf Hammock was designed as we saw fish perching in the plants and tank décor near the surface of the water,” said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator for Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

The Big Guns
Add-on sales items are great for retailers, but when it comes to large profits, repeatable sales items generally carry the weight.

“Betta food and water conditioner continue to drive the sales in the category,” Davis said.

Regardless of aquarium style, all betta owners need to feed their fish, which makes food items a hot ticket.

“We carry Zoo Med Dial-A-Treat, pellets and flakes,” said Faye Glover, owner of Jolly’s Reef Shack in Jacksonville, Fla.
There are a variety of offerings, and retailers reported a number of favorites they prefer to sell.

“I always recommend the Omega One pellets and freeze-dried bloodworms,” Pure Pet’s Ellsworth said.

Foods are available that have been formulated specifically for bettas, and have characteristics that encourage betta feeding. Also, they promote interaction at the time customers can actually directly stimulate betta behavior.

“HBH Betta Bites [manufactured by HBH Pet Products in Springville, Utah] are nice because they stay afloat longer and trigger the natural feeding response,” Martin of AquaTouch said.

This can help keep fish owners engaged with their fish and coming back in-shop for more of the same. With the trend to keep the species in bigger and better setups, customers also expect more interaction from their charges, retailers reported.
In general, the quantity of betta-specific products on the market has gone up, and high-end food items designed to support betta health are increasingly available.

“Betta Bio-Gold was developed after years of research,” stated Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA Inc. in Hayward, Calif. “Our intent was to try to develop a diet that would allow bettas to prosper in lower UV environments.”
Along with proper feeding considerations, the health of bettas is also a topic manufacturers are addressing.

“I like the Ocean Nutrition Atison’s Betta Food,” Absolutely Fish’s DeOliveira said. “I’ve noticed with this food it really doesn’t cloud the water as much.”

Water quality directly impacts fish health, and there are ways customers can address it beyond using specialty foods. Betta-specific water treatments allow customers to directly impact their fishes’ environmental quality.

“API betta fix is the most popular for bettas,” Nemeth of Pisces Pet Emporium said.

Because customers are likely to come back for water treatments as well as food, retailers have a lot of options when it comes to repeat sales.
“We get repeat customers bringing back an empty container and want more Betta Revive,” DeOliveira noted.

For a low-maintenance, hardy fish, a variety of products have sprung up to meet consumer demand. With bettas’ wide appeal and unique looks—not to mention their interesting and varied color and fin morphs—store owners have a lot of choices in how to best market products for these popular fish. <HOME>

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