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Aquatic Marketplace: Bringing a Tank to Life

Posted: May 30, 2014, 11:20 a.m. EDT

With the right décor pieces, aquariumkeepers can build riveting displays.

By Anthony Stoeckert

Décor can make the perfect finishing touches to an aquarium. It’s up to retailers to offer a range of products to satisfy customers’ design desires, with everything from natural or artificial plants and rocks to fun cartoon characters and sports-themed figurines.

The classic choice seems to remain basic plastic decorations. They last longer, especially in saltwater, compared to products made of felt, said Mike DeOliveira, a manager at Absolutely Fish in Clifton, N.J.

"We get in some really nice tall grasses that are made of plastic and look pretty natural,” he said. "We always carry different types of rocks; a lot of people like to make their own (environment) out of rock and give it a more natural look.”

Driftwood is popular for plants and aquariums and angel fish tanks, he said. The store carries various sizes because some people like small "twiggy” pieces, while others prefer bigger pieces, he added.

"We try to have it all,” De- Oliveira said.

That Natural Look
Dean Zesses, owner of Atlantis Fish Shoppe in Clawson, Mich., said his store carries rocks, plants and kids’ favorites such as mermaids and cartoon characters.

When it comes to those cartoon characters, retailers need to think carefully about what they’ll order, because the popular character of today could be forgotten before you know it, Zesses said.

 Aqua Decor
Sherri L. Collins/PPN LLC at Nature Pet Centre

"Most people want natural-looking things like rocks,” Zesses said. "A bridge wouldn’t be so bad, but mainly rocks and plants that look natural (are what people want). Then the kids want brighter colors or pop culture-based items.”

Zoo Med Laboratories in San Luis Obispo, Calif., offers aquarium décor products that are about more than looks, said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator.

"Our naturalistic-looking Floating Aquarium Log is great for all aquarium fish, newts and frogs,” she said. "It can help reduce stress by providing security and comfort for animals that like to spend their time at or near the water’s surface. The log is bottom-weighted, allowing newts, frogs and mudskippers to climb on top of it without the log rolling over.”

Zoo Med’s AquaLog Fish Shelter is a sinking log designed to help promote beneficial bacteria with its textured surface. Made completely of eco-friendly resin, it is natural in appearance and provides shelter for animals, Rademacher said.

Offer Enrichment
Lifegard Aquatics in Cerritos, Calif., offers its Underwater River, designed to be attractive and beneficial for fish. Its bubbles create a riverlike effect underwater, said Neal Dulaney, president. It comes in two sizes, small for tanks up to 20 gallons and medium for tanks up to 40 gallons.

"This product includes the air pump, which benefits the aquarium by adding oxygen and creating water circulation,” Dulaney said.

Python Products in Milwaukee sells Hideaways and Pleco Tubes, which can be used in freshwater and saltwater tanks for fish, lizards and snakes, and for small mammals, such as pet mice, said Lance Reyniers, company president.

"Ours are (made of) Utah clay, and they are hand-finished, so there are no two ever alike,” Reyniers said. "These are great hiding places and breeding places for the fish. They are totally natural looking and all naturally made.”

Catfish Care
Catfish are known to be shy and nocturnal, so they have their own needs, and the right décor can help them thrive. Zoo Med’s Ceramic Catfish Log provides resting and hiding spots for different catfish species and other shy, nocturnal fish, Rademacher said.

"Zoo Med’s Mopani Wood is a beautiful two-color African hardwood,” she said. "This attractive wood has smooth surfaces, textured detail and unique mottled color, and sinks immediately, as it is one of the hardest, densest woods available. This all-natural wood leaches tannins, which can be very beneficial for some species of fish and aquatic plants.  Zoo Med’s Aqua Tree utilizes our natural Mopani Wood attached to a base to help provide vertical décor in the aquarium.”

Especially for Betta Fish
Betta, too have unique needs. They can get bored and inactive, and Zoo Med has products that are designed to help keep betta fish swimming happily.

The company’s products include a leaf hammock, which its website describes as being a "naturalistic reef” for betta fish to rest on, and a floating exercise mirror. According to the website, betta fish see their reflection in the mirror and react, which gives them exercise and decreases boredom.

Other products in its betta line are its Floating Betta Log, Ceramic Betta Log, Betta Backgrounds and Betta Plants.

"These items were all made with the smaller, species-specific aquariums in mind,” Rademacher said. "The Betta Bed Leaf Hammock can be in the tank to allow surface bettas to rest near the surface of the water. The Floating Betta Log, Betta Plants and Ceramic Betta Log are appropriately sized for tanks one gallon and up, and help provide fish with a comfortable, secure habitat.”

Show Some Spirit
New York-based Pets First, which specializes in sports-themed pet products, offers NFL aquarium decorations for certain teams, such as the Steelers and Cowboys. The offerings include a helmet ornament, a goal post ornament and a team logo ornament.

DeOliveira said he prefers natural-looking items, but Absolutely Fish does offer fun decorations, including castles and alligator-shaped air pumps with mouths that open, he said.

"They provide territory where fish can hide,” he said. "You can’t have so many decorations that the fish can’t swim, but you want enough to where they don’t see each other all the time so there’s less  fighting.”

Driftwood From Around the World
Absolutely Fish’s DeOliveira said driftwood is good for discus and angel fish because it releases tannins that are found in South America and can make water more acidic. However, the more colorful African cichlids shouldn’t be in a tank with driftwood, he said.

For African tanks, he recommends rocks, such as Texas holey rock and lava rock, which can increase Ph levels.

"You need to try to replicate their natural environment, and sometimes things like rock and wood will do that,” he said.

A knowledgeable staff can help ensure customers are buy the right products. DeOliveira said it’s likely that new fish owners won’t know, for example, which type of driftwood should go in a tank.

Marketing Ideas
Use aquarium décor products in displays to show animals benefitting from the décor pieces, Rademacher said.

Zoo Med has videos of its products on its website,, and on YouTube at www Stores can share the videos on their websites or in-store.

One of the big selling points for Python’s products is that they can be scrubbed, even with bleach, and that they can be placed next to each other to create a mini "condo-type” community in a tank, Reyniers said.

Another factor Python promotes is that its products are made in the USA, Reyniers added.  



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