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Aquatic Marketplace: Drive Sales by Promoting Energy Efficency in Aquariums

Posted: August 29, 2012, 2:45 p.m., EDT


Catering to customers and helping them make aquariums efficient can grow the hobby and business.

Finding an angle to close a sale in a difficult economy can be important for an aquatics retailer’s bottom line, and it isn’t always enough to appeal to the aesthetic beauty of aquaria. After all, with high upkeep costs and, especially in the case of reef aquariums, expensive energy bills, many customers may shy away from new setups or system upgrades.

Store owners can beat this dynamic by offering customers the best of both worlds: new equipment and the chance to establish a new setup, along with energy savings and reduced maintenance costs. Usually, smaller setups and freshwater systems tend to be easier on the electric bill. High-end reef aquariums generally require more electrical usage and have bigger footprints.

LED lighting for Efficency
In-store lighting displays can serve as tools to educate customers about efficiency. Photo by Ethan Mizer/BowTie Inc.

Luckily, reef aquarium equipment and products are usually big-ticket items, which means retailers can make a lucrative sale and help a customer all at the same time. Alex Phelps, product specialist for Aquatop in Brea, Calif., a manufacturer of a full line of aquarium products, offered a hypothetical example of a possible sale.

“Theoretically, [an aquarist] could cut his yearly power consumption and power bill in half, potentially saving himself $800,” Phelps said. “That’s just enough money to set up another aquarium.”

Catching Customers’ Attention
There are savings to be had all around for customers, and even if retailers aren’t catering to the high-end reef market, they can offer their clientele an education in energy efficiency as a customer service opportunity. It isn’t always the case that the average customer will understand or care about is or her tank’s footprint, and this allows store owners to open up a dialogue, and the possibility to earn new business or an upsale.

“Aquariums by nature are typically more energy efficient than most people realize,” stated Ralph Cabage, CEO of Sicce USA in Knoxville, Tenn.
For the average customer, energy usage may not be a very big concern.

“My customers are more concerned about how well a light or filter does the job and how it looks, rather than how much energy it uses,” said Kevin Terwilliger, owner of KT Animal Supply in Bismark, N.D.

When beginning hobbyists approach retailers regarding new setups, making them aware of energy usage out the gate may act as a marketing tool for retailers and help retain their business in the long haul.

“When gas prices really peaked, we did have a few customers voice concerns, but as gas prices have declined, so have those concerns,” said Jim Gentile, owner of The Pet Shop in Allston, Mass.

Of course, energy usage occurs when keeping aquariums whether the price is high or declining. So, when retailers hear customers asking about energy usage, they can take the opportunity to get ahead of the market and retain customers. And aquarists with the largest, most elaborate systems are the ones who are likely to sound the alarm first.

“The only [aquarists] that seem to be at all concerned are the folks with the big reef tanks,” said Steve Vernon, owner of MV Pets in Portage, Mich.

In some extreme cases, the price of electricity can even drive reef aquarists to abandon the hobby all together.

“We have seen reefkeepers selling their big tanks because of the cost for electricity to run the metal halides, chiller and pumps,” said Kyle Petrick, aquatics manager for Pets Pets Pets in Somerset, N.J.

The task for retailers in this case is to help customers streamline their systems, keep them active in the hobby, and, if possible, retain their business in the process. After all, the bigger and more elaborate the tank, retailers reported, the larger the electrical usage required to keep it up and running. As such, the savings from focusing on energy efficiency can mount up.

Light at the Margins
Knowing what to offer, and what will produce the greatest savings for customers, is vital in helping them achieve their energy usage goals.

Aquarium Energy Efficency
LED setups have attracted much interest in the hobby, and pricing has come down. Photo by Ethan Mizer/BowTie Inc.

Though pumps, heaters and filters, which generally run continuously, are the biggest users of energy in an aquarium, these products may not be the best place to start when it comes to promoting efficiency, industry professionals reported. While there are gains to be made through using more energy-efficient pumps and equipment, aquarists can achieve a greater bang for their buck with aquarium lighting.

The biggest savings come from changing metal halide or fluorescent lighting setups over to light-emitting diode (LED) setups, retailers reported. And lighting is on customers’ radar, making this an easier sell for retailers.

“LED lighting is something that hobbyists know about, understand, and see operating in most of the bigger aquarium shops,” said Matt Eckler, manager of Krystal Clear Aquatics in Auburn, Mass.

In recent years, LED offerings have exploded, industry participants reported. There are now many offerings coming from both established manufacturers as well as new entrants to the market.

The European manufacturer GHL released its new Mitras LX 6000 series at the 2012 Interzoo in Nuremberg, Germany. The LED pendant setup is available in three LED configurations, includes a built-in control unit and the ability to fine-tune light output and spectrum, the manufacturer reported.

High-tech LED lighting has garnered a lot of attention, and is increasingly popular with aquarists.

“The LED option has really become attractive as the pricing has come down,” MV Pets’ Vernon said. “Customers already know about the energy efficiency of LED lighting, and they are seeing it in use, and for sale, in most aquarium shops now.”

There are a lot of options available for retailers to offer customers now, from simple strips of LEDs to elaborate units capable of customizing light output.

“The Radion LED light is an extremely efficient way to generate a full spectrum output for [a] reef aquarium,” said Patrick Clasen, director of finance for EcoTech in Bethlehem, Pa. “The Radion features 34 energy-efficient LEDs in five colors. Each color channel is controllable, which allows the user to customize the spectral output to really make their corals pop.”
 
Increasingly, as LED lighting is becoming standard in other areas of daily use, it is being recognized by  average customers and nearly everyone in the aquarium hobby, industry professionals reported.

“We’re starting to get customers specifically asking for LEDs,” Pets Pets Pets’ Petrick said, “We carry Marineland, Sunshine Systems and Aquatic Life LEDs.”

Most aquarium retailers said they expect LED setups to soon become the industry standard. Though T5 fluorescents and metal halides are the currently accepted standards, they can’t beat LEDs for efficiency.

“T5 HO fixtures are still very energy efficient, but not as efficient as LED technology,” said Mike Elliott, co-owner of Aquatic Life in Burbank, Calif., adding that the company’s LED fixtures come in both 0.5- and 1-watt versions.

Squeezing Sales and Savings
Pumps, filters and chillers—anything with a motor—use the most energy in an aquarium setting. Hobbyists don’t seem as cognizant of potential savings with these types of equipment, especially when compared to their general interest in new LED products.

“Customers just aren’t aware of those savings or asking about it,” Petrick said. “[pump and filter] manufacturers should promote their products for their energy efficiency, especially compared to older models.”

There is an opportunity for retailers to raise their customers’ awareness when it comes to pump efficiency. And knowing where competition is coming from can help retailers stay ahead of the game.

“Energy-efficient pumps and filters are usually the larger units, and these are not on our radar screen,” said Chip Beitel, owner of Plano Pets in Plano, Texas. “We never see those customers, as they’re buying everything off the Internet.”

Internet-based competition for equipment is fierce, and some retailers find they cannot compete.

“Reefkeepers are the only ones concerned about energy efficiency, and we don’t even try to compete on those items with the Internet,” said Adam Smith, owner of Adam’s Aquatics in Des Moines, Iowa. “We sell mostly 10- to 30-gallon starter kits, and we have very loyal customers.”

Knowing what’s available, and what may work best in a given application, can allow retailers to meet customers’ changing needs.

“With regard to water movement, we have seen hobbyists move away from one large main pump to a smaller pump for the main filtration system with supplemental internal circulation pumps, cutting back on the total power consumption with better water movement,” Aquatic Life’s Elliot said.

Reef Aquarium Efficency
Reef aquaria are known as the energy hogs in the hobby, and reef aquarists stand to benefit the most from electricity savings. Photo by Ethan Mizer/BowTie Inc.

Several manufacturers focus on energy efficiency, and are increasingly aware of this marketing angle, which is something retailers can use to their advantage when highlighting product specifications.

“We strive to make sure our products are as efficient as possible without sacrificing performance,” stated Brian Shavlik, eastern region manager for Hydor USA out of Sacramento, Calif. “We proudly display the consumption of our electrical items on the outside of packaging and in sales literature.

“Well-designed pumps not only use less power, but release less heat into the aquarium because of the pump’s efficiency,” Shavlik continued. “I think the hobbyists are now just starting to look for the energy consumption of products they are purchasing. I do not know if anybody actually calculates the annual costs or savings, but knowing that a product consumes ‘X’ versus ‘Y’ is starting to become a motivator for pumps with continuous duty.”

Often, pumps and lighting can act against a hobbyist’s goals by introducing waste heat into an aquarium. In cases where using more efficient pumps and lighting aren’t enough, customers may need chillers. Such units are designed to lower water temperature and are one of the biggest energy users in a reef tank. However, newer models are available that use less electricity.

“We are selling chillers in the 1/4- to 1/2-horsepower range, and the newer ones do have a lower power draw,” said Ryan Lincoln, sales associate for House of Fins in Greenwich, Conn. “They still use a lot of energy, so chillers are a great place to look for savings.”

There are also ways to save energy that do not come with any cost, but can be achieved very easily. In these cases, retailers can simply educate customers as an added benefit to them.

“A dirty pump when clean could produce 50 percent more water flow,” Aquatic Life’s Elliott said. “An algae-covered glass canopy can cut down on light transmission as much as 80 percent.”

There are plenty of opportunities out there to save money on the hobby from energy efficiency—primarily from LED lighting, but also from the newer pumps and filters available.

“I believe hobbyists are looking for products that function well and can help them save on their energy bill,” said Sean Raines, product manager—aquatic equipment for Tetra and Marineland, both divisions of United Pet Group, in Blacksburg, Va. “It is not enough to just be energy efficient. The product needs to be reliable and last a long time. If it doesn’t meet both of those requirements, it could end up being more costly in the end.”

Meeting customers’ needs and staying profitable is the ultimate goal, so balancing product performance and energy savings is useful when it comes to making sales. <HOME>



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