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Catch the Species-specific Food Trend

Posted: September 23, 2011, 2:40 p.m., EDT

Catch the Species-specific Food Trend

Fish varieties have unique nutritional needs, and retailers can grow repeat sales rates with education and marketing.

By Maddy Heleine

Species-specific foods offer retailers another repeat-sales opportunity in a traditionally competitive marketplace.
Katie Ingmire/BowTie Inc.
In the constant battle for repeat sales, fish store owners focus on capturing a vital part of the aquatic products segment in terms of sales: fish foods. And with more aquatic species available in the hobby than ever before, the need is rising for nutritional offerings formulated to meet the needs of specific varieties and individual species.

Experiment to Profit
As with many other repeat sales items, competition for customers in this product space can be fierce. When it comes to advertising and selling species-specific fish foods, there are many helpful strategies retailers and store employees can utilize to close the deal.

“Retailers have many viable marketing and merchandising options available to help build customer loyalty and boost sales of species-specific fish foods if they choose to take advantage of them,” said Stephanie Catalfio, manager at Lou’s Pet Shop in Grosse Point Woods, Mich. “In order to build a financially sound business with a good reputation, owners and their employees need to be proactive about selling and displaying products that they have personally used.”

Because many retailers who carry aquatic products tend to have live fish in the store, owners can test products in-house and customers can observe employees feeding the products they sell.

“It is important for retailers to test foods on their stock fish to make sure that they are going to provide their customers with products that work,” Catalfio stated.

Other retailers reported using the same tactic, adding that testing is best before attempting to communicate with customers about these types of products.

“We are a specialty store and we sell many brands of species-specific tropical fish food products that we have personally tested in our store before talking to customers about them,” said Rick Marod, owner of Seascape Aquarium & Pet Center in Sarasota, Fla.

By figuring out what works for them, fish store owners can help ensure their customers succeed keeping a variety of different species, which is the linchpin for capturing their repeat business.

“We test and recommend good products like Omega One and Tetra species-specific foods so our customers will be successful,” said Jeff Steder, manager of Emmon’s Tropical Fish & Pond Center in Simsbury, Conn. “Retailers can set up a display of these types of foods and explain to customers that their fish can receive outstanding nutrition from products that are made with species types in mind. We are a smaller store, so word of mouth marketing is very important to us.”

Part of testing products on store livestock is getting the word out to customers, and announcing recommendations via marketing campaigns may help the effort.
“My regular customers can sign up to receive emails from my store so that they know what new products are available that we have tested and stocked,” Catalfio stated.

Bait with Education
However, before newer hobbyists may be willing to purchase specialty foods, retailers may need to educate them about the need for such products.

“Experienced hobbyists are more likely to automatically buy species-specific food, but beginners will almost always ask for and then take advice on what to purchase,” Marod said. “An important goal of retailers should be to make sure that their advice starts new hobbyists on the path to making good choices for the future.”

Customers aren’t the only ones who can benefit from education, either. In some cases, retailers may not be aware of the newest trends in foods, and may need to seek out new sources of information about what foods are available and what new species require nutritionally.

“Retailers should educate themselves on what their aquatic stock eats in the wild,” said Mark Lamon, vice president of Ocean Star International in Snowville, Utah. “They have to take a real interest in the hobby so that they have the knowledge to stock the proper foods and give correct feeding advice to customers.”

When fishkeepers figure out they will have better fortune with certain species by giving them nutritionally appropriate fare, they frequently become dedicated shoppers.

“Once consumers realize that they can get all the important dietary needs met for their fish by buying species-specific food, they will become loyal consumers,” said Cody Chapin, graphics/art department manager for Ocean Nutrition and San Francisco Bay Brand in Newark, Calif.

The process of educating hobbyists requires feedback, and retailers said it is wise to listen to clients about their experiences.

“We value our customer’s opinions and try to incorporate their ideas with our own to decide what species-specific foods are best for their aquatic pets,” said Terry Wright, sales employee at Aquarium Fantasies in Montgomery, Ala. “Listen to and work with customers so that your [fish food] stock reflects what consumers really need to keep their fish healthy.”

Industry Voices

What is the most important factor for retailers to consider when stocking species-specific fish food?

“Rotate your [fish food] stock by offering different types of species foods and occasional frozen and color-enhancing treats to customers. Know your target audience and show them that you care by educating them so that they can choose the proper product for the species they keep.”
—Stephanie Catalfio, manager at Lou’s Pet Shop in Grosse Point Woods, Mich.

“There is a wide of variety of consumer needs in the market so stock products accordingly. One customer may find general tropical flake works best for a community tank, while another will require a species-specific food for their marine angels.”
—Nick Kornbilth, senior brand manager for Tetra, a division of United Pet Group, in Blacksburg, Va.

“You can’t just stock your shelves with tons of products without knowing what is really good for tropical fish. Know the products you sell and stand behind them.”
—Rick Marod, owner of Seascape Aquarium and Pet Center in Sarasota, Fla.

“What works well in one part of the county may not be good in another, so know your local region. A retail shop in Ohio is probably going to have a harder time selling shark food than a tropical fish store in Florida.”
—Cody Chapin, graphics/art department manager at Ocean Nutrition and San Francisco Bay Brand in Newark, Calif.

“Work on marketing though good customer service. Learn about the items you sell so that you can pass on knowledgeable advice to consumers who depend on you to provide them with the best products available.”
—Jeff Steder, manager of Emmon’s Tropical Fish in Simsbury, Conn.

Go With What’s Local
Like many hobbies, there are regional trends in fishkeeping, and some species or varieties are particularly popular in different geographic areas. In these places, it behooves retailers to study the local market conditions and cater to the species that clients keep.

“Retail employees need to know what types of fish their customers keep, and they should also take the time to familiarize themselves and understand local geographic trends,” Catalfio said. “I know that many of my customers are students involved in keeping bottom feeders as part of their school class projects, so I stock products [such as] Tetra Veggie Algae Wafers to fill the huge need for this type of food among the local fishkeeping population. Instead of simply stocking whatever I can get my hands on, I provide foods that fill our regional niche.”

Ultimately, this marketing consideration is one of the most important aspects of selling foods for specific fish.

“Keeping track of what types of fish your customers keep is the first vital step in marketing and merchandising fish food properly,” said Nick Kornblith, senior brand manager at Tetra, a division of United Pet Group, in Blacksburg, Va. “Retailers should make sure they have a good variety of products that will cover all consumer needs. When it comes to emphasizing species-specific foods, they need to know what is needed and/or popular in their area to avoid wasted advertising and overstocking of items that do not sell well.”

When fish store owners begin keeping track of regional hobby trends, it often affects their food purchasing decisions.

“We realized that cichlid and beta foods are very popular in our area, so we started purchasing bulk food to cover that local niche,” said Jeanie Miller, owner of Fishy Business & More in Almont, Mich.

Once store owners and employees have a grasp of demand and local conditions in the hobby, proper planning and stocking are the next step to keeping sales alive and growing.

“Buying in bulk saves us money by eliminating packaging costs, and allows us to provide customers with quality food without carrying tons of different products.” Miller added.

Conditions may merit flexible tactics, however, and other retailers reported taking a different approach, choosing to keep a wide variety of foods, rather than a large supply of single offerings.

“We stock a lot of different types of food to cover all of our customers’ needs,” Wright said. “Omega Worm products are popular with customers so we stock what people like.”

Work Marketing Magic
After retailers connect with customers, educate them about the benefits of species-specific food offerings, and figure out what their best fish food stocking options are, success comes down to marketing products effectively.

“Once stock is obtained to match a local market, retailers need to make sure that their customers choose the right product,” Tetra’s Kornblith said, adding that a POP nutrition system that offers a number of components such as header cards, shelf strips, dividers and flip books, can help with this.

“When retailer’s shelves are decorated with these POP materials, consumers can see what types of foods are best for their fish,” Kornblith added. “For example, our cichlid species food cans are red in color, and the shelf strips underneath those products are also colored in red and labeled for cichlid use.”
Manufacturers offer a wide variety of POP materials, as well as different tactics for selling fish food products.

“We offer merchandising feeding charts to help retailers understand which foods are best for a particular species,“ San Francisco Bay Brand’s Chapin said. “We are also exploring the concept of putting stickers on tanks that would list the food products that will best benefit the species displayed in each aquarium.”

“A common marketing mistake is to describe all of the ingredients of a product without explaining the real benefits,” Chapin added.

“If you want to successfully promote products, you have to do more than just open your doors for customers,” Chapin continued. “Take the time to come up with innovative and fresh marketing campaign ideas by using websites, email and other media to highlight the best products. Build and decorate interesting display stands that will showcase species-specific foods so that customers can become familiar with them. The fun and informative marketing and merchandising possibilities are simply endless.”

Leveraging the web, including the use of emails and online marketing, is a useful tactic, retailers reported.

“The strategic use of sales ads and coupons in [our store’s] emails encourages customers to purchase the best species-specific dry and frozen foods on the market, which I personally recommend,” Lou’s Pet Shop manager Catalfio said.

Switching to species-specific food can take some time, both for the fish and for retailers attempting to carry the newest products. To help both cope with the difficulties, manufacturers offer special programs to help store owners get started.

“We have a feeding program for retail stores that will help owners transition their stock to species-specific foods,” Ocean Star International’s Lamon said. “Our program allows retailers to receive free buckets of our food to feed to their in-store fish.”

“We also have free sample packs that customers can use to try out our food,” Lamon added.

“In today’s economy, retailers should take advantage of programs that many manufacturers have to offer,” Lamon continued. “Call around to different companies and see how they can help you make your business stronger through samples, items and educational seminars. Retailer marketing and merchandising success rates depend on gathering knowledge, testing and taking advantage of all the options available.”


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