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Aquatic Marketplace: Filter Tech Adds Profit Potential

Posted: April 26, 2012, 10:15 a.m., EDT

New products and consumer education may help retailers battle competition and recapture market share.
By David Lass

Filtration products are necessities when it comes to keeping aquariums, and can therefore act as high-dollar sources of profits, retailers reported. There are opportunities for repeat sales with some filters in the form of replacement cartridges, and because both new and experienced hobbyists may want upgrades and the latest technology, every customer can represent the opportunity for an add-on sale. But pricing and competition is a major consideration in offering these products.

“Many customers will come into the store having done their research about filters on the Internet,” said D.J. Ducharme, fishroom manager for Little Critter Pet Center in Raymond, N.H.

Several retailers stated that not only do potential customers research which filters to buy using the Internet, but they are also comparison shopping.

Reef Aquarium
Reef aquariums require strong filtration, and customers will need to purchase various products and systems capable of supporting the tank’s demands.Sherri L. Collins/BowTie Inc.
“We often get customers holding a printout from a website, and asking us if we can meet the price,” Ducharme said. “I always point out that the Internet price has to have shipping and handling added. I also make them aware that if they have a problem with anything they buy from our store, they know where to go to get it fixed, as opposed to trying to get it fixed from the other end of their computer.”
Equipment Trends
Manufacturers are continuing to make small improvements and tweaks in existing products, and there are some new filters just entering the market. As these new products appear, retailers have the advantage of testing them and using that information to educate clients and potentially improve the chances of a sale.

“We try to test new filters before we sell them,” said David Hale, owner of Something Fishy in Cleveland, Ohio. “We are the ‘Consumer Reports’ of aquatics.”

On the other hand, manufacturers are constantly doing research on what hobbyists want.

“We have found that people are looking for filters that are compact and well-suited for nano-sized aquariums,” said Alex Phelps, product specialist for Aquatop of Brea, Calif. “Nano tanks are quite the rage now, and it is a great opportunity for retail stores to cater to that market.”

Smaller tanks are popular in part due to their perceived ease of upkeep, industry participants reported. Part of this trend has to do with aquarists’ desire for easier tank maintenance and convenience in general, and extends beyond the nano tank market. Manufacturers are developing filter innovations to meet this demand, as well.

“[Our] new filter, the Pro 3e…in addition to all the standard Eheim features…can be controlled electronically by the touch pad or connected to a PC using a USB port,” said Daniel Stopnicki, president of Eheim North America, a division of Eheim GmbH & Co., located in Dollard-Des-Ormeaux, Quebec, Canada.

The new filter also features a constant flow mode, in addition to a wave-making mode. The constant flow mode is designed to keep flow steady over long-term use.

“The filter adjusts the flow rate based on the amount of clogging of the media to maintain a constant pre-selected flow rate, sort of like cruise control on a car,” Stopnicki stated. “What this does is it extends the time between cleanings and…keeps the flow rate from diminishing over time.”

Also new in 2012, the company’s Pro 3 series will be expanded to include a version of the filter designed with a built-in electronic heater and a digital thermostat, Stopnicki added.

Industry Voices
What do you look for in an aquarium filter you plan to sell?

“We stock primarily canisters and hang-on-back filters, and what we sell depends on the size of the customer’s tank, and their pocketbook.”
—Jeff Nethers, owner ofWinchester Aquarium & Pet Center, in Winchester, Va.

“Reliability, efficiency, and quiet operation are my primary criteria. I’m a big fan of a sump, especially for larger tanks, because they are simple to set up and operate. They also take most of the clutter and noise away from the tank itself.”
—John Music, general manager of Pet Palace in Clarksville, Tenn.

“I look for flexibility, durability and ease of use. We have an example of any filter we sell working someplace in the fishroom. In addition to quality of construction and ease of cleaning it, for any filter we want to have few parts, and parts that can be easily gotten.”
—Marshal Huneven, fishroom manager for Lebanon Pet and Aquarium Center in West Lebanon, N.H.

“I’m old fashioned. I don’t like throw-away cartridges. I know I am losing business in replacement cartridges, but the hobbyist’s tank will be healthier if they just wash out their dirty cartridges in some water from the tank, keeping the good bacteria.”
—Jayd Joslyn, owner ofAquarium World of Indianain Lafayette, Ind.

“It’s simple. We want to sell filters that keep a tank as clean and clear as possible, with as little work on the part of the hobbyist to clean and maintain it.”
—D. J. Ducharme, fishroom manager of Little Critter Pet Center in Raymond, N.H.
Retailers reported focusing both on carrying products that will meet customer demand, as well as offering filters and related products that are simpler to maintain and keep running.

“We really like API’s Nexx Filter because it is easy to clean, and the hobbyist can expand it in size to use on a larger tank,” Ducharme said, adding that he also likes the fact that the pump hangs low in the water, so there are no issues of the pump running dry.

The Nexx filter system’s modular design allows the system to be reused for larger setups, or if applications change and hobbyists need more filtration.

“The API Nexx Filter provides the hobbyist a filter unit for aquariums up to 55 gallons,” said Gary Jones, corporate and scientific affairs manager for Mars Fishcare in Chalfont, Pa. “If you purchase a larger aquarium, you can simply add an extension unit, keeping your initial filter investment.”

In addition to new filters themselves, new media and chemical filtration products are coming onto the market. These are not necessarily designed to remove particles and waste matter from the water column, but rather to neutralize harmful substances and improve water quality overall.

“We are just starting to test [The Water Cleanser from Marine Easy Clean],” said John Music, general manager for Pet Palace in Clarksville, Tenn. “It is a small ball of carbon-impregnated wax that provides nutrition for microbes that break down organic waste.”

Products with the intended use of aiding in nitrate reduction, traditionally considered to be a large problem for aquarists, are also becoming available. Los Angeles-based Blue Life USA’s Clear FX Pro is a filter media designed to reduce nitrate levels in aquaria.

“We used Clear FX Pro on some of our marine tanks, and it took nitrates from 20 ppm down to 5 ppm,” stated Marshal Huneven, fishroom manager for Lebanon Pet and Aquarium Center in  West Lebanon, N.H.
Hot Sellers and New Products
Along with innovative products, retailers reported tried-and-true technology continued to sell well.
“Marineland is our best-selling filter line,” Huneven said. “If the customer is looking for more flexibility, we also carry Hagen’s AquaClear line.”

Opinions were varied when it comes to what offerings sell best. Retailers stated personal preference was paramount when deciding what to stock.

“The first line we recommend is Cascade,” Music said. “We have very few problems with them. They are affordable and easy to start. For the first-time hobbyist, they are the easiest to set up and get started with.”

A variety of retailers reported that newer filtration products were doing well.

“The new Tetra Whisper filters and the new API Nexx Filter [are our best sellers],” Ducharme said.

Simplicity sells in some markets, and offering products with fewer replacement parts may serve business owners’ needs.

“I like the higher flow rates of the Hagen line, and there is less to replace,” said Jeff Nethers, owner of Winchester Aquarium & Pet Center in Winchester, Va. “We also do very well with the Marineland biowheels.”

Changes in the Market
One problem with popular filters is that many copies of excellent name brand filters are being sold on the Internet, seemingly using the same molds as the original branded products.
“We are always seeing knockoffs of existing filters on the market,” Something Fishy’s Hale said. “These products are always low in price, undercutting popular name brands.”

This may present difficulties for brick-and-mortar retailers, especially when faced with customers comparing prices between vendors.

Beyond issues with competition and counterfeit products, retailers reported needing to keep abreast of changes in specialty filtration as well. Protein skimmers are one type of filtration product that continues to evolve to meet market demand.

“Protein skimmers are not only getting smaller,” said Sean Raines, product manager—aquatic equipment for Tetra and Marineland, divisions of United Pet Group in Blacksburg, Va. “Conical protein skimmers are all the rage now.”

Nano aquariums are popular, and skimmers for use in this type of aquarium are gaining popularity.

“Oceanic has small skimmers for all of their nano tanks,” said Jayd Joslyn, owner of Aquarium World of Indiana in Lafayette, Ind. “Sanders also has one that is still air-driven.”

Make the Sale
There are a lot of misconceptions about what type of filtration is needed, and ultimately the biggest hurdle to marketing and selling these products is hobbyist education.

“I highly advise to over-filter a tank,” Something Fishy’s Hale said. “If a customer has a 55-gallon, we recommend they go with a 100-gallon filter system. Or they can go with two filters.”

Where customers might come to the conclusion that they need less filtration—perhaps through research using the Internet or from other resources—retailers have the opportunity to act as a knowledgeable source of information, and to make a potentially profitable sale in the process.

Competition and pricing were the two most common issues retailers brought up when it came to talking about difficulties in this segment of the market. To combat them, retailers generally suggested highlighting the benefits of purchasing in-store versus purchasing sight-unseen.
With new products in the space, and a variety of proven products available, store owners can offer a lot when it comes to this necessary product category. <HOME>

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