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Aquatic Marketplace: Gateway Aquariums

Posted: August 9, 2013, 10:30 a.m. EDT

Beginners in the aquatic hobby can enjoy ease of setup and maintenance thanks to new technologies.

By LaRue Palmer

Over the past five years, aquatic industry insiders have increasingly reported that the easiest way for novices to enter into the hobby is by way of the all-in-one aquarium setup. Due to a new technological application referred to as "nano,” aquarium equipment has become smaller, smarter and more efficient, enabling hobbyists to venture into freshwater and saltwater fishkeeping with more success than ever before.

The simplicity of nano tanks might create lifelong aquatic hobbyists. Courtesy of Choikh/

That success relies on products ranging from improved lighting fixtures to innovative equipment to advances in nutrition that give today’s beginning aquarists better opportunities to enjoy their new hobby for years to come. Whether you’re talking about a nano cube or bio cube, opinions vary as to the precise definition of the term nano aquarium. Some in the industry say it’s anything under 15 gallons, while several manufacturers market their nano aquariums up to 30 gallons. In any case, the term has come to imply a more compact, sophisticated all-in-one aquarium system that includes lighting and filtration and, in some cases, a hood, which makes an affordable option for any newcomer.

The popularity of these startup aquariums has created for some manufacturers a niche market of auxiliary devices that help maintain stable water parameters, provide efficient lighting for reef tanks and even program aquariums to function efficiently when the hobbyist is away for several days, retailers said.

"We’re noticing that photosynthetic lighting is becoming popular as an add-on not only with the more experienced hobbyist, but also with the beginner as well,” said Maryann Giorgio, marketing manager for Aquatop Aquatic Supplies in Brea, Calif. "If the beginner wants to move away from the more novelty-type aquariums like a Spongebob Squarepants tank, then we carry a nifty little photosynthetic lamp, the Nano Type-P LED that sits on top of a nano tank and supports live plants very nicely.”

The beauty of these mini ecosystems can be enhanced with the addition of live plants that oxygenate the water by day, provide a natural food source for certain fish and absorb excess nutrients that can help control algae, she added.

For budding hobbyists who master the smaller tank and have a thriving community of livestock, there might come a time when they want to add more fish or install some cool equipment that hits the market.

Retailers report that those who gain the hobbyist’s trust can turn this situation into a profitable scenario. Sean Crawford, general manager for Dallas North Aquarium in Carrollton, Texas, calls this a "gateway opportunity” for getting the customer into a bigger tank.

"If somebody visits our store, buys a nano tank and we are able to coach them through the novice stage to a successful tank, they inevitably want more corals, more fish and some new gadget,” Crawford said. "So they have to get a bigger tank; they can’t fit everything they want into the nano.”

Clearly this gateway opportunity can be a perfect storm for retailers who have been providing great customer service and nurturing the relationship to the point where their customers want to upgrade, Crawford said. In anticipation of this scenario, some manufacturers reported creating a tank designed for some upgrades to keep the hobbyist at the nano scale for a longer period. These tanks are open-top and trimless, so accessories such as powerheads, protein skimmers and bio-pellet reactors can be added.

Substrate Solutions
Fifteen years ago, beginners were advised to start out their hobby with a freshwater tank, because saltwater was difficult. That is no longer the case.
Industry insiders said saltwater has a steeper learning curve, but it’s not as hard to do anymore.
When it comes to substrates and whether gravel is preferable to sand, it depends on what type of tank hobbyists are going to set up. If they decide to have a reef/fish only tank, crushed coral is recommended. If they’re doing a straight reef without any fish, a good brand of live sand is recommended.—LP

Closed-top models are more limited in add-ons, but it still is possible to soup-up a nano.
When sustaining a startup aquarium, good nutrition is a key factor in the health and wellness of its inhabitants, so Aqua-Tech Co. released some innovative fish food with what the company considers impressive results. 

"We’re opening up bio-diversity, where we’re able to keep a broader spectrum of animals with one single essential diet,” said Mark Vera, director of operations and sales. "We’re bringing back a more natural way of feeding through phytonutrients, but with using one product. Probably the most important element [for us] was the emulsifying technology we came up with to be able to not only infuse the food with life-giving nutrition, but also make it appealing to fish of all types.”

In new gear for startup aquariums, LED lighting constantly is improving, so beginners always have something new to gravitate toward. Manufacturers also offer a wide range of low-price-point protein skimmers designed to work efficiently. Skimming technology’s constant refinement allows companies to offer units designed to work well from nano size to more than 250 gallons.

Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. combined form and function into a single unit designed for a specific demographic with an emphasis on simplicity.

"We’ve found that people really want simplicity when it comes to maintenance of a tank,” said Damian Hall, senior marketing manager for the Mansfield, Mass., facility. "Our target demographic is a young, working mother who wants something that looks pretty in the house and is really easy to take care of. So we came up with the Fluval Accent Aquarium, which is a basic 25-gallon aquarium with LED lighting, filtration and easy maintenance. Monthly maintenance is quick and easy with our Simpletec technology.”

Citing the wellness benefits of owning an aquarium, versus the fear factor of maintenance, Hall said the company had to develop a way to break down that barrier to show new hobbyists that they can have beauty and easy maintenance.

Retailers in all the major markets said that consumers are too busy to get bogged down in aquarium care and maintenance. Boca Raton, Fla.-based BioBubble sought a solution for easy maintenance while capturing form, function and beauty.

"Our premium kit supports land animals as well as fish, and we offer an aquatic-only kit for those who want to do freshwater or saltwater fish,” said Al Venezia, CEO of BioBubble. "It comes with a pump, an air pump, airline tubing and an LED light cap that can interchange with a UV or even a reef bulb. There are a lot of options for the end user,” he added. <HOME>


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