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Aquatic Marketplace: Light Up Aquatic Sales

Posted: April 29, 2014, 1:05 p.m. EDT


New products and trends in freshwater and saltwater lighting make for enhanced displays and more successful aquariumkeeping.

By Keith Loria

Current aquariumkeeping seems to be moving away from artificial decorations and plants, with consumers favoring live-planted aquascapes or vibrant live corals. To achieve these looks, strong lighting is paramount.

LED technology is ever evolving, and today’s aquatic customers can light up their tanks like never before, industry participants said.

More customers than ever are interested in better lighting, said Nancy Maag, owner of Tropical Fish Shoppe in West Fargo, N.D.

"There’s definitely been an increased interest in lighting the past year or so,” she said. "It’s one area where people don’t look to skimp, because great lighting can really enhance a tank.”

Fish Tank Lighting
Sergio Bertino/Shutterstock

LEDs have taken over due to their low wattage and long life, while the only thing selling on the fluorescent side is the T5 because of its high output, said Todd Furmanek, store manager of Absolutely Fish Inc. in Clifton, N.J.

What’s in Play
LED technology creates a beautiful shimmer effect, just like in nature, and it is extremely energy efficient, said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator for Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

"These lights create beautiful light for freshwater, planted, marine and reef tanks,” Rademacher said. "Low profile hoods don’t detract from the beauty of an aquarium and are simple to use. LED technology allows bright, high-quality light with minimal energy use and cost.”

Zoo Med recently introduced the AquaSun LED, which is 18 inches long and includes 68 white LEDs (100mW each) and four blue LEDs (100mW each). The dual switches allow for independent control of white and blue LEDs, and the adjustable sliding rail allows the hood to fit tanks up to 24 inches long, Rademacher said.

Dave Chai, president of Aquatop Aquatic Supplies in Milpitas, Calif., said cool, quiet-running LEDs that are designed to support photosynthetic light in both freshwater and saltwater aquariums are in demand.

"The biggest advances have been the ability of LEDs to support photosynthetic life and more accessible pricing,” he said. "Customers are asking for energy efficiency, low heat transfer and economical maintenance.”

Aquatop recently introduced an all-actinic model for deep light penetration in reef tanks, he said.

LEDs continue to improve and have quickly surpassed CFL and halogens as the preferred lighting for aquariums, said Rand Kollman, vice president of sales and marketing for KollerCraft in Fenton, Mo.

"Since LEDs are really spotlights, they shine light in a specific direction with a certain beam angle,” he said. "A wide beam angle shines light wider from side to side, while a narrow beam angle shines light in a narrow cone with extreme brightness. Our high-end LEDs are fantastic for aquariums, as they offer extreme brightness and outstanding light clarity.”

LEDs make economic sense, but there’s also the environmental impact to consider.

"LEDs use less electricity and pay you back in one to two years in electricity cost savings alone,” Kollman said. "Then there are the benefits of protecting the environment from more mercury emissions and CO2 typically generated by other types of lighting currently on the market.”

KollerCraft recently started selling aquariums with built-in sound chambers that play sounds of nature, such as babbling brooks and ocean waves, plus these aquariums have special LEDs that function as gentle, relaxing nightlights, Kollman said.

Francis R. Yupangco, aquatic development manager at Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass., said its subsidiary Fluval entered the LED category last year with a line of two innovative lighting solutions.

"The economical yet very effective Ultra Bright Series and our flagship Performance Series are available in a freshwater Aqualife and Plant series and saltwater Marine and Reef versions,” he said. "Our LEDs are selling extraordinarily well. Our customers want innovative products that are user-friendly.”

Mounting and Music
Many LED fixtures require suspension above aquariums, and this has led to an increase in the suspension hardware category.
"Aquatic Life’s brackets can be mounted on the back of an aquarium stand and suspend most types of lighting,” said Michael Elliott, co-owner of Commerce, Calif.-based Aquatic Life. "We also offer cables with decorative ceiling covers.”
KollerCraft’s new API AquaTunes aquariums have a built-in MP3 player included in the LED. 
"These light units connect easily to iPads and iPods to play music, or users can download tunes onto the memory chip included with every light,” said Rand Kollman, vice president of sales and marketing for the Fenton, Mo., company. "This is just another way we are making owning an aquarium fun.”
All Lifegard Aquatics LEDs come with an advance touch control on/off system, adjustable plastic stands or extendable metal brackets and a full line of replacement parts, said Dick Joseph, director of marketing for the Cerritos, Calif., manufacturer.—KL

One example is the Fluval Accent 25-gallon aquarium kit, which provides consumers with LED technology plus the Simpletech System, a water-change feature that allows monthly maintenance to be done in less than 10 minutes and is designed to eliminate the stigma that cleaning an aquarium is a time-consuming hassle, Yupangco said.

UV Lighting
In reefkeeping, the latest buzz on the blogs is incorporating UV into the lighting systems for reef aquaria, said Michael Elliott, co-owner of Commerce, Calif.-based Aquatic Life.

That’s why the company recently introduced its XS-UV Reef Fixtures, which include LEDs that emit light in the 400nm and 420nm wavelengths—which is on the border of being UV, Elliott said.

"This means the light is not harmful to humans but provides a very similar spectrum to what the corals would receive in nature,” he said. "The light emitted is a bluish/purple light and helps the corals with photosynthesis. In nature, the sun provides natural UV over the water. In confined areas and indoor lighting, improper use of UV can be dangerous.”

Money Matters
With regards to lighting and, for that matter, all aquarium products, retailers are asking for better price points. It’s fine to offer an affordable product, but if the hobbyist can’t keep the corals and plants alive, will that hobbyist be a repeat customer of the store? That’s something that needs to be considered, Elliott said.

"We’ve noticed many fixtures on the market that are not adequate to properly light a coral or planted aquarium, but people are still purchasing these fixtures because of price point,” Elliott said. "The best thing a store can do is to test the products they are selling to make sure that they are going to set up their customer to be successful.”

A Helping Hand
Retailers often complain about competing with online websites, but several manufacturers believe the saying, "One to show, one to go” still applies.

"In speaking with retailers, often we realize that they don’t stock many products and only order when they need an item for their customers,” Elliott said. "While this might be great for cash flow purposes, it contributes to encouraging shoppers to look around at what’s on the store aquariums and then go purchase online.”

To combat this, the company helps retailers with their initial stocking order, letting them know which items sell better than others, he said.

Increasing Sales
In an effort to increase lighting sales at Absolutely Fish, Furmanek said that on the freshwater side, the store keeps every fixture it sells on display so people can see them firsthand. On the saltwater side, it has one row of tanks with LED lights connected to a laptop so customers can control the colors and fixtures; on the other row, it has other lighting options.

Today’s LEDs are more compact and offer low heat, a full spectrum and sleeker designs, said Dick Joseph, director of marketing for Lifegard Aquatics in Cerritos, Calif.

"A high-quality light is mandatory in order to truly admire and appreciate the colors, features and beauty of aquatic life in your tank,” Joseph said.

For most retail stores, space is limited, and Joseph said customers are asking for a universal light that can handle both the requirements for saltwater reef tanks and freshwater tanks.

"The most important point in the current market situation is the cost,” Joseph said. "No one wants to buy a $500 light for the tank that they might have spent $100 to set up. Lifegard has them covered. Our High Output Ultra Slim LED offers an extremely low profile and very high output (14,000K) LED for midrange marine or reef tanks. Then we get into Lifegard Ultra Slim Planted Tank LED for freshwater systems that want to see a blooming underwater forest and the Standard Ultra Slim Blue/White for beginner saltwater enthusiasts.”

At Tropical Fish Shoppe, Maag has tanks set up with different lighting options and tries to keep the displays lively.

Aquatop’s Chai said that retail stores should have operating display samples of all of their lighting offerings.

"These can be on dedicated display tanks or even on the livestock display aquariums,” he said. "An attractive display of operating lights will demonstrate the benefits of the latest technology and encourage upgrade purchases.”

Hagen can provide infographics and brochures to help enhance displays and inspire customers, Yupangco said.

"A beautiful planted aquarium or coral tank shows off both the qualities of the equipment and the expertise of the store,” he said. "Also, informative graphics, brochures and equipment displays help improve product messaging. The most important thing a store can do to bolster sales is to have great sales associates who are knowledgeable and engaging.”

To advance aquariumkeepers’ knowledge in store and at home, Zoo Med has its own YouTube channel that allows customers to view informational videos on the features, use and maintenance of its lighting products, Rademacher said.

In addition to improving display, good lighting options will enhance the appearance of fish and other livestock as well as encourage live plant and coral growth.

"Lighting is an essential component for the health and aesthetics of most aquariums,” Rademacher said.

"Plants, corals and many other marine invertebrates are directly affected by the light provided in their aquatic habitats.”

As for what’s ahead, Yupangco foresees brighter LED technology, controllability and customizability as future trends. And, as LED technology advances, LED lights will get even brighter, better and less expensive, he added.

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