Posted: Feb. 17, 2011, 1:20 p.m., EDT
Building a customer base through maintenance education and sales techniques helps retailers garner business.
By David Lass
Maintaining aquariums is important to the health of fish in them as well as their beauty, and often all it takes for retailers to help customers be successful is education and the right mix of product offerings.
“We are always concerned with educating our customers in maintaining their aquariums,” said Jim Reiman, owner of Tropic Waters Pet Center in Eau Claire, Wis. “Part of that education is that they use the right products. It takes a relatively small investment in time and money for a hobbyist to successfully maintain an aquarium.”
Other industry sources agreed.
“The first step in doing less maintenance is to buy the right equipment,” said Marcel Kon, general manager of Gulfstream Tropical Aquarium, the manufacturer of the Mag-Float line of algae cleaners. “The initial cost/benefit [analysis] of spending more for the correct equipment is the first essential step in having a successful aquarium.”
Do the Water Changes
|Because of their sophisticated husbandry requirements, reef tanks are prime candidates for aquarium-maintenance and care-service businesses to focus on.|
Photo by Clay Jackson/Bowtie Inc.
Regular partial water changes are the aquarium equivalent of working out at the gym. Hobbyist experts and retailers agreed they are a good thing to do, but very few in the hobby actually do them, they stated. Many retailers stated they offer a number of different product packages consisting of a combination of aquarium siphon and gravel cleaner.
“We recommend hobbyists do a 25 percent water change twice a month,” said Mark Janczak, who, along with his wife Caroline, owns Critters Pet Shop in St. Charles, Ill. “Of course, there are a few who do it weekly—we really like them a lot—and there are those who don’t do any water change at all.”
Several stores reported they try to include a siphon and gravel cleaner with every aquarium sold.
“We offer a number of different products,” Reiman stated. “Our bestsellers are [made by] Hagen.”
All healthy aquariums have some algae. It is only when algae interfere with the health or viewing of the fish that aquarists may need to do something about the algae.
“We try to get our customers to clean algae from the front glass only,” said Jeff King, owner of Pets Plus in Taylor Mill, Ky. “We encourage them to leave algae on the sides and back, as most fish will nibble on it.”
In addition to sticks with scrapers or sponges attached, magnetic scrubbers that connect together and create friction using magnetic forces applied through the aquarium glass are also popular tools with aquarists.
“Because you never have to reach into the aquarium [when using magnetic algae scrubbers], not only can you stay clean and dry, but you also avoid toxic lotions or soap residue on your skin from getting into your aquarium water,” Kon said.
When it comes to stopping algae before it takes over a tank, controlling light and food amounts are important, retailers reported. Also, retailers said they had success both using and selling various algae-related supplements.
“We have had great luck with Weiss Algae Magic,” said Bob Brill, co-owner with Esther Claes of Tropic Cove in Petoskey, Mich. “For cyano control, we like Blue Vet Rx.”
Many stores reported equal success with various other algae control products.
Water Conditioners and Additives
|The Tank Maintenance Business|
Maintaining aquariums for other folks has often been considered a good business, retailers reported, and even in this slow economy, many customers prefer having a professional maintain their tank in both businesses and homes.
“I usually maintain approximately a dozen tanks that I visit twice a month, so this is part-time work for me,” said Robyn Bright, an employee at The Fish Nook in Acton, Mass. “The smallest is a 37-gallon and the largest is [a] 175-gallon. Two are in dentist offices, one in a business office, and the rest are in homes.”
Most leads for tank maintenance do come from a local fish store, and some maintenance business is done directly from a store, according to industry sources.
“The tanks I maintain are from 20 to 90 gallons, including one in a dentist’s office,” said Trish Jalbert, fish room manager for Lebanon Pet and Aquarium Center in West Lebanon, N.H.
According to Bright and Jalbert, they usually perform water changes, clean off algae, clean the filter and change carbon, as well as test tank water parameters, including pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate.
“Tank maintenance can be a great job, as it gives some flexibility in hours and you can work on your own,” Bright said. “The difficulty lies in keeping the tanks—and the livestock—looking good at all times, especially in offices where there is often more than one person watching the tank.”
Tank maintenance can be an excellent additional source of income for a retail store, or it can be the focus of the retail store itself, several fish store personnel reported. For the store itself, having a number of beautifully maintained display aquariums seems to be the best way to sell tank maintenance. —DL
Though tap water may be OK for people to drink, chemicals in tap water such as chlorine and chloramines can harm aquarium inhabitants. Retailers reported using various water-conditioning products, both chemical and biological, and added that they encourage customers to purchase such products as part of a tank maintenance regimen.
“Maintaining excellent water quality is the best way to prevent problems that plague aquarium keepers,” said Scott Berke, sales manager for Ecological Laboratories in Lynbrook, N.Y. “Disease, algae, cyanobacteria, bad smells, turbidity, [etc.], can all be controlled or even prevented by making sure the water quality is as good as possible.”
Several different water conditioner and additive product lines are available, and retailers reported success with many of these. Because there are so many different types of additives, retailers may wish to educate themselves to better educate their customers and enable themselves to sell more product.
“Mars Fishcare has an extensive line of water conditioning products for a wide range of applications in an aquarium,” said Amy Vesey, marketing manager for Mars Fishcare in Chalfont, Pa. “Stress Coat is probably our best-known water conditioning product. In addition to removing chlorine, chloramines and ammonia from tap water, [it] reduces stress on fish by strengthening the protective slime coat on fish, which is their first and most effective line of defense against bacteria and parasites.”
Beyond prepping water for fish, various manufacturers stated that other additives in their product lines could reduce problems with ammonia, a concern for many aquarists.
“Ammo-Lock detoxifies ammonia and removes chlorine and chloramines, and locks up ammonia in a nontoxic form until it can be broken down by the tank’s natural biological filter,” Vesey stated.
All retailers contacted for this article agreed that water conditioners should be used when setting up a new tank, adding new make-up water or when performing water changes.
Aquatics retailers can benefit from the add-on sales potential of water conditioners, algae control products and other additives, and such products may represent a recurring sales opportunity for many fish stores.
“The consumables are, of course, our best moneymakers,” Janczak said. “We stress maintaining quality water conditions as the key to healthy fish, and it is important to keep those excellent conditions constant.”
Profitability is an important consideration, and other retailers agreed with Janczak in attributing high sales levels and profit margins to water conditioners and additives.
“Water conditioners and additives are one of the most profitable items in the store, and they are repeat sales.” Reiman said.
By emphasizing tank maintenance, store owners are likely to gain repeatable sales opportunities, but in the long run, they are also likely to make sure aquarists’ fish are healthy and their aquariums look good, meaning those customers are more likely to stick with the hobby. And customers who stick with the hobby are far more likely to remain customers.<HOME>
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