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Aquatic Marketplace: Aquarium Equipment Flows Forward

Posted: March 13, 2013, 5:30 p.m. EST


New and improved tanks and necessities enable stores to attract hobbyists with complete packages and technology.
By David Lass

The manufacturers of aquariums and aquarium equipment continue to introduce new products while refining and improving existing ones. Packaging tanks and equipment together as well as adding improved technology represents the main trends in the aquatics category, according to industry insiders.

“The biggest thing we have noticed recently in the aquarium market is the addition of technology (or better technology) to products,” said Mike Elliott, co-owner with Dave Troop of Aquatic Life in Commerce, Calif. “Technology does come with a price, and the verdict is still out on how many consumers are willing to pay the higher prices.”

Many of the new products are showing up in nano-tanks.

“Nano-tanks are where we see the trend in the hobby going,” said Bruce Kelley, the manager of Aquatek Tropical Fish in Austin, Texas. “Innovative Marine has a wide assortment and always is coming out with new products and ideas. We also like JBJ for packaged marine tanks.”

These products have given hobbyists entry into the marine side of the hobby with acceptable cost in both dollars and space, retailers reported.

Aquarium equipment
Sales of aquarium equipment remain steady with improved technology and packages.Sherri L. Collins/I-5 Publishing at Nature Pet Centre in Montreal
“In many ways, starting out with saltwater has become easier because of the wide range of nano-tanks,” said Dianne DeDominicus, the owner of Markheim Tropical Fish & Pet Store in Amherst, N.Y. “Customers know that they will be spending some serious money for large marine setups, and the new nano-tanks and equipment make it easy for them to get started.”

Several manufacturers now offer a complete line of small tank packages that include lighting and filtration.

“We do a lot with Hagen's Fluval line,” said Pat Laquinta, co-owner with his brother, Aaron, of Buzz n' B's in Erie, Pa. “The Fluval Chi, Edge and Ebi sell very well and are perfect for customers on a budget and with not a lot of space. For larger tanks, we always try to go with pre-drilled tanks.”

Some stores find that tried-and-true systems work the best, with some improvements and minor tweaks over the years.

“We use and sell lots of sumps for marine tanks,” said Adam Marquez, who co-owns with his brothers Seven Seas Tropical Fish in San Pedro, Calif. “It's not really new, but with bio-balls and a wet/dry filter we find that any marine tank runs very well.”

In aquarium lighting, retailers report that though high-output T5 fluorescents quickly are being replaced by LED lighting, customers are slow to move over.

“There are still so many choices in T5's that we find our customers opting for that rather than going with LED's,” DeDominicus reported, adding that, “We are beginning to get some traction with the Aquatic Life LED lights.” Others reported the same.

Laquinta reported selling a lot of Aquatic Life T5 HOs.

“LEDs still are pricey, and we're waiting for things to get sorted out in terms of which brands will stick with it.”

Aquatic Life's Elliott said, “We now are building the new 34-inch and 46-inch XS LED Fixtures in Los Angeles. These fixtures use 3-watt LEDs that can be programmed using a PC.”

In-store, however, many have made the switch to LEDs as the primary lighting they use and sell.

“For LED lighting, both fresh and marine, we really like the EcoTech Marine Radion XR30w and the XR30w Pro,” Marquez of Seven Seas said. “We also sell their controllers. The margin is low, but we want to get customers into our store to see our fish selection.”

Dramatic Changes in Distribution and Selling Channels

The aquatics industry's distribution and selling channels are changing dramatically due to the Internet. For example, Amazon.com is selling everything, and “showrooming”—scanning the UPC code on a product in the store on a cellphone, and then asking if retailers can beat the Internet price—has become commonplace, said Ralph Cabage, owner of Sicce USA in Knoxville, Tenn.

He summed up the challenges to brick-and-mortar stores this way: “We need quality dealers, and manufacturers need to be working with them and understanding that they cannot run a business with low margins. This is a hobby, it is not the grocery store business—everyone does not need what we sell, and we have a limited pie to pick from.”—DL

According to Pat Clasen, director of finance for EcoTech Marine in Bethlehem, Pa., the Radion Pro has more LED colors and the amount of UV naturally found on a reef.

“We get lots of fluorescence from corals, as the zooanthellae absorb light in the blue range and emit different colors,” Clasen said. “It's the absorbance of the UV that is important.”

The aquarium industry also has several high tech products that industry insiders said appeal to computer-savvy kids, their parents and the true reef geeks.

“Our PinPoint CO2 Regulator Kit safely allows CO2 to mix with tank water,” said Lou Dell, owner of American Marine Inc. in Ridgefield, Conn. “It is ideal for calcium reactors in marine tanks and for planted freshwater aquariums.”

The LED Digital Thermometer from Lifegard Aquatics in El Monte, Calif., is considered a simple and elegant high-tech product, according to Neal Dulaney, owner.

“This highly visible, ultra-bright blue LED display can be seen from across the room,” he said. “It measures either water or air temperature and has an adjustable suction cup.”

Not only are new products being offered with high tech features, but manufacturers are upgrading older products.

“Today you can find a canister filter with a microprocessor to tell you when media should be changed and give you flow rates, temperature, etc.,” Aquatic Life's Elliott said. “Now it's not that uncommon for a light fixture to connect to a PC and be programmed remotely.” 

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