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Aquatic Marketplace: Primed for Action

Posted: March 27, 2014, 3:10 p.m. EDT

Beautiful and functioning in-store aquarium displays decked with the latest filters, pumps and powerheads draw hobbyists’ attention.

By Keith Loria

Any retailer who sells aquatic filters, pumps and powerheads understands that there are really only two opportunities to influence a customer: when hobbyists first set up a new aquarium and when hobbyists need to replace or upgrade such equipment.

That’s why there is no better marketing strategy than using "mannequin” displays in a store, said Frank Kudla, vice president of sales for Aquatop Aquatic Supplies in Brea, Calif.

"Remember that we’re selling the beauty of complete aquariums; filters and pumps are a means to an end,” he said. "For the customer looking to upgrade, stocking and demonstrating the latest technology and best-performing products available will help encourage—and justify—the upgrade.”

C&C Tropical Paradise Pet Shop in Philipsburg, Pa., features numerous tank setups to show customers the different pumps for different sized aquariums—a vital component for sales, said Craig Wood, owner.

"Retail customers want flexibility in what types of media can be used,” said Francis R. Yupangco, aquatic development manager for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass. "As the aquarium hobby has grown, the types of animals and plants being kept has also grown. Our customers want a platform that is robust and flexible enough to accommodate their specialized filtration needs. Fluval canister filters allow users to tailor the media used to best suit their niche requirements while remaining extremely reliable and user friendly.”

Prime Fish
Help both novice and seasoned hobbyists find the right pump and filter for their  aquarium setup to aid in delivering lasting beauty. Se/Shutterstock

Filter Advancements
Cobalt Aquatics released its new EXT Canister filter, which is designed to feature all of the media capacity and flexibility of a canister but have the ease of use of a standard power or back filter, said Les Wilson, co-owner of the Rock Hill, S.C., company.

"It is truly unique because it has an inline pump rather than a pump attached/incorporated to the canister,” he said. "The innovative valve with 5/8-inch hose barbs allows the pump to continue to run and keep vital circulation to your display even while the canister is disconnected for maintenance.”

For smaller or quarantine tanks, Cobalt offers Duo Aquarium Filters, which feature a built-in, low-voltage LED UV-clarifier that removes waterborne, microscopic algae, bacteria and other organisms, and keeps water clean and green free, Wilson said.

The biggest trend in filtration is the continued expansion of UV clarification in home aquariums, according to Aquatop’s Kudla.

"With the introduction of user-friendly designs—from hang-on-tank filters with UV to submersible standalone units and high-performance canisters—many more aquarists are embracing UV to help control suspended algae and microorganisms,” he said. "Also, Aquatop recently introduced an automatic self-priming canister filter with UV that eliminates the need for manual pumping and makes for easy startup.”

The genesis of Aquatop’s AF Series self-priming canister filter was a direct result of listening to the company’s retail partners, Kudla added.

"We kept hearing that the single biggest complaint concerning canister filters is the difficulty with the priming/starting procedure,” he said. "With the simple push of a button, the AF Series evacuates the air from the canister and starts the flow of water.”

Rolf C. Hagen’s Fluval brand recently introduced its FX6, which is a super-capacity, compact canister filter that pumps out 925 gallons of water per hour and has an astounding media capacity, Yupangco said.

"The baskets can hold a total of 5.9 liters of media and be stacked in the precise combination of layers that will work best for the given aquarium,” Yupangco said. "It also features Smart Pump Technology, which employs an electronic circuit board that continually monitors the pump. Impeller speed and force are measured constantly to ensure powerful output and energy efficiency.”

Fluval’s 06 canister series, its latest iteration of canister filters, provides enhanced functionality, including better filtration, lower maintenance frequency, faster setup and quieter operation, he added.

It’s crucial to remember that a filter only captures waste through mechanical and chemical methods, so its performance is only as good as its maintenance schedule, said C&C Tropical Paradise’s Wood. If cleaning a filter is a chore, it’s more likely to go longer between service intervals and possibly compromise the water quality in the aquarium.

A quality filter is an invaluable piece of equipment that can reduce the time and labor needed to keep an aquarium system healthy, said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator at Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

The company offers the Macro 75, an external canister filter for 50- to 75-gallon aquariums, and the Macro 50, an external canister filter for 30- to 50-gallon aquariums.

"The filters are equipped with a double filtering system with internal biological recirculation, an easy priming feature and a spray bar to increase oxygen,” Rademacher said. "These filters have adjustable flow control systems and calibrated antivibration bushings that keep the filter running smooth, quiet and at the desired flow rate.”

Pumps and Powerheads
According to industry insiders, the biggest change in the powerhead market in the past few years has been the introduction of prop-style pumps, creating an entirely new category of pumps.

"Powerheads are still very popular when used as a utility pump, but are now rarely used to circulate water inside the tank, as the prop pumps have taken over this function,” said Gary Knabe, owner of Elmer’s Aquarium and Pet Center in Monroeville, Pa. "Customers are looking more at mid-line products as far as pumps go.”

Originally designed for use with under-gravel filters, most powerheads are being sold today for water circulation. Somewhat surprisingly, powerhead sales remain strong, said Kudla.

"An even stronger growth category for Aquatop has been in prop-style circulation pumps, which offer better water movement and greater reliability than traditional powerheads,” he said. "The propeller design of these pumps makes them much more resistant to clogging than the traditional powerheads’ centrifugal impeller.”

While submersible/utility pumps continue to be popular among hobbyists using external sump filtration systems and in pond/outdoor water feature applications, Aquatop is seeing a surge in sales of "nano” pumps, such as its NP series, Kudla said. These are most often used for water circulation in the very popular nano tank category and for creating water features in terrariums and paludariums, he added.

In the powerhead category, Cobalt offers the MJ-1200, with a design featuring an O-ring on the intake so that it can be used as a utility pump inside or outside of the aquarium. It also features flexible impeller blades and two full-length cleats on the impeller shaft that work wonderfully with wave makers/timers, Wilson said.

"We have just recently introduced the NEO-Flow DC adjustable prop pump that is made specifically to move massive amounts of water in a wide plane inside the tank, rather than a utility pump or powerhead that pumps a fine stream of water and can direct water in a pipe,” he added. "These prop-style pumps are very popular in reef and planted tanks because they can move so much water and almost eliminate dead spots in the tank, but use very little power.”

Marketing Matters
Sometimes customers are intimidated by the high-end products, so it’s important that a store’s staff is knowledgeable about how they work to alleviate customers’ fears and increase sales in the categories, said Knabe of Elmer’s Aquarium and Pet Center.

"I do set up a couple of display tanks around the store operating on a couple of different types of filtration,” he said. "The filter market has a nice niche carved out with less moving parts, which has really helped everyone. We are always talking with customers about how to disassemble them and maintain them on their own.”

There’s no substitute for demonstrating aquatic products’ effectiveness by having an example operating on a great-looking in-store aquarium, one that’s well-maintained and fully stocked with fish, said interviewed sources.

"It’s also important to run regular promotions,” Kudla said. "Also, since just about everyone visiting an aquarium store will go look at the fish, the fish area is a great place for displays or signage drawing attention to featured/promoted items.”

Store associates should "play” with the tanks so people can see the pumps and powerheads in action, as well as use the material the manufacturers provide to increase sales, said Wilson.

"Cobalt offers a store banner program that can provide a custom 20-foot banner to any store that features the store’s own logo and Cobalt branding,” he said. "We also have just launched a very nice POP line of shelf wobblers and signage that are available free of charge to stores who carry our line.”

Looking Ahead
As for the future of these product categories, Yupangco expects the entire industry to continue developing products that are more user-friendly and simple to maintain.

"Anything that a manufacturer or retailer can do to make fishkeeping as hassle free and easy as possible will help encourage a new generation to join the aquarium hobby,” he added.



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