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Aquatic Marketplace: Profiting from Tank Chemistry Products

Posted: July 25, 2012, 4:15 p.m., EDT

Additives, treatments and test kits are fundamental for retailers to build repeat sales and customer loyalty.

Interest in aquariums is strong and there is growth in business due to an improving economy, fish store retailers reported. For stores with customers who are more interested in expedient results than fishkeeping’s intricate details, there are a variety of additives, treatments and test kits appearing on the market to help them achieve their goals.

“Aquarium keeping has become more lifestyle based,” said Wes Champlin, general manager at Aquarium Adventures in Columbus, Ohio. “[Systems function as] living pieces of art and are less hobbyist-oriented. They don’t want to figure it out, they just want to buy it and bring it into their home.”

The wide range of additives available means retailers always have something to recommend when customers come seeking help with various aquarium problems.
The wide range of additives available means retailers always have something to recommend when customers come seeking help with various aquarium problems. Photo by Katie Ingmire/BowTie Inc. at Passionate Pet Superstore

Analog or Digital
Advancements in technology, computers and smart phones are changing the way people can test and monitor water chemistry, Champlin noted.
“Test kits haven’t changed much and are still reagent and test-strip based,” he said. “Most advancement has been digital testing with a probe for spot testing or monitoring hooked to a PC that sends an alert when parameters are off.”

Besides digital products, retailers reported there haven’t been any major innovations in how water testing is conducted. However, there are a wider variety of test kits available for testing parameters in more specialized biotopes, such as reef tanks and freshwater planted aquariums.

“We carry a full range of test kits, including ones used to test copper, iodine and phosphates,” said Doris Olson, assistant manager for Blue Sierra Exotics and Fish Supply in Issaquah, Wash.

The trend in the industry is toward products that are designed to work together.

“Red Sea’s reef care program for controlling algae offers great solutions for high levels of phosphates and nitrates, and test kits to monitor their levels,” stated Eddie Tanglao, manager of Old Town Aquarium in Chicago.

Offering in-store water testing can be good for business.

“We offer free water testing,” Olson said. “We prefer testing new customers’ water so we can explain water chemistry and cycling. If they choose, they can purchase test kits, but there is no pressure to buy a test kit.”

Several retailers noted that customers should be advised to have test kits at home, since it’s not always convenient to bring in a water sample, and sometimes when a customer notices a problem the pet store will be closed.

“We offer free testing with quick dip strips and charge for more advanced testing,” Taglao said. “We encourage people to purchase test kits. It’s good for them and good for the store.”

Industry Voices
What is new, novel or improved in the fish medication marketplace?

“There are fewer medications available due to restrictions and new regulations”

Jody Mcmanus, General Manager for Big Al’s Aquarium Services, a retailer in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

“There is more of an understanding how to treat, so it is more effective. Medicated foods are a good example. If you have a pond and can’t remove the fish, it is easier to treat the fish directly instead of medicating 2,000 gallons.”
Wes Champlin, general manager at Aquarium Adventures in Columbus, Ohio

“A lot of medications are being taken off the market, and it is getting tougher to treat fish.”
Mathias Zaffke, owner of Aqua Tropics in Gainesville, Fla.

“The trend is toward natural homeopathic medications. Ich-X, Pimafix and Herbtana are good only if the symptoms are caught soon enough. If not, other heavy duty medications will be needed. A lot of meds are becoming more difficult to get.”
Doris Olson, assistant manager for Blue Sierra Exotics and Fish Supply in Issaquah, Wash.

Beneficial Bacteria
The one essential water treatment product to stock is water conditioner, retailers stated. Another equally important product is a good bio booster, said Jody Mcmanus, general manager for Big Al’s Aquarium Services, a retailer in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

“Beyond water conditioner, a good bacteria for fresh and salt [is important],” Mcmanus continued. “New keepers are impatient and want it up and running now. The new Colony bacteria by ATM is selling good.”

To keep up with this trend, a variety of manufacturers are producing new offerings.

“Fritz recently introduced our line of aquarium chemicals and biologicals, including water conditioners, clarifiers, an EPA registered algaecide for fresh and salt water, pH adjusting products, and nitrifying and sludge degrading bacterial products,” said Mike Noche, sales manager of the Specialty Division for Fritz Industries based in Mesquite, Texas.

New bacteria products that are designed to overcome the category’s sometimes-limited shelf life are appearing in the marketplace.

“One of our recent introductions is Quick Start nitrifying bacteria,” said Gary Jones, corporate and scientific affairs manager of Mars Fishcare in Chalfont, Pa. “The benefit of Quick Start is the immediate activity when placed into the aquarium, without the need for refrigeration.”

Adding Sales
Considering the variety of aquarium setups customers keep, it is important to carry a wide range of water chemistry products specialized for specific biotopes, such as buffers, salts, trace elements and phosphate removers, industry participants reported.

“One can determine the product mix by the fish they sell, or by purchasing fully stocked endcaps from vendors that come with a full range of other products to enhance the aquatic experience,” Champlin said.

A lot can go into the selection process. Retailers reported making stocking decisions based on product performance, ease of use, attractive packaging and if they use the product in the store.

“We sell brands we have a lot of faith in, products that are used in the store,” Olson stated. “We offer both high-end and low-end options. We carry water conditioners, several brands of phosphate controllers, Reef Crystals, Seachem, Instant Ocean and Brightwell marine salts.”

Using products in-shop and testing new products before offering them can also be important.

“We don’t sell anything we don’t use,” said Mathias Zaffke, owner of Aquatropics in Gainesville, Fla. “We test new products first, and when it does what it should at a reasonable cost, we put it on the shelf.

“The industry has changed a lot,” Zaffke added. “Brightwell Aquatics has a full line of additives, conditioners, and foods that improve color and ability to keep corals dramatically. They also have a plant product that contains both iron and iodine, so the customer’s experience has improved.

“The newest product we are having success with is E-z Life,” he continued. “It is good in terms of clearing up tanks if the water is brown, yellow or white, it improves the color of fish, making them more vibrant, and it works with both fresh and marine.”

Marketing and Trends
Interaction can be vital to increase additive sales and repeat business.

“Talk to customers about how plants need fertilization and corals need food and supplements,” Big Al’s Mcmanus said. “Keep a good facing of products in the store.”

Online tools are also available to help customers figure out what they need to put into their setups.
“The chemicals in the bottle have not changed, but how much a user needs has,” said Philip Root, managing director for Thrive Aquatics, a division of Blue Ocean Corals, in Deerfield Beach, Fla. “Thrive Aquatics now offers Thrive Analytics Web-based software. It allows users to set up a profile for their aquarium and what they would like to do. The software tells them how much of the product to use to reach their goal.”

Keeping up with trends plays directly into effectively marketing additive products. And the trend in the industry is toward smaller aquariums.

“More small aquariums, nano tanks, time and price point are what people are looking at,” Mcmanus said.

As a result, manufacturers are making additives with precise dosing for small aquariums.

“Products are specifically being designed for small tanks containing reefs, plants and shrimp, such as Sachem’s Aquavitro and Hagen’s Fluval products,” Blue Sierra Exotics and Fish Supply’s Olson said. <HOME>

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