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Aquatic Marketplace: Saltwater Setups Stoke Sales

Posted: Feb. 22, 2012, 10:50 p.m. EST

Starting customers out right and carrying the proper mix of equipment can enable retailers to grow their customer base.
By David A. Lass

There was a time when saltwater setups were considered to be far more difficult to keep than freshwater setups. However, while there is still a learning curve, and marine aquariums require more inputs and education, saltwater tanks are within reach for nearly anyone, according to industry participants.

“As long as the customer understands what is involved with a marine tank, and the store gives them the proper information, saltwater can be as easy as fresh,” said Jackie Fiorello, owner of Pet Safari in Colonial Heights, Va.

Saltwater Hobbyist ExpensesIn addition to having achievable expectations and sufficient information, the other important factors that retailers can ensure customers have for success are necessary equipment and high-quality livestock.

“We try to not let the customer walk out of our store without all the equipment they need,” reported Mike Smith, owner of Northside Aquatics in North Little Rock, Ark. “And, of course, the livestock they bring to their tank must be high quality, healthy, and they all have to get along.”

Sell Success
The first step to introducing a hobbyist to the world of marine aquarium keeping isn’t making the sale.

“The customer needs to have realistic expectations for what they can keep and what it will cost,” said Ed Catalano, owner of Clearwater Aquarium and Pet Supplies in Jamestown, N.Y.

“Often, the first consideration for customers is water quality, retailers reported.

“Many areas of the world these days have very far from desirable water quality,” said Tom Sarac, manager of foods and lighting for Rolf C. Hagen Inc. in Baie d’Urfe, Quebec, Canada. “Therefore, either providing customers with marine water ready-to-go, or a reverse osmosis/deionization unit so they can ensure at home they are creating the best possible environment, is a must.”

Reef Aquarium
Though time-consuming and expensive, show-stopper display reef aquariums can get customers’ attention and help to generate sales. Photo by Clay Jackson/BowTie Inc.
Keeping marine aquariums is unlike keeping many other types of pets, as hobbyists have to maintain a total environment, not just a single organism. Fortunately, many products are designed to help keep tank conditions consistent.

“We recommend Coralife and CPR protein skimmers,” said Brent Nash, saltwater manager for Tropiquarium in Ocean, N.J. “For lighting, we have done well with the Deep Blue T5s, and we really like the complete systems from Red Sea and Oceanic.”

At Fish Bowl Aquarium and Pet Mart in W. Warwick, R.I., and Fall River, Mass., owner Mickey Marabello reported a preference for Koralia powerheads.

“We are also beginning to transition to LED lighting systems, both for the stores and for sale to hobbyists,” he added.

While new technology may take time to be adopted in the hobby, aquarium keepers typically have an appetite for more and bigger gadgets, so when it comes to high-end, complicated equipment, paying attention to all components used can be beneficial.

Industry Voices
What is most important to ensure customers succeed with a saltwater setup?

“Nurture their enthusiasm while educating them on how the denitrification process works. Remind them that there are no short cuts in this hobby, and patience is of the highest priority.”
—Eric Cohen, co-owner and sales manager for Sea Dwelling Creatures in Los Angeles

Make sure the hobbyist will have the time, money, lighting and filtration required to succeed. Explain it will take time to get the tank up and running smoothly.”

—Brent Nash, saltwater manager for Tropiquarium in Ocean, N.J.

“Don’t let the customer skimp. Lighting, live rock and protein skimming are the most important things, and they need to add all of the rock before adding any fish.”

—Mickey Marabello, owner of Fish Bowl Aquarium and Pet Mart, with locations in W. Warwick, R.I., and Fall River, Mass.

“Communication between the customer and the store staff is the most important thing. That interaction is something that only happens face to face, not on the Internet.”

—Michelle Van Camp owner of Tropical Treasures in Clinton Township, Mich.

“The most important thing a retailer can do is to educate the customer. The stores need to nurture hobbyists so marine tanks can become a lifelong passion.”

—Chris Turnier, director of operations for Sustainable Aquatics in Jefferson City, Tenn.

“Saltwater is not more difficult than fresh. The hobbyist must be more precise, and you can’t let things go. And you need to make sure they have their own test kits, and that they do the water tests regularly.”

—Jeff King, owner of Pets Plus in Taylor Mill, Ky.
“We sell Reef Dynamics and Reef Octopus skimmers,” said Mike Smith, owner of Northside Aquatics in N. Little Rock, Ark. “They are acrylic and not clear plastic. The pumps are needle wheels, not just venturis, and the pumps are always in the water.”

Anyone new to the hobby will generally stand awestruck in the presence of a beautiful reef tank. And that’s the marketing angle to use when it comes to marine fish and corals, retailers reported. However, offering the highest quality livestock to ensure hobbyist success, and continued patronage, is vital.

Part of meeting that goal is paying attention to the emphasis within the hobby on sustainably collected and aquacultured species.

“Wild fish and inverts will always have more problems than captive-raised animals,” stated Chris Turnier, director of operations for Sustainable Aquatics in Jefferson City, Tenn. “[Captive-raised livestock] are disease- and parasite-free, eat prepared foods, and are the best choice, especially for beginning hobbyists.”

The importance of selling quality livestock cannot be overstated.

“Make sure that any fish sold to customers have undergone proper quarantine, and that they are disease-free and feeding properly,” Hagen’s Sarac said.

When it comes to deciding what size and type of aquarium to offer new marine hobbyists, there is a wide range of opinion. While many stores keep a small “nano-tank” sitting on checkout counters—and customer demand for these types of setups is reportedly high—most retailers noted that larger tanks have a greater chance of offering success to beginning marine aquarists.

“A nano is fine with experienced hobbyists, as long as they understand the bioload limits,” Clearwater Aquarium’s Catalano said. “For a first tank, I really like to see a 29 gallon for a minimum.”

Though many new hobbyists may perceive the smaller nano setups to be easier to maintain, in reality they can become unstable more quickly.
“With small tanks, too much can go wrong, and too fast,” Turnier of Sustainable Aquatics said. “I like to see a first time saltwater hobbyist start with a 40- to 60-gallon tank. [Anything] larger can be a lot to manage for a first-timer.”

Other considerations have to do with the support equipment, and not just the size of the tank.

“We have problems with customers coming in who have bought a ‘complete kit’ at one of the big-box stores,” Pet Safari’s Jackie Fiorello said. “We have the task of explaining to them that for a marine tank, they will need a better filter, light and also a protein skimmer.” <HOME>

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