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Start Them Up

Posted: June 26, 2012, 4:15 p.m., EDT

Boost tank sales and garner new hobbyists by focusing on ease of use and style.

When it comes to selling beginner aquariums, getting new people into the hobby could very well be the biggest challenge retailers face. Inspiring new hobbyists to fall in love with fishkeeping is essential for a store’s continued success.

The Bountiful Betta
“[Bettas are] a market that most stores don’t take seriously enough,” said Cam McOuat, who co-owns with his wife, Jeannie Lister, Aquariums West in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. “We sell a lot of bettas. Being downtown here, those go through offices [quickly]. One guy gets one and everybody’s got to get one.”

Highlighting the design and aesthetic aspects of beginner setups in-store may garner new hobbyists’ interest and can draw passersby into the retail location.
Highlighting the design and aesthetic aspects of beginner setups in-store may garner new hobbyists’ interest and can draw passersby into the retail location.
Ethan Mizer/BowTie Inc.

Even though the cost of a betta setup is low compared to more elaborate and expensive aquariums, retailers still need to pay special heed to the betta market.

“Bettas are a huge way to get people into the hobby that normally wouldn’t be thinking about it,” McOuat said.

A Shrinking Trend
While betta setups tend to be petite in size, the beginner marketplace in general is seeing a trend toward the small as well. Smaller is better, reported Eddie Tanglao, store manager of Old Town Aquarium in Chicago.

“More and more people are moving into small condos and apartments here in Chicago,” Tanglao said. “And they don’t always have the space for our larger aquariums.”

Manufacturers have responded to the demand, focusing on tanks and setups that are smaller and that cater to new hobbyists’ aesthetic expectations.
“The most predominate trend I see in the category is manufactures’ attention to developing products that reflect the end user’s lifestyle and modern day living environment,” said Stephen Nyugen, director of sales and marketing for Innovative Marine in Cerritos, Calif.

When selling beginner products, however, Tanglao noted that it’s important to give people options and that his store encourages customers to go bigger, citing that doing so opens a wider selection of animals to choose from, can reduce problems with aggression, and that larger tanks tend to be more stable.

“The smaller aquariums traditionally require more care and can be more difficult to keep,” he said. “But with the proper care and support, [they] can be quite successful.”

Form Factor

Industry Voices
What’s the best way for retailers to attract more beginner hobbyists?

“Cross merchandising has always been a good way for full-line retailers to target new hobbyists. Placing small aquarium setups close to dog and cat food is a good way to promote the aquatics category to people who already shop your store and keep pets.”
—Mike Elliott, co-owner of Aquatic Life in Los Angeles

“The main tool that successful LFS owners use to attract beginner hobbyists is Living Displays or Wet Displays.  When an owner creates a live running display, and it’s done in a smaller aquarium form factor, beginner hobbyists quickly realize that they can get that big tank feel without the big tank hassle.”
—Stephen Nyugen, Director of Sales & Marketing at Innovative Marine in Cerritos, Calif.

“Always have immaculate live displays. If I go into a store and I see a display aquarium that is full of algae, dying plants, a horrible layout, my impression is that [the store] doesn’t know what they are doing. This doesn’t transfer well to the customer… The goal as retailers is to inspire people.”
—Jeannie Lister, co-owner of Aquariums West in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Historically speaking, beginner setups haven’t focused on aesthetics as much as function.

“Most of the ‘beginner’ starter kits have been the usual ugly rectangular tank with the plastic lid—not something that someone with a fancy condo wants to put in their living room,” noted Aquariums West’s Lister.

Affordable, contemporary aquariums kits that are easy to keep and attractive are fairly new to the beginner product category, she added.

“Eight years ago, the only shape you could get an AIO [all-in-one] aquarium, was in a cube form,” Nyugen said. “Now, these kits are being designed in multiple colors and shapes. These elements open the door to a new wave of aquarium hobbyist that never wanted to make exceptions to their taste and style.”

When it comes to beginner aquarium setups, there have never been as many options available as there are today, he added.

“The Fluval line of nano tanks are beautiful and would look good in any apartment, office or home,” Lister reported. “The Fluval Chi and the Fluval Edge aquariums are our biggest sellers for the introductory market. We steer new hobbyists this way because they are easy and attractive—and best of all, inexpensive.”

Given the upgraded LED units on the second generation of Fluval Edge Aquariums, Old Town Aquarium’s Tanglao is quite excited, too.

“They look amazing on our shelves and still have the same clean and polished look that we expect from the Edge,” he said.

Another exciting and hot-selling product in Tanglao’s store is Marineland’s new 6-gallon cylinder aquarium, which has a seamless look and a great filter, he reported.

On the saltwater front, similarly offerings are also popular.

“Ecoxotic’s Ecopico has been a fantastic beginner nano tank for people with very little space—and [it] is upgradeable,” Tanglao noted.

Lighten Up!
Another trend that’s sweeping the beginner marketplace is the evolution of lighting technology.

“LED lighting in all-in-one aquariums or small desktop aquariums seems to be growing leaps and bounds,” Innovative Marine’s Nyugen said.

“In the past, small desktop aquariums only came equipped with either fluorescent or power compact lighting as the main source [for] sustaining [and] growing plant and marine life,” he continued. “The new AIO aquariums all seem to be utilizing this more cost effective and eco-friendly component.”

Nano tanks with LED lighting are one of the newest developments in the beginner marketplace, said Michael Hunter at Wet World in Eagan, Minn., adding that he’s really excited about Aqua Illumination’s Vega LED module, which he said is Wi-Fi capable.

Business Boosters
Retailers can boost business by educating customers on the actual costs and perceived difficulties in keeping aquariums. There is a belief in the marketplace that caring for fish can be time-consuming and difficult.

“Communicating that keeping fish is not that difficult is important,” said Mike Elliott, co-owner of Aquatic Life in Los Angeles. “New hobbyists can be intimidated by keeping fish and often think it’s more difficult than [it is in] reality. Offering training on keeping fish and holding the customer’s hand is a great way to get new hobbyists started. We have seen several stores work closely with local aquarium clubs to help promote the hobby and the beginners learn from the more advanced hobbyists.”

When new hobbyists come in to Lister’s Aquariums West store, there’s an array of fish-and-plant setups waiting to entice them.

“They will usually move toward the tank that suits their tastes and then we show them how to maintain them,” she said. “I will get a bucket, siphon and give them a little demonstration. It usually takes five minutes to explain the bi-weekly maintenance to them, all while I am doing a water change.”

Well-decorated display tanks are important to garner interest and boost sales.

“[They] have generated the sales of small aquariums considerably,” Old Town Aquarium’s Tanglao said.

Part of the goal for many retailers is not to just get new customers into the hobby, but to keep them there.

“The problem for me is that when you get kids into stuff, what you have to get them into is things that have babies, things that grow and things that change—like live plants,” Aquariums West’s McOuat said.

Rather than sell customers a fish tank, McOuat said his store tries selling a slice of the Amazon or a slice of Fiji.

“So the fish are certainly part of the show,” he stated. “But it’s nature that’s the show.” <HOME>

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