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Stocking Aquarium Décor

Offering the basics while staying on top of pop culture trends helps keep sales afloat.
By David Lass

Small-sized beginner setups provide store owners the chance to appeal to younger aquarium hobbyists, and thereby potentially gain customers for life. Rosemary Shelton/Click the Photo Connection
Retailers have the option of offering a wide variety of decorative items to aquarists, and the choices available are mind-boggling. From the “natural” look of plain gravel, rocks and driftwood to fluorescent-colored gravel and ornaments, customers have numerous choices when it comes to outfitting their aquariums.

The variety of ornaments available for fish tanks may seem endless, but there definitely are trends in terms of what sells the best.

“Right now, small ornaments are selling very well for betta bowls and nano tanks,” said Gary Meyers, sales manager for Blue Ribbon Pet Co. in Commack, N.Y.

Kits for Kids

Getting kids started in the aquarium hobby often involves a small aquarium of 1 or 2 gallons, or even a small betta kit. An effective way manufacturers have found to get kids to start a fish tank is to tie the tank theme into what kids see on TV and the Internet.

Some very successful themes include “Sponge Bob Squarepants,”  “Finding Nemo,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Little Mermaid.” Another new line of kits for kids is the Magic Globe Aquarium from Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based Aquatica Gallery; a panel of judges voted this line of kits the Best New Product Showcase first place winner this year at the 2010 Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla. A number of different themes are available.

“Waterfalls are generated on side openings and the running water goes through a self-contained filtration system that aerates and cycles clean water back to the tank,” said Tony Wu, general manager for Aquatica Gallery. “The aquarium set comes with a complete starter kit and multi-language instruction.”

Many retailers reported the future health of the aquatics side of the pet industry is dependent on getting kids involved with the hobby, and making sure they succeed with their first aquarium. All too often, a child’s first tank becomes a disaster; the fish die and the tank ends up a smelly mess. Not only has the industry lost a potential hobbyist, that person is more likely to speak negatively of fishkeeping, potentially further hindering the growth of the hobby.

“Once a child and parent have selected a kit, starting up right is the key to long-term success,” said Rebecca Kowalik, senior product manager, environments, for the aquatics division of United Pet Group in Blacksburg, Va. “Most kits include a setup guide for the basics. Retail store associates are a wealth of knowledge and are always more than willing to give advice. ”

It is important that kits for kids not only appeal to children, but that the kits have everything beginners need for the fish to live healthy lives. Especially important with a small kit for a kid’s first experience keeping fish is the information provided in the kit, and by the store employees.

“To get a child involved with fishkeeping at an early age is important,” said Sue Cygan, manager of Little Critters Pet Center in Raymond, N.H. “The small kits are easy to maintain and as long as the kids succeed with their first kit, they will be ready to move up to larger tanks.”  —DL

Children’s aquariums are often the focus of retailers’ efforts to stock aquarium décor items.

“Make sure to include items that appeal to both boys and girls,” said Rebecca Kowalik, senior product manager, environments, for the aquatics division of United Pet Group in Blacksburg, Va. “[These include] items such as sunken treasure chests and pirate ships for boys, and mermaids and castles for girls.”

These preferences are relatively consistent among certain customers groups, and once any type of ornament is selling well, retailers can usually count on many variations of the theme appearing on the market. The goal with ornament selection, according to many in the aquatics marketplace, is to appeal to four distinct customer groups.

“Boys love swords, and girls prefer fairy princesses,” said Ron LaBrecque, retail manager for Something Fishy in Warwick and East Providence, R.I. “Dads go for skulls, and moms for castles.”

Besides what customers they are intended to appeal to, another primary distinction between types of ornaments involves those that are “natural” versus “themed” ornaments—for example, rocks, trees and plants designed to mimic natural aquarium décor in contrast to sunken ships, monsters and pagodas, which are intended to be fanciful decorative items for aquaria.

When it comes to themed ornaments, air-driven ones are very popular, reported several retailers and manufacturers—skulls, bones and skeletons are good sellers as well.

“Skulls, the skull with the helmet that lifts up, and the old stand-by of the skeleton in the coffin that opens are clearly the best sellers,” said Mark Lamon, vice president of Burlingham, Calif.-based OSI Marine Labs, which manufactures a wide variety of aquarium ornaments.

Not everyone in the hobby prefers the themed décor look, and décor items intended to mimic naturalistic environments are also popular. On the freshwater side of the hobby, manufacturers make these items from plastic and design them to resemble plants or caves.

“Our best sellers are the mountains with trees, the rocks and the driftwood if you are going for the ‘natural’ look,” said Lamon.

Whether aquarium product consumers’ tastes lean toward faux-natural or fanciful and fantastic, retailers report success selling décor items of both types. Rosemary Shelton/Click the Photo Connection
On the marine side of the hobby, manufacturers have made improvements in producing realistic ornaments, ranging in size and complexity from small corals and anemones to large complete pieces designed to look like entire reefs.

There are many advantages to artificial décor items designed to mimic natural items. For one, aquarists keeping such items might have an easier time with tank maintenance, or they might find they have an easier time when it comes to not having to pay for energy and other inputs necessary to keep live versions of difficult or demanding species.

“Artificial décor saves money in the long-run,” said Yan An, manager for Sunland Park, N.M.-based Instant Reef by Archer USA,  manufacturer of artificial coral reef inserts for aquaria. “The hobbyist saves on electricity, as both artificial corals and artificial plants do not require intense lighting. There is no need for a big pump to create strong water movement and no special reef tank equipment.”

Manufacturers design artificial coral décor items to look realistic, and some serve functions similar to real corals or live rock.

“[These items] should have a porous and rough surface to provide bio-filtration, making an artificial live rock,” Yan said.

INDUSTRY VOICES

What factors are important in ornaments and in aquarium kits for kids?

“Most kids want something that they can customize to match their own interests. This can mean taking a basic kit and adding colorful ornaments, plants and gravel, or purchasing a kit that already includes some fun accessories. A starter kit for kids must be as easy to maintain as possible so that children can focus more on the fun of owning fish.

“This means that filtration is critical. I think parents want a kit that is inexpensive and easy to buy, so it must include all the key components at a fantastic retail price.”
—Rebecca Kowalik, senior product manager, environments, for the aquatics division of United Pet Group in Blacksburg, Va.

“Starter aquariums are really how we can get more young people into the hobby. A diverse offering of kits is also important. We’ve come to market with themed kits, betta kits, gold fish kits. I mention this because we feel it is important to offer a variety of kits that will appeal to the diverse tastes of a young audience.”
—Damian Hall, marketing and events manager for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp., Mansfield, Mass.

“We sell a lot of the Mini-Bows, and it is important to have a filter, the light and all the information and accessories in one package. That they come in different colors allows the customer choice, but we know that the kits have everything they need to keep the fish healthy.”
—Sue Cygan, manager of Little Critters Pet Center in
Raymond, N.H.

There is a group of ornaments available that is designed to look like live rock encrusted with purple coralline algae. In general, marine hobbyists, especially reef aquarium enthusiasts, select ornaments that are natural-looking, keeping the décor of marine tanks rather conservative.

However, this isn’t universally true, and there is a wide variety of décor needs when it comes to marine aquaria, many retailers reported. Generally, many small tanks feature “Finding Nemo” themes and incorporate bubbling treasure chests or skeletons, while larger reef tanks are more likely to feature realistic décor items.

In addition to retailers finding the right mix of themed versus naturalistic décor items to carry, the other important factor to consider with aquarium ornaments is how they are made and how they will wear.

“It is always worth the extra price to buy top-quality ornaments,” Something Fishy’s LaBrecque said. “We also find that darker colors work out better.”

The quality and detail of ornaments varies widely, and retailers may do well to consider this when stocking items for aquarists.

“We know that the ornament is going to get covered with algae, and an ornament has to be able to stand up to being scrubbed by the hobbyist without the paint coming off,” Lamon said.

Some ornaments are made of resin, as opposed to plastic or rubber, and quality may vary from item to item. Companies often make ornaments with the intent to mimic natural driftwood, rocks, corals or plants. Manufacturers often produce these items from casts of the real thing, and with some of the newer ornaments manufacturers mix the colors into the resin material.

All in all, the variety of available décor items is quite large, and knowing customers’ needs could mean the difference between success and failure in selling these items. <HOME> 


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