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Aquatic Marketplace: Feng Shui Fish Decor

Posted: May 8, 2013, 7 p.m. EST

Varied tank accessories and décor items keep hobbyists happy and businesses selling product.
By Patricia Morris Buckley

A couple purchases their first home. What’s the next step? Decorating is the fun part of home ownership. The same goes for aquarium lovers. Luckily, choices abound when it comes to tank accessories and decorations, including ornaments, statues, hides, lighting and plants.

These items aren’t just for looks, according to manufacturers.

Aquarium Tank Decor
Using new tank accessories to decorate in-store displays can increase customer enthusiasm and sales. Courtesy of Zoo Med Laboratories Inc.

"Aquarium décor serves multiple purposes in a tank,” said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator for Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. of San Luis Obispo, Calif. "The first, and most obvious, is making the tank look attractive. A fish tank is like a piece of furniture in a home and, for most fish keepers, making it look nice is very important. Additionally, décor serves the purpose of helping to maintain healthy fish. Fish need to have shelter and feel secure to reduce stress, and décor (such as plants and logs) is the best way of accomplishing this.”

Like homeowners, fish hobbyists enjoy remodeling once in a while, said Ruth Flores, CEO of Underwater Galleries in Portland, Ore.

"That’s why, as a designer, I’m always trying to come up with something different—something that no one else has and that the customer is wishing for,” she said, adding that hobbyists want to create more complex environments, with pieces for fish to move over, under and through.

Hobbyists also want pieces that complement each other, Flores said, which is why they’re always interested in what’s new and trendy.

"The category has to keep fresh,” said Paul Demas, project manager for Penn-Plax Inc. in Hauppauge, N.Y. "We add about 20 to 50 new items a year. The stores always want new items because customers are always looking for the next thing.”

The New and the Trendy
The real revolution in aquarium décor has been in lighting, specifically LED lighting, industry insiders reported.

Aquarium Tank Accessories
Colorful hides and pass-throughs add aquarium interest. Courtesy of Underwater Galleries
"LED is rapidly changing what décor people are buying for their aquarium,” said Christopher J. Kline, owner of Discount Aquarium Fish and Reef in Phoenix. "In a year, it will be the only kind of light people buy.”

Kline pointed out that LEDs can create special lighting effects and pick up the colors on some fish. As LED light is blue, manufacturers are aware of this when creating new décor items, he said.

Mary Ann Giorgio, marketing and communications manager for Aquatop Aquatic Supplies in Brea, Calif., agreed.

"The advances in LED lighting affect the resins and plastic so that the colors look more vibrant,” she said.

Light also can be seen in other products, such as glowing plastic jellyfish or the moonstones and rock products produced by Underwater Galleries. Both the white moon rock and the colored moonstones glow in the dark and feature holes that serve as hides and pass-throughs, Flores said.

Another new décor item that takes advantage of LEDs is Penn-Plax’s Gazer line, where various statues and ornaments feature red jewels.

"It’s as though the eyes are staring back at you,” Demas said. "Another new line for us is flaming skull resins that look like they have blue and orange flames coming off them. In general, resins are our biggest line—one of the things that sell well for us.”

Décor that moves is popular, especially when it’s a twist on an aerator, Kline said.

Tank Aquarium Decor
Stocking fantastical statues that tend to appeal to younger hobbyists might increase category sales. Courtesy of Penn-Plax

Giorgio said she is excited about the potential of new silk plants.

"They look extremely real, but they’re malleable enough that they flow,” she said. "It’s a great growth category for people who don’t have time to maintain real plants.”

Backgrounds, especially those with a 3-D look, are growing in popularity as well, said Tammy Tillman, co-owner of Ken’s Tropical Fish in Hammond, La.

"They’re something new and really pretty,” she said. "Some have coral, which looks really nice.”

Manufacturers and retailers agreed that there are two camps when it comes to what’s trendy: those who like the natural look and those who prefer the fantastical.

"The younger and newer hobbyists gravitate toward what captures their fancy,” Flores said. "The older, more serious hobbyists like their tank décor more natural.”

The natural look, she said, can include driftwood, coral and statues that look like Greek or Mayan ruins, as opposed to brightly colored plants, whimsical statues and colored gravel.

Aquarium Tank Decor
Retailers reported many hobbyists gravitate toward natural décor. Courtesy of Aquatop Aquatic Supplies
Matching a tank’s décor with that of the owner’s home is also a popular trend, giving it a sense of feng shui, Demas said.

"I see growth in the realistic décor, but often, aquarium décor is about an expression of yourself, and it doesn’t have to stay the same,” Giorgio reported. "That’s a wonderful part of the hobby.”

Tillman added, "[Hobbyists] want something different because they get tired of seeing the same thing over and over.”

Tank Display Tactics
When it comes to selling aquarium décor, manufacturers and retailers all had the same advice: Display available items in tanks instead of in packaging.

"When you set décor in an aquarium, they pretty much sell themselves,” Tillman said.

 "Put your best items in the aquariums,” Flores said. "Use your artistic ability to put together an attractive display. People really like an idea, and when you show them what it can look like, you’re giving them ideas.”
After creating a display, remember to clean it on a regular basis, said Debbie Kee, manager of Kee’s Aquarium and Pets in Shelby, Mich.

Aquarium décor continues to be a strong category, Demas added, even during the recession.

"We’ve been doing it 20 years, and it’s still going strong,” he said. "Overall, the category has done very well for us. Best of all, it’s all about making tanks more fun.”

Fishing for the Youngest Hobbyists
When "101 Dalmatians” was released, kids clamored for spotted dogs. Aquarium retailers reported the same phenomenon when Pixar released "Finding Nemo,” the animated tale of a clownfish searching for his son.

Aquarium Tank Accessories
Clownfish décor might soon regain popularity with kids. Courtesy of Penn-Plax
"‘Finding Nemo’ really impacted the children’s market,” reported Christopher J. Kline, owner of Discount Aquarium Fish and Reef in Phoenix. "Luckily, clownfish had been overbred in captivity, so the supply was there. Now that they’ve announced [the sequel] ‘Finding Dory’ for 2015, there’s sure to be the same kid interest in the hobby again.”

Getting children and teens interested in aquariums always has been a priority for the industry, reported Paul Demas, project manager for Penn-Plax Inc. in Hauppauge, N.Y.

"We have plenty of aquatic décor geared toward the kids,” he said. "If we don’t appeal to kids, there won’t be anyone in the hobby down the road. Many of the most serious hobbyists began as kids. That’s why we licensed properties like Sponge Bob, Dora the Explorer and ‘Finding Nemo.’ We’re about to introduce Little Mermaid and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Kids decorate their tanks differently than adults, noted Mary Ann Giorgio, marketing coordinator for Aquatop Aquatic Supplies in Brea, Calif., who has first-hand knowledge from watching her son set up his tank.

"Color really appeals to kids, but they also want to create something exciting,” she said, adding that her son set up one tank with scooters and ramps, and another to resemble the last scene in the film "Planet of the Apes.”

Manufacturers reported that kids gravitate to the colored gravel and match it to their rooms.

"There are inexpensive starter tanks geared toward kids, and these often have themes,” Kline said. "But the pirate ships and castles—the classic ornaments—are popular with younger hobbyists, and they get very creative.”

Parents of younger children often have a greater say in a tank’s decoration and will match it with the child’s room, said Tammy Tillman, co-owner of Ken’s Tropical Fish in Hammond, La.

Aquarium Tank Decor
Display tanks with colored gravel tend to attract children. Courtesy of Zoo Med Laboratories Inc.
"They especially like to match the colored plants,” she said.

And ultimately, it’s the parents who buy tanks for their children, said retailers such as Debbie Kee, manager of Kee’s Aquarium and Pets in Shelby, Mich.
"We sell a lot of tanks at Christmastime,” she said. "We have to get the parents interested because often they’re the ones that have to take care of the tank.”—PMB

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