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Aquatic Marketplace: The Water’s Edge

Posted: June 30, 2014, 12:00 p.m. EDT


Discover what out-of-the-ordinary aquatic hobby categories are creating the latest buzz.

By LaRue Palmer

Aquatics is a mature hobby retail category, meaning it can sometimes be difficult to spot what is truly unique, innovative or unusual. Once a new trend is identified, the question then becomes, "Is it here to stay or is it just a flash in the pan?”

During the past 20 years, the most exciting, durable new trends relate to tank size, the all-in-one feature and lighting. The nano tank combined size innovation with the all-in-one offering, while LED lighting continues to ride the wave but has not reached its full potential. T-5 halides still are very much in play; until LEDs have replaced them completely, the hobby will continue to see lighting developments.

One new trend poised to dramatically change the appearance of aquarium setups in a significant way is 3-D aquarium backgrounds, said several interviewed sources. A handful of companies are creating some amazing-looking, easy-to-use 3-D backgrounds that make hobbyists forget the rolls of photographed scenery they used to tape onto the backs of their aquariums.

Aquaterra in Baldwin Park, Calif., and Aqua-Maniac in London offer backgrounds such as Amazon rainforest scenes and rock formations that go inside the tank, adding interesting dimensions.

BioBubble Pets out of Boca Raton, Fla. has just launched a new line of 3-D aquarium backgrounds under the National Geographic brand.

"We’ve developed a new innovative technology where we can take a photograph of an aquascape, or a coral reef, and laminate it directly onto plastic, thermal-form it and create a 3-D background that is a perfect representation of an actual scene that goes right inside an aquarium,” said Al Venezia, CEO of BioBubble Pets. "This is brand-new, cutting-edge technology, and the pieces are virtually maintenance free.”

 Zero Edge
This desktop model maintains a trademark "designer look" and gentle, coast-to-coast overflowing trickle of water. Zeroedge 

Venezia hopes that more companies will follow suit and produce backgrounds that drive the industry to push the envelope of 3-D background design.

Another breakthrough trend is the shallow reef tank.

In 2013, Innovative Marine debuted its shallow reef tank, a low-profile aquarium that not only gives the viewer a different perspective into a tank, but also gives the aquarist easy access for maintenance, with filtration that is concealed under the tank.

"The Nuvo SR series of aquariums are really a one-of-a-kind, all-in-one aquarium series, because nobody’s really gone as large as we did in an all-in-one format,” said Royce Suzuki, marketing manager for the Cerritos, Calif.-based company. "We wanted to break the mold with a tank that defies conventional wisdom that says a tank that large needs a sump pump.

"These are our premium aquariums; we put all the best materials you could possibly get inside of them, yet we kept it as customizable as possible so that advanced hobbyists with discriminating tastes can add their own special touch later on,” Suzuki continued.

ZeroEdge, which recently introduced its desktop model, maintains its trademark "designer look” and gentle, coast-to-coast overflowing trickle of water.

The Tranquility Series features the SR ZeroEdge Aquarium Table, which acts as a centerpiece for a fine-dining dinner table and is composed of glass fiber-reinforced con- crete to bear the weight of the aquarium.

"Technology has been the big thing now, with the ability to control all your parameters from your cell phone,” said Brett Perry, CEO of the Elburn, Ill.-based company. "Integrating this technology into our new designs has been a lot of fun because it’s so different. We also have the new Betta Bowl line and the Aqua U that are just so nice looking and keep that designer style going.”

Betta tanks remain wildly popular, interviewed sources said.

NoClean Aquariums, a brand by Crave Products Inc. based in Palatine, Ill., has a new betta tank that cleans itself when hobbyists pour water into the tank, forcing the dirty water up a tube and out.

"We started out with a completely different design than the current one, but when we saw how much it would cost to implement that design on a 20-gallon tank we went back to the drawing board,” said David Turover, co-founder of the company. "What literally came to me in a dream turned out to be what’s known as hydrostatic equilibrium. I tested the concept on a 2-liter bottle and it worked!”

The company currently is working on a system that will allow hobbyists to retrofit their 20- to 30-gallon aquariums with this self-cleaning system.

Retailers’ Perspective
Jeff Harris, Owner of Aquamart in Lakewood, Colo., said shallow reef tanks are generating buzz.

"We have a shallow reef tank which is a low profile tank normally, but we placed ours on a slightly higher stand,” Harris said. "Customers seem to like the higher profile better because they don’t have to lean over to look into it. It’s gotten more popular because of the different viewing angle, and sales have picked up.”

When it comes to unique shapes and designs of new aquariums, especially the novelty tanks that are so popular with kids these days, savvy retailers are cautious about what they recommend to their customers, said interviewed sources.

"We have all of our acrylic tanks custom made, if say a customer wants a 10-gallon, all-inclusive setup, but for the most part we’re not trying to get into anything too unique because when you get into unique designs and shapes of saltwater tanks, you can create dead spots where the flow isn’t going,” said Bryan Evans, sales associate for Saltwater City in Bellevue, Wash. "So with a smaller aquarium it’s a very unstable environment and problems can easily occur.”

Most interviewed sources lean toward establishing an aquarium setup using the best available components as opposed to the all-in-ones, while making sure that the components they sell their customers are rated for a larger capacity should they decide to upgrade in the future.

"We know that it’s a changing landscape in this hobby, and that we’ve gone from this huge tank movement down to the pico, so nothing is ever going to stay stable as far as size is concerned. So we try to bring in as many different components that are going to be interchangeable with an upgrade,” said Evans. "Retailers would rather see customers spend their money on livestock or the newest lighting—something they can actually get excited about because you help them spend their money wisely.”

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