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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

November 10, 2011

Water Testing

By David Lass


pH strips
It always amazes me when I see a store “fishperson” ask a customer what the pH of his/her water is and the answer is “Oh, it’s fine.” The answer is a number—with a decimal point—and the customer’s response is really that they have no idea.

All of us realize that testing/knowing the water parameters of an aquarium is very important. It’s really no more complicated than what millions of folks do for their swimming pools. The question is whether the store should make an effort to sell test kits to fish customers (at least pH and, hopefully, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate) or encourage them to bring in a sample of their water to be tested at the store. After many years in many local fish stores, my experience leads me to two conclusions.

1. Get them to bring water in for testing. Encouraging your customers to come to your store as often as possible is a good idea. Also, there is less chance that the tests will get screwed up. Having a customer bring water in for testing is a teaching moment, and also a terrific sales opportunity. You want them to look to you for information, truth and numbers.

2. If they want to test their own water, sell them test strips, not reagent kits. I’ve done a number of tests between simple little test strips vs. the fancier, more expensive reagent test kits. My conclusion: The test strips are absolutely fine for most hobbyists. First of all, the reagent kits are difficult to use, the reagents can go bad for a number of reasons, and they take longer to get readings from. For the purposes of most hobbyists, all they need to know is that there is ammonia or there is no ammonia—or there is a lot of ammonia. The exact numbers are simply not necessary.

The above applies only to freshwater hobbyists. On the marine side, and especially for reef geeks, they do need all different test kits, and giving away free tests for four or five factors of marine reef tank water can become very expensive for a store. Encourage reefers to buy their own test kits.

For newbies with their first freshwater tank, definitely encourage them to bring in a water sample for you to test every time they come to your store. This is an especially good thing to do each time they want to buy fish, since more often than we would like to think the water they want to bring new fish from your store to is too low a pH, has too much nitrates, etc. Better to have them bring in water before they buy more fish, than to bring in water when they come back with a fish you sold them that died.

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