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10:47 PM   April 25, 2015
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Aquatic Marketplace: Bigger is Better

Large aquarium setups generate both product and service revenue.
By David Lass

The definition of a “large” aquarium depends completely on one’s point of view. For those in the business, there are basically two types of large aquariums. One is the new complete pieces of aquarium “furniture.” These usually are from 60 gallons on up, including a complete tank, cabinet, light and life-support system.

Manufacturers are designing their latest tanks with design in mind, to provide furniture that compliments a room’s décor and gives the added benefit of an aquatic setup. Courtesy of Coast to Coast Aquariums
The other is the truly large—one might say “huge”—custom-designed, -built and -installed aquarium systems. These often range into the thousands of gallons, and many thousands of dollars.

Major manufacturers have researched the design, fabrication and operation of the larger display tanks.

 “The Max 250 is more than simply an aquarium,” said Steve Halls, group marketing manager for Red Sea, a manufacturer of a variety of aquarium products based in Houston. “It is a completely integrated coral-reef system designed to make reef-keeping easier than ever before, and to support even the most delicate coral and fish species.”

In general, all of these new systems are fine pieces of furniture that happen to feature living slices of the sea within them. All of the life-support systems are completely out of view.

“Our advances in glass cutting and manufacturing have allowed us to make a self-contained unit, where everything needed for life support is plumbed into the sump and cabinet,” said Damian Hall, the marketing/events manager for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) in Mansfield, Mass.

Nearly all of the large tank manufacturers seem to be gearing their new large tank/furniture introductions to the design conscious. Fish hobbyists can have their new fancy large tanks, while those with an eye toward aesthetics can have a lovely new piece of furniture.

Marineland has launched its new line of “Deep Dimension Corner-Flo Aquariums,” which are the first standard manufactured tanks with a three-foot dimension from front to back.

Furniture-style large aquariums hide unsightly gadgetry, which keeps the underwater habitat as the focal point of the tank. Courtesy of NeoAquatics

“We learned that people wanted to see fish swimming not just up and down, but also across and front to back in the tank,” said Tim Plafcan, senior product manager Instant Ocean/Marineland of the United Pet Group, headquartered in Blacksburg, Va.

“The added depth of our new tanks gives the planted or reef tank a completely new look—hobbyists see their fish differently, and better.”

In addition to selling large tanks, many local fish stores are “practicing what they preach” and installing extra-large setups for in-store display. One such large tank display is in a fish room at Lebanon Pet and Aquarium in Lebanon, N.H.

“When our store was constructed, this was the largest display of Dutch Aquarium Systems tanks in a retail store, said Sharon Partridge, manager. “ I’m sure we are still right up there.”

Lebanon has a 300-gallon DAS “tray” that is set up as a community of African cichlids, as well as a 350-gallon that has a huge pacu and a few large catfish.

“Our customers really like to be able to walk around our fish room,” Sharon adds, “and the large tanks and fish are definitely a good draw.”

When it comes to large custom-designed tanks and life support systems, Phoenix-based Tenecor Aquariums has long been one of the leaders.

“We are finding that tanks like the 300-gallon that we used to consider large have become the smaller sizes that we make,” said Dennis Hipp, vice president of sales for Tenecor. “We now are routinely manufacturing tank systems in the 1,000 to 3,000 gallon range.”

All of these newer large tanks have built-in life support systems. Very high-efficiency and high-reliability canister filters, protein skimmers and pumps are typically used. In addition, there are many new creative shapes and designs.

“We recently constructed a diamond-shaped 1,100-gallon tank,” said Randy Cameron, the owner of Concept Aquarium International Inc. in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. “We also have been producing 600- to 700-gallon double-bowed tanks, with acrylic inserts to prevent the viewer seeing the other side of the room through either side of the tank. One of our most interesting new offerings is a boat tank, which is double-bowed to a point on one end.”

Virtually all of these really large custom tanks are ordered, sold, installed and maintained through a local tank-maintenance company or a fish store that provides such services.

“We are involved in systems in excess of $250,000 for both commercial and residential installations,” Hipp said. “On systems like that we always try to work with a local installation/maintenance company.”

One company that has been doing this for many years is Gibbons Aquaria Inc. in Marion, Mass.

“The design of the entire system before anything is produced is critical,” said Warren Gibbons, owner of the company. “Prevention is the magic word—we’ve had enough experience over the years to know that Mr. Murphy is alive and well when it comes to large custom aquarium installations.”

Gibbons advises that not only should installers and service providers do everything possible to avoid problems, but also that it is more important to anticipate what to do when various failures do occur.

“Having a large mechanical room, with floor drains and waterproof walls, will make the maintenance of a large tank so much easier,” Gibbons said. “We also always include monitoring systems with alerts for any anticipated deviances in any of the tank parameters—with an automatic dialer.”

Gibbons also reported a trend toward new and different sizes and shapes of aquariums; one of the best installations he has is a 2,000-gallon cylinder tank.

“This tank is at a Kelly’s Restaurant (large chain of big ‘fast food’ restaurants in the Boston area) in Natick, Mass., and it is a really impressive tank.”

According to numerous custom-tank manufacturers, the current economic slowdown is not greatly affecting this very high end of the business.
“We are quoting on some huge residential aquariums,” Hipp noted.

The technology is improving to meet the demand, and Dennis said they have the capability to manufacture tanks 20- to 30-feet long and 5- or 6-feet tall.

Gibbons agreed about the strength of the high-end business.

“At the very high income level of the folks who want these huge tanks, they seem to still have lots of disposable income, and in many ways the equipment is on sale for reasonable costs right now,” Gibbons said.

Whichever type of large aquarium a hobbyist chooses, fish stores can reap the benefits by not only selling the tanks, but also by providing maintenance programs and/or service agreements to help customers keep those tanks in tip-top shape. <HOME>

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