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Quest for the Comprehensive Kit

Posted: Oct. 4, 2011, 4:05 p.m., EDT

Retailers report finding success with complete aquarium kits, allowing them to build business and retain hobbyists.
By Maddy Heleine

Aquarium starter kits have drastically improved on the limited offerings of the past. Many kits available today contain top-of-the-line equipment and come in a wide variety of shapes, materials and sizes, aquatics retailers reported. Consumer demand for these kits is growing  due to many factors, including desire in the market for an inexpensive way to enter the hobby, interest in their appeal as décor items, and as all-in-one projects for use at home and school.

“Aquarium kits generally cost less money overall than buying each item separately,” said Diane Settler, owner of Diane’s Pet Center in Reading, Pa. “Many customers feel confident purchasing kits like the Marineland Eclipse Hex, because they are not required to struggle with a long list of items that they need for an aquarium. Most of these kits include filtration, lighting, a hood, water conditioner, starter food and an instruction book that will guide them through the setup, and help them to understand the basics.”

“I carry different sizes of Marineland starter kits, which have nice, three-stage integrated filters and florescent lighting built into the hood,” Settler added. “I also like the fact that their tanks allow a lot of light in for better viewing. Smaller kits sell faster than larger display tanks now because the new generation of financially savvy hobbyists that are starting out do not want to invest tons of money in their first system before seeing if they really like aquarium keeping.”

These days, aquarium kits come in an array of shapes, materials and sizes.

The aquarium market has spoken, and manufacturers are responding to the trend toward complete aquarium kits.

“Novice hobbyists can get everything they need with kits like the Fluval Chi without a huge investment,” said Damian Hall, communications manager for Rolf C. Hagen (USA), in Mansfield, Mass.

Another advantage of these kits is that they allow stores with limited shelf space to easily stock a variety of complete system setups, Hall added.

“Busy retailers will not have to explain every item that makes up a beginning aquarium system, because the instruction books that are included in most kits will cover important basic concepts,” he said. “Employees can devote their time to answering questions the consumer may have after they learn how to easily set up their own system using one of these kits.”

Additionally, such kits may help to grow the hobby down the road, as aquarists build skills and become more confident in their abilities.

“Complete kits can be a simple entry point that will lead to maintaining larger tanks later on as the hobbyists develop confidence in their aquarium keeping skills,” Hall added.

Comprehensive aquarium setups may help instill this confidence by providing new hobbyists with most of what they need to get started, lessening the burden of “getting it right” from the start. But despite the fact that many aquarium kits contain most of the items that are needed to start a basic system, there are a few things retailers should keep in mind when selling them to customers.

Create Your Own

There are numerous items that retailers can stock to create their own “kits” and offer customers complete aquarium setups, or to augment existing complete setups.

• Automatic Feeders--These dispense the correct amount of food daily or while aquarists are on vacation. Not all pre-packaged manufacturer kits include items such as these.

• Lighting Timers--Timers allow aquarists to automatically turn lights on and off to provide the correct amount of daily exposure.

• Digital Temperature Alert--With these items, aquarists can avoid dangerous temperature changes, potentially keeping them in the hobby longer.

• Moonlight Unit--These provide normal lighting during the day and cool blue moonlight tones at night.

• Auto Fill Systems--Automatic top-offs help keep hobbyists’ aquariums full, further easing maintenance chores.

• Wave-Making Machines--By creating natural circulation currents in the aquarium, aquarists can eliminate potential problems early.

• Portable Automatic Gravel Cleaners--Battery-operated units that allow hobbyists to clean fallen debris in their aquarium gravel between water changes help with maintenance task.

• Plug-and-Play Decorations--Pre-drilled aquarium bases, artificial plants and corals allow hobbyists to place, build and change artificial decorations with ease.


“The lights in these kits can warm the water up quickly, and the filtration is not the best in poorly made kits,” said Wayne Goin, a store employee at Rivers & Reefs Aquarium Shoppe in Fond Du Lac, Wis. “You have to really watch the quality of the items that you are selling to customers so that they have the best chance to avoid failure when working with their first system.”

“Retailers need to recommend higher quality kits such as the Eheim Aquastyle, Fluval Flora, Edge and Ebi, the JBJ LED Nano Cube, or Marineland tanks, to make sure their customers succeed,” Goin added.  “Once they become more proficient in the hobby, they can confidently move into setups like the Red Sea MAX 250 plug and play 65-gallon reef system kit that comes with really unique wiring, decoration and lighting features.”

When it comes to making comprehensive aquarium system recommendations, retailers have a lot to offer hobbyists.

“In today’s market, consumers can find aquarium kits that will take them all the way from novice to pro,” Goin said.

Because retailers can use comprehensive kits to introduce new hobbyists to aquarium keeping, as well as usher current hobbyists into more advanced types of fish keeping, there are several opportunities to make additional sales along with selling such systems.

“When customers purchase kits like the Marineland Eclipse, they have everything required to set up a successful system except for the gravel and plants,” said Crystal Jones, pet product specialist at Marineland and Tetra, both divisions of United Pet Group in Cincinatti, Ohio. “Most kits do not carry substrate and decorations because customers like to personally pick those items to match their own style.  Retailers need to make sure their customers purchase decorations and gravel before they leave the store so they can completely set their new tank up when they get home.”

Just because such kits have nearly everything aquarists will need to successfully keep fish, beyond decorations and substrate, doesn’t mean retailers can put customers on auto-pilot, however. Complete aquarium setups are not a replacement for proper aquarium keeping practices, retailers stated.

“As retailers, we have an obligation to remind consumers about important aquarium concepts such as water changes, despite the fact that superior kits like the Fluval Ebi have great equipment,” said Charles Frank, owner of The Pet Shanty in Scotch Plains, N.J.  “Aquarium maintenance is like playing a card game: the one with continual water changes in hand always wins.”

That said, it is becoming even easier for aquarists of all experience levels to succeed with the systems currently on offer in the hobby. Many companies are manufacturing aquarium kits with extra bells and whistles, and the line between “starter kits” and “complete kits” is rapidly fading.

Aquarium kits can help grow the hobby.

“Our JBJ 28-gallon nano cube kit with 89-watt LEDs,” said Manny Mandelia, sales and operations manager at JBJ-USA Aquarium Products in Ingelwood, Calif. “Our LEDs turn on with full brightness without having to warm up. This aquarium also comes with a wave maker to create a real ocean-like environment.”

With more sophisticated complete setups, aquarists in every aspect of the hobby have the ability to keep aesthetically pleasing systems. This is leading to a trend toward aquariums being viewed as home furniture or “art” items, in some cases. Both existing hobbyists and non-hobbyists are buying aquarium kits to use as décor for their home and office.

“We use the slogan ‘bring life to your décor’,” said Daniel Stopnicki, president of Eheim of North America, headquartered in Dollard-Des-Ormeaux, Quebec, Canada. “Customers can also purchase a pedestal stand for their Aquastyle tank to display it like a beautifully illuminated vase or a piece of art.”

The word ‘kit’ is rapidly becoming an old-fashioned term in today’s aquatic market, Stopnicki added.

“‘Aquariums as a lifestyle’ is Eheim’s idea of an accurate description for what modern complete box setups really have to offer as décor items,” Stopnicki said.

 The prevalence of this trend is attested by retailers, too.

“We often have customers come into our store to specifically buy aquarium kits to use as decorations in their homes,” Frank said. “I personally think that tanks like the Fluval Edge make a really nice addition to any home decor. People want to use aquarium kits to improve the ambiance of their homes and offices, and they are now able to do that with the elegant kits that are being made specifically for that purpose.”

Kits often feature smaller footprints and pared-down designs to accommodate demand for setups that fit in apartments and office spaces.

“A lot of people ask for Marineland Eclipse kits for a variety of reasons, such as adding a living décor to their homes,” said Ashley Ropes, a sales person at Kee's Aquarium & Pet Center in Shelby Township, Mich. “These kits are easy to set up and maintain for people who are new to the hobby.  Many consumers that live in tiny apartments and houses find the smaller kits to be the perfect decoration solution for limited space, as well.”

Industry Voices

In what way are aquarium kits having an impact on the décor market?

“Every aquarium is essentially a piece of furniture that can contribute to household and office decor. Manufacturers are now starting to focus on that aspect through marketing and innovation.”
--Manny Mandelia, sales and operations manager at JBJ-USA Aquarium Products in Inglewood, Calif.

 “We are seeing more and more customers that purchase aquariums for decoration purposes. Aquarium kits are a great way for them to buy what they need without a lot of previous aquatic knowledge.”
--Ashley Ropes, sales employee at Kee's Aquarium & Pet Center in Shelby Township, Mich.

“Many customers who purchase an aquarium starter kit for décor reasons will often end up involved in the hobby on a permanent basis.”
--Damian Hall, communications manager for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) in Mansfield, Mass.  

“A lot of parents buy aquarium kids to decorate their children’s rooms. It’s great because a lot of those kids end up staying in the hobby.”
--Charles Frank, owner of The Pet Shanty in Scotch Plains, N.J.

“By focusing on good marketing imaging strategies and packaging, consumers can really see the true beauty that aquariums have to offer as a décor item.”
--Daniel Stopnicki, president of Eheim of North in Dollard-Des-Ormeaux, Quebec, Canada

“In large cities like New York, designer tanks are very common. Now, even in less trendy areas, people are starting to see the benefit of using an aquarium kit to decorate their home.”
--Diane Settler, owner of Diane’s Pet Center in Reading, Pa

“The possibilities with these kits are really endless,” Ropes added. “A customer can have something as simple as a betta or as complicated as a mini reef to give their home a cool new decorative element. I am really excited about all the new system kits I see, such as the Eheim Aquastyle. They are just amazing-looking aquariums.”

To help build interest in and awareness of aquariums as décor, Hagen’s Damian Hall recommended that retailers set up a running display aquarium in the fish section of their stores.

“Modern consumers want to see what they are getting before they buy,” Hall said. “Retailers can also place displays in high-traffic areas and unique spots like the dog and cat section and then watch [complete aquarium kits] fly off their shelves. If you inspire customers with your ideas, they will start thinking about what they can do with that system in their own space.” 

Other manufacturers agreed with this marketing idea, adding that sometimes, not displaying setups in use can actually hurt sales.

“One of the most important marketing tools for retailers is to show [customers] the finished product,” Stopnicki said. “If retailers simply stack aquarium kits on shelves, they will not always sell to their full potential. Take the time to set one up on display so the customers can see how nice they really are.”

Getting new hobbyists interested in keeping aquariums is a large topic on many industry participants’ minds. Today’s aquarium kits have the potential to influence the hobby.
“We need to guide the next generation of kids into the hobby instead of allowing them to just sit around playing video games and watching TV,” said JBJ’s Manny Mandelia. “Aquarium kits like the JBJ Biotope 6-gallon Nano Cube are a great way to get children interested in reading up on fish and aquatic environments so they can enjoy a fascinating life-long hobby. Parents can also share these kits and memories with their kids to spark an interest in future hobbyists who will care about the living aquatic creatures of the world that we live in.”





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