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New aquarists are entering the hobby at a rapid pace, which is driving tank sales higher year-over-year. Retailers are seeing strong demand from existing customers as well, as those who start out with smaller nano-sized tanks often end up purchasing several more tanks over time.

Demand has increasingly shifted toward nano-sized aquarium sales, but the market for tanks is complex, and customer interest in mid-sized and larger aquariums is still robust.

“Roughly 60 to 65 percent of the tanks we sell are under 55 gallons,” said Donna Harris, co-owner of Blue Reef Aquatics, a tropical fish store in North Las Vegas, Nev. “We still do a lot of larger tank sales, upwards of 120 to 200 gallons.”

Each store is unique, however, and local demand often dictates what type of tank retailers offer to their customer base.

“My business is a little bit different than any regular local fish store,” said Shabbir Ahmed, owner of Click & Fish Aquatics in Henrico, Va. “I focus more towards nano fish and freshwater shrimp setups. My customers are pretty much buying all small rimless tanks for planted aquascaping setups.”

Which segment of the hobby an aquarist is interested in—freshwater or saltwater—also makes a difference, and tank purchases with aquascaping in mind are strong.

“Tanks for aquascaping are still popular,” said Claus Frenken, sales manager for Sera North America, a Montgomeryville, Pa.-based manufacturer of aquarium products. “More stores now sell nano tanks. This trend is reflected in the increasing number of live plant sales on the freshwater side of the hobby. For saltwater, I hear of more people looking for individual, custom-made tanks that are mostly larger than the average tank available in many stores.”

The market for mid-sized tanks, roughly between 50 and 100 gallons, is changing. Some retailers stated that they are seeing growth in this segment, while others reported a drop-off in sales.

“Customers are going with nano tanks,” said Lee Laimuddin, owner of Coral Reef Aquariums, a tropical fish store in Tampa, Fla. “Sales are pretty good, especially of smaller tanks. Tanks in the 55-, 65- and 90-gallon sizes are almost a thing of the past. Some customers want large tanks, but … I can’t recall selling anything larger than a 55- to 75-gallon for as long as I can remember.”

Part of the change in demand is due to price increases as tank volume heads higher.

“A 75-gallon is the best bang for your buck for a big tank at a reasonable price,” said Brian Robinhorst, owner of Reptile Emporium & Aquatic Center, a store in Highland, Ind. “When you make the jump to a tank larger than 75 gallons—for instance, up to a 100 or 150 gallons—the price is exponentially more expensive.”

Some retailers have experienced issues with keeping tanks in stock, as the COVID-19 pandemic and supply line disruption have taken their toll on distribution.

“A lot of stuff is out of stock,” Laimuddin said. “A lot of stuff is made in China. The supply either stopped coming, or [suppliers] don’t know when they’re restocking. I’ve seen that a lot.”

Despite supply issues, tank sales are robust, retailers reported. Some local fish stores have not had problems restocking tanks, and geographic differences may influence tank availability.

“We haven’t had supply problems with tanks,” Harris said. “We are very close to several different builders, so that might influence our experience. We have been having problems getting a lot of medications. A lot of products that come from China have seemed to be on back order. We have probably sold more tanks in the last three months than we sold all last year. It’s been very busy.”

New Products

Nanos Are In

Market demand for nano-sized aquariums suited to freshwater aquascaping is up, and manufacturers continue to refine their offerings in this segment.

Sera launched its Scaper Cubes at the start of 2020, which are available exclusively in Europe, said Claus Frenken, sales manager for Sera North America, a Montgomeryville, Pa.-based manufacturer of aquarium products. There are three models available, each with a 16-by-16-inch base and either 12, 16 or 20 inches in height. Sera also offers six matching hardscapes, Frenken added, designed to suit each aquarium setup with a different motif.

“At the moment, those tanks are only available in Europe, but maybe we can bring them to the USA as well,” Frenken said. “The success of the Scaper Cubes led us to launch three additional tanks this year. We saw high demand for larger tanks, so we just introduced three open design aquariums … in 25-, 34- and 42-gallon configurations.”

The new aqua tanks are lidless and are designed to hold fish that need more space. Sera has also introduced a drop-ship program, Frenken said.

“Store owners are familiar with the problem of not having enough shelf or storage space to offer all the products they want to carry,” he said. “This makes them think twice about what aquarium combinations to offer and showcase in the store, especially as there is a lot of capital commitment involved. To avoid this, we created our drop-ship program. The end-user just configures the individual aquarium and orders it from the local retailer. Sera then delivers the tank, including all accessories, directly to the customer’s house. That way, the retailers save money for storage and shelf space, and the customer does not have to worry about transport from the store to the house.” 

Smaller reef aquariums are also trending, and new tank kits are available to serve this demand as well.

“Our newest aquarium is the Reef Ready 32.5G Flex,” said Johnathan Hester, aquatics brand manager for Mansfield, Mass.-based the Hagen Group, which manufactures the Fluval brand. “It comes fully equipped with built-in filtration, Fluval media and a custom-fitted, app-enabled 3.0 Marine LED.”

Hagen is also focused on streamlining the purchasing process for retailers and customers.

“Consumers like the grab-and-go philosophy of tank kits, and so do retailers,” Hester said. “It makes for a more efficient and a less complicated buying experience. The consumer’s time is spent having fun picking out décor, plants and gravel to personalize their new aquarium.”

Merchandising

Making the Most of Your Space

Livestock sales and aquarium tank sales are closely correlated, specialty retailers reported., so setting up and displaying quality livestock in decorated and aquascaped tanks helps drive sales.

“We just moved into a much larger building,” said Donna Harris, co-owner of Blue Reef Aquatics, a tropical fish store in North Las Vegas, Nev. “We moved so that we could have more room to merchandise tanks. We dedicated an area of the floor space to larger tanks. We stack all of the kits up. Some of the kits come out of the boxes so people can see what they come with and what they look like on a shelf. The smaller kits are on the shelf next to items we recommend to include with them. Otherwise, the large tanks get some decorations and different options that customers can add to them.”

Space is the decisive limiting factor when it comes to showcasing displays for customers.

“We can always use more space,” said Brian Robinhorst, owner of Reptile Emporium & Aquatic Center, a store in Highland, Ind. “I could open a zoo tomorrow if I had the space. It’s expensive.”

Aquascaped displays are very popular, and, in many cases, retailers have success selling the displays “as-is” to customers.

“I aquascape these display tanks to give customers an idea of what they can do with the tank,” said Shabbir Ahmed, owner of Click & Fish Aquatics, a tropical fish store in Henrico, Va. “The kind of fish you sell dictates the kind of tank you are going to sell. The largest tank I sell is probably a 29-gallon. Most customers want low and long tanks. I sell a lot of 12-, 20- and 30-gallon long tanks. Sometimes I sell my display tanks as well.”

Using livestock to inspire customers and promote tank sales is standard advice from industry professionals.

“I always advocate that retailers take [a tank] out of the box and decorate it with plants, décor and gravel,” said Johnathan Hester, aquatics brand manager for Mansfield, Mass.-based the Hagen Group, which manufactures the Fluval brand. “Livestock sales and aquariums go hand-in-hand. Provide a coupon for livestock when an aquarium is purchased, and remind customers to bring a water sample in for testing prior to adding fish.”

Offering attractive displays and tying them together with beautiful livestock creates opportunities to build repeat business.

“Aquascaped tanks sell way easier and are more eye-catching, and thus draw more people into the store,” said Claus Frenken, sales manager for Sera North America, a Montgomeryville, Pa.-based manufacturer of aquarium products. “Think about cross-selling or follow-up sales. Offer special discounts on livestock or water conditioners and food, so that customers will not just leave the store with a tank, but also everything else needed to get the tank running. Offer free water tests over a specific period of time. That way, customers come back to the store on a frequent basis and the retailer has the ability to generate repeat sales.”

Pricing and Competition

Livestock Drives Tank Sales

The price point of larger tanks rapidly increases beyond a certain volume, specialty retailers reported. One of the main drivers behind the nano aquarium trend has been affordability for newer hobbyists.

“Customers that are already into the hobby don’t mind spending money,” said Shabbir Ahmed, owner of Click & Fish Aquatics, a tropical fish store in Henrico, Va. “Even if I don’t carry some product, they will special-order the tank. I’m getting some of my tanks for around $200, and [dedicated hobbyists are] willing to spend that amount. But most of my customers are in a range of $100 to $150 for the whole setup.”

The average price point most customers are comfortable with varies depending on geographic location, but most retailers reported that they definitely see customers come in with a similar price target in mind.

“In terms of tank kits, anything under $200 is a seller,” said Lee Laimuddin, owner of Coral Reef Aquariums, a tropical fish store in Tampa, Fla. “My store is located in a lower-income area. That is the sweet spot in terms of price range.”

Tank sales offer retailers an advantage over online competition, both in terms of availability and shipping costs. Because tank sales dovetail with livestock sales, these competitive advantages mean customers still favor supporting their local fish store for tank purchases.

“Not many hobbyists order tanks from the internet,” said Donna Harris, co-owner of Blue Reef Aquatics, a tropical fish store in North Las Vegas, Nev. “Most of the time when they do get a tank quote from us, it’s a lot less expensive than what some of the tank people that sell online are selling for.”

A wide selection of livestock and various tanks in different configurations leads to growing customer interest that translates into revenue.

“Having a wide variety of livestock helps drive tank sales,” Laimuddin said. “I’ve seen more customers come into my store specifically because of our selection, even though my store is only 1,400 square feet. … There are customers who think they are getting a bargain shopping online, even if the price is only lower by a little bit. … If merchandise doesn’t have MAP [minimum advertised price] pricing, I don’t even look at it anymore. … Some online retailers sell below MAP pricing and take away business. It’s a tough, competitive environment when it comes to online retailers. But I do have a competitive edge on livestock. If you look online and compare livestock prices to those in my store, online companies are much more expensive for sure.”