The nano aquarium trend is as strong as ever, and pet specialty retailers are having success leveraging sales in this category to bring new customers into the hobby and grow specific segments of the market.
Consumer demand for nano tanks is a bright spot in the aquatic product industry, retailers and manufacturers report.
"The nano aquarium trend continues to drive the market," said Johnathan Hester, aquatic brand manager for Mansfield, Mass.-based Hagen Group, maker of Fluval brand aquatic products. "It has retailers and hobbyists alike asking for unique aesthetics and reliability. The most popular features of a nano aquarium consist of a sleek or modern design, fully equipped with built-in filtration and LED lighting."
Attractive, clean-looking nano aquariums are in high demand among customers at independent fish stores.
"Rimless nanos are very popular," said Greg Harris, co-owner of Blue Reef Aquatics in North Las Vegas, Nev. "The majority of our sales are rimless. We’re selling a lot of 24- and 40-gallon Aquatop Recife tanks. Those seem to be really popular right now. Also, the Fluval Sea Evos are really popular."
Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash., is another retailer that reported robust sales of rimless models.
"On the nano front, we carry a lot of the frameless Aquatops," said manager Clayton Burton. "Those are doing really well, especially the bookshelf style that are long and low. Fluval also has a lot of kits out. Those have almost everything you need, with lighting and infiltration built-in. They have several different styles that are selling really well for us right now."
In Spring, Texas, That Aquarium Place is capitalizing on the demand for nano-sized tanks with its own private-label line of products.
"We just sold a whole bunch of nano tanks over the past weekend," said manager Morgan Collins. "We have our own personal line called the Neptunian Cube, which is made from Starphire glass. We brought in 20 nanos, and we’re already halfway down through our stock. We’re sold out of our saltwater 13-gallon tanks already. We only have 5-gallon and 2.5-gallon tanks left over."
Also popular, according to retailers, are all-in-one nano kits, which afford retailers the opportunity for additional sales when customers upgrade to more advanced lighting to maintain planted tanks and corals.
"A lot of the time, when customers look at these tanks, they’re looking for the design of the tank," said Shane Billmyre, owner of Caye’s Aquarium in Portland, Ore. "Normally, a lot of the [more advanced] nano guys know they have to swap out their lighting."
Another benefit of kit sales is the chance to complete add-on sales to fill out a system’s equipment profile.
"There’s always room for add-on sales for any of the kits, because none of the kits are truly complete," said Howie Berkowitz, owner of Aquaridise in East Brunswick, N.J. "Obviously, there’s no gravel in any of the kits. It’s the job of the salesman to really complete that sale."
competition & price
Though nano aquariums are lighter and therefore easier to ship, at least in theory, they continue to sell well in brick-and-mortar stores, retailers report, as impulse purchases seem to be keeping sales strong.
"People buy tanks more on the spur of the moment," Harris said. "The $200 to $300 range for a complete tank is the sweet spot."
Additionally, the price differential between brick-and-mortar retailers and internet-based competition has narrowed considerably on nano systems.
"My boss matches a lot of Amazon prices to make sure that we’re pretty darn close," Collins said. "A lot of people want it now. They don’t want to wait for shipping and all that. We try to keep everything in stock. … Also, there are some things that only we can get, that they can’t get online."
While many shoppers are looking to spend less than $200, Collins added, customers will still spend up to an additional $200 or so for a light and sand, she noted.
If retailers stay competitive on price, they are not having trouble moving nano aquariums.
"I don’t think there’s much competition for the customer walking in on a Saturday looking for a nano aquarium; the price point is such that you can close that sale as long as you’re competitively priced and you show the customer that, without worrying about the internet," Berkowitz said. "I make a point of showing customers so that they know I’m selling it to them at the same price."
On the Market
Smart and Sleek
Setups designed to fit the nano niche increasingly feature stylized designs and equipment for specific applications, industry insiders report.
"The Fluval Flex 32.5-gallon aquarium begins with its modern curved-front glass," said Johnathan Hester, aquatic brand manager for the Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass. "This aquarium kit comes armed with our app-operated AquaSky LED that offers total control of custom colors, multiple dynamic effects like thunderstorms and a 24-hour timer. In addition to the lighting, this new Flex includes a built-in filtration system with two independent multistage chambers."
Hagen has also released the Fluval Flora aquarium 14.5-gallon kit, Hester stated, which features a rimless design and includes equipment to start and maintain a planted aquascape.
"It … includes our Fluval app-operated 750K Nano Planted LED, a Fluval pressurized CO2 kit, AquaClear multistage filter with adjustable flow and Fluval iron-enriched GRO+ micro-nutrient formula," he said.
Equipment options in kits from Fluval are popular, retailers reported.
"With the Fluval kits, nobody’s really swapping anything out," said Clayton Burton, manager of Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash. "The filtration is great. The lighting on most of them is really good as well, so it’s not something you need to upgrade."
Nano aquariums from Aquatop, Innovative Marine and Fluval are among the better-performing brands, retailers reported.
"Innovative Marine is at the forefront of nano tanks," said Mary Hargraves, manager of Mandarin SeaLife in Jacksonville, Fla. "But they seem to be going in a larger direction. … Realistically, the Aquatops are the new thing on the market for us."
Premium options are important to customers, and appearance matters when it comes to nano-sized aquariums.
"We do carry Aqueon frameless nanos," said Clayton Burton, manager of Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash. "They don’t sell quite as well as the Aquatops, though. The Aquatops have the high-resolution glass."
Overall, most nano aquariums do well for retailers, with or without kits.
"The Fluval Evos, we just got filled in and those have been selling like hotcakes," said Morgan Collins, manager of That Aquarium Place in Spring, Texas. "Everybody loves how they’ve been set up."
A Small Hurdle
The greatest challenge for pet specialty retailers looking to maximize sales of nano aquariums is finding floor space to display and merchandise them.
"As a small retail store, my biggest issue is space," said Howie Berkowitz, owner of Aquaridise in East Brunswick, N.J. "Space requirements really don’t allow me to set up either dry or wet tanks. So the nano tanks are all in their boxes."
Despite this, nano sales are strong, Berkowitz noted.
Other retailers have had success with in-store nano displays, and some are able to sell both dry and wet tanks already set up.
"We do a lot of displays," said Greg Harris, co-owner of Blue Reef Aquatics in North Las Vegas, Nev. "We have planted tank setups. We have a lot of the other small nano tanks, and even if they don’t have water in them, we have them set up on stands with decorations in them so that people can get an idea of what it looks like. If customers see it set up like that, it’s easier to sell versus in a box, which is just not as exciting."
Other retailers also reported showing off nanos with dry-scaping, meaning water is left out of the system.
"On the outside of our fish room we have two racks, and each rack holds five or six nano tanks that we have set up as displays so people see what they’ll look like set up," said Clayton Burton, manager of Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash. "We generally don’t sell these displays just because of the space commitment. Selling tanks wet is something that we’ve contemplated. But space is tricky right now. We’re not even thinking of selling them wet. We were thinking about just dry-scaping them and selling them pre-scaped."
With space tight for many retailers, using seasonal displays for pre-scaped wet and dry setups might be the solution.
"Right around Christmastime, we put out a stand where we place three nano tanks where customers can just pick it up and take it as-is," said Shane Billmyre, owner of Caye’s Aquarium in Portland, Ore. "We sell them for a little bit more than what the asking price is."
Consumers appreciate nano systems that require less setup, retailers reported, and part of the appeal is that everything is ready to go right away.
"When it comes to nano aquariums, most consumers are looking for plug-and-play options," said Johnathan Hester, aquatic brand manager for the Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass. "The best way to merchandise a nano aquarium is out of the box."