Interest in nano aquariums continues to grow, with demand strong and on the rise, especially among freshwater hobbyists. The combination of attractive price points and the small size appeals to both newcomers to the hobby and advanced hobbyists seeking something novel and challenging, retailers reported.
Despite a reported drop-off in sales in some other pet-related categories, tank sales have held up relatively well for many stores, even as the COVID-19 crisis heightened in the U.S. this spring.
"It’s different in every market," said Arthur Frayler, co-owner of Aquatropics, a tropical fish store in Gainesville, Fla. "I know of a lot of stores that have had some pretty decent tank sales. … We have to be safe, and everybody’s been going through this together. But at the same time, having a fish tank at home can be the relaxing, peaceful thing that keeps you from losing your mind. This experience is teaching people a couple things that we’ve missed out on, and that includes hobbies and what makes us happy outside of work."
The size advantage that nano tanks offer is especially popular among newer hobbyists, retailers reported, as more are seeking an entry point to the hobby.
"Not a whole lot of new products are being brought in by stores at the exact moment just because of everything that’s going on," said Asher Getzoff, inventory product specialist for Wet Spot Tropical Fish, a pet supply store in Portland, Ore. "That said, I have had a lot more customer interest in nano tanks. Smaller setups between 2.5 and 10 gallons are becoming quite a sweet spot for a lot of people."
This occurs against a backdrop of rising interest in the aquarium hobby in general, with more households keeping fish on average in the United States, according to industry insiders.
"The number of households keeping fish has bumped up quite a bit," Frayler said. "I don’t think any aspect of the hobby right now is really declining. We’re still chugging along like we always have."
Nano aquariums that have a premium aesthetic are also popular, especially among advanced hobbyists seeking to establish planted or freshwater shrimp setups.
"We continue to see nano reefs as well as freshwater planted aquariums trending in the U.S. market," said Johnathan Hester, aquatics brand manager for the Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass.—the manufacturer behind the Fluval brand of aquatic products. "Consumers are looking for modern designs and unique shapes."
Rimless nano tanks and those with design elements that appeal to a minimalist style are popular for freshwater shrimp and planted tank setups, retailers reported.
"Keeping live plants has become quite a bit more popular in the hobby in the last few years, both in terms of number of setups out there, but also the number of plants that are available," Getzoff said. "A lot of manufacturers are trying very hard to come out with better, smarter, and more effective lights and tools pretty quickly, and some of them are making some pretty good leaps and bounds forward. That’s been a really positive influence on the market."
The popularity of freshwater shrimp, which can thrive even in very small volumes of water, has fit in perfectly with market demand for planted nano setups.
Designer nano tanks specifically configured for this sort of setup are quite popular as a result.
"Shrimp help a lot with regard to the nano tank segment," said Claus Frenken, sales manager for Sera North America, a Montgomeryville, Pa.-based manufacturer of aquarium products. "For some years now, we’ve seen more stores offering a decent selection of freshwater shrimp. This often comes together with nano tank sales and plant sales. … Many stores start focusing on shrimp, bettas and live plants, and they do very well with it."
On The Market
Kits and Kaboodle
Demand for premium nano aquariums and attractive displays suitable for freshwater planted setups has driven innovation from manufacturers seeking to supply retailers with eye-catching options.
The Flex 32-gallon Saltwater Aquarium Kit is the Hagen Group’s most recent addition to its curved aquarium series, said Johnathan Hester, aquatics brand manager for the Mansfield, Mass.-based company, which makes the Fluval brand of aquatic products.
"It comes fully equipped with a custom-fitted, app-enabled Marine 3.0 LED that offers a fully customizable light spectrum and a programmable 24-hour light timer," Hester said. "This all-new Flex also includes a built-in filtration system with two independent multistage chambers for maximum cleaning efficiency."
Décor specifically suited to nano setups, including planted and shrimp tanks, is beginning to appear on the market.
"We just came out with a line of catappa leaves and alder cones," said Claus Frenken, sales manager for Sera North America, a Montgomeryville, Pa.-based manufacturer of aquarium products. "Those items really picked up very well. More and more stores are requesting those items due to their extended assortment of nano tank-related segments, including shrimp and bettas."
Both products are farmed under controlled conditions and offer hobbyists the ability to create more natural conditions in their setups.
Other equipment related to nano tank setups also continues to do well.
"Aquatop put out a really nice little nano series called the Pisces," said Pam Nunnally, manager of Azalea Aquariums, a tropical fish store in Richmond, Va. "For the price, those [are] really nice, and they [come] in 3- and 5-gallon sizes with square and bowfront configurations. Those [are] really popular for freshwater setups."
Manufacturer support tends to be strong in the segment, retailers reported.
"Nothing goes wrong with Hagen’s [nano setups]," said Stephen Kalis, manager of Aquarium Adventure, a tropical fish store in Bolingbrook, Ill. "If something does go wrong, the company has a great customer service department and they replace it right away."
Kit sales are also popular, as are those products intended for specific applications.
"We tend to like a lot of the Fluval nano tanks, such as the Evos, which have been great," said Arthur Frayler, co-owner of Aquatropics, a tropical fish store in Gainesville, Fla. "A lot of our nano tank sales have been shrimp tanks such as the Spec 2.6 shrimp kits from Fluval. We’ve also had success with the Seapora rimless tanks. There are some really neat [nano tanks] out there."
Hobbyists, and especially those keeping freshwater shrimp setups, have pushed the lower limit of what size tank is popular.
"Our sales of shrimp and other small invertebrates have gone up pretty drastically," said Asher Getzoff, inventory product specialist for Wet Spot Tropical Fish, a pet supply store in Portland, Ore. "I definitely have noticed more interest in 2.5-gallon setups. I’m not sure if it’s 2.5-gallon tanks that are specifically gaining popularity, or if it’s just that customers are looking at tanks of 10 gallons or less. Mostly, we’ve seen a bigger uptick in tanks sized 10 gallons and less."
Setups That Sell
Nano tanks are well suited to serve as display aquariums, both because their small size is easy to accommodate even in pet specialty stores with limited floor space, and because seeing setups in person often serves to inspire customers.
"I always suggest taking one out of the box," said Johnathan Hester, aquatics brand manager for the Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass., maker of Fluval brand aquatic products. "Set one up with substrate and decorate it with aquarium plants and décor. … Consumers are interested in the aesthetics of an aquarium and will spend a premium to get it. They are looking for something sleek and modern, usually fully equipped with built-in filtration and LED lights that offer dynamic effects."
Using display nanos to drive interest is a popular approach, retailers stated. Some use their displays to also help with education.
"Having nano tanks set up and running in the store versus just having them sitting there naked or in a box helps customers—and especially new hobbyists—get an idea of the possibilities," said Claus Frenken, sales manager for Sera North America a Montgomeryville, Pa.-based manufacturer of aquarium products. "A nano tank is not too expensive, and it does not use a lot of space. … When I visit stores, I am often impressed by some of the setups I see. I think this helps make shopping even more fun, and it draws more interest to the actual products. And it surely also makes people spend more money in the store."
Performing in-store demos or assisting customers with their layout design also serves to spur interest, especially in planted nano setups.
"Not every store has the ability to invite aquascapers for a demo," Frenken said. "But, if they do, it is always helpful to bring aquascapers for a day or two. Not just the end-users, but also the store staff will learn about new interesting ideas in regards to setting up a nano tank."
Demos can boost consumer awareness of everything from livestock and the nano tanks themselves to the equipment used in aquascaping, retailers reported.
"We tend to [build setups] for the customers," said Arthur Frayler, co-owner of Aquatropics, a tropical fish store in Gainesville, Fla. "We have an aquascaping table that’s pretty neat where people set up décor and take a picture of what it looks like. We have different sizes mapped out on the table, and we basically build it with the customer."
Offering a variety of tanks on display, both set up and in boxes, as well as keeping the section fully stocked can also help fuel sales in the category.
"We try to keep our nano tanks front and center," said Asher Getzoff, inventory product specialist for Wet Spot Tropical Fish, a pet supply store in Portland, Ore. "We try to get customers to notice them right away. I keep a complete suite of other larger tanks and kits and whatever else customers might be looking for. But we try to make it look as if there is a large number of nano tanks available, because I’ve found that in the past, people will be less inclined to get something if there’s only one or two available. Especially as nano tanks are becoming more normalized in the hobby, it’s more aesthetically pleasing to have a large display, and it helps drives sales if customers don’t think they’re the only ones looking at these setups. They have options in our store."
What’s It Worth to You?
Nano tanks inhabit an interesting niche within the aquarium hobby, where smaller tanks are traditionally priced more cheaply, in contrast with modern kits that sometimes bring a premium, retailers reported.
Customers are price sensitive, but striking a balance between demand for premium nano setups and the need to offer value is important.
"At some point, if the price is [high] for a nano tank, customers are just going to ask why they shouldn’t just go bigger," said Arthur Frayler, co-owner of Aquatropics, a tropical fish store in Gainesville, Fla. "Nano tanks can be a way that kids and high schoolers and people that don’t have a lot of funds or space can get into the hobby. I’m not selling $1,000 nano setups, for example."
The experience level of the customer making the purchase often influences how much they are willing to spend.
"If it’s just somebody buying something for their kid or just a normal layman, price is going to be a big issue," said Pam Nunnally, manager of Azalea Aquariums, a tropical fish store in Richmond, Va. "They’re not going to want to spend a lot of money. But if it is someone who’s a hobbyist, they’re going to put the money out."
For retailers, it is key to understand the price range in which their customers are comfortable.
"Customers are looking at nano tanks starting around $75 to $100 or so," said Asher Getzoff, inventory product specialist for Wet Spot Tropical Fish, a pet supply store in Portland, Ore. "They’re looking to spend less than $150 total on supplies, but that $100 price point or lower for a tank, that’s very much right in the sweet spot. It’s a good little investment."