The nano aquarium segment of the aquatics industry is well established, and the popularity of these small setups continues to grow, retailers reported. Supply constraints have taken their toll, but sales are strong, and improved equipment offerings designed for nano aquariums have added a new avenue to boost business in the category.
Glenn Laborda, manager of Absolutely Fish, a tropical fish store in Clifton, N.J., reported that nano tanks are trending with hobbyists.
“It’s a lot easier to set up a quick, small nano tank than say a giant 90-gallon traditional reef tank,” Laborda said. “Reef nanos out sell big tanks something like 5-to-1.”
Consumer interest in nano-sized aquariums and the equipment designed to fit these setups is widespread.
“When I talk to store owners or managers, they mainly all confirm an increasing demand for nano tanks and related supplies,” said Claus Frenken, sales manager for Sera North America, a Montgomeryville, Pa.-based manufacturer of aquatics supplies.
Most aquatics retailers have continued to benefit from the growth in the pet industry over the past few years, as demand for pets skyrocketed in the wake of the pandemic. Yet these forces are slowly waning, retailers reported.
“Business has steadied off overall,” said Steve Richmond, owner of Lovely Pets Aquarium Store in Kingston, Mass. “We’re still busy because we’re a specialty store. We’re still enjoying the strong trend in business from last year, but we’re starting to wind down a little bit. The weather’s getting nicer. Typically in our area of New England, when the weather gets nicer, we slow down a bit and business levels off.”
Interest within subsegments of the hobby is also shifting, insiders reported, as a growing number of hobbyists are deciding to enter the freshwater side of fishkeeping.
“We’re definitely seeing more of a slant toward the freshwater side of the hobby in a big way,” said John Pallo, vice president of sales for Aquatop, a manufacturer in Brea, Calif. “One of the major reasons for that is the cost of freight to bring in marine animals is skyrocketing at this point. Getting freshwater fish is much easier and more affordable. With prices continuing to increase, freshwater livestock is still a little bit more reasonable cost-wise compared to marine livestock.”
The Supply Chain
The market for aquarium glass—both at the manufacturer and consumer level—has felt the impact of supply constraints and shipping issues, industry insiders reported. However, there is some hope these issues are starting to abate.
“Availability has been getting better,” said Erin Powers, owner of All Things Aquariums, a tropical fish store in Wilsonville, Ore. “It has definitely been an issue for the last couple of years, but manufacturers are starting to get a little bit more caught up.”
Nano setups have been hard to find, insiders reported, though recent distributor lists show a return of many brands that were not in stock for a while.
“Product availability has improved a lot,” said Steve Richmond, owner of Lovely Pets Aquarium Store in Kingston, Mass. “Compared to a year ago at this time, things have gotten a lot better.”
Although the problems with out-of-stocks at the distributor level appear to have reversed to some degree, there is still tension in the industry as uncertainty about future supply weighs on retailers.
“Within the past few weeks, we’ve been getting a bunch of stuff in,” said Glenn Laborda, manager of Absolutely Fish, a tropical fish store in Clifton, N.J. “Availability issues have eased, as of right now, but even a few weeks ago, it was kind of tough. I probably have 20 different tanks right now. Somebody could come in and have their pick, so right now I’m good. But who knows if that will change.”
Manufacturers are doing their part to meet consumer demand, and many have taken steps to ensure smooth flow of nano aquariums through the distribution chain, in the face of ongoing problems with shipping.
“We were fortunate that we had a chance to put some very large purchase orders together before a lot of this went down,” said John Pallo, vice president of sales for Aquatop, a manufacturer in Brea, Calif. “We are fortunate that we have very good inventory at this point. Going through these supply chain issues and the pandemic, there were a couple snags where we had holes in inventory. But overall, I’m very happy with our inventory levels. We still have containers that are rolling in, and we still promote all of our products. We were able to plan ahead and sit on quite a bit of inventory. Nowadays, it’s going to be tough to figure out how inventory is going to be shipped, depending on what part of the world it’s coming from. That might be another debacle with unfortunate consequences.”
Disruption in the supply chain does not appear to be going away anytime soon, insiders reported.
“The supply chain is still pretty congested,” said Steve Yim, owner and founder of Innovative Marine, a manufacturer in Cerritos, Calif. “A lot of it is because of what’s happening in our ports. It’s not just shipping, though obviously the cost of the containers is still very high. The congestion at our ports is also playing a big part. With a product that ships from overseas, it generally takes three months before it hits our warehouse. Before the pandemic hit, that same product would arrive in 21 days. Now, freight costs went up tenfold, and that doesn’t take into account any new tariffs and everything else that has been added over the time frame. For example, all of our stands are actually made out of aluminum, not [medium density fiberboard] MDF [or] particleboard. So, with the huge tariff on aluminum importation coupled with the lack of availability of rare earth magnets and the ongoing issues with glass shortages, it’s easy to see why prices are going higher.”
Small Tanks, Big Innovations
Nano tanks are attractive, attention-getting aquariums that stoke hobbyist creativity and draw a lot of newer hobbyists into the industry.
“People are looking for something stylish and contemporary to add into their home,” said Johnathan Hester, aquatics brand manager for the Hagen Group, a manufacturer in Mansfield, Mass. “Consumers and retailers seem to gravitate towards all-in-one nano kits. This makes purchasing decisions simple for consumers as well as employees working at the store. Consumers can focus on customizing the aquarium with décor such as rock, wood and plants.”
Hagen recently launched the Fluval Betta Premium Aquarium kit. The kit is designed to replicate the natural tropical habitats of Betta splendens, and comes equipped with custom filtrations, natural soft-glow LED light and a 10-watt pre-set heater.
“The custom filtration has been designed to provide bettas with an ideal environment and includes six stages of cleaning power,” Hester said. “It also has a gentle intake featuring slots over a large area to help slow water entry into the media chamber. The patent-pending diffusion chamber disperses flow and polishes water during the final stage of filtration to mimic clean, slow-moving currents found in indigenous betta habitats.”
Manufacturers have focused on perfecting nano aquarium design to draw customers’ attention and help drive sales, and sleek, modern tanks are helping to keep interest in the segment high.
“When you talk to people coming into the pet stores, they have a relationship with these retailers,” said John Pallo, vice president of sales for Aquatop, a manufacturer in Brea, Calif. “They’re always asking, first thing, ‘What’s new? Show me something.’ Any type of new design or a new look is going to catch their attention. Hopefully, they turn around and put that eye-catching setup in their home. We try to go with what’s trending right now, and the bowfront [tanks] are definitely popular. Any type of unique design is definitely better than the traditional, rectangular box shape aquariums typically come in.”
Aquatop has entered the nano segment in force, introducing several new offerings to meet demand for small tanks.
“Our Venti line of nano aquariums includes three sizes,” Pallo said. “These setups are unique because they’re air driven, with a good, old-style vertical sponge filter. Aquarists can control the air bubbles, which is nice. So if you have fish that don’t require a lot of water movement, using an air pump is just ideal.”
All the systems include mechanical, chemical and biological filtration, Pallo said, and all kits come complete with lighting, the tank and all filtration. Customers do need to add heaters, he added, but that depends on what type of fish they plan to house.
Aquatop also debuted its 32-gallon arc bowfront tank at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in March. The kit includes a filter, lighting and heater all built into the bundled package.
Other manufacturers have introduced new products in the segment.
“At the beginning of the year, we launched a second version of our Nuvo Fusion nano tanks,” said Steve Yim, owner and founder of Innovative Marine, a manufacturer in Cerritos, Calif. “It comes with more upgraded features. Probably the two biggest new features were our addition of an emergency overflow, which allows aquarists to have these high tide risers. They’re adjustable, so customers can actually adjust what water level they want in their display.”
The new Fusion nanos come with extra dual nozzles to help create more random flow at the bottom and the top of the aquarium, Yim added.
“Our tanks come with more accessories already included,” he said. “It’s [designed to] create a luxury value. … We want to make people successful. We want to give them a good starter kit, and we don’t want to just put in the cheapest parts to make the sale. Instead, we wanted to offer an all-in-one premium bundle.”
Décor options are also growing. Aquatop has introduced a new line of realistic plants specifically designed for nano aquariums.
“When customers are looking at tanks, obviously uniqueness matters, but they’re looking at the décor and how the system is set up,” Pallo said. “We introduced our new Vibrant plant line at Global. These Vibrant plants … light up with multiple different plants in one space. You’ve got your reds and you’ve got your greens, all with different patterns, and these plants really light it up. They go from 6 inches up to 20 inches. As someone sets up a new aquarium, the next thing they’re looking at is how are they going to decorate it. We’re working to fill that niche nicely with our new Vibrant plant line.”
Design & Equipment
Several features have become standard on many nano aquariums, pet specialty retailers reported, as aquarists show increased interest in rimless setups, all-in-ones and equipment specifically designed for nanos.
“Tank design is definitely important to customers,” said Glenn Laborda, manager of Absolutely Fish, a tropical fish store in Clifton, N.J. “They’re looking for rimless nanos. These aquariums fit that cool, modern look. Rimless tanks are definitely leading the pack.”
All-in-ones and kits are among the more sought-after nano options among customers.
“The majority of the tanks I sell are kits, so they have a built-in filter,” said Erin Powers, owner of All Things Aquariums, a retailer in Wilsonville, Ore. “I sell more of those than I sell tanks where customers build a setup themselves.”
Betta setups and other freshwater species are in demand right now, and, as a result, certain types of nano setups are gaining attention.
“The simplicity of nano setups is really coming back home,” said John Pallo, vice president of sales for Aquatop, a manufacturer in Brea, Calif. “The basic air-driven nanos are really popular. For example, bettas used to run $3 a piece. Now, with some of the beautiful bettas we see coming out, customers are looking at paying $50 to $100 dollars for a very beautiful fish. As that trend continues, there’s also a crisis where customers can’t get a lot of large aquariums. Because they can’t get a lot of the larger aquariums, retailers have to look at what’s unique on the smaller nano scale. … People are getting back to simplicity, and part of that is just driven by cost.”
Consumers are also seeking equipment that suits smaller setups.
“Within the last several years, new tech-infused products have hit the market, including everything from app-controlled wave makers and even submersible cameras,” said Johnathan Hester, aquatics brand manager for the Hagen Group, a manufacturer in Mansfield, Mass. “App-integrated lighting seems to be the most prevalent development at this time.”
Manufacturers are looking to capitalize by marrying form with function, so that smaller equipment offerings perform adequately and meet customer needs.
“Equipment truly has to be ‘nano,’” said Claus Frenken, sales manager for Sera North America, a Montgomeryville, Pa.-based manufacturer of aquatics supplies. “A nano tank goes together with nano equipment. Therefore, more people are looking for nano solutions for each item they use to set up their tank.”
Hobbyists are in the market for high-tech equipment, as well.
“With nano tanks, even though customers are downsizing to a smaller tank, they’re spending more on better equipment,” Laborda said. “Instead of using the light a kit comes with, they’ll switch it out and they’ll buy [an AquaIllumination] Prime for $250. They want the technology. Technology is improving for the nano tanks. Higher-end skimmers, powerheads, lights and dosing equipment are coming out specifically for nano applications. Our customers are into the equipment for their nanos.”
Overall, high-design nano aquariums draw high demand, and customers are willing to spend more to build the system that they want.
“The nano tank customer actually spends the most money per gallon than the average aquarist,” said Steve Yim, owner and founder of Innovative Marine, a manufacturer in Cerritos, Calif. “For example, you can buy a protein skimmer for a 50-gallon tank with a sump for maybe $250, but a nano skimmer even for a 10-gallon costs more than $100 or even $150. Nano customers are actually spending more money. A lot of people think nano tanks are just starter tanks, but there are a lot of hobbyists who have multiple tanks, and they’re not beginners. They just want something for their office or home, and they don’t have to spend so much time on it.”