BY ETHAN D. MIZER
Aquatic livestock sales are being driv- en by consumer demand for both common aquarium species as well
as some more unusual varieties, industry
“As a distributor, we’ve been seeing a
resurgence of the bread-and-butter fish in
the tropicals [category], and also of South
American cichlids,” said Laura “Peach”
Reid, president and CEO of Fish Mart
Inc. in West Haven, Conn. “Freshwater is
where we are seeing the most growth.”
In general, common freshwater species
are in demand, and suppliers are keeping
the most popular species well stocked.
“We have a huge solid stock of …
Farms in Gibsonton, Fla.
However, Bush added, “oddball” species
can also help generate interest in the hobby,
driving customers into local fish stores.
“We just got in a couple of Japanese
dragon eels, and we’re really trying to expand in that direction,” she said.
Still, she added, Segrest focuses on offering species that are likely to thrive in
aquaria and that retailers can responsibly
offer their customers.
Retailers also reported success offering
“Predator fish are all of a sudden hav-
ing a surge,” said Joseph Verdino, owner of
Joefish Aquatics in Fort Myers, Fla. “That’s
what everybody’s looking for right now—
piranhas and gar, and the bichir eels—all
that kind of stuff.”
On the saltwater side of the hobby,
common species such as the ever-popular
clownfish and other aquacultured animals
are in demand.
“As the marine hobby becomes in-
creasingly more accessible to a wider au-
dience, the demand for marine animals is
certainly growing,” said Jordan Noe, di-
rector of sales for Oceans, Reefs & Aquari-
ums in Fort Pierce, Fla. “The most popular
species in the marine hobby continue to be
clownfish, with an emphasis on designer
varieties that increasingly push the bound-
aries of pattern and design.”
Smaller, plug-and-play nano tanks are
increasingly popular in the marine hobby,
driving demand for smaller, reef-safe fish.
Dottybacks, blennies, gobies and other
small, colorful fish that make good clown-
fish companions are also highly sought
after, Noe stated.
The Life Aquatic
Unusual fish and corals are increasingly
popular, helping to supplement the standard
offerings of aquarium livestock.
Most wild aquatic species capable of being kept in aquaria have been identified, and almost all
have been available within the hobby for years, industry participants reported.
“There aren’t any ‘new’ species,” said Jennifer Kimmel, owner of Reef To Rift Aquarium Store in
Hatfield, Pa. “They’ve all been discovered. We have 350 tanks [in-store], so we specialize in the very rare.”
Her store has success selling many of the common species seen in the hobby, and those sales are
steady, Kimmel reported. Where she sees the most growth, however, is in difficult-to-source species.
“We have extreme success with the hard-to-find [species], which is going to be your high-
er-end stuff,” she said. “Anything uncommon sells very well for us.”
High-end corals are generally the first to leave the store, she noted, and other industry partici-
pants echoed this sentiment.
“Everyone seems to be after that really rare piece,” said Kris Cline, owner of Carolina Aquatics
in Kernersville, N.C. “Higher-end corals have become more popular.”
Price doesn’t seem to be a concern when it comes to rare corals.
“The more expensive [the coral] is, the more they want it,” said Stephen Myers, owner of Reef
Plus in North Aurora, Ill.
A big segment of demand for these invertebrates is in “designer” coral—or corals that have
been bred specifically for the aquarium hobby.
“I see hobbyist aquariums taking on the appearance of a collector’s gallery rather than a replica
of a wild coral reef,” said Jordan Noe, director of sales for Oceans, Reefs & Aquariums in Fort Pierce,
Fla. “As with designer clownfish, hobbyists are increasingly more interested in designer corals.”
The growing availability of an increasingly wide variety of aquacultured species in general
has impacted all segments of the aquarium industry. From staple freshwater species to recently
captive-bred marine fish and designer corals, more tank-raised species are available than ever
before, and this can have interesting effects on price and demand.
“If you had the same fish—the same price and same color—people would prefer to get the
aquacultured one because it is an ethical [issue],” said Kris Cline, owner of Carolina Aquatics in
Kernersville, N.C., adding, however, that price can dampen demand.
“I think to an extent, [customers] prefer captive-raised [livestock], but only as long as the price
is the same or better than wild-caught [livestock],” he added. “For example, with the captive-raised
Mandarin goby, nobody wanted to spend the money for it, so everyone quit breeding it.”
Retailers often find that they have to compete on price with online retailers and even local
aquarium club sales, industry insiders reported.
“Because of the ease of fragging, coral sales have moved a bit from the distributor level to the
retail and hobbyist levels, with frag swaps and online sales,” said Laura “Peach” Reid, president
and CEO of Fish Mart Inc. in West Haven, Conn. “Additionally, transshippers—importers that
sell parts of their shipments to retailers without tanking and acclimating—that specialize in
coral frags and marines are successful, for both price and often [for their] variety or specialty
HELPING HOBBYISTS BE SUCCESSFUL
In few other segments of the pet industry is the ethical duty of retailers as important as with livestock sales. That’s where
education and implementing best practices in husbandry come into play, industry participants reported.
“What I’ve learned is to develop a return customer,” said Jennifer Kimmel, owner of Reef To Rift Aquarium Store in
Hatfield, Pa. “My philosophy is ‘be direct and use common sense.’”
She emphasizes husbandry first with her customers to ensure they have success from the start, she said. It’s best to
take time with each customer and not rely on canned answers, Kimmel added, as each situation will be unique.
Other retailers share Kimmel’s focus on education.
“I don’t really concern myself with sales at all,” said Stephen Myers, owner of Reef Plus in North Aurora, Ill. “I concern
myself only with education and [helping] people to be successful keeping something alive in captivity and reproducing it.”
It’s important for sales staff to be up to speed as well, and offering educational training and classes for customers can
help achieve this goal.
“Having a very well-educated [sales staff] creates a very well-educated hobbyist,” said Shelby Bush, brand ambassador for Segrest Farms in Gibsonton, Fla. “The internet has created a plethora of knowledge, so how do you sort through
good versus bad knowledge? Offering classes in the store [can] really create a buzz that your store is the place to come
CREATE AN EXPERIENCE
Driving livestock sales in-store is all about display aquariums.
“Display tanks are immensely powerful,” said Shelby Bush, brand ambassador for Segrest Farms in Gibsonton, Fla.
“You can do it in a 1,000-square-foot store, and you can do it in a 20,000-square-foot store.”
Maintaining over-the-top, eye-catching displays is a common way to draw attention to a location, but just as import-
ant is keeping display and livestock holding tanks clean and presentable.
“Having the aquariums in your store as clean as possible will make a huge difference in how consumers view the
quality of the animals inside,” said Jordan Noe, director of sales for Oceans, Reefs & Aquariums in Fort Pierce, Fla.
Clean, simple holding tanks help keep livestock losses down and showcase species for sale.
“We went bare bottom [in our holding tanks],” said Jennifer Kimmel, owner of Reef To Rift Aquarium Store in Hatfield,
Pa. “They’re so much easier to keep clean. Our loss rate is down significantly.”
She maintains a wide variety of display aquariums as well, she noted. Across the board, industry partici-
pants reported that for local fish stores, offering a variety of healthy, attractive fish is vital to succeeding in the
“Livestock are a critical part of the retail store,” Noe said. “These animals create the demand for big-ticket items
[such as] new skimmers and lighting, upgraded pumps and new aquariums. … Healthy fish tie directly to consumer
confidence in shopping at a retail fish store.”