BY E THAN D. MIZER
The market trend toward small- er aquariums isn’t new—in both the freshwater and saltwater sides of the hobby—but customers increasingly are fixated on
specific types of tiny freshwater
setups, tank configurations and
options. They want premium features in a small package, according
to industry sources.
Hobbyists are keeping more
aquariums, and the tendency has
been to add smaller setups when
seeking second or third tanks.
“Looking at the APPA survey,
over the years we’ve seen increas-
ingly higher percentages of house-
holds keeping aquariums, but
the actual number of fish in those
aquariums is in decline,” said Les
Wilson, co-owner, marketing, prod-
uct development and sourcing at
Cobalt International Inc. in Blacks-
Wilson attributes this to the fact
that because nano systems are so
popular, hobbyists are forced to
keep fewer fish due purely to the
logistical husbandry challenges
small tanks represent. Reports from
retailers bear this reasoning out.
Customers understand that
they can’t keep as many critters in
a smaller volume of water, which
is driving a trend toward the larger
nano aquariums (arguably around
10 gallons), said Travis Cooper,
manager at Wet Spot Tropical Fish
in Portland, Ore.
“I think people are going as big
as they can with their nano tanks,”
he said, adding that this is part of a
general trend toward greater sales
volume of freshwater tanks.
“In the last few months, we’ve
sold more tanks than we have all
year,” Cooper said, agreeing that
people increasingly are interested
in larger freshwater tanks above
Other industry sources concurred, and though nano setups
remain the most popular option,
customers are more interested in
larger tanks as well.
“While small desktop aquariums continue to experience strong
sales, many of our retail partners
are reporting an uptick in sales of
large, 75-gallon-plus tanks,” said
Frank Kudla, vice president of sales
for Aquatop Aquatic Supplies in
He suspects the trend is being
driven in part by an increase in
retailer-installed and -maintained
Petite Yet Premium
USTOMER EDUCATION ERCHANDISING
Price point and perceived luxury drive interest in freshwater aquariums.
PREMIUM TANKS ATTRACT AQUARISTS
When it comes to nano freshwater tanks, the current hot items are setups
designed to house freshwater shrimp, which recently have become more
widely available in the hobby, industry sources reported.
“Nano tanks are probably our [most] popular tanks,” said Brittney
Jackson, manager at Premier Aquatics in Marietta, Ga.
Customers especially like shrimp tanks that are planted, she added.
“We actually ordered 200 [freshwater shrimp] about two weeks ago,
and they sold within a week and a half,” she said. “If you’re doing live
shrimp, a planted tank makes a better habitat for them. We recommend
having live plants in with them.”
Keeping shrimp in small planted setups is the current hot trend
in the hobby, agreed Katie Velie, manager at Nahacky’s Aquarium in
“The Dennerle tanks are really nice and do well for us, and Hagen has
come out with … its Spec line,” she said. “A lot of saltwater people who have
gotten out of the hobby are getting back into the hobby, and freshwater
plants are kind of an outlet, similar to a reef tank.”
The freshwater planted side of the hobby is increasingly compared
favorably with higher-end marine and reef setups. Generally, customers
are looking for a more premium aesthetic when they buy nano
“Customers go after the premium, rimless look,” said Travis Cooper,
manager at Wet Spot Tropical Fish in Portland, Ore. “We’ve been most
impressed with [new nano tanks from] Ultum Nature Systems. The glass is
low iron, and they’re rimless.”
This trend is actually common in overseas aquarium markets, and U.S.
consumers are now catching up.
“An additional trend is the sales growth of frameless tanks, especially
those with high-clarity, low-mineral glass,” said Frank Kudla, vice president
of sales for Aquatop Aquatic Supplies in Brea, Calif. “Rimless tanks have
been quite popular in the international market and are now catching on here
in the domestic marketplace.”
Aquatop will introduce a line of High-Clarity Freshwater Systems kits in
2017 that are designed to be a turnkey solution, Kudla said.
Kits designed to include everything hobbyists need increasingly are
available from various manufacturers.
“All-in-one kits are popular because … consumers like things ready
to use out of the box,” said Karina Esquivel, senior brand manager for
Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Central Garden & Pet Co. “All-in-ones elim-
inate much of the complexity and confusion that goes into putting an
aquarium setup together.”
Aqueon, a brand of Central Garden & Pet, is introducing NeoGlow LED
Aquarium Kits, which include a glass aquarium highlighted with bright
fluorescent silicone designed to work with the system’s blue LEDs and the
black background to augment a fluorescent aesthetic, Esquivel said. The kit
also contains fluorescent plants and multicolored gravel.
The demand for freshwater kits is mixed, with some retailers preferring
to offer their own kits instead.
“I think we do better putting [systems] together for our customers,”
“The [Hagen] Fluvals are flying off the shelves,” said Brittney Jackson,
manager at Premier Aquatics in Marietta, Ga.
Many of the aquariums in the Fluval line come with complete kits out of
Hagen recently introduced two tanks in its Flex line, said Chris LeRose,
aquatic division manager at Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass.
The line includes a 9 gallon and a 15 gallon, and is designed to include
integrated filtration, LED lighting in the hood and additional features,
Other manufacturers have taken note of the popularity in the segment,
and several new offerings are headed to market. Cobalt International Inc.
introduced its Decoria and Microvue3 lines recently.
The Decoria tanks are hand-blown using ultra-clear glass in sizes
ranging from less than a gallon to just under 2 gallons in volume, and come
in a variety of novel shapes, said Les Wilson, co-owner, marketing, product
development and sourcing at Cobalt International Inc. in Blacksburg, Va.
The company’s Microvue3 line comes in three sizes—roughly 2.5,
3 and 8 gallons—and includes a glass cover, filter, lighting and a base,
SMALLER ISN’T ALWAYS EASIER
Hobbyists gravitate to smaller setups for two reasons: price point and the perception
that they will be easier to keep.
“I don’t think people are there yet as far as the price,” said Katie Velie, manager
at Nahacky’s Aquarium in Melbourne, Fla., referring to fancier tanks and high-end
She’s seen more customer interest in nano tanks because people think they’ll be
easier to maintain.
This can lead to headaches for retailers, who have to focus on educating customers
to ensure their success.
“That lower price point is less intimidating for people,” said Les Wilson, co-owner,
marketing, product development and sourcing at Cobalt International Inc. in Blacksburg,
Va. “The perception is that these smaller tanks will be easier [to keep], even though
they aren’t necessarily [easier].”
With nano tanks being many aquarists’ first introduction to the hobby, this
means retailers have their work cut out for them.
“We always tell people that the smaller it is, the harder it is. That’s still the truth,”
said Brittney Jackson, manager at Premier Aquatics in Marietta, Ga.
She focuses on education to ensure she doesn’t lose customers who might have
difficulty with smaller water volumes.
“Education is the key to be successful with any tank,” said Chris LeRose, aquatic
division manager at Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass. “Water quality is a
key factor to have a successful environment for fish.”
SHOW SETUPS THAT INSPIRE
Selling tanks, whether they are nano- or plus-sized,
means having them on display.
“For tanks, it’s pretty much just having every size
available on the floor,” said Travis Cooper, manager for
Wet Spot Tropical Fish in Portland, Ore.
Part of the appeal of tanks that are set up
in-store is that customers can fantasize about what
they’ll be able to accomplish at home.
“Display ‘live’ aspirational aquarium setups and
be prepared with complete, single-pricing options
to streamline the purchasing process,” said Frank
Kudla, vice president of sales for Aquatop Aquatic
Supplies in Brea, Calif.
Seeing products in action, including complete
setups and small planted nanos, can help drive
“When consumers see jaw-dropping displays,
the impulse to buy kicks in,” said Karina Esquivel,
senior brand manager for Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Central Garden & Pet Co. “Live displays
allow shoppers to see, touch and experience
products in action.”