MAKING MAINTENANCE EASY
Several new aquarium maintenance products have appeared on the market recently, or are
eagerly anticipated in the hobby.
“We just released a new media reactor called the Sera Prefix Filter,” said Claus Frenken,
sales manager for Sera North America in Montgomeryville, Pa. “It can be used for both fresh-
and saltwater systems. It can be used in different ways—for example as a pre-filter, bio-filter
and additional filter.”
The maintenance services side of the industry is growing, Frenken noted.
“Most people are really concerned about the quality of their aquariums,” he said. “That is
why the maintenance side of the industry is still a growing business for many stores. … Many
people would rather spend the money instead of taking care of the maintenance themselves.”
Other manufacturers are also introducing new maintenance products to the market.
“I’m waiting for the Apex dosing system,” said Anthony Johnson, owner of Reef Life Aquatic
of Palatka, Fla. “That’s going to change things by leaps and bounds from a service standpoint.”
Other retailers echoed the anticipation building up for Apex products.
“Right now, everybody’s holding their breath waiting for the Neptune system, the Trident
testing kit,” said Jeff Picklesimer, co-owner of Fintastic Aquariums of Wake County in Cary, N.C.
“That’ll give you the ability to test alkalinity, magnesium and calcium on the fly.”
Sophisticated sump systems are also increasing in popularity, he added.
“Trigger System’s Triton sump system is new,” Picklesimer said. “It’s based on something
we’ve been doing for years, but it finally seemed to take off. It involves using a huge refugium
to offset some of these things. … The method isn’t new, but somebody is actually marketing a
sump based off of that now. So somebody took advantage of a market that was untapped.”
MERCHANDISING AND SERVICE
STAYING ON TOP OF SALES
Driving aquarium maintenance equipment sales often means keeping
a focused inventory and displaying maintenance products on working
“Every product that I sell in the store I run in the store,” said Anthony
Johnson, owner of Reef Life Aquatic of Palatka, Fla. “I have a setup for every
single product that I have, whether it be a pump, filter or whatever. So at any
given point, I can open up my sump door and show customers a DC 6000
pump or an Eco Tech Vectra.”
Using fliers, email lists and social media can also help to drive sales.
“From the day we opened until today, we literally [have] run a weekend
flier every Friday,” said Jeff Picklesimer, co-owner of Fintastic Aquariums
of Wake County in Cary, N.C. “We use Constant Contact. We built a flier with
pictures of a selection of up to 100 items. … We do discounts on the stuff
for the weekend. We list fish, coral and dry goods. We cover the gambit. So
there’s a bit of everything. … It always brings people in, no matter what.”
Reputation can have a huge impact on keeping customers coming back,
and long-established retailers reported leveraging their authority in the
hobby to help drive sales.
“We only do saltwater and nothing else,” said Joe Genero, owner of Fish
World in Richmond, Va. “We were like the second store in the country 31
years ago to do that. We’ve been very blessed to have our name recognized.
Most people come in here and they just listen.”
Offering superior service is an excellent way to build customer loyalty
and grow maintenance equipment sales.
“It helps having good people,” said Mark Schneider, co-owner of Fish n’
Chirps Pet Center in Denton, Texas. “You want sales reps who are not only
knowledgeable, but happy and smiling and who offer more than just a ‘Can
I help you?’ Our customers’ success is our success. I mean, people aren’t
going to continually have a bad time with the aquariums and keep coming
back and buying fish.”
SURVEYING THE COMPETITION
KEEPING SALES IN BRICK-AND-MORTARS
Internet-based retailers have taken a very large portion of sales in the maintenance equipment segment, industry
“In terms of equipment, customer service is the only thing that keeps us viable, unfortunately,” said Jeff
Picklesimer, co-owner of Fintastic Aquariums of Wake County in Cary, N.C. “The internet is such a powerhouse now,
even the Current E-Flux pumps that we sell, Amazon sells them at retail sometimes $40 to $50 cheaper than what
we can get them for wholesale.”
This trend has hit saltwater-focused retailers and high-end products harder than in other segments of the
“We’re probably 75 percent freshwater,” said Kelley Parsons, manager of Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash.
“Honestly, people tend to buy the expensive equipment online. … Because we have sales reps that have been here
forever, customers want to buy it from us. We just don’t carry super-high-end stuff. There’s no point. It costs a lot to
stock it and you just can’t make enough to make it worthwhile.”
Keeping maintenance products in stock is a balancing act for retailers, as they have to weigh retaining
customers against dedicating shelf space to high-cost items.
“It’s hard to get customers to buy,” said Jeff Picklesimer, co-owner of Fintastic Aquariums of Wake County in
Cary, N.C. “We try to keep a certain amount on hand, but a lot of times nowadays, with shipping the way it is and
the way online is, if somebody can order something online and have it in their hand, that’s what they do.”
Recent strength in the economy has helped, but online competition is still difficult to deal with.
“More customers are using online retailers,” said Joe Genero, owner of Fish World in Richmond, Va. “A lot of it
is getting better because the economy is definitely improving, so people aren’t as concerned about saving $6 and
free shipping and all that they were before. But it definitely affects us. A lot of manufacturers and distributors are
backdooring products to the public, and we’re unable to compete with that. … Amazon has been a killer.”
Focusing on the aspects of the hobby that are resistant to online competition, such as livestock sales and
maintenance services, and concentrating on customer service, have been the tactics most retailers have used to
successfully combat internet sales.
“Retailers can best compete by using their strength, which should be knowledge and outstanding customer
service,” said Claus Frenken, sales manager for Sera North America in Montgomeryville, Pa. “If retailers offer
outstanding customer service, this is already a big part of what is needed to be successful. Retailers have to
find ways to stand out in comparison to online stores. Offering some additional service is what separates them
Have minimum advertised price (MAP) policies for
maintenance equipment products helped retailers win a
competitive edge in the industry?
“It is helping, but at the same time I’m still being murdered by
online sales. … I don’t really have very much markup on a lot of
high-end stuff. At that point, I’m making maybe $40 on a sale for
$100. Why am I going to work my ass off to sell a light like that
when I can get something else that is the equivalent in an off
brand and make a high profit margin?” —ANTHONYJOHNSON,
owner of Reef Life Aquatic of Palatka, Fla.
“MAP pricing has been huge. I’ve actually eliminated
some of the brands that don’t carry MAP pricing
because there’s no reason for us to put it on our shelf
if they can go on Amazon and buy it for 20 percent
less. Some of the companies that we carry, I’m not
even allowed to discount the item to you unless they
authorize the discount. If I did, you have no warranty.
That’s how much they’re enforcing their MAP pricing.
We need that in this business. We’re getting killed
by Amazon.” —JOE GENERO, ownerof Fish Worldin
“We’re a platinum dealer with Neptune. So if you have a
problem with the Neptune you come to me, I call them and
we take care of it. … It’s just a whole world of difference just
because of that fact. Seachem does it too, where they only
offer Aqua Vitro to brick-and-mortar. They try to enforce it.
But as they say, it’s like playing whack-a-mole. They get one
company down and three more pop up. That’s why we work
with them because they’re very good. They have a whole
team of lawyers working to enforce their MAP pricing, and
enforce the nonselling of Aqua Vitro. … But [other retailers]
sell under [some manufacturers’] MAP pricing, they don’t do
anything about it. So at that point what good is MAP?”
—JEFF PICKLESIMER, co-owner of Fintastic Aquariums of
Wake County in Cary, N.C.