BY E THAN D. MIZER
To help aquatic hobbyists succeed, pet specialty retailers and manufacturers
endeavor to make care and cleaning tasks simpler to perform.
With the bewildering array of species that have become available on the market and the innovative maintenance and husbandry techniques that have
been developed in recent years, the aquarium hobby has reached new levels of technical achievement.
Right now, though, the focus is on simplifying maintenance and keeping hobbyists
coming back for more, industry participants
stated. By consolidating and focusing on
customer service, pet specialty retailers are
able to build their customer base and face
the competition head on.
The saltwater side of the hobby is seeing
growth, retailers reported.
“There are a lot more people getting into
saltwater,” said Mark Hresko, co-owner
of House of Tropicals in Glen Burnie, Md.
“The hobby has actually grown a little bit. It
slowed for a while.”
With more people buying tanks, he noted, he’s selling more main-
tenance products as well.
Novel species have also been appearing on distributors’ lists in the
past couple of years, retailers reported, and these newer offerings are
helping to drive maintenance product sales as well.
“I’m looking to get into freshwater shrimp, which have unique
care needs,” said Tom Herron, owner of Fins Feathers Paws & Claws
in Harleysville, Pa.
These species generally require small, nano-type tanks, along
with the miniature filters and LED lighting to go along with them,
The nano trend in general has been undeniable in recent years,
but these types of setups create maintenance challenges, retailers
“One thing that is problematic is people buying nano tanks and
expecting too much out of them,” Herron said. “Educating them
properly on what a nano tank can really accommodate has been a
Overall, the hobby has seen the introduction of more integration
and a greater degree of controllability when it comes to setting up
and maintaining equipment.
“Comprehensive solutions continue to grow in popularity thanks
to the development of smart equipment,” said Michael Acerra, dig-
ital marketing manager for Penn-Plax in Hauppauge, N. Y. “Serious
hobbyists are loving the ability to control different aspects of their
filtration and tank maintenance straight from their phones.”
UV sterilizers are also gaining popularity, Acerra added, especially
in applications with heavy-duty lighting to promote plant and coral
growth, which tends to produce a ton of algae inside a tank.
Ultimately, though, the emphasis is on making maintenance tasks
as simple and efficient to perform as possible, industry participants
“Mostly, people want a perfectly running tank with as little maintenance as possible,” said Claus Frenken, sales manager for Sera
North America in Montgomeryville, Pa.
MAKING MAINTENANCE EASY
The trend in maintenance equipment right now is for greater integration, a
streamlined user interface and total control of aquarium parameters.
KollerCraft is introducing a line of aquariums designed to help hobbyists
connect to their tanks more easily, said Rand Kollman, vice president of sales
and marketing for the Shawnee, Kan.-based company. The company will
release a new aquarium app at Global Pet Expo in 2018 that is designed to
allow hobbyists to manage their tanks.
“Our new line … will provide reminders that will tell aquarists when to
perform water changes, replace filter cartridges and perform other necessary
maintenance chores,” Kollman said. “With these notifications sent to their
phones scheduling and maintenance will become easier to implement.”
While new technology and apps are gaining a lot of attention in the
hobby, new filtration media are also appearing on pet specialty retailers’
shelves. Sera North America recently introduced a mechanical filter media
called Sera Crystal Clear Professional, said Claus Frenken, sales manager for
the Montgomeryville, Pa.-based company.
The media’s structure is designed to remove detritus as small as 10
microns, Frenken said. The media can be reused several times and is meant
to work in fresh, salt and pond applications, he added.
Penn-Plax, too, is preparing a new filter media for release in the second
quarter of 2018, said Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager for the
Hauppauge, N. Y.-based company, but details aren’t available yet.
KEEPING THAT CONNECTION
Providing information to customers and demonstrating how to use equipment properly is a vital part
of any local fish store’s business, retailers reported. But being a source of information can also create
issues for pet specialty retailers.
“My challenge is dealing with customers who buy [maintenance products] from somewhere
else and who then come to me for advice on how to make it work,” said Tom Herron, owner of Fins
Feathers Paws & Claws in Harleysville, Pa.
Herron’s solution is to focus on customer service and the community he’s built over the years.
“We’re a shop that’s been around a long time, so we’ve got a good reputation,” he said. “I’ve dealt
with parents, children and now children of children who have been in the hobby, and I want to keep
Establishing a reputation and looking out for customers can make the difference in beating out
other retail outlets to earn customers’ dollars.
“We have great customer service,” said Mark Hresko, co-owner of House of Tropicals in Glen
Burnie, Md. “We’ve been in business for 50 years, and we’re pretty well known.”
Part of Hresko’s approach is to use education as a way to build a bond with his customers.
“We take care of our customers,” he said. “We don’t get them in, sell them what they want and
throw them out the door. We explain how to put everything together and set it up.”
For retailers who go that extra mile, the reward can be a lifelong customer. This might mean
bringing sales associates up to speed, too.
“Find out exactly what customers need, what their challenges are and what they’re hoping to
accomplish with their new maintenance equipment,” said Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager
for Penn-Plax in Hauppauge, N. Y. “Sometimes the best sales tool is your staff.”
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