What is the state of the aquatics segment of the pet
industry today? Is it growing, stagnant or in decline?
PAtrIck DoNstoN: In my opinion, stagnant, because consumers are more likely to purchase online and through
social media groups designed to their specific interest.
roger MA: We believe the aquatics segment is growing. It
really depends on how a particular store is run and how
often they change up their livestock offerings. There are
a lot of retailers that continue carrying the same products and livestock, and many aquatic consumers do not
like to see the same things over and over again. This is
the main reason why many of the stores end up closing.
When the livestock is always changing and new products are brought in on a regular basis, it brings excitement
for customers. When a customer walks in to the store for
the first time and sees the same exact fish in each store
they visit, they’ll likely not visit that shop again as there
isn’t really anything that sparks interest.
At the same time, a lot of hobbyists are shifting from
artificial décor to natural ones such as driftwood, live
aquatic plants, real stones, etc. There is definitely a lack
of exposure in the market, and when the right steps are
taken to introduce the methods of re-creating these “
natural landscapes” within an aquarium, more consumers
will catch on, and this will lead to a spark in interest rather
than staying stagnant and not changing the perception
most consumers have of a typical fish tank.
BIll trufANt: With the possible exception of saltwater,
specifically corals and reef tanks, the aquatics segment
in the pet industry is stagnant and probably in decline.
True aquatics stores can’t compete since having live animals in a store is very labor intensive and expensive,
which is why the big-box stores have very limited livestock. At B&B Pet Stop, the rest of the store has to “
carry” the live animal departments; but for us, having live
fish and animals are what make it fun.
Also, it seems that the fishkeeping population is aging. We just don’t see a lot of new, younger hobbyists.
What is working for you in the aquatics segment? And
are there any particular product categories that really
stand out in this segment?
DoNstoN: Our added-value policy, which entails well-
trained and educated employees. Because of this exper-
tise, we tend to get more clients visiting us more often
than in the past. The best customer service happens with
MA: We specialize in monster fish and other rare oddballs, and this is what makes us stand out from the
crowd. Hobbyists get bored after seeing the same bread-and-butter livestock over and over again, and, consequently, many of them leave the hobby. The monster
fish definitely give us a niche in the market, and many
of our clients own massive tanks ranging from 200 to
We’ve been specializing in monster fish and predator
fish for nearly a decade now and have built up a name for
ourselves among many monster fish-keeping hobbyists.
When anyone thinks of an arowana or bichir, we are one
of the first shops to come to mind.
Nano tanks—anything 10 gallons or below—are also
the new craze. You can re-create a piece of nature right
on your office desk or home counter, and the options are
endless on how the tank can be made to fit each person’s
preference. One can keep a group of shrimp or simply
just a single betta with maybe a few friendly tank mates.
Nearly every aquarium company has its own line of nano
tanks to compete in this new trend.
trufANt: We have a large store ( 14,400 square feet), with
a very large freshwater and saltwater fish department—
more than 6,000 gallons of tanks and display tanks. We
are able to offer a tremendous variety of tropical fish,
live plants, goldfish and koi, cichlids, and marine fish
and corals. My fascination with fish started when I was
10 years old, and I’m still our head fish geek today. My
relationships with fish farms, transhippers and breeders
allows us to bring in new, rare and unusual fish—
definitely not the kind of stuff you’d find anywhere else in
We maintain several large display tanks to show what
fish look like as they mature as well as to show off our
aquascaping and decorating skills. Our customers love
to see what we come up with when we “rearrange the
furniture” in our display tanks.
Another thing that works for us in aquatics are our
regularly scheduled fish events. We start each month with
our Fish Swap event on the first Tuesday of every month.
Customers can bring in healthy fish they no longer want
and swap them for new fish. This way, if they have a bully
in the tank, they can bring it to us and select something
more compatible—anything to keep them in the hobby.
Next up is Two-fer Tuesday, which is the second Tues-
day of each month. Buy one freshwater fish or plant at
regular price and get another one (same stock number) for
2-cents. No limit. This is a huge event every month and
requires extra [staff] on the sales floor. Sales on Two-fer
Tuesday are typically better than a strong Saturday.
At the end of the month—the last Friday of every
month—is Salty Friday, our saltwater sale. Buy one live
saltwater item at regular price and get any other live salt-
water item (of equal or lesser value) for half price.
These events keep the departments hopping, and our
customers love getting a good deal!
What have been the most impactful or game-changing innovations in the aquatics segment lately?
DoNstoN: Technology. Apps for lights, auto controllers, sensors linked to your phone with email-address
alerts. We are one of four shops experimenting a new
water-test system that sends email alerts to our clients.
MA: With technology improving throughout the years,
there are many methods of keeping aquariums well
maintained, water clean and reducing fish disease
risks. UV filters are offered at many stores now along
with many brands integrating a UV light into their
filters. This keeps the water clear of algae as it neutralizes most of the algae spores, therefore reducing the
risk of algae blooms.
At the very same time, many hobbyists are shifting
away from chemicals and other conventional methods
previously used toward holistic methods and taking a
more natural approach. The use of live aquatic plants
instead of plastic and/or silk plants and décor has been
on the rise. We have removed 90 percent of all artificial
plants and décor from our shelves since last year as a result of this.
With live plants being much more aesthetically appealing to the eye with their real and natural appearance,
the benefits don’t just stop there. They re-create a natural
environment that allows fish to feel more at ease and “at
home,” while keeping the water column of the tank nat-
The Future of Fishkeeping
INDUSTRY ROUNDTABLE: RETAILERS
With concerns over the viability of the aquatics industry mounting, pet
specialty retailers talk about what works for them, how to increase hobbyists’
interest and what types of products they’d like to see in the marketplace.
BILL TRUFANT, owner of B&B Pet Stop in Mobile, Ala. (Clockwise from left) Sally, Mary and Bill Trufant, co-owners of B&B Pet Stop in Mobile, Ala.
PATRICK DONSTON, owner of Absolutely Fish in Clifton, N.J.
ROGER MA, co-owner of Pet Zone Tropical Fish, which has two stores in San Diego
“I do believe only savvy, market-based retail experts with
specialty expertise will survive for an extended time.”—Patrick Donston of Absolutely Fish