SHOW AND TELL
Though competition is difficult and margins aren’t what they used to be when
it comes to lighting, pet retailers can stoke sales with creative displays and
supportive customer service, said industry insiders.
“We don’t really make much money on our dry goods,” said Chad Ketchum,
owner of Coast to Coast Aquatics in Kissimmee, Fla. “It’s a tradeoff. It’s not
livestock that you have to feed, but you don’t make much money on it.”
Ketchum said to combat this issue, he shows off what lights look like in-
store and focuses on the customer service aspect.
“Our customers tell us that they’re more than happy to come here and
spend their money just because our customer service beats anywhere else,”
Because livestock and new lighting features are both popular, it can help
to combine lights with attractive display tanks and implement their various
modes to help drive sales.
“We have our lights set up in store to show customers what the differences
are,” said Anise Jamal, owner of That Aquarium Place in Spring, Texas. “This
helps demonstrate the various features. … Showing the sunrise-sundown
modes is a big selling point.”
Hard goods are increasingly difficult to sell for brick-and-mortar aquarium stores, according to industry participants. “Customers either buy or they don’t,” said Shane Billmyre, owner
of Caye’s Aquarium in Portland, Ore. “Normally, if you’re strong in one area,
then you don’t [care] about the others really. You have to have a strength
somewhere. Our strength has always been livestock. There’s a lot more
profit margin in livestock than there would ever be in a dry good product.”
Competing on price isn’t always feasible, but retailers have success
making the difference back in superior customer service.
“It’s hard with dry goods, because anybody can go online and buy
anything for a fraction of the price,” said Mathew Amaro, owner of Lil’
Shop of Reef’s in Woodland, Calif. “It’s kind of crazy. Some people can buy
it online for what I can buy it for. Usually, I just tell them they’re only going
to get so much customer service online. If something goes wrong with
your tank or you need some help setting it up, they’re not going to ever
help you. That’s why you come to a fish store.”
In some cases, the answer might be to hold fewer products on shelves
and wait for orders to come in.
“We do a lot of special orders,” Billmyre said. “But on-shelf, on-hand,
it takes too much money to hope for a buy, especially when there are too
However, every local market is different, and, in some cases, retailers
reported hard good sales are still strong, as brick-and-mortar stores
continue to leverage their unique advantages over big-box and online-only
“It’s really not difficult to sell lights,” said Anise Jamal, owner of That
Aquarium Place in Spring, Texas. “Around 85 to 90 percent of people still
want instant gratification. Plus, if they buy it from a store, we can help
them set it up and show them what the light does and what it’s about.
They can ask those questions. They know they can ask online, but it’s
usually faster and easier to just buy the light upfront.”
“We still have tremendous opportunity with the nano and
desktop aquariums, and the popularity of smaller aquariums
keeps growing. From an environment perspective, freshwater
and planted aquariums lead the way. However, marine and
reef aquariums are gaining ground. Control features are taking
over lighting, from simply controlling the duration of light to
re-creating storms and cloudy days.”—CHRISLEROSE, aquatic
division manager at the Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass.
“Fixtures that are designed for nano setups are usually the
most popular ones for those applications. Hagen makes really
good nano tanks. Also, Lifeguard Aquatics make super cool little
full-view aquariums and little desktop complete kits.”—MATHEW
AMARO, owner of Lil’ Shop of Reef’s in Woodland, Calif.
“Nano setups are popular, but planted tanks in general are
popular. Sure, we see some people interested. But most
people will want a bigger aquarium, whether it’s 20 gallons
or 55, set up with plants. Some customers want high-growth
lighting, but it depends on the energy levels a light produces.
Most people are doing modest lighting.”—SHANEBILLMYRE,
owner of Caye’s Aquarium in Portland, Ore.
“Everybody’s into the LEDs, and there’s a mixed push into
nano planted tanks and saltwater. Customers are looking for
lights specifically marketed to their application.”—ANISE
JAMAL, owner of That Aquarium Place in Spring, Texas
“Fixtures aren’t necessarily getting smaller, but
manufacturers are trying to make them more
streamlined. They’re thinner, which, if you’re put-
ting it over small tanks, that’s definitely less to look
at. So that’s better.”—CHADKETCHUM, ownerof
Coast to Coast Aquatics in Kissimmee, Fla.
How is the popularity of nano aquariums
affecting the market for light fixtures?