FISH IN CLIFTON,
N.J., OFFERS A
WIDE VARIETY OF
AQUATIC LIVES TOCK, AND THE
FOR ALL THINGS
AS AN EXPERT IN
THE LOCAL AREA.
DONSTON, O WNER
FISH, HAS BEEN
THE FISH HOBBY
SINCE HE WAS 9
YEARS OLD. HE
IS A FREQUEN T
AND AQUARIUM SOCIETIES
AROUND THE U.S.
nicating with new and current customers,” he said. “The
feedback, relationships and sales achieved at shows
such as SuperZoo have a lasting impact throughout the
In his more than 33 years exhibiting at SuperZoo,
Lance Reyniers, owner of Python Products Inc. in Mil-
waukee, said he appreciates seeing quality retailers and
distributors, and being able to have one-on-one conver-
sations to answer questions and service needs.
“I see at this show the highest-quality buyers and more
diversity in that more stores send employees with a say-
so to the show, not just owners coming out for a week in
Vegas to write off,” he said. “I’m seeing the quality of
the buyer and the quality of the attendee climb every
year, both from the U.S. and across the pond.”
Retailers also benefit greatly from building rela-
tionships at the show. Frenken recommends that store
owners and staff listen carefully when hearing about
new products that they want to carry so they can clearly
explain and sell their customers on the products.
He added that although trade shows can be very expensive, they are always worth it.
“Trade shows definitely have a good value in our
company’s overall business,” he said. ◊
As a pet specialty retailer, what is your favorite part of the day?
D. Patrick Donston: The animals: fish, coral, weird invertebrate and fauna. Opening new shipments is like
our childhood days, like opening up birthday gifts. Our passion for aquariums and the animals that live
in them is why we do what we do.
What are the most challenging aspects of what you do every day?
Donston: This is easy—HR. Employee staffing, scheduling, training/development and engagement. Most
important, developing my own leadership skills and coaching my management team on how to be
“level 5 leaders.”
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received from a customer?
Donston: “You have the most knowledgeable people working for you, and they’re so pleasant and
I do hear this often, but every once in awhile, some will add: “I’m a businessman, and I know how
hard it is. Your staff is a reflection of your hard work and a credit to you.”
What makes your particular niche of the pet specialty market so unique and fun to be in?
Donston: The variety of aquatic life we carry. We are so passionate about fish that we try to bring in everything. I mean everything! We get excited about really cool guppies all the way up to $3,000 conspicillatus
angels—and so much more in between. We love new fish and coral entering the hobby as well.
What’s the most notable change you’ve seen in pet specialty since you started out?
Donston: The internet. It’s not so much the pricing structure most complain about. It’s the information
and accessibility of it that’s making specialty retailers less needed.
Ten years ago, we could justify our prices versus value because we could provide expert services to
clients. Now, anyone who grows within the hobby for a year can get a lot of information we had a niche
to provide—for free and with cheaper prices.
The most notable difference for us is coral reef sales. Any passionate hobbyist can grow and sell coral
in their garage or basement with very little overhead. And believe me, they’re everywhere. Their prices
are usually 50 to 60 percent lower than brick-and-mortar retailers. Combined with internet and social
media information, this, of course, devalues specialty retailer services.
Given all the changes that have occurred in the pet market in recent years, where do you see your particular
niche of the market heading in the future? Do you foresee growth, or will it be a specialty reserved for the most
Donston: I see it going toward more of an entertainment market. Brick-and-mortars will need to utilize
technology and zoo/aquarium models to make their place a destination. We will have to get creative
and use exhibit display management to provide entertainment.
We have to understand our place with consumers. For beginners, we will remain relevant—for
advanced hobbyists, less so. That’s why we’ll have to discover new ideas to draw advanced aquarists
in. We can get the candy—i.e.: the fish—but now we have to market and display for enjoyment. They’ll
leave the house for that.
Honestly, I do not foresee growth. I do believe only savvy, market-based and retail experts combined
with specialty expertise will survive for an extended time. ◊
Location: 1080 US- 46, Clifton, NJ 07013
Owner: D. Patrick Donston
Employees: 20 full time, 13 part time
Years in business: 17
Square feet: 4,850
Products and services: Marine and freshwater fish, supplies
Absolutely Fish At a Glance
Absolutely Fish’s D. Patrick Donston says that the store’s
expertise and passion keeps hobbyists coming back, but
entertainment value helps too.