The honest truth of our current aquarium industry from a wholesaler's perspective

The honest truth of our current aquarium industry from a wholesaler's perspective

We, at Aquatic Solutions, are considering removing our 20% surcharge for our online only customers ie. those retailers without a brick-and-mortar store. (see here for how we defined this over 7 years ago!

I know this was a hugely controversial topic back when the online era of retail fish sales began (and still a raw wound for many out there).

Over 7 years ago now, we’ve copped a lot of pressure from many stores to implement tiered pricing for our fish, even to the extent of threats of blacklisting and boycotting us. We listened and followed the requests to safeguard the interests of our brick-and-mortar stores (the very foundation for most fish keepers entering into the hobby even to this day).

Fast forward 7 years, and it seems we are the only wholesaler doing this safeguarding (please enlighten me if I am wrong). I think we can all appreciate the online trend is here, and is here to stay, now providing a considerable component of fish sales across Australia today. As such we at Aquatic Solutions would like to begin servicing this part of the industry more actively. They would still need to meet minimum order requirements, prepay for their orders, have adequate holding capacity to house a minimum order and a means to be able to on-sell the fish via a functional website. This suggestion hasn't come lightly, and a lot of thought has gone into what is best for the industry, as well as the future of Aquatic Solutions.
I can certainly say that the stores that are having huge success at the moment are the brick-and-mortar stores which have a very strong online presence, great websites, promotions and a good strong range of fish with fresh new arrivals coming in weekly. I would go as much to say that potentially, their online sales are even exceeding those made by walk in customers. The stores that are struggling have little or no online presence and this is truly sad to see as this trend has been coming for such a long time. To see the future just look overseas and all the answers are there. We are like 20 years behind Asia!

I would like to throw this out there to our peak body PIAA as if we are to stand together to further this industry as a whole, we really need to agree on some standard practices for all levels of the industry rather than every man and his dog stabbing each other in the back for short term gains.

We have been examining strategies to make our business more profitable without putting up prices and making this an elitist hobby for those with the fattest wallets. Something that goes against the fundamentals of this hobby and my personal beliefs.

We can all appreciate that the massive Covid induced sales of fish are now over and that we have returned to pre-Covid trends for fish sales. This combined with huge interest rate hikes and massive increases in costs in almost every aspect of everyday living has meant that this industry is currently facing some huge challenges. Subsequently, we too at Aquatic Solutions are also being hugely impacted. I would like to break down some of the current issues we are facing so as to give full transparency and communicate our current predicament.

Wage increases and the difficulties involved in finding hard working staff interested in working the salt mines here have been an ongoing challenge. The reluctance of the younger generations to step up and do the hard yards involved with caring and running 2000 tanks of fish in prime condition has been nearly impossible. You really need excellent observational skills and be well attuned to each fish’s normal behavioural characteristics and pre-emptively act when fish are not happy. This combined with a strong knowledge of each fish's desired water parameters and preferred habitat is also a must. "Ph 7" and "our water is perfect" just won’t cut it for many species of fish we keep here. There is no way around it but hard work and unlimited hours of care and devotion. You really need to be both physically and mentally fit to run this race.

Often I would say it is a thankless job, so people seeking 'fish glory' are often disappointed as you will always be judged on the last bag of fish you pack and bear the blame for any mishaps with fish on arrival and even weeks or months later. It is a huge responsibility within an industry of self-proclaimed experts, who are often the big fish in their small pond with little understanding of the vast oceans beyond.  

Don't get me wrong here, the vast majority of my customers are well astute, experienced fish-keepers but to say you know everything in this game is a lie. I am still learning things everyday keeping fish. What I can say is that if I can't cook I definitely wouldn't be opening up a restaurant and then blame my suppliers for the standard of the dishes being served up. As a wholesaler we sponsor the learning curves of so many newcomers starting out shops, not to mention the many managers and staff running these retail outlets.

Being the wholesaler, we often bear the blame for any mishaps along the way and in many instances far beyond what shops themselves even extend to their very own customers.

I would challenge anyone to come and experience the wholesale aspect of this industry and show me how it can be done better. There is certainly a job here waiting for you! I have lost several good friends and many colleagues in the pursuit of perfection running this business. It's a grueling job day in and day out and something that just devours all your spare time with no regard for your family, plans or freedom. The hours, days, months and years just disappear.

There is more competition in the market of late with more wholesalers entering the game and several stores now importing fish themselves meaning less dependence on wholesalers for fish. These stores are also distributing excess stock supplying other stores. On the flip side many fish producers are also bypassing wholesalers to move their stock for more money directly to stores and even to the public.

So as a wholesaler what would you suggest we do?

We basically have a significantly retracted market with a huge oversupply of fish. This combined with many shops struggling to pay outstanding balances on their accounts has had a drastic effect on the cash flow of Aquatic Solutions and I am sure other wholesalers are also facing similar issues. This industry is siting very precariously on knife's edge at the moment where something has to give and it will be the stores and wholesalers that are over leveraged that will collapse in order to allow a reset of the industry. It will be a war of attrition until then.

We have already seen the initial phases with wholesalers offering crazy prices, deals and promotions to boost cash flow. This is certainly not a long-term solution to our current predicament. We also have a number of stores struggling to pay their overdue accounts, and several who we won’t mention outright not paying their account and ignoring all forms of contacts. In the past few months, I can count at least 6 retail stores that have closed their doors! On the flip side, we have also seen many of our suppliers tighten their belts, with some now requesting prepayment and some shortening their account terms. This also affects our cash flow as we are getting stretched further and further to accommodate everyone's needs.

So what do we do? Do we follow suit and ask for accounts to be prepaid? After being burnt so many times over the years it is definitely an appealing proposition....

From recent discussions with AQIS, imports of live fish into Sydney are at record low levels. I cannot speak for other states but I would assume they too have seen a big decline as well. Talking with exporters supplying fish into Australia they too have seen a significant drop in order sizes and frequency. Our farm itself that also supplies many other wholesalers in Australia also has struggled to receive prompt payment of late which is quite disappointing.

We, at Aquatic Solutions, have always prided ourselves in providing the best quality fish, huge variety, excellent sizing and health. This combined with our unparalleled customer service and after sales support is something that we will be spending considerable time and effort on improving, in order to gain market share within the industry. We hope to have your continued support for the challenging times ahead of us.

One final point, I would like you all to consider is the support Aussie fish producers and farms truly need from you in this current climate. The choices you make when ordering that can make a difference to the long-term sustainability and viability of such enterprises and this has been something we at Aquatic Solutions have been striving towards for many years. During Covid times when importing fish into Australia was super difficult, it was the Australian producers that stepped up and picked up the slack to keep the industry rolling.

So please remember this and return the support. This is something that we Australians are so proud of, being Australian and supporting Australian businesses.

Please make a conscious effort when ordering and even when on-selling these fish.

Julian Wong B.Sc. Hons
JMW International Pty. Ltd. t/as Aquatic Solutions
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