The Current State of the Industry- Ideas and Solutions Moving Forward - Part 2
Moving forward what can we as an industry do to overcome these systemic industry problems and get the growth and interest back to where we all want it to be?
As a wholesale business, Aquatic Solutions supports independent aquarium stores, and the shopfront retailers are the bread and butter of the business so to speak. I believe every shopfront retailer should have a greater online presence given that a transition is happening in society where more services are being engaged online via customers. This means that ALL stores should be using free advertising tools such as Gumtree, Petlink and Facebook just like the backyarders and online stores do to promote their business, stock, special offers and new arrivals. All stores should also have a website where all posted ads link back to and this website needs to be updated regularly. These platforms are the key to getting your store in the face of the younger generations who spent almost all spare moments on their phones.
Aquatic solutions has just joined Facebook (better late than never!) in an attempt to keep in touch with our growing customer base and communicate to them new arrivals, special offers and interesting fish related articles. Using strategies like the ones used by online retailers such a taking good quality photos and posting up adds of actual fish, colonies, group lots that are for sale. These fish can often be sold at a premium price. Online auctions have been quite the trend lately and another way to market rare or unique fish.
Another good strategy that some stores are using very successfully is to set up and sell complete established display tanks with all the accessories including plants, decor, fish etc. As you all would have experienced, customers want their setup up and running immediately and in our current society, based on instant gratification, these established setups meet their needs (and not to mention you can charge premium price for them and no they won’t be asking you to price match them as they will be unique!)
Stores should not be just ordering stock in to be on-sold directly to their customers and be afraid to keep and display the stock in their own tanks. Stores should to be filled with healthy levels of stock and displayed well. Stores with minimal livestock cannot expect high sales of fish nor expect customers to flock to their stores to see bare tanks. Most of the successful stores I deal with order on almost a weekly basis and are not afraid to try new species. Anything new/different has been a major draw card for these stores and an excellent tool to separate a store from the herd. People are always looking for something different/unique or rare and I do my best to source such stock. If a store wants something special I go to great lengths to source it for them.
Basically strong support from retailers to their wholesaler would be the first step in the right direction in order to rectify this industry and restart the flow of fish in the right direction. This may be quite difficult and almost impossible as how many struggling retailers would be prepared to pay more for their fish and get their stock legitimately from a wholesaler? I believe the retailer should trust the integrity of their wholesaler in that they have the retailers’ best interest at heart as we exist to supply fish in bulk and feed the retail stores. As retailers want stricter regulation of wholesalers, wholesalers want stricter regulation of the producers. I believe this is the first step to addressing this issue.
So what’s on the horizon for our industry? Moving forward we are currently building a new website to address the different levels within this industry. We also agree with the concept of a tiered pricing structure to support retailers (with shopfronts) but something that still allows scope for potential online providers to operate on a different business platform within the ever changing aquarium sector. We are open to ideas on how this tiered pricing structure might look, as it needs to an inclusive process, but hard within an unregulated industry that is highly competitive.
In recent times there is an additional challenge facing independent aquarium retailers and it is not the traditional pet chain stores. It is in fact a new type of retail chain store run by wholesalers. This poses a huge threat to existing businesses as they have cut out other retail stores in their equation. The company doing this now imports, then retails directly to the public for both their dry goods and livestock, so there is very little the average store can do to compete with this in terms of pricing. All I can say is please be aware of who supplies your fish and ensure it is not a company who is in direct competition with yourself. I have already had several very upset stores come to me saying that “they will never deal with that company again”. It is sad that this kind of growth strategy is what this industry has come to. This industry is heading in the same direction as the big supermarket brands who wiped out the small corner stores. However in this industry, it takes skill and experience to keep fish and it is totally different from just chucking stock on shelves. This means independently run aquariums can in fact have a competitive advantage over chain stores. It is up to the smaller independent aquarium wholesalers to keep the big boys honest and to give the retail stores better pricing, service and fish, whilst also caring for the long term future of independently owned and run stores. Please don’t allow this industry to be monopolised by just a few big players.
It has to be said and acknowledged that a large number of goods and services alike grow our industry rather than just shops with storefronts. Maintenance companies go a step further than most shops, they provide customers feedback and real time support in a client’s home, and thus why maintenance companies are becoming more widespread and successful. Maintenance companies allow large companies, unrelated to the aquarium industry e.g. pubs, clubs and government departments to display large aquariums in workplaces and encourage the public to take an active interest in ornamental fish and fish keeping in an environment that is least expected but in turn are certainly growing the industry.
If maintenance companies ceased to run, how many home and business aquariums would be shut down? It is true that other aquarium associated businesses exist from the exposure given by the traditional shopfront initially, but both mutually exist to benefit each other by promoting the exposure of fish-keeping and our industry as well.
Several astute and well versed stores have tapped into this aquarium maintenance demand and incorporated this in addition to their shopfront. They provide their own in-house maintenance servicing or work closely with local maintenance companies. This allows them to now provide their customers with options from basic servicing call outs to setting up grand top end setups. This is another good example of what retail stores can do to meet current market demands.
Public aquariums are another inspirational venue to draw newcomers in to the hobby and it is sad to hear of the impending closure of Manly Sea Life Sanctuary. It just shows that they are not drawing the crowds they used to. I was quite disappointed and disheartened with the freshwater displays at Darling Harbour Aquarium on a recent visit. I searched their small display tanks for fish thinking maybe I am just missing them or they were hiding but in fact they were void of fish and had only aquatic plants in there. I would be happy to donate some fish for their freshwater displays to get them looking how they should and to help promote this industry.
Schools and educational centres are another area that we need to focus on to get the younger generations into the hobby before they pick up the phones and computer games. I would love for all schools to have an aquarium in each classroom for the younger generations and would be willing to sponsor such an enterprise.
I would be more than happy to discuss this further and welcome any phone calls on these matters. Some unity among the industry would be better moving forward but it needs to involve both sides of the coin as otherwise this may not be proactive and all of this change will be ineffective.
We all have to appreciate that there are so many different fusions of aquarium related businesses currently out there that it is almost impossible to categorise businesses on what 50 year old square they fit into. We just have to appreciate that times change and we need to change with the times to meet our customers’ needs. Our industry is morphing and it’s time for us to spread our wings like a butterfly and stop crawling around like a caterpillar.
Julian Wong B.Sc. Hons
JMW International Pty. Ltd. t/as Aquatic Solutions