Illuminating Ideas

Putting some thought and effort into lighting can dramatically improve your store’s displays and shopping ambience while boosting bulb and fixture sales.




When it comes to aquarium lighting, is your store in the dark? Since most pet retailers lease rather than own, you may have given little consideration to how adequately your store is lit. However, you need to be certain that every department is illuminated with the best possible overhead lighting for the products or animals under the fixtures. 

Here’s a perfect example of the difference lighting options can make in a store: You walk into a giant supermarket, perhaps 50,000 square feet, with hundreds of eight-foot fluorescent fixtures in the ceiling. The entire floor space is equally illuminated. Across the street, there is another grocery store that has low ceilings, only 12 feet high with recessed fixtures. The choice of bulbs is a warm white rather than the daylight ones used in the other building. You feel more comfortable and at ease, not as sterile and not as cold as in the big store. Which environment would you prefer shopping in? Lighting has a psychological effect on people, so you might as well use it to your advantage. 

Ceiling height is a critical factor. If you have a warehouse-sized business, your lighting is a long way up—perhaps as much as 12 feet or more. A bigger gap requires more lumens to equally illuminate the floor, but you should vary the types of fixtures and bulbs depending on the products directly under their purview. You might consider having some areas sheltered from the main lighting in order to create a desired ambience, or you might use a drop ceiling in the tank display area so you have better control over individual tank lighting. In this case, there are no fixtures in the ceiling and separate lights on each and every tank. This is a great way to showcase not only your livestock selection, but your lighting hardware and bulbs as well.

There is no major formula to follow when it comes to lighting on aquariums. Over the years, I have discovered that most tropical freshwater fish require much less light intensity than you would believe. Considering how close the bulbs are to the water’s surface in most tanks, it’s best to use lower wattage rather than higher. For instance, you might try two 25-watt bulbs over a 30-gallon long tank rather than two 40-watt bulbs. The fish will show themselves better if the light is not overly intense, and you will also grow less algae and cut down on tank maintenance. 

The light fixtures you sell should be grouped into two major categories: freshwater and saltwater. The freshwater environment is fairly straightforward, and there is little need for exotic lighting. Saltwater fixtures and bulbs are routinely employed in two different categories: coral ecosystems and fish aquariums. Just like their freshwater counterparts, marine fish are not fussy about lighting. Coral, on the other hand, can be highly demanding in every aspect of its husbandry, particularly lighting.

With coral, you can break down lighting requirements into two different groups: stony or reef-building corals (hermatypic), and soft or non-reef-building species (ahermatypic). Most reef-building corals contain a symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae, which contributes to the coral’s nutritional needs. This is the reason corals have very specific requirements when it comes to lighting. The light illuminating such corals must be of specific wavelengths and must bathe the coral for specific lengths of time. It’s the Goldilocks scenario—too little or too much light won’t work, and light of the wrong wavelength is no good either. The light must be just right, so you need to pay strict attention to the light source. Such a fixture should have a built-in timer and bulbs that produce specific wavelengths of light. 

The location of fixtures on reef tanks has only one acceptable option—hanging above the water’s surface at a level high enough to ensure the fixture does not get wet. Never use glass tops with corals ,since the light spectrum will change as it passes though the glass. If you are concerned that fish may jump out, build a top out of screening with a wooden frame. I have not seen a commercial take on that as yet, so here is your chance to inaugurate an entirely new product category: anti-jump net top. I will give you that one for free, no finder’s fee necessary.

Advances in Technology
When the science of captive reef maintenance was being developed, the only types of lights that produced strong enough light of the proper wavelengths were halide or metal halide. These bulbs generated a great deal of heat and they required the coral enthusiast to employ (so-called) chillers. These chillers run tank water over a metal coil filled with a coolant chemical. Heat is transferred to the coils and thereby removed from the tank environment. The consumption of power for this arrangement is quite severe, not to mention the difficulty of finding a way to evacuate the hot air away from the chiller and the aquarium.

Eventually, fluorescent bulbs were developed that worked almost as effectively as the halides. They produce much less heat and almost as varied a light spectrum. Then came the world of light emitting diodes, or as they are more commonly known, LEDs. These seem to be the type most favored by today’s reef enthusiasts. The fixtures are small and can easily be moved around. Lenses over each diode expand the coverage diameter, so there is excellent overlap from one bulb to the next. Their best feature is probably the small amount of heat they produce.

And now, you as the storeowner are left with the daunting task of selecting which types of marine fixtures to carry. Just because you sell LED lights does not mean you cannot sell fluorescent or even halide lights as well. There will be some customers who prefer these, so it’s up to you to showcase them as best you can.

Next to shelf stable foods, replacement light bulbs have probably been the best category for repeat sales, since you can sell replacements for halide and fluorescent bulbs. However, LED fixtures come with their own proprietary bulbs, so in most cases, the bulbs cannot be replaced. This leads to a dilemma. Are you really on board with fixtures that cannot give you repeat bulb sales? It is up to you how you handle this somewhat contradictory situation. 

The big drawback in lighting is the up-front cost—you’ll be investing in hardware that will leave you with thousands of dollars of inventory. Your major competitors for these sales will come from the internet, so it’s essential to get pricing right. Still, it would be foolish to try and match those prices. Just come as close as you can and still make a decent profit. Meanwhile, stress the ease of return for items purchased from you versus those bought online. Signage in one of your front windows should say, “If you need a bulb, we have it for you. You won’t be in the dark if you depend on us.”

Many lighting fixtures do not come with a built-in timer, so selling these electronic accessories is a good option. All lighting timers and/or extension cords should be three-prong so they are grounded automatically. If your competitors sell certain brands of fixtures, do your best not to stock them. Instead, try to find comparable brands that no one else has.

The very best way to sell lights is to put them on display tanks and use extensive signage to explain what people are seeing. Using this technique will generate a lot of questions and a reasonable number of sales. Most importantly, it will do an excellent job of keeping the coral alive, but it will also have the secondary effect of helping you sell a lot of coral. Now get out there and make your lighting sales shine. 

Edward C. Taylor has been in the pet industry for more than 40 years as a retailer, live fish importer and wholesaler, and fish-hatchery manager.


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