Quality Control

By educating fishkeepers about water quality, retailers can help hobbyists enjoy their tanks while profiting from sales of related products.


The single most important element in any aquarium­–water quality–is usually given less consideration than any other aspect of the entire setup. There are numerous reasons for this inequity, but the most obvious one is lack of knowledge. Most people know very little about water and water chemistry, and they have only limited interest in these subjects. However, successfully maintaining a tank requires a certain amount of diligence when it comes to water quality.

No amount of warning is likely to convince fishkeepers to do a better job maintaining their water quality. Instead, a disaster of the first magnitude has to happen before they learn a valuable lesson. Even when this happens, it does not mean people will know what to do to correct the situation. They are unlikely to follow proper protocol if they don’t know what it is. Running into a shop and asking for advice is typically the extent of anyone’s effort. Therefore, it is in a retailer’s best interest to help customers maintain good water quality in their tanks. This is best accomplished by providing a pamphlet or small booklet that outlines the procedures for tank and fish care. One-on-one contact is not possible with everyone, so a set of guidelines will be extremely beneficial. Some people, of course, will require more personal attention.

Water Changes
Frequent partial water changes are the key to maintaining water quality in any aquarium. This process must be made as simple as possible, or people will not do it. A typical community tank should have a pH ranging from 7.2 - 7.6 and a general hardness level from 6-12 (DH). If these parameters are set and maintained, the vast majority of ornamental tropical fish should not be adversely affected by these aspects of the water chemistry.

A hobbyist can only guess at water chemistry if he or she does not have a test kit. The multi-function or universal kits are the best bargain, since they can determine pH, hardness, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels. When the ammonia level starts to rise, the pH and hardness will fall. Chemicals can be added to raise these levels, but the best results are obtained by changing water before adding the necessary chemicals.

The amount of pH or hardness-altering chemicals that are required will depend on the raw or tap water, as well as the parameters of the water remaining in the tank. For example, the pH of a 75-gallon tank is 6.4 and the hardness is 4.0. If 25 gallons of water are removed and replaced with tap water having a pH of 7.0 and a hardness of 6.0, the tap water will have little buffering effect since the two levels are not much higher than the tank itself. The best course of action will be to use chemicals that can substantially raise both parameters. This should be done over a period of days, not all at once.

Quality Products
The number of products available that help people with water-quality issues is almost infinite. Decide which items are the most effective at solving a particular problem and stock those products at all times.

One basic necessity when it comes to water-quality management is the siphon hose. The different brands of these on the market are overwhelming, so consider hose length, diameter and stiffness. The stiffness is usually determined by the thickness of the plastic. If a hose is too stiff, it will be hard to manipulate. If it is too flexible, it will be hard to control. Retailers want to sell hoses that are “just right,” which usually means selecting a hose from a deluxe siphon kit.

The length of hose is critical for some setups, but not important for others. A regular tank on a regular stand can be drained adequately into buckets by any siphon kit. Tall tanks, or tanks positioned well above the normal 30-inch desk height, will require a longer hose to reach the buckets. The longer the hose, the stiffer it should be, or it will be difficult to move from one bucket to the next. Finally, the hose diameter will determine how fast the tank will drain. Larger diameter hoses will drain tanks faster.

Customized siphon kits are a great way to make extra money. Tailor these kits to the individual customer. Many people will be able to use commercially available kits, so a store should still sell these. When someone wants to upgrade, make him or her a personalized kit using various products sold in the store.

A large percentage of the people who drain their tanks with siphon hoses drain them into buckets. This permits water changes to be easily measured in gallons. Buckets are the one element that most pet shops don’t supply. This oversight needs to be corrected, because not only will selling buckets bring in revenue, it will also help aquarists perform better tank maintenance.

Find a source for sturdy white plastic buckets with handles that will hold up to some abuse. The capacity of the buckets can be either five or six gallons. Remember, the bucket should never be filled to the top, so it will take a six-gallon bucket to hold five gallons of water. Now, five gallons of water weighs a fraction over 40 pounds, which is a lot for many people to lift. Retailers may want to choose five-gallon buckets instead, since they only weight 32 pounds when properly filled. Either way, the bucket should have a scale on the inside and outside. The measuring lines will help to tell how much water has been removed (or added). It’s best to use white buckets because the color of the water and the fill level can be easily seen. A good marketing tip is to add the store name and logo to the bucket.

Store Tanks
It’s a real challenge to maintain appropriate water chemistry in sales tanks. Fish are coming and going at an exhausting rate, and sometimes it’s necessary to mix species that are not compatible, environmentally speaking. Bioloads can also produce rapid shifts in tank chemistry. Daily measurements of chemical parameters may be necessary to ensure that correct levels are being maintained. If customers see sick or unhealthy fish in store tanks, they are unlikely to purchase any livestock. Also, they will hold any advice you provide on water chemistry to be suspect.

Keep the fish department at the forefront of new innovations in the area of maintaining water-quality. Use the best electronic testing devices and the most reliable water conditioning products. While every employee needs to know the basics of water chemistry, it’s critical to have one expert who can help customers with any water quality issues they have.

Edward C. Taylor has been in the pet industry for over 30 years as a retailer, live fish importer and wholesaler, and fish-hatchery manager.

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