Aquatic Advertising

In this tough economy, it is important for retailers to get creative when advertising and marketing their aquatics section.


When times are tough, there may be precious little money for advertising. Getting your money’s worth when it comes to reaching out to the general public is becoming more and more difficult. Tried and true ad concepts have had to make room for new innovations. What worked just last year may not give a retailer the results they desire now. To grow a business in this tough economy, retailers must kick it up a notch. A structured combination of strategic advertising both inside and outside the shop will give retailers the most bang for their buck.

If there are big-box competitors in the area, retailers should keep a close watch on what they are doing when it comes to advertising. Any products they are pushing need to be de-emphasized in an independent store, unless a retailer feels confident going head to head with the big boys. Small boutique concepts can work just as well as a “blitzkrieg” if a retailer knows the store’s clientele.

Before beginning a specific advertising regime, it is essential to perform a financial analysis so cost parameters are clearly defined. These should be exceeded only if results are substantially greater than anticipated. When a certain plan works well, extending it may not be the best idea. Instead, allow some time for examination of why it was so successful. Then, in a few months or so, bring it back with some refinements that may create even better results.

Increase Tank & Livestock Sales
If a retailer is trying to enlist new customers, those who have never had a fish tank, they may want to consider giving a tank away when a customer buys the package of accessories. Include a certificate for livestock in the deal and customers will come back when their aquariums have been set up.

Another way to increase the number of tanks the store sells is to concentrate on more exotic items. These include such tanks as hexes, flat-back hexes, corner and bow-front models. In-store displays will do a great job of increasing sales of odd or unusual setups, but retailers also need something outside the store to get customers through the door. I suggest creating a coupon that can be used for a 20-percent discount of selected tank setups. Place this coupon on the store’s website, in newspapers, in local discount coupon books, and advertise it on radio and/or television.

As aquatic retailers know, the highest profit margins are usually found on livestock. This means a lot of money can be made if sales increase in this category. Fish specials are an excellent way to do this. Try “buy one, get one free,” “buy one, get one at half price,” “buy three, get one free,” etc. A common mistake is to offer all items at the same discount rate. This can backfire when customers buy one expensive item at $30 and get the second one for only $15.

Effective Advertising
Believe it or not, creating effective advertising requires skill and knowledge. Not everyone is up to the challenge. Paying someone to create the store’s advertising may be worth looking into. This will cost more, so it is important that the person hired understands the pet industry and the products the store is trying to sell. To me, the best approach to professional off-site advertising is to thoroughly flesh out a concept and then contact a company who can create the finished product.

On-site or in-store advertising is an entirely different matter. Retailers can experiment and show their personal flare for creativity without it costing an arm and a leg. Vendors will also have displays created by their companies that retailers can use at their discretion. In-store advertising can last as long as you wish–an hour, a day, a week or even a month. I am a basketball fan, so “March Madness” is a favorite of mine. “Dog Days of Summer” is almost as clever and its timeframe is flexible.

If the economy is bringing lower sales, a retailer may need to keep a tight rein on advertising expenses. There is no reason to initiate large-scale ad projects if the results may be small-scale profits. In other words, sometimes it is necessary to use restraint when spending money on ideas that may or may not pay off. Specials, discounts, blowout sales and celebrations should be timed to coincide with paydays, holidays, anniversaries or major local events. For example, if a big-name entertainer is coming to town, offer free tickets in a drawing at the store. Likewise, tickets to an important sports event might bring in a large number of fans (customers).

Some stores set up an advertising budget for the calendar year and stick to it religiously. I believe that being this inflexible will lead to a lethargic ad campaign, rather than a dynamic one. If a store always has a July 4th sale, that concept is probably wearing thin. Try a Cinco de Mayo sale, a Father’s Day sale, a back-to-school sale or even a last day of summer sale. “Happy Hour” is always good for a few extra dollars. For example, on Monday through Friday from 6:00-8:00 pm give a 25-percent discount to all livestock costing $2 or less. Other “Happy Hour” ideas include a 20-percent discount on fish food; buy one live aquatic plant get a second one of the same type for half price; a 20-percent savings on all saltwater livestock; or 25 percent off any single item.

Another concept that works for some shops is “Midnight Madness.” Run the sale from normal closing time until midnight. The best night for this sale is Friday, since it is likely to draw more customers on a weekend than a weekday. This nighttime extravaganza doesn’t always catch on at first. A store may need to have the sale once a month for several months before it becomes popular.

Finally, it is important to remember that no amount of advertising can match the sheer power of personal contact. A really good salesman, clerk or employee can bring in more money to the store than any ad ever will. Still, increasing new sales, repeat sales, upgrade sales and “discovery” sales are necessary if a retailer wants to increase the bottom line, and advertising can really help. When the day comes that a retailer runs out of new advertising ideas or thinks they have everything already figured out, it’s time to lock the door and go home.

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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