Making a Splash
The aquatics industry continues to undergo rapid change, and there's nowhere better to get a sense of where it's headed than the Everything Aquatics section of the show floor.
The aquatics category has come a long way in recent years. “This is not your granddad’s goldfish bowl,” says Mike Noce, sales manager of the specialty division at Fritz Industries, Inc. (booth 1559). “The category is becoming more vibrant and diverse everyday and has something unique to offer any consumer at any level.
“The aquatics category brings together nature, science and the potential for creativity in a way unlike any other hobby,” says Noce.
The Everything Aquatics section of the show floor demonstrates this in a way unlike any other.
Fritz Industries, Inc., is debuting a comprehensive line of water treatments for ornamental water gardens at the show—and the line is just one of many innovative new products that is available in Everything Aquatics this year.
The section lives up to its name, offering a wide variety of products meeting every need an aquatics hobbyist or retailer could have. Display tanks teeming with life are on show in almost every booth, highlighting some of the best new products in the industry and drawing passersby in waves.
“I really love this section because it is a large area that is very open,” says Kim Bell, owner of Reptile Industries, Inc. (booth 1549). As an exhibitor, Bell says the extra elbow-room gives her more flexibility when designing her booth’s layout, where she’ll be unveiling new cage designs and specialty diets this year. She says it also allows better traffic flow in that area.
Although her company is largely reptile focused, exhibiting in Everything Aquatics makes sense, since so many retailers stock reptile and aquatics products in the same areas of their stores.
But the section’s layout isn’t the only thing that has exhibitors excited about the blue carpet. Priscilla Shirley, sales specialist at Zeigler Feed (booth 1258), thinks that having the eye-popping section helps prevent aquatics manufacturers from getting lost at what is, after all, the largest annual show in the trade.
“Offering an aquatics section on the show floor allows companies that offer aquatics products better visibility at such a large show that is flooded with products for the dog and cat industry,” says Shirley. Her company will be taking advantage of that visibility to reintroduce its private-label food services at the show.
And that visibility isn’t only good for exhibitors, says Lance Reyniers, president of Python Products, Inc. (booth 1346). “It allows people who are at the show to come in and see the products they want in an area, and not have to zigzag through the whole show to find what they’re looking for.”
Top Trends for 2013
So what are attendees looking for this year?
Evolving technology continues to heavily impact the aquatics category, perhaps more than any other in the pet industry. That technology has affected everything from water conditioners—water treatment plants across the country are adopting stronger chemicals for treating the water, making these more necessary that ever—to lighting, which Noce points out becomes smaller and slimmer each year.
Those technological changes have snowballed, leading to new design trends in all aspects of the category. “I expect to see new caging ideas and products as the trend for beautiful aquariums and vivariums are increasing in popularity,” says Bell.
Python Products is certainly an example that fulfills Bell’s prediction. Python will debut its Python Hideaways—hand-formed clay décor made from Utah clay, appropriate for reptile, small animal and fish habitats. Because they are hand-formed, each hideaway is unique. “People are really looking for quality,” says Reyniers. And good design and quality go hand-in-hand.
Noce says that those design trends have even impacted packaging, leading manufacturers to introduce products with a sleeker look. “The Fritz Aquatics line is a prime example of this, with a slimmer, taller bottle and bold images of the types of fish the treatment is for on the label,” says Noce.
In addition to some major changes in visual design, the way aquatics products are sold has begun to shift. Beginner hobbyists have long struggled with the huge learning curve it traditionally took to be successful.
Manufacturers are looking to change that.
“There are many manufacturers coming up with complete setups, which I think is great for beginners; [it] eliminates the hassle of trying to figure out exactly what is needed,” says Bell. “Overall, I think consumers are looking for products that make care easier and the aquarium more visually appealing,” Bell explains.
Surviving Rough Waters
The learning curve isn’t the only challenge the industry is facing these days. While experts agree that the category is continuing to grow, the pace has slowed along with the economy and costs have risen.
“Increasing costs are a threat to the industry at this time,” says Bell. “The cost of bedding, food, shipping/freight and labor has increased drastically over the past year.” Those costs are often passed along down the supply chain, leading to increased prices for consumers, adding another hurdle for those interested in joining the hobby.
Reyniers says this has caused many companies to go overseas in hopes of lowering costs, but that sometimes leads to a nosedive in quality. In turn, many customers are looking for products that are “Made in America” as a confirmation of quality.
In addition to rising costs, Reyniers says increased regulation is having a negative effect on many aspects of the category, making it harder than ever for aquatics companies to thrive.
Bell agrees. “Government regulations are creating a challenge for the industry, and both live-animal distributors and product manufacturers are continually working with PIJAC [Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council] and USARK [United States Association of Reptile Keepers] to help prevent legislation that will hurt the industry.”
Also worth mentioning is the challenge of being a lower profile category, at least when compared to the dog and cat categories, in a world that’s increasingly humanizing pets. “Whereas you can hold and cuddle cats and dogs, the appeal in an aquarium is primarily in the visual beauty and in the interesting variety of species that inhabit your aquascape,” says Noce. “Raising awareness of this category and the amazing animals is the big challenge for any manufacturer in this category.”
Still, he says it’s not an insurmountable one. “When consumers see a stunning reef aquarium on display they want one like it. We have to get these displays in front of consumers more often to get their attention.”
And, fortunately for retailers and manufacturers in the category, there are plenty of people who consider aquatics to be more than a hobby—it’s a passion. “It’s the only place where you can actually stand in front of something and look into another world,” says Reyniers.