Package Deal

Known for their convenience and ease of use, packaged fish foods can almost sell themselves, but savvy retailers can catapult sales upward with some thoughtful marketing and sales techniques.


What a customer feeds his fish will, in large part, determine his success at maintaining a healthy aquarium. This is why packaged diets are so important in the industry. People need help selecting a proper diet for their fish, and all-inclusive staple diets accomplish that quite well. The fact that they create more sales for the retailer is just an added bonus.

I have preached the gospel of food diversification for many years. Fish need—and stores should stock—frozen foods, live foods and, of course, packaged foods. Obviously, there is some work, cost and spoilage associated with live foods. Even frozen foods are not immune to these failings. Packaged foods, on the other hand, are just about bulletproof when it comes to longevity—that is their best feature. Often, these products generate sales with no more effort than fronting merchandise at the end of the day. However, if employees show a little enthusiasm and talk up products that they believe in, these packaged foods may start to fly off the shelves.

Aisles of products will do a retailer little good if it does not aggressively, even dynamically, market them with posters, point-of-sale literature, specials and sales, creative displays, and most importantly, personal recommendations from sales staff. I suggest retailers pick a single item, or even an entire product line, and put a sales representive in charge of personally telling customers just how good these products are. The retailers should be on board with any sales pitch the representative may deliver. In fact, I suggest the storeowner or manager write it themselves, then have the salesperson deliver the presentation to work out any kinks before using it on the sales floor.

In order to evaluate this enhanced sales approach, retailers should track sales of the targeted items for at least two weeks. Then, using that information as a baseline, start the project and see what happens in two more weeks. If the results are not satisfactory, the retailer can then give someone else the chance to prove their skills for two weeks. Finally, compare all three sales periods and determine if your experiment was a success. Not everything works, so don’t be disappointed. Never run these campaigns during a holiday period. It will skew the results every time.

Retailers should also consider making a concerted sales push when new, innovative products hit the market. For example, say a fish food brand you really like is about to come out with a number of new products. Some of them are items you already carry, but with new formulations. Maybe it’s an algae pellet with twice as much algae as the former one. Or, it could be a color-enhancing pellet that brings out red coloration in fish at double the old rate. Another possibility would be a pelletized food that floats for extended periods of time rather than briefly. This would be a great item for fish that are primarily surface feeders.

Or perhaps an entirely new type of fish food is about to debut. If it comes from a firm with a good reputation, you need to get in on the ground floor. Gel matrix foods are a good example. These can be fantastic sellers when promoted properly. I recommend setting up a display aquarium on an endcap to feature the food exclusively, as well as advertising the feeding times, so customers can be there to observe food preparation. Add water to the powder, mix well, and presto, a gelatinous mass of food is almost immediately ready for consumption. It is stable in water, strong in olfactory attractants, and the fish can pick at it over a period of time until it is completely consumed. If people show up off-schedule and request a demonstration, simply pick an appropriate tank in the aquatic livestock department to feed.

Products that are new to the marketplace often need the additional promotion in order to sell to their potential. Personally, however, I love new packaged foods because they create a sales opportunity that was not there before. If your competitors sell six brands of flake foods, try to find at least two—three would be better—that they do not carry. Of course, they must be competitive products in both nutritional value and price point.

It is often senseless to stock bargain-brand foods that every pet shop has on its shelves. If you can beat everyone’s prices, perhaps you may want to go for it, but that’s just inviting a price war. Still, you might end up with higher sales totals but less profit.

I don’t know if there are any brands of packaged diets not sold on the Internet, but if there are, as long as they are of satisfactory quality, put them on your shelves. I would definitely recommend not stocking any brand you see online if the price to the consumer is almost as low or lower than what you pay wholesale. There is absolutely no sense in helping this brand make even more money when it is doing nothing to protect brick-and-mortar merchants.

If you do discover a food online that you really like, see if it’s possible to have a company sales representatvie come in over a weekend and offer customers special deals—for example, a buy one, get the second at one half price, or buy two, get a third free. Or offer customers who spend $25 a coupon for $10 off the same or similar item the next time they visit the store. It helps ensure that those participating will pay a return visit.

Sales of packaged diets probably generate a major percentage of your repeat customers—after all, foods are consumables. The best news, however, is that when people come back for more food, they almost invariably buy other products as well. The other strong point about packaged diets is that when customers come in to buy them, they need them, and very few people will walk out if your price on a can of food is a dollar more than your competition.

Keep in mind that good customer service supplied by friendly and knowledgeable employees is a valuable asset. People are often willing to pay a bit more for their fish supplies if they can interact with sales associates who know them by name or, at least, recognize them as repeat customers.

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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