An Rx for Aquarium Success
Dr. Timothy A. Hovanec, CEO of DrTim’s Aquatics, LLC, discusses how the company’s natural approach to maintaining a healthy aquarium is making it easier than ever for hobbyists and retailers alike.
Pet Business: What inspired you to get into the pet business with the creation of DrTim’s Aquatics? What was your approach to improving upon what was previously available in the market?
Dr. Timothy A. Hovanec: The creation of DrTim’s Aquatics was the natural evolution and combination of my hobby as a kid (fishkeeping), my educational interests (ecology, fish biology, aquaculture and microbiology) and my career choices (U.S. Peace Corps, aquaculturist, chief science officer at Marineland Aquarium Products). The apex of these is DrTim’s Aquatics, where we combine our twin passions—science and fish keeping—to make science-based solutions that really work.
Our approach to product development is simple yet hard. The simple part is letting the science guide the process, which can be time consuming but ultimately yields a better product that is easier to use. The hard part is shattering the myths that pervade the hobby and getting consumer acceptance. But once a consumer tries our solution, the results easily convince them that the product does what we say.
PB: How has your business evolved over the years? What sets you apart from your competitors?
Hovanec: We have continued to embrace the natural concept, which really makes sense with aquariums. Of course, “natural” is a buzzword these days, but bacteria are the ultimate water-quality filters and live in every aquatic environment in the world. Instead of trying to force the tank to change through the use of chemicals, we strive to let nature (usually bacteria) maintain the aquarium.
We don’t make complicated products with instructions and explanations that would fill an encyclopedia—that just intimidates people. Fishkeeping doesn’t have to be rocket science. Who understands how all the features on your phone really work? It just does and it’s simple. That’s what we strive for at DrTim’s Aquatics. What sets us apart is simple, easy-to-understand products that work.
PB: From your perspective, what is the current state of the aquatics category at retail? What are the major challenges and opportunities facing retailers in this arena?
Hovanec: Aquatics is on the rebound. No doubt the recession had a major impact, and there has been some major reshuffling since then, but good opportunities are still there. Retailers have to get more proactive and appeal to the Millennials differently than the older Baby Boomers. Both groups are big in the hobby, but they look at things and shop very differently, which is a major challenge. Of course, there is the internet, but stores that use that to their advantage—meaning all that social media has to offer—can build a loyal customer base and thrive. I’ve seen it happen.
PB: How have advances in the science of aquarium keeping made it easier for hobbyists to be successful? How can retailers stay on top of the latest developments in this area?
Hovanec: Keeping a successful aquarium has never been easier. So much more is known and available to assist the retailer in helping their customers maintain an aquarium than when I first started as a kid many years ago, whether it is advances in microbiology, which we have championed, or so many fish (including saltwater fish) being raised via aquaculture, or better lights and knowledge in water chemistry, etc.
The tools are there for the retailer. There are events like the SuperZoo educational seminars, the Aquatic Experience show and distributor open houses that are relaxed events where the retailer can ask questions. Take advantage of these. All manufacturers want retailers to be successful, because that means the consumer is staying in the hobby—and that’s great for everyone.
PB: Last month, DrTim’s Bene-FISH-al DIY Fish Food line was honored by Pet Business with an Industry Recognition Award. Tell us about your inspiration for developing this product line. How does it fit in with your overall approach to fish nutrition?
Hovanec: The inspiration was: How could we make a more natural nutritious fish food, leaving out the bad stuff, that was easy to make and not intimating? Generally, a customer goes into a store and sees all these cans and pouches of fish food; how are they supposed to choose the right one? Plus, do stores really want to have six linear feet and two or three shelves high of fish food? Retail space is expensive and each square inch needs to be selling.
So, we set out to a make a few complete freshwater and marine diets that could be easily customized with a simple but effective range of additions—what we call “extras.” Plus, nowadays people are concerned about what they are feeding their pets, including fish. Consumers spend a lot of money setting up and maintaining a tank and buying fish, and then they feed a terrible diet. It doesn’t make sense.
This goal fits right in with DrTim’s Aquatics making natural aquarium products with real benefits. The downside of flakes and pellets is the fillers, binders and wheat or gluten. Fish get no nutrition from these, so they just pass through the fish and end up polluting the aquarium. By eliminating these, our Bene-FISH-al DIY fish food not only provides better nutrition, it also reduces the amount of waste entering the tank, so the water quality is much better.
The “extras” allow the consumer to customize the food for their fish using our guidelines and what they want to accomplish—better color, spawning, etc. Plus, many of the extras can be a fish treat, as they can be added directly to the tank.
PB: What are some of the other popular products that you’ve introduced in the aquatics category?
Hovanec: Over the years, starting at Marineland, I was part of the engineering and research group that developed the BioWheel and the Eclipse while discovering the bacteria that formed BioSpira and developing the Marineland Labs groups of products, to name a few. At DrTim’s Aquatics, our suite of bacterial products are second to none. One & Only Live Nitrifying Bacteria, Waste-Away, Re-Fresh and true probiotic bacteria in Eco-Balance are all natural products that provide real benefits to maintaining a beautiful aquarium.
PB: What does the future hold for DrTim’s and the aquatics category overall?
Hovanec: As I said, the aquatics segment of the pet industry is on the rebound, and interest has never been higher. People love going to aquariums and are enchanted when looking at nice aquariums, so the interest is there. For DrTim’s Aquatics, this means there are still great opportunities. Going forward, we have several projects we are working on aimed at making it easier than ever for anyone to set up and maintain an aquarium. Whether someone wants to have a nano-tank at their desk or a show tank in their living room, our goal is to provide products that allow them to realize their dreams that are simple to use and effective.