Aquatic Filtration

Every fish tank requires a form of filtration, and by providing customers with product suggestions, retailers can increase a store’s bottom line.


There is money to be made in selling filtration equipment, since each person with a fish tank will require some type of filtration device. But the retailer’s job is not to simply sell filters; their job is to sell the appropriate filters, depending on their customers’ needs. And yet it’s not always easy to determine which filtration device would be best for a setup that the retailer will never get a chance to see. Therefore,  retailers must do a bit of probing to make sure customers walk away with the filtration product that is best for their tank.

One way to look at a setup without making a house call is to request that the customer bring in a photo. Most cell phones now have cameras, which has helped bring home aquariums directly into the store environment. Now, a retailer can look at images of customers’ tanks much as they would pictures of their children. Since aquariums are personal extension of their personalities, most customers will proudly show off cell phone pictures of their tanks. Take this opportunity to get acquainted with the particulars of each setup.

Changing or upgrading the filtration system can fix many tank problems. For example, reef enthusiasts often complain about debris settling on their coral and/or live rock. Once the debris is there, the only way to get rid of it is to siphon it off. If the water is passed through a fine mesh filter sock, it can then be returned to the tank. A better solution, however, is to prevent the debris from ever showing up in the first place. This task can be accomplished with a filter.

Unfortunately, the wet/dry filter that is probably already being used is not going to work because it does a very poor job of mechanical filtration. Instead, the solution is to hang a standard overflow power filter on the back of the tank. Few reef hobbyists consider mechanical filtration to be critical, but they will be pleasantly surprised to see how this technique, especially when it is combined with UV-filtration, can keep a reef tank as crystal clear as any coral reef in the world.

Forms of Filtration
I recommend ultra-violet (UV) filtration for every aquarium–be it freshwater, marine fish, reef, African cichlid, goldfish or even aquatic garden. If the idea is to cut down on parasites, bacteria and/or algae, UV filtration is a must. It is probably the least common form of filtration because few people consider it essential. This means it is a bit of a hard- sell to customers. So, create a display that will showcase the benefits of UV-filtration. Set up two identical tanks (the only difference should be the lack of and presence of a UV-filter) and document the history of each tank over a period of several months, using photos for emphasis. The difference will be amazing. Be certain to stock UV kits that will work on tanks 20-gallons and up. Really large aquariums will require multiple lights or units to get the job done.

There are two filters that are considered archaic in the modern trade–undergravel filters and internal box filters. Frankly, I still like both of them, as long as they are applied to the right situations. Box filters are driven by an air pump, so they provide two benefits–filtration and aeration. Only reef and aquatic garden aquariums might consider aeration a nuisance. Small freshwater tanks of ten, 20 and even 30 gallons can easily be filtered and aerated by box filters. In fact, for over 15 years I have spawned, raised and sold fish from over 200 tanks filtered by nothing more than box filters. Retailers can sell carbon, filter wool, bio-cylinders and a variety of other products for box filtration. Customers will also need air pumps, airline tubing, air stones and gang valves.

Undergravel filters can also supply aeration as a secondary benefit. There are, however, few accessories to go along with these, except those related to aeration. Retailers can, of course, recommend siphon hoses and buckets to anyone buying undergravel filters. They require a lot of gravel cleaning to keep them working properly. The beauty of this is that gravel washing involves the removal of water, and this forces the aquarist to perform frequent partial water changes. This should be the mantra for every fishkeeper, but it is often the last thing that anyone wants to do. By selling undergravel filters, retailers will be supporting the theory and practice of changing water. It would seem that many of the high-tech filtration devices offer people the opportunity to avoid this heinous task.

Canister filters are extremely popular and are certainly the filter of choice for those who don’t have a drilled tank and/or want to conceal the filtration equipment as much as possible. Also, they have the flexibility to take water from one location and deliver filtered water to a different spot. In addition, they are proficient at providing mechanical, biological and chemical filtration. However, the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” can apply to canister filtration if the fishkeepers aren’t diligent in checking the flow rate from the filter. Reduced water flow means it is time to clean the filter. If the water return is under water, which it almost always is, check visual clues.

There are many canister filters on the market. Some work better than others and some are easier to set up than others. Some are cheaper than others and some look better than others. It would be a good idea to be familiar with all these aspects of every brand in the store so you can pass this information onto customers.

Brands & Accessories
One question to consider before deciding on a brand to stock is, “Can I obtain a reliable supply of replacement parts and proprietary filtration elements?” If the answer is “no,” don’t even consider this brand for sale. When customers come looking for brand accessories, they expect to find them, especially at the store where they bought their filter.

In addition, make sure to stock items for every size of filter in the product line. If a company makes four different sizes of canister filters, and each size uses different expendables, stock all the necessary items for each of the four different filters. This applies to overflow filters as well, and don’t forget that UV filters will need replacement bulbs.

And what about the latest and greatest filters on the market–the wet/drys or sumps?  Well, they work best on drilled tanks, but they also work fine with overflow boxes. Either way, they do require a little piece of extra equipment not commonly sold with them–the sump pump that returns the water to the tank. This can add considerable cost to the entire filter setup.

When it comes to filtration, it is difficult to over-filter. In fact, retailers should encourage customers to employ filters that are rated for slightly larger tanks than the one they have at home. A 30-gallon aquarium, for example, can benefit from a filter rated for 50 gallons. In the case of a large setup, say a 125-gallon tank, it is better to use two filters rated for 75 gallons than to use one rated for 150 gallons. Two filters will distribute the workload better and do a more thorough job of cleaning all parts of the tank. Also, should one filter stop working, there will still be one left to provide backup until the malfunctioning unit can be replaced.

Carrying an extensive selection of filters in a store can be an expensive proposition. This is particularly true when it comes to overflow, canister and sump models. All of these are fairly pricey and can tie up a good deal of capital. In order to maximize a return on the dollar, retailers must aggressively advertise these products. Use them in strategic locations of the store,  where customers can see them working. Run weekly specials that discount certain brands or models. If the store makes up its own tank setup kits, be certain to include filters in these as well.

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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