Lighting Up Sales

Selling lighting fixtures and bulbs presents a number of challenges, but with well-thought out strategies, retailers can make the most of this must-have category.


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Most retailers know that managing the lighting department can be a pain—and for several reasons. First of all, fixtures are expensive to keep in stock because they tie up a lot of cash. In fact, if you stock coral-tank lighting, you can count on keeping inventory that easily approaches the cost of a mid-range luxury car. Meanwhile, bulbs are easy to break—and just as easy to steal—if not properly monitored and protected. Still, fixtures and bulbs are necessary and key items in aquatic retailing, and with the right strategies, the return on investment can be substantial.

Let’s start by discussing fixtures. Why do some fixtures come without bulbs? The answer may be obvious, but it is not particularly compelling. If someone wants bulbs other than those that come with the fixture, this complicates the sale. Still, from a retail perspective, it is better to sell the bulbs and fixture as a unit. Nine out of 10 freshwater customers expect to get bulbs in the fixtures they buy. When you tell them bulbs are extra, they look at you like you have worms coming out of your ears. Add that to the fact that many customers do not know anything about bulbs, and things get even more tricky. And if a sale gets too complicated or expensive, a customer might reject it entirely.

So, my advice is to make it easy. Supply bulbs with every fixture you sell for standard aquarium use. Do this even if you have to install the bulbs yourself; and do not, under any circumstances, tell the customers they have a choice. Make it all one price, just as though it came from the manufacturer that way. Most people will greatly appreciate how simple it was to buy the light fixture.

The key to selling reef lights is to have them on display aquariums in your reef section. Display what you stock, and don’t use what you don’t stock. If the best reef lights cost $1,800 at retail, would you use anything less? Why? Well, there are reasons to take this approach, I suppose. A mixed tank of soft corals and colonial anemones that is devoid of reef-building corals could easily prosper with less expensive lights. But, you have to be honest with your customers about this. Don’t try to sell inexpensive lights for the upkeep of exotic or touchy animals. Conversely, don’t try to sell the high-end lights for low-end tanks.

Also, keep in mind that not everyone can afford a $1,800 light fixture. You need to give customers options that work for different size tanks— and budgets. Once again, vary the size, the physical setups, the filtration and the lighting in your reef display tanks. Just be certain all your choices work.

Remember the good old days when selling an expensive item brought you a healthy profit? Well, thanks to Internet sales, it is very difficult to make a decent profit on reef light fixtures. That does not mean you don’t stock product; it just means your margins may be a lot slimmer than you would like. Of course, if you are going to tie up thousands in lighting, it would be nice to get a good return on your investment. The best way to do that when it comes to lighting is to have reef displays that make people gasp in awe. When you tell them that part of the secret to those dazzling displays is the lighting, it makes them want that brand or those fixtures.

If there is one axiom I would apply to aquarium lighting, it is “don’t overdo it.” In particular, reef animals can bleach out from light that is too strong. Still, everything depends on the individual animals and where they are physically located in the tank. Freshwater environments are much simpler to illuminate than marine habitats. Most fish prefer less light than you think, and many do much better in low-light situations. All nocturnal fish will hide if the aquarium light is too bright, and then the only way to see them will be at night when the lights are off.

So, realistically, will you make more money on bulbs or fixtures? Hard to say, but I will tell you that people come looking for bulbs at a moment’s notice. If their tanks are dark, they need the bulbs immediately. They can’t wait for them to show up in the mail a week later. Fixtures, on the other hand, are more of an impulse sale, especially if they are an upgrade item.

Yet, there are ways to boost fixture lighting sales. In order to increase the sales of reef lights, for example, I like to give people the option of buying a fixture on layaway—20 percent down and 10 percent a month until the item is paid off. At that point, the light is theirs. If they fall behind, there is no penalty for a month, but after two months, they lose everything they have paid in. Terms can vary, but you need a standard legal form. Have your lawyer or accountant draw it up.

Twice a year, you should run major sales on lighting products. I would hold one around Thanksgiving and Black Friday. This is one of those deep-discount events that people have become addicted to before the holidays. The other sale day is the Fourth of July. What better way to light up your bottom line than to give people a chance to purchase items they rarely think of when summer is upon them. I would call the sales “Holiday Lights” in November/December and “Light Up the Fourth” in July. Events like these may help you take your lighting sales to a new level.


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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