Schooled in Fish

Lights, filtration, fish and more-all the latest in the aquatics category are on display in the Everything Aquatic section of the show floor.


In a pet industry that is often largely dominated by dogs and cats, the aquatics trade is an underdog working its way back into the spotlight.  After years of uncertainty due to a stalled economy, manufacturers and retailers are starting to see a resurgence of interest and demand in the aquatics segment—and this growth will be reflected in the wealth of new products and emerging trends being presented within the aisles of Global Pet Expo’s Everything Aquatic section.

“Aquatics is such an important segment of the pet industry,” says Matt Allen, director of marketing at Elive Pet Products (booth 1747). “It’s the third largest category and, if done correctly, generates good revenue at retail.”

Elive Pet Products manufactures a variety of dog, cat and aquatics products, and Allen says that 13 percent of U.S. households have fish. “One out of every 10 dog consumers who walks in your store is also an aquatics consumer,” he explains.

However, the category was hit particularly hard by the economic recession. Unlike many dog products that sell well no matter the economy, sales in aquatics suffered for a few years. 

There are were several probable contributing factors to the struggles in the aquatics segment—for example, fish tanks are less mobile than a dog or cat during a housing crisis, and the hobby hasn’t benefitted as much from the humanization trend that has made other segments of the pet trade more recession resistant.

Regardless of the reason, aquatics is a category that does best when a store dedicates space to setting up impressive demo tanks that showcase aquariums as a way for consumers to have a bit of the wild right within their own home. But with the drop in sales, it was increasingly difficult for stores to justify that space. “If a category is not performing, then you take space away from it at retail and dedicate more space to a category that is,” Allen says.

This is exactly what happened in many full-line pet stores; and once the space had been given over to other things, the aquatics industry was facing an uphill battle to reclaim it.

Fortunately, experts agree that as the economy has begun to recover, so have aquatics sales. “The current state of the aquatics category is stable, and [it] continues to grow in several areas,” says Jeff Turner, president of Boyd Enterprises (booth 1649). For example, he says, “Smaller turnkey aquariums have gotten better and better over the past several years, with the evolution of LED lighting and upgraded small filtration systems, along with new water filtration medias specifically designed for these new nano aquarium systems.”

Turner adds that growth in the marine sector is being driven by increased production of aqua-cultured fish, and aqua-cultured corals have taken a significant leap in the small aquarium marketplace.

The industry has even had a boost from an unexpected source: Hollywood. From Tanked, which airs on Animal Planet, and Fish Tank Kings on the National Geographic channel, to the continued popularity of the 2003 Disney release Finding Nemo—a sequel is expected next year—fish on the silver screen have helped generate additional demand for aquatics, and that has made it easier for retailers to justify refocusing on the category.

“When the movie Finding Nemo came out, everyone wanted to have a Nemo in their own tank,” says Winni Ji, the marketing coordinator at Eshopps (booth 1235), an aquatics manufacturer that specializes in filtration for the saltwater industry and is launching several new products at the show, including a new sump filtration design.

Eshopps, Elive and Boyd Enterprises will all be exhibiting in the Everything Aquatic section of the show floor this year. Marked by a blue carpet on the show floor, the section is the embodiment of the best that the category has to offer. “[Since the] pet industry is dominated by dog and cat, it’s very important to have a focused section on aquatics [at Global Pet Expo], so people can take their time, and get to know and learn about aquatics,” says Ji.

Turner agrees that having a designated section offers a great convenience to buyers. “The aquatics section at Global helps our buyers find us easily and makes for a great visual representation of the aquatics industry as a whole, with all of the beautiful aquariums and crystal clear water,” says Turner.

Just as it’s helpful for shoppers to see aquarium setups at retail, the same can be said of industry buyers at Global Pet Expo. Being able to see actual tank setups is helpful to retailers when deciding what to stock and display in their own stores. “With the resurgence of the economy this year, I think we will see some impressive new aquariums,” says Allen. 

Ji agrees. She predicts that larger tanks will make an appearance on the floor this year, though she also acknowledges that nano tanks continue to be a strong trend.

Allen is predicting mostly continued growth in small tanks and says aquaponics will also be significant emerging trend at this year’s show. His company, Elive, has introduced a line of aquarium filters based on this; the filters allow hobbyists to combine the traditional power of filtration with a live plant. “The plant is actually ‘planted’ in the filter and becomes a natural aquarium filter, removing nitrates and keeping the water quality exceptional,” Allen says.

However, Lance Reyniers, president of Python Products (booth 1348), says above all, people are looking for top-notch products that will last and are safe—for example, products that will not leach BPA, arsenic or lead into their tanks. “People are looking for quality,” he says. “They’re looking for longevity.” 

And then, of course, there’s the livestock. “One of the great aspects of the aquatic section is the live aquarium displays featuring new varieties of tank-raised fishes or newly discovered breeds,” says Julian Sprung, president of Two Little Fishies, Inc. (booth 1448), which is debuting its AccuraSea1artificial saltwater mix at the show—a product designed to create a precise seawater blend suitable for delicate marine life.

Boyd Enterprises has taken a similar measured approach in the filtration category with its new Chemi-pure Blue nano packets. “Each Blue nano packet will treat five gallons of water and comes five packets to a package,” says Turner. “These new nano packs can be fit into the tiniest of filters or simply be added almost anywhere you can fit them, from large to nano-sized aquariums, to maintain balanced, crystal clear aquarium water.”

Swimming in Regulation
In addition to showcasing the variety of new products and industry trends, the show—and the Everything Aquatic section—also plays one more important role for the aquatics industry. It helps to showcase the hobby at its best and provide a meeting place for manufacturers and retailers to network and discuss issues they face.

“The aquatics industry continues to face proposed regulations that might hinder our industry’s ability to trade in certain wild-caught species of marine fish and corals,” says Turner.

That, says Sprung, is precisely why he supports the efforts of Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council’s (PIJAC) Aquatic Defense Committee. “The PIJAC Aquatic Defense Committee is the only agency acting on behalf of the United States aquatics industry, using science and legal resources to prevent various actions that could affect our industry,” he says.

And in an industry that’s so widespread geographically, the show also serves as an important venue at which insiders can discuss these issues. “Global Pet Expo is the only national show where you can find all of the major aquarium products manufacturers in one show, says Turner. “And, for the most part, they are all concentrated in the Everything Aquatic section.”

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