Testing the Waters
Aquarium maintenance is a great way to expand your already existing pet business.
Looking for ways to make some extra cash? You should consider offering aquarium maintenance services for homes and offices. This can be a stand-alone operation or it can be run directly through your existing shop. Either way, you will be amazed at how much income these services can generate.
When creating a new aquarium—though there are a few guidelines to follow—it’s mainly your creativity that can make all the difference between a fish tank and a spectacular aquarium. Two key factors in these display tanks are ease of maintenance and overall ambiance. You should be striving to create a balanced environment that works for both the tank residents and the viewers. Homeowners will often look at their tanks as an art piece to show off to their guests, so you’ll want to keep that in mind. If the tank is in an office waiting room, the animals should be a pleasant distraction from the static and sterile environment. This delicate balance is not always easy to pull off, but if you are good at setting up aquatic displays in your store, you should be able to utilize that talent in the field as well.
When it comes to ease of maintenance, there are multiple things to consider, such as foot traffic in the area, location in the space, and general ease of access. Don’t place a tank where it’s going to require a ladder to service—you don’t want to put anyone in danger. Another potential nightmare is trying to make large water changes in an office that only has a 20-gal. water heater. This can only be accomplished in warm weather when tap water reaches a temperature of 75 degrees or more. If this is going to be a tank you’re working with on a regular basis, you don’t want to make the maintenance harder on yourself.
In the Field
As important as your interior tank decorating skills may be, your social skills should match that level of competence. When you show up to work on a tank, you are the ultimate representative for your shop. If you’re sending someone else from your shop or business to do the maintenance, make sure they are someone you can trust. That person is your representative and they can help cement a relationship with clients. Employees who are good with the customers in your shop should be equally adept in clients’ homes and offices.
Once you figure out the logistics of what services you are going to offer, and who is going to be doing those services, you are going to need a vehicle. If you have a van or truck that already serves as a store vehicle, I would not use it, as scheduling conflicts are likely to arise. A good option is an extended SUV where the seats can be removed or stowed away. You should only use trucks to move large equipment like tanks or heavy items such as containers of treated water, and you will want a climate-controlled environment—no rain, no snow, no heat, no cold, etc.
Since parking an over-sized maintenance vehicle can be a real problem in large metro areas, you should take into consideration any carts or dollies you may need to transport materials. Hand trucks and possibly even hydraulic dollies, pallet jacks or scissor-jacks are all good options. Make sure to plan ahead though—you don’t want to carry these around unless you need them. Aquarium installations or moving tanks from one location to another are the most common scenarios.
Getting Down to Business
While it’s perfectly acceptable to set a base price, customers must understand that the cost can escalate when the situation requires extra work or equipment. Otherwise, if one little thing goes wrong you could end up working for free. Many customers want equipment and livestock replaced for a base fee, but that’s not a smart idea unless it’s the only way to win an important contract. If you do have contracts, make sure to always request a 1099 form for tax purposes. It’s important to stay within federal, state and local laws, ordinances and regulations, so your work and behavior never require scrutiny. Overall, never deliver equipment or livestock without knowing you will be paid.
Don’t forget about insurance. What if something catastrophic happens? Let’s say a tank cracks or leaks and the water ruins the floors. Maybe the water sprays onto electrical outlets and starts a fire. The fire could severely damage a home or office—and neither is habitable for several weeks. While the owners may have personal insurance that covers the damage, lawyers for that insurance company might try to blame you, so it’s important to double check that you’re covered. If your store has insurance, you should make sure that it covers you off-premises for things like aquarium maintenance. And any employees driving company vehicles must be fully covered for anything that happens on the road.
Then there’s the possibility of human error after your maintenance is complete. Sometimes the owners like to make changes to their aquariums without telling you—such as change out equipment, add fish or even start feeding the animals new foods. It’s not always easy to stabilize an aquarium, so when you finally get things right, you don’t want someone messing with it and throwing everything into chaos. If you have a contract with a client, it should explicitly state that they are not to change anything in the tank, otherwise you are not responsible for the potential outcome. Look at it this way—you are being paid for your expertise so you would expect people to respect it.
The great thing about aquarium maintenance is that it expands your universe. You are doing something that most big-box and chain stores cannot do. You are offering a service that assists people where they live or work. Over the years, I can truthfully say that some of my long-time maintenance accounts have become much more than clients, they have become good friends. And, after all, isn’t that one of your goals as a retailer? You want everyone who comes through the doors to feel comfortable, as though your shop was a second home. PB
Edward C. Taylor has been in the pet industry for more than 40 years as a retailer, live fish importer and wholesaler, and fish-hatchery manager.