Pumps and Filters

Understanding the myriad of options available when it comes to pumps and filters is key to moving these products off the shelf.


Few customers will walk in to aq store, pull a pump or filter off the shelf and head straight to the register. Rather, people often need guidance from a sales associate who can help them find the right pump and filter to match the size of their tank. A retailer that carries a variety of brands of pumps and filters needs to train the sales staff to be proficient in the specific details of each product.

In teaching personnel the salient features of various pumps and filters, it is critical to identify which products are recommended for use in reef aquariums and which ones are not. Most pumps can be used in either, but for the most part, wet/dry filters or sumps are typically employed in marine/reef applications. Selling them can be tricky, since a typical wet/dry filter may easily cost more than the tank it is going to be paired with. Few people are willing to spend more on the filter than the tank itself. Explaining the cost to novices requires a skilled sales associate who has a working understanding of animal husbandry.

Infinite Possibilities

Probably the most complicated filters to stock and sell are the wet/drys, or sumps. There are an almost infinite number of variations possible when it comes to the size, construction, configuration and design of these products. Stocking sumps also poses numerous challenges, the least of which is finding space to display them. Since the vast majority of sumps sold in stores are used in marine applications, that is where many retailers think they should be stocked in the store. I suggest another alternative that leaves retailers with much more room in the saltwater department for other products. Since every sump requires a pump, it is helps to merchandise matched sumps and pumps together. This approach shows customers exactly which pumps to use and boosts sales of these products.

Sumps are one of those product categories through which small entrepreneurial businesses have been able to penetrate the market. There are, of course, mega-companies selling these items, but they are, believe it or not, at a disadvantage when competing with local manufacturers. It’s always a plus if you can call up a fabricator with specific details and have a new sump delivered in a week or two. A small firm is also usually quite willing to customize wet/drys for specific applications that require unusual dimensions or features not common to typical sumps. For example, I believe that some sumps do not have adequate room in the pump chamber to place both a protein skimmer and the return pump. This problem is solved by enlarging the size of the pump chamber which, in turn, increases the length of the sump if all other compartments are left intact.

Most sumps have three chambers: the drain, into which water flows from the tank; the central, which may be used for a variety of purposes; and the pump, where water is pushed back into the tank. The center chamber is the most customizable. It may be configured to use biomaterial, as a refugium, or to hold a protein skimmer. Some companies sell their sumps with unaltered central chambers and provide kits with the components for each type of application.

Refugiums are most popular with reef enthusiasts, since the live material in the chamber is able to consume the dangerous chemicals given off in waste products from the corals. The refugium sump is usually the most expensive, since it includes a small light fixture with bulbs similar to those used over the tank. This light may be run during the same hours as the tank light, or it may be used in “reverse,” coming on at night.

There are several ways that wet/dry filters use biological material as a colonization site for beneficial bacteria. Bio-balls come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and even colors. Options also include shredded bio-material and ceramic bio-rings. Whichever a customer chooses, always advise the customer to clean the material once a year and cycle through new product at the rate of 20 to 25 percent at every cleaning. Without periodic cleaning and material replacement, the biological function can be reduced to a fraction of its potential.

Beyond Wet/Dry Filters
Sump filters have their place, but in my opinion, nothing beats an old-fashioned power filter hanging on the back of the tank for optimal mechanical filtration. In the reef aquarium, an over-flow filter provides great mechanical filtration, but it can also be used as a pseudo-reactor to hold calcium beads and/or phosphate-removing compounds. If the need ever arises, the filter can also hold carbon to remove impurities and medications. This filter is a great accessory for every reef tank.

A filter frequently overlooked by most consumers is the ultra-violet. It is not easily categorized in the three nominal types of filtration; biological, chemical and mechanical. In fact, it may provide a combination of all three types. The primary function of a UV filter is to remove biological material that can be injurious to tank life. In other words, it kills excess levels of bacteria, algae and parasites. With a UV filter in place, a tank  is much less likely to turn green (due to an algae bloom), white or cloudy (due to a bacterial bloom) or to have parasites devastate the fish population. I try to convince every marine customer of the value a UV filter system offers. There are several ways to configure such a system. Retailers should do some research, and display working models of possible methods for using UV filters.

Pumping it Up
The pump category is a major source of revenue when selling to reefers, since it is a member of their “trinity” of reef care. Coral requires proper lighting, adequate water chemistry and sufficient water circulation in order to thrive. Power heads or recirculation pumps, strategically placed to deliver maximum water flow where it is needed, are critical to a reef tank. The location of power heads and the flow pattern of water may need to change constantly., so people must be able to move power heads easily, with minimum hassle.

A retailer’s stock of power heads should be well maintained, since customers use them to run reactors, undergravel filters, UV systems or even small wet/drys. There are also recirculation pumps made specifically for coral tanks–many hobbyists request these by name.

Since corals in nature are subjected to the ebb and flow of the tides, many people believe they benefit greatly from a water flow that imitates that motion. ”This effect is best accomplished by using power heads connected to a device called a wave-maker. This piece of equipment times the on-off functions of the power heads. Remind customers who use this product  to periodically check the flow on all attached power heads by tying a small nylon string to each head. The strings should wave in the current when the device is enabled.

Oldies, but Goodies
Many retailers might consider some types of filters out of date or worthless, but there are at least three filters that remain useful under certain circumstances. Undergravel filters, box filters and/or sponge filters–all of which use aeration to function–are great for shops and homes that don’t have sufficient electrical outlets to run numerous items such as power filters, heaters and lights. Other benefits include reduced electric bills, increased oxygen content in the water, less expendable material (media for filters) and safer habitats for juvenile fish (sponge option). In fact, many customers who breed their fish will need sponge filters for the hatchery and “grow-out” tanks. The moral of this story is, don’t neglect any pump or filter options when it comes to retailing and in-store use.

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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