Aquarium Maintenance Services
Aquarium servicing can make up a significant percentage of a shop’s revenue, and few aquatic retailers can afford to ignore this business opportunity.
Independent pet shops that sell aquarium products and have an established clientele base should offer aquarium set up and maintenance as part of its customer service agenda. In some areas, this segment of the trade can make up a significant percentage of a shop’s revenue, and few retailers can afford to ignore such a potentially profitable business opportunity. The trick is doing it right, which entails treating the service as a separate entity. In other words, aquarium maintenance must make money on its own, not merely function as an appendage to the parent company. This will probably require that a storeowner “out-source” much of the work to staff members or independent contractors.
From my experience, aquarium servicing can be broken down into three distinct subdivisions: (1) set up and installation of new aquariums; (2) emergency maintenance of existing aquariums (tank problems due to equipment failure, power failure, sick fish, environmental hazards, etc.); and (3) regularly scheduled maintenance of existing aquariums. The approach to each of these scenarios is considerably different–as is pricing.
Set Up & Installation
Every shop selling aquarium products should offer delivery, installation and set up of new aquariums. If the store can’t do this many customers will decide they don’t want a tank. The sales of complete setups to novices will increase if the buyers know they won’t have to set up the tanks themselves. In fact, how could they; they have no knowledge of how the task is accomplished. Storeowners should charge for these services, but should also remember that without them, the store might not be making a sale. Pricing in this category has to do with the size of the tank, whether it is a saltwater or freshwater habitat and how far away from the shop the customer lives. This means there is no standard set-up fee, nor should there be; each new tank must be priced individually on a case-by-case basis.
Emergency visits are always a problem since they are, in fact, emergencies. Anything could be wrong, so pricing is very problematic. When people get sick, there are very few doctors willing to make house calls. In the case of an aquarium, however, a house call is the only option. This is the one instance when standard pricing may work, but only for the visit itself, and not for the work that will be done. For example, locations within a 10-mile range might have a base charge of $50. Between 10-25 miles, the fee rises to $75; and the charge is $100 for 26-50 miles.
The real problem with emergencies is that customers don’t always know what’s wrong. Someone may say his or her tank is leaking, and the proper solution would be a replacement aquarium. However, upon arrival, it may be clear that the only issue is capillary action over the rim, a leaking hose connection or a broken filter. The point is, an emergency frequently requires two trips–one to diagnose the problem and a second one to get what’s needed to fix the problem. The customer must be charged for both these visits, which should be explained to them ahead of time.
When an emergency requires that a tank be completely taken down, cleaned and set back up, a temporary tank may be needed to hold the fish (assuming they are still alive). This is another complication that will cost time and money. Changing out a tank is considerably more complicated than setting up a new one, so charge accordingly.
Regularly Scheduled Maintenance
The most money will be made when servicing regularly scheduled maintenance accounts. These customers may be done once a week, once a month or twice a month, but anything done less frequently would not fall into the category of regular maintenance. For accounts like these, charge a standard maintenance fee.
A maintenance fee is just that; you come to the tank, check its parameters, clean what needs to be cleaned, check the health of the fish, leave the bill and move on to the next account. The best rule to offer with billing is not to clean the tank unless the previous bill has been paid. In this way, the most that can be lost is a single maintenance fee.
Regular maintenance is different for every single tank; not all tanks are created equal. There may be a freshwater tank that requires a 50-percent water change every month due to a heavy fish load, while another tank of the same size may only need a water change every other month. Most customers like the concept of paying the same amount every visit. This helps them calculate their tank costs over a period of time. Occasionally, customers will want a contract. They believe this will protect them from “unknown” or “unforeseen” escalations in price. My experience is that contracts almost always benefit only the customer–not the shop.
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.