Setups That Sell

It is easier to sell aquarium products when the items are attractively bundled together in a package that has a fair price point.


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Selling aquarium setups is as easy as one, two, three: (1) put together packages that will appeal to a wide variety of customers; (2) merchandise these items attractively and at suitable price points; and (3) once a sale is made, follow through with expert advice that will help customers position and assemble their new purchases. Anyone setting up his or her first fish tank will understandably be concerned about doing it right. Try to piece together an ensemble that is complete, so customers will only need to return to the store when they are ready to put fish in their tanks. Such attention to detail will be appreciated by every customer, because people don’t like to make multiple trips to a pet store when they find out they are missing a piece of the setup.

Setups are important sales tools since they appeal to both new customers and veteran fishkeepers. If a retailer aims all tank setups at novices, they will be neglecting over 50 percent of potential customers. However, how one merchandises setups to these two groups should be considerably different. An approach that really works well for those who already have a tank is the “You Build It” concept. It’s like customizing a teddy bear, an ice cream sundae or even a car. Set up a nice display aquarium, loaded to the max with every possible item one might put in a tank package. Create poster-size signage that details each element and its full price. Then, give anyone interested a chance to build his or her own tank setup. Once they have a complete list of products, sit down with them and see what kind of deal the store can offer.

Everyone likes personal attention, and everyone likes to think they are getting a deal. Some items in a setup will be non-negotiable–such as the tank. Other items may or may not be included, such as the stand, canopy or décor items. It takes a minimum number of products to create a setup, but there is no maximum. In order to make a setup attractive, it will probably need to be offered at 25 percent below normal retail. At this level, most people will realize they are actually saving a lot of money by buying a “package.” Pre-boxed setups are an easy way to go, but there is a lot more flexibility–and a possible profit–with a “create your own” option.

There’s a setup out there for every type of hobbyist; the possibilities are almost endless. However, store employees must have a thorough knowledge of aquatic biotopes in order to create packages appropriate to each specialty group. Also, the store must actually carry the livestock that would populate each of these habitats. Getting the setup deal done may end up being a joint venture between the retailer and the customer. This is perfectly acceptable as long as the retailer makes money and shows the customer that the store cares about their success in the hobby. Positive reinforcement works for just about everyone. I have yet to meet a customer who was not willing to talk about his fish tank.


The Right Price
Price points between high- and low-end setups can be staggering. A 20-gallon boxed kit for freshwater might sell for as little as $80. On the other hand, a custom kit for a 50-gallon reef tank could easily exceed $1,000. Try to keep boxed kits and specialty setups in separate locations. This doesn’t mean a store is hiding anything from its customers, but it is best not to make it easy for them to question why prices are so different.

However, economy and deluxe box kits can certainly be merchandised side by side. In the case of kits designed exclusively for reef aquariums, I would locate these strictly in the marine department. There will be many people who want to ask questions about reef setups. It will be much more efficient to have employees who specialize in saltwater setups stay in their section. Reef packages at the front of the store might require them to travel back and forth, leading to missed sales.


One-Of-A-Kind Setups
It may be a bit of a gamble, but one-of-a-kind setups can draw attention to the concept of aquarium “kits.” There are two ways to go when staging these unique displays. A retailer can set up the tank merely as a showpiece for what can be accomplished with a kit. In this case, the retailer has no intention of selling the integrated unit–they are just using it for dramatic effect. Or, a retailer can put a price tag on the display and offer it for sale, all livestock included. In this case, the retailer should be willing to deliver the equipment and set it up (mimicking the original as closely as possible). It’s a bit more trouble, but a few customers might really like the concept of pre-designed aquarium décor.

The idea of exhibiting display tanks is to motivate people’s creative impulses and show them examples of what is possible. Some tanks can be far fetched, but the majority should be orthodox. Setups are so important to a pet shop’s bottom line that they should be offered for sale at all times, not just as specials or during sales events.

Although it is seems reasonable to market small tanks to novices, it would be much better to sell them the largest aquarium they can afford. Any tank smaller than 20 gallons is extremely difficult to balance (i.e. combine just the right elements of livestock, plants and décor items) and be successful with. Beginners need more room for error, and selling them small tanks is like issuing a passport to failure.  This applies even more vigorously to nano-tanks for reef enthusiasts. Don’t expect customers with no background in the marine hobby to achieve success in three-, five-, 7 1/2-, or 10-gallon setups. The odds are against them, and once they fail, they will probably be lost to the hobby–permanently.


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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