Nano Tanks, Mega Sales

With a little bit of ingenuity and creativity, pet specialty retailers can generate big sales with small tanks.


Small tanks are all the rage, and as trends go, this one is holding strong.

Of course, from a specialty retail perspective, one of the problems with these setups is that they are self-contained units that do not give stores much opportunity to sell accessories—only livestock. However, by using some creative merchandising and marketing, retailers might not only boost sales of these diminutive tanks, they can help convert novice aquatics hobbyists into life-long fishkeepers.

The first nano kits to hit the market were primarily aimed at the reef hobby. Today, however, there are cheaper options that target the desk-top craze—be it for home or office. While reef aquariums have a glass viewing area, the freshwater products are almost exclusively made of plastic. These will be attractive primarily for use in places like kitchens, children’s rooms and anywhere a small aquatic accent piece can make a décor statement. However, customers frequently lack the vision or experience to set up a small aquarium, creating a prime opportunity for retailers.

It is always more difficult to select décor and livestock for miniature tanks than it is for large ones. In a big tank, there are many elements, and they are usually not in competition with one another. The smaller the space, the more critical the choices, since every piece will eventually be connected to every other, visually if not actually. So what can retailers do to help people who need inspiration? They can teach them the skills necessary to build an aesthetically pleasing environment by using displays. I am talking lots of displays, and they should all be for sale.

Let’s say you are offering four brands of nano-tanks ranging in size from two gallons to 20 gallons. For each brand, I recommend selecting two sizes and setting up tanks with very different looks. Use every type of décor element at your disposal, from rocks to driftwood, live to plastic plants and natural to colored gravel. The livestock that is acceptable for nano-living is a bit restricted, but if you are creative, you can find a hidden wealth of miniature species, especially from the freshwater realm. In fact, as much as nano-tanks are touted for use with saltwater livestock, you will find a much larger selection of freshwater items that fit the bill.

If you and your employees are not nano-savvy, it’s time to do a little homework on what should be maintained in miniature aquariums. Probably the very best choice is not even fish; it is shrimp. Exotic species of shrimp are all the rage in the Far East and Europe. These are freshwater shrimp, and many of them are small enough for containers as tiny as two to three gallons. They are easy to maintain and simple to identify. Just don’t mix them together.

As far as marine nano-tanks are concerned, shrimp are a good choice as well; but remember, many of these species will fight over territory, so you may end up with only one specimen or a mated pair.

Natural Nurseries
On the fish side, it is a real challenge to find species that stay small enough to live out their lives in a few gallons of water. However, this fact led me to do a little more research and has prompted me to formulate a new approach and strategy for selling nano-tanks. These tanks make perfect nurseries for baby fish. For example, you can have a pair of bettas that spawn in a nano-tank. Once the fry hatch out and are deposited back in the bubble nest—usually by the male—you can remove the adult and raise the juveniles in the tank for at least a week before moving them to larger quarters.

This concept will work for any species of egg-laying fish. Since the fry are so tiny, it’s important that they are literally swimming constantly in a bath of food—something easily accomplished in a nano-tank.

I believe that reef enthusiasts have been employing this technique for many years, but in two very different ways. They buy small frags of coral and grow them in the nano-tank until they reach sufficient size to be transported to a larger environment. A second concept, and this is my favorite idea, is to place a fairly decent-sized head of coral in a small tank, and as it grows, frag the growth. These single-species habitats allow for strict control of the water chemistry and lighting to match the needs of the coral. In this way, it’s like raising a crop that does not die when you take some of it to market. It just keeps growing and giving you more product.

Displaying nano-tanks as nursery tanks may inspire people to try breeding fish and raising coral, thereby doing more to make their tank ownership a real hobby rather than a means of decorating an office or bedroom. The aquatics industry needs to find new ways to stimulate interest in a part of American culture that is slowly dying. Throwing a small tank on a desk is probably not the answer. As a retail shop owner, you are at the epicenter of any movement that will increase participation in the hobby. This will require a certain amount of enthusiasm on your part.

When customers walk through the front door of any business, they can usually tell if there is a personal touch in the store or if it’s strictly an impersonal corporate presentation—or even worse, aisle after aisle, shelf after shelf of the same things they can find in every chain and big-box store. People want to be inspired and see ideas as well as product. Not everyone has the vision to see the possibilities in something as bland as a glass or plastic box. So, show them the ways to create a vibrant and attractive display in a very small space for a modest amount of money. Who wouldn’t be impressed by that?

In the back of your head, however, there should be a secondary objective. That would be to stimulate customers’ interest enough that they purchase even larger tank setups. You need to grow your base while helping them grow theirs. If a customer never moves past a nano-tank, his interest will eventually lag and fall off. I have seen it happen time and time again. You should make an investment in your future by going all out when it comes to these tiny treasures.

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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