Let Your Imagination Loose

Retailers that can infuse a bit of creativity into their sales strategies are sure to see big benefits in their aquatics departments.


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What can you do to increase sales in your store? The answer to this age-old retail question starts with finding the right people. From my experience, pet store owners tend to pay the most attention to detail in the merchandise and livestock categories they know something about. Going with your strengths is a great concept, but almost no one can do it all alone. Besides, who is to say you are the only one with good ideas? Hire the best managers and employees who complement your knowledge and skills, and get them involved in the creative sales process.

 

Once you have great personnel, it’s time to take a look at your buying and merchandising process. Do you let every salesman who walks through the door sell you whatever is on sale that week, or do you pick and choose the products that work? These are the items that sell and give you the best margin. Let’s call this “creative purchasing.” It is just as much a factor in success as how you advertise, display and promote products.

 

Unfortunately, too many retailers seem to have lost their creative spark in this area in the face of fierce competition with online outlets. Don’t let the internet bullies push you around. Fight back with dynamic displays backed up by compelling prices. You can take back the advantage with a little creativity and hard work.

 

Pet stores are places where you can let your imagination loose. Posters, signs, POP displays, endcaps, overhead section banners and any other in-store signage needs to look professional, but they can still have a bit of character. Use this creativity to highlight your best products, especially ones that might not otherwise catch customers’ eyes. If your potentially best-selling canister filters are sitting on a bottom shelf of a warehouse somewhere, rather than on a glamorous endcap in your store, you are missing out on sales. Remember, very few products sell themselves; it’s savvy merchandising coupled with the best prices that wins the day.

 

Speaking of having fun with your retail space, everyone loves a good party. There are plenty of special days you can celebrate with your customers by hosting themed sales or events. The obvious holidays are a given, but what about the more unusual national days, weeks and months? Some examples include Pet Memorial Day, Aquarium Month, Pet Appreciation Week, National Independent Retailer’s Week, All-American Pet Photo Day, Get to Know Your Customer Day, Catfish Month, etc. All of these and many more are golden opportunities that creative storeowners will be able to use to their advantage.

 

Alive and Well

In the livestock segment of aquatics, I am certain that real, well-merchandised stores have an edge. Of course, customers can buy live fish and corals online, but there is real value in being able to see their purchases up close and personal before buying. The keys to success with aquatic livestock are diverse selection, impressive tank displays, moderate prices, larger healthy fish, knowledgeable sales staff and constantly rotating stock. People don’t want to see the same fish again and again. Use weekly sales to keep your livestock moving. Advertise sales on your website and Facebook pages, as well as in window displays. Have surprise sales to entice customers to check in on a regular basis.

 

I am very fond of what I like to call “Live Shipment Day” sales. During these sales, you sell new fish at a low price, still in the bag it was shipped in. That’s less work for you, and it eliminates the chance for acclimation problems in your store. Another name for this kind of event is the “As Is” sale, meaning no refunds, but bargain prices.

 

In the area of corals, frags can seem like a waste of time, since there are so many garage breeders trading and selling them. However, there is a good reason to dedicate some space and selling strategy to them—they are small and cheap, and beginners not looking to make a big investment yet like to buy and try them. Kill a frag and you only blow $20, but kill a full head of coral and you may be losing hundreds. To bring in the newbies, I would run a buy three, get one free sale from a select corral of small specimens.

 

I have had good luck with soft coral sales. These corals come in an exciting array of colors, shapes, sizes and textures, and people frequently fall in love with their quirkiness. They are best presented in groups, but don’t bother with the frag size. When they are that small, they hardly look like anything. Stick with full-size or at least medium specimens, since they better show what the species is all about. You will definitely want to set up a large soft-coral display separate from the stony coral cousins to show people what is necessary to maintain them.

 

Informed Consumers

Give everyone who shops in your store the tools they need to be successful with fish, both in the form of the products you sell and the knowledge you can impart to them. Offering educational classes can be a means to both help your customers treat their fish right and show them the value of the products you offer.

 

The average fishkeeper needs expert advice when it comes to water quality in their tanks, be it chemical or physical in nature. One of my favorites subjects is “Water Chemistry—Truth and Fiction.” Somehow people get some crazy ideas about how to maintain their fish, and your store is just the place to dispel misinformation and demonstrate the importance of good fishkeeping practices.

 

For example, aquarium fish are tropical and prefer the temperature to be much warmer than the average house. They should be kept between 76 and 80 degrees for most species, and even warmer for some. However, since people don’t like it that warm in their homes, this isn’t going to happen naturally. Aquarium fish may suffer at these lower temperatures, becoming lethargic, refusing to eat and even coming down with bacterial or parasitic infections. This presents a great opportunity to offer a solution to your customers by informing them about aquarium heater options, allowing them to keep their fish healthy and their home comfortable.

 

When customers attend your educational classes, they learn how to do things the right way. Using the correct approach will make them more successful at their hobby. This positive reinforcement will make them enjoy fishkeeping more. Happy hobbyists are customers who spend more money buying more fish, more equipment and upgrading to larger tank setups. 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.

 

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