Creative Control

The aquatics department offers plenty of opportunities to create eye-catching merchandising displays both in the dry goods and livestock sections.


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Pet specialty stores may not be focused in on aesthetics the way a home design store or high-end clothing boutique might be, but even the average mom and pop pet shop can benefit from employing at least a modicum of creative merchandising. In fact, in today’s market, you need to use every tool in the box, every trick in the trade to stay ahead of the competition. Just lining the shelves with products is not going to do the job.

The value of creating merchandising can play out in even the most seemingly mundane product categories. Does a power filter sitting inside a box draw attention? Of course not; so, if you have a filter you prefer—no matter the reasons (e.g., it works better, your margin is higher, it’s always easy to get replacement stock, etc.)—it should be featured in a working display. Customers must be able to see it, so no hiding it away behind or under a tank.

Let’s say you have two different types of filters you want to showcase. You can simply put them on the same tank. On the other hand, if you have two filters of the same type, but they are made by different companies, it’s a no-no to display them together—unless, of course, you are trying to show that one works better than the other. That inferior product had better not be one you carry, however. Maybe it could be one of the proprietary filters carried by chain or big-box stores.

Working displays always grab more attention than static ones. Of course, it’s difficult to find room for a large number of such exhibits, so you should cycle them in and out with regularity. Customers who come into your store frequently will appreciate seeing endcaps featuring new products or old ones that are on sale. There is no maximum time for the longevity of a display, but I recommend nothing longer than six weeks, with four weeks being optimum. 

No matter how great a display of merchandise may look, however, it can’t match the originality of a tank full of live fish decorated to the max. If you are trying to sell fish, using live plants, decor or ornaments is the way to go. Each tank housing fish for sale should look like a work of art. And that’s before and after fish are caught; there is no excuse for uprooted plants and decor turned upside down. At the end of each sales day, allow 30 minutes for tank maintenance. Only sales associates with talent should be allowed to set up or refurbish display aquariums. 

Of course, not everyone has a gift for designing displays that are both appealing to customers and appropriate for the livestock. Let’s look at a few examples of what works and what does not. For example, stingrays, whether they are fresh or saltwater, should only be placed in aquariums with fine sand. In the wild, this is their habitat, and they will not exhibit normal behavior over any other substrate. Some stores get around this by placing them in bare tanks, but I can assure you there is no quicker way to kill them, as it leaves them completely vulnerable to attacks from aggressive open-water swimmers. It is your responsibility to respect the needs of each type of fish you keep. 

Retailers should also never sell fish they know nothing about. Customers are always going to ask about the requirements of any fish they are unfamiliar with. Store staff must know the answers and display fish in a manner appropriate to their lifestyles.

There are several ways to go here, but they all involve livestock, because living things are always the most memorable. I suggest the following: 

• a coral tank that contains only species that glow under blue (or black) lights;

• a giant marine tank with show specimens of fish, including small sharks, such as cat or bamboo species;

• an Amazon River display of small non-aggressive species and plenty of live aquatic plants;

• a brackish-water environment with mudskippers, Anableps, Monodactylus, archerfish and other non-aggressive species;

• an aquatic garden display (few fish and lots of exotic plants); 

• a giant pond full of fancy koi with a waterfall feature;

• African Rift Lake displays—one for Malawi and one for Tanganyika.

There are two ways to have customers remember your business. You can be really lousy or you can be really good. I suggest the second option works better if you want to make money and stay in business. 

Also, and this might be difficult for a lot of owners, you need to be out on the floor as much as possible. Everyone likes to talk with the owner. It makes them feel important, and indeed, they are.


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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