Flavor of the Month

Pet specialty retailers can drive livestock sales with some ingenuity and a robust schedule of monthly sales.


In the old days, having an aquatics shop was considered rather exotic, and customers would visit their favorite store on a regular basis just to see what was new in the livestock department. I remember spending hours making lists of livestock items to place on sale for the upcoming months. I usually planned well in advance, so I could coordinate shipments with sales. For example, February was always about red-hued fish to honor Valentine’s Day. Bleeding heart tetras were a must, as well as kissing gouramis.

However, even today, retailers that are looking to add some pop to their sales will find that monthly livestock specials are a good way to go. In fact, there is no reason that you can’t attract customers, no matter what time of year it is. You just need the right ideas.

A visit to the local competitors to see what they are up to is a good way to start. Whatever they are doing, you need to do it bigger and better—and cheaper. Low-balling the big-box stores may not be as difficult as you think. Their sales strategy is simple enough to beat. Just sell healthy, full-sized specimens from tanks that don’t look like glass cages. Display tanks need to resemble real environments, not prison cells.

The fish that has the best eye appeal and salability in the freshwater realm is the rainbow. Whether it comes from Australia or Papua New Guinea, nothing matches its color, open display and friendly disposition. Rainbows get along well with virtually any fish, small or large. They are active swimmers, preferring small schools that move back and forth from one end of a tank to the other. Most species come from hard alkaline water, and they will accept any form of food. Rainbows are perfect for beginners, but there is enough variety to make them interesting even to advanced hobbyists.

Pick a month when rainbows are likely to be seen in the sky in your area. Follow local weather forecasts and if a rainbow appears, it’s time for a flash sale. That’s appropriate since when male rainbows court the females, they frequently flash their colors on and off as if a light were being shined on them. With a little due diligence, you can find a good supply of rainbow fish for your store. Upwards of 15 species are being bred commercially, so don’t be afraid to experiment with what’s available. Like most schooling species, rainbows are sold only when mature. Obtaining juveniles will result in some relatively non-spectacular fish that will not sell until they color-up.

Many of your customers will be looking for fish that can be kept in community tanks. Rainbows are perfect in this respect, but some people prefer cichlids, and considering their popularity, retailers need to showcase several types of these over the course of a year. First and foremost are angelfish, which can be sold at any size: small, medium and full adult. These fish are important enough to your bottom line to put on special not once, but twice a year. The best supply of juveniles is usually available at the end of summer, around September. “Back to School Angelfish Blowout” is one good catch phrase. Be certain to have several varieties on your sales list: silver, gold, marble, ghost, black, blushing and, of course, veils. Asia has managed to produce endless strains of angels.

Not to forget the other cichlids, you need to dedicate a least a month to African Rift Lake species. There are so many of these, the list is endless, but it is best to avoid selling hybrids. This means you need to be expert enough to tell the pure species from the crossbreds. If you go the route of selling crosses, you will end up drawing complaints and criticisms from customers in your area.

When selling Malawi cichlids, keep in mind the four major types: mbuna, peacocks, Haplochromine relatives and sand-sifters. Tanganyika cichlids are more diverse but are a bit easier to identify. Stick with what you know or have an expert employee who can recommend what to sell.

A final cichlid choice for monthly specials would be discus. There are about 30 varieties being commonly sold, but they are not going to be easy to distinguish when small. Adult specimens are so expensive that many customers cannot afford them or will not buy them. When selling juveniles, it’s best to have an adult pair of each variety on display. If that’s not possible, really nice posters will suffice.

Moving on to the marine segment, you definitely need a “Frag Festival,” as well as a “Critter Carnival.” These two events should showcase both common and exotic corals and a good sampling of mobile reef invertebrates such as snails, crabs, hermit crabs, shrimp, scallops, etc. The more diversity you display in your selection, the more likely you are to attract customers on a regular basis. As far as fish are concerned, I recommend pushing the exotic species for the winter holiday gift crowd by running a “Parent Appreciation” sale, “My Gift to Me” sale or the best of all, “Santa’s Surprise” sale. Save the big-ticket items for the time of year that gift-giving is most likely to be extra magnanimous.

January is the perfect time to sell common community tank fish to the people who received an aquarium as a gift. Get these beginners started with a nice selection of various types of fish, including tetras, barbs, danios, rasboras, Corydoras catfish, livebearers and virtually any non-predatory species that remain small and are not aggressive. You might call this event “Housewarming Presents” or “New Customer Appreciation Month.”

Advertising special events used to be as simple as placing an ad in the newspaper or local merchant flyer, but today, the best way to reach new customers may be online. Retailers should make consistent use of social media and their store websites. Once people are in the shop, however, you need to smother them with in-store specials that are purposefully not advertised outside the shop environment. The way to do this is to state clearly on your website or Facebook page that there are specials available every day only to walk-in customers.

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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