A creative assortment of themed specials can help keep livestock sales brisk, allowing retailers to offer an ever-changing selection of healthy fish.
These days, you can buy almost anything online and have it delivered right to your door—including livestock for your fish tank. Fortunately, most people still seem to prefer visiting a brick-and-mortar store when it comes to selecting animals for their aquariums. As long as this behavior remains unchanged, you have a distinct advantage over the internet, but your customers must be rewarded for making the trip to your store with a varied selection of healthy fish. Every time a customer walks through the front door, they should see something new and different. Don’t let your livestock go stale, or your sales may end up following the same pattern.
If you are an aquatics store or a full-line business with a large aquatics department, it is extremely important to concentrate on certain features when it comes to livestock. First, of course, is selection. You want to have the biggest and the best in your area. Second, you must sell your product at a competitive price—although you don’t have to be the cheapest if you’re the best. Third, you must sell premium-quality animals—nothing small or cheap like big box or chain stores. Fourth and finally, you need sales associates who know their product thoroughly enough to serve as experts.
Today, many stores say they have a large marine department but have no more than a dozen tanks for fish and a few more for invertebrates. There is nothing large about having so few aquariums, unless they are all 75 gallons or larger. I am also seeing a disturbing trend in the maintenance of reef fish. In many stores, the tanks are bare of gravel, with no decor or rocks. In such an environment, devoid of cover and a natural substrate, the fish can become very stressed. They just hang there in space like piñatas. This treatment of wild, living things is far from humane.
Additionally, some stores cut corners by not using UV-sterilizers to reduce parasitic and bacterial infections. To compound the problem, some of these businesses lower the specific gravity well below levels the fish would encounter in the wild. I believe this is unfair to the fish and the customer. It puts the onus on the buyer to bring the fish back up to a proper level. What customer wants to be told they need to acclimate the animals very slowly to avoid shocking them with a massive salinity change?
Mixing fish from several different shipments from different suppliers is also asking for trouble. It would be much better to put fish on sale to move the merchandise quickly rather than combine shipments. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to plan out monthly specials to help you keep your livestock moving.
Let’s break up livestock specials into freshwater and saltwater groupings, starting with freshwater. Is there any reason to run specials on the common community tank species? Every big box and chain store has them, and you may not be able to match their prices. However, you can sell bigger and healthier fish, and many people will pay extra for them. At least twice a year, give a price break for the so-called schooling fishes: tetras, barbs, danios, rasboras, rainbows and all their relatives. I would choose September for one sale. It’s back-to-school month, the supply of large fish from Florida will be high and deals can be made. The other month is up to your discretion, but March is a good choice. Even though domestic stock may be in short supply, imported items will not be.
You also need to have a catfish month. I like December for these scavengers, since they are never the cheapest fish and customers will splurge over the holiday season. Let’s not forget livebearers: swordtails, platies, mollies, guppies and even a few oddball species. October is good for these since Florida supplies are strong then. Everyone loves cichlids, so much so that I would break them up into four groups: Rift Lake, riverine African and small neotropical, large/predatory neotropical and angels and discus.
After cichlids, there are still plenty of fish left. Put your most expensive large non-cichlid predators on sale in the summer. Customers who like these will spend money any time of the year. I like July for oddball fish—examples include arowanas, Polypterus, true gouramis, sharks (mainly cyprinids), predatory characoids and stingrays. In April, I would pay tribute to the bottom dwellers, such as loaches, eels, gobies and plecos.
This leaves January as the only month not covered. Everyone who got money for the holidays has it burning a hole in their pocket, so you should snag as much of it as possible. Put every freshwater livestock item on sale. A 25-percent discount should get everyone’s attention.
Let’s bounce over to the saltwater side and look at the almost endless options available. In this case, selecting a certain month might not be as important. Supplies vary depending on demand, and demand is greatest from October through May. June through September are slow months because people are looking to spend money on vacations rather than hobbies. You might believe this makes them the best months for specials, but I believe the busier months will actually yield more sales.
There is a great divide in marine sales, and that is between fish and non-fish. Among the non-fish, corals are king, so I recommend one month for soft corals and another for stony corals. Non-coral inverts are huge as well, so set aside a month for things like snails, crabs, hermit crabs, sea stars, anemones, shrimp, bivalves, etc.
Coral frags are such a big deal that I would run specials on multiple occasions throughout the year. Once a month is not too often, as long as enthusiasm does not wane due to familiarity. This is also the perfect category to run unadvertised specials, which you can post on your Facebook and website pages at midnight the day before the sale. Put a large sign in the front window when you open up and, if you have customers’ email addresses, send out a quick sale announcement to start the day.
For marine fish, you can run monthly specials based on place of origin. For example, have fish native to Lake Malawi in Africa be 30 percent off in June. In July, apply the discount to fish from Lake Tanganyika; and in August, put any catfish from the continent of Africa on sale. The very popular L-number plecos, mainly from the Rio Tocantins and the Rio Xingu on the Brazilian shield would be a great group to put on sale. In another month, place all brackish-water species on sale: Anableps, archers, scats, monos, datnioides, target fish, some puffers, some catfish and even mollies.
Keep in mind that specials don’t always need to be directed at specific types, groups or species of fish. You could have discounts based on spending. For example, spend $50 on aquatic livestock and receive an instant rebate of 20 percent. Spend $100 or more and get 35 percent off.
Then there’s the quantity discount—buy two or three and get one more free—or the progressive discount. If a customer buys $50 worth of livestock in January, they get a certificate for 10 percent off a $50 purchase in February. If they make that purchase, in March they get 20 percent off $50 in April and so on through June, when the customer gets 50 percent off $50. Understand this only applies to the first $50—not the total bill.
The possibilities for monthly sales themes and combinations are virtually endless if you get creative. You just need to find clever ways to configure your store’s calendar. The only thing you want to avoid is running sales at the same time as your competitors, which encourages customers to comparison-shop for the best deal. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on what other shops in your area are doing and find an approach that is unique to you. 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.