Fish for the Holidays

Decorating and merchandising your store properly during the holiday season will lead to greater sales.



Have you been in a major big-box store in the past few weeks? Did you notice a lot of cleared aisles? Don’t fret, there is product on its way for those empty spaces. Yes, believe it or not, it’s going to be full of Christmas stuff before you know it. First, the back to school merchandise, and then straight into Christmas items. Can independent retailers, such as yourself, get away with projecting this far into the future? I think it’s a risk to jump too fast, especially in aquatics.


There is no exact time when you should start your holiday push. In the past, it was always immediately after Thanksgiving. That might be a little late, considering the current climate of hyper-sales pitches that the public can find at online sites. Your advantage over these cyber-sellers is that aquatic sales have a lot to do with livestock and tanks, neither of which is easy to ship from a remote source. You should be certain to exploit it, especially during the winter months.


I know that Christmastime is the biggest sales season of the year, and for your purposes, you should especially concentrate on the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. People are often very busy on Christmas Day, and many may be visiting friends and relatives out of town and can’t gift live animals. Gift cards will rectify that situation, of course, so push them as much as possible during the holiday season. Still, it’s not the same as a live gift. To pacify everyone, run your biggest promotion from Dec. 26 through Jan. 2. And yes, this means you must be open on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day until at least 8 p.m.


The best gift from an aquatics store during the holidays is a fish tank kit with a voucher towards livestock. If you merchandise these as a package, you will have locked in the initial sale and, almost certainly, additional sales of livestock as well. This means you must have robust stockpiles of livestock, for it is not easy to ship this commodity by air during the holiday season. Most stores are not close enough to a livestock wholesaler to take advantage of picking out their purchases in person. Honestly, you don’t have to go back too far to remember when livestock wholesalers were scattered over much of the country. If a store’s supply of fish ran low, it was simply a matter of spending time driving to the wholesaler, picking out livestock and taking it back to your store—all in the same day.


Thankfully, there are still dry goods wholesalers that will deliver directly to your shop. Also, a few companies have started selling their products directly to fish stores—cutting out the middleman completely. The way wholesale business is done has certainly changed over the past 30 years or so. It mirrors the change in retailing, which has morphed from brick-and-mortar to cyber-sales in a matter of 20 years. However, in a way, aquatic sales are somewhat protected from online competition. Any store specializing in livestock will always have an advantage because customers like to pick out their own fish, coral and other live items.


But let’s think about something else. Name a product that an aquatic shop sells that is not available online at all. It’s live food for your fish! Items like brine shrimp, black worms, feeder fish and grass/glass shrimp are your exclusive domain. Be sure to throw these into your holiday sales. How about a coupon book good for 12 portions of brine shrimp or black worms—one portion a month, or even more, if the customer desires. Place these in a Christmas set-up or sell them separately. You don’t have to limit them to the holidays. For example, if a customer pays upfront for a coupon book, he saves 25 percent of the full cost, which should be incentive enough to make the purchase.


Let’s talk more about physical preparation in your store to put everyone in the holiday mood. If you play music like many retailers, don’t forget to throw in some holiday tunes—at least for a portion of the day. A tree of some sort is an easy addition to add some holiday spirit. I recommend decorations with a fish theme. There are plenty of them out there if you look: fish lights, fish ornaments and even fish wrapping paper for presents. Under the tree, I suggest aquatic equipment. Good choices for items people may appreciate include filters, heaters, fish food, marine salt, test kits, tank ornaments, plastic plants and bags of gravel. The ultimate gift, of course, is a boxed full tank set-up. You can go with commercially available items or put your own holiday set-ups together. I would display these near your entrance door and cover a wide range of sizes from 10-gal. to 75-gal. tanks.


Your store should open on Christmas morning from about 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. so that customers can pick up their pre-purchased set-ups on Christmas Day. This way they don’t have to figure out how to hide really big gifts in order to surprise someone. Or you could be willing to go the extra mile and deliver such items—at a nominal fee. I would draw the line at setting up a tank for someone on Christmas Day, but maybe not the day after. Let’s face it, the thing a store can do best is customer service.


As far as merchandising for the holidays is concerned, I would cover all bases. For stocking stuffers, nothing beats fish food in cans or pouches. Put LED light fixtures on sale for people who want to upgrade from fluorescent. In fact, you could string your store tree with LED lights that can be controlled remotely to showcase their power.


In the days after Christmas, you may have many people coming in to purchase fish with gift certificates or just to add to their tanks. Try to have your tanks as full as possible, because you know that if they can’t find what they want at your store they are likely to go somewhere else. It’s always a good idea to have tanks in the back to hold excess stock when the need arises. This works not just for holidays or sales, but when you have the opportunity to make a purchase of something rarely available or at a bargain price. It will also give you space to board fish for people should they need such a service.


Here’s something really important to remember during the holidays. Everyone is having their own personal experience when it comes to the season. Some people may not have a clue what to buy; others may know exactly what they want. There will be people with only a little money to spend, and others with a lot of money to spend. Try to accommodate everyone as best you can. You need to have a special staff meeting to go over the procedures to follow during this time of year. Everyone who works for you should be sensitive to the different customs and beliefs that customers may have when it comes to Christmas and New Year’s. With this in mind, as a store owner or manager, don’t forget the people who work for you so hard all year long. I would say give a bonus until it hurts and try to make everyone happy.


Finally, the thing most forgotten at this time of year—lost in the rush of sales and customers—is the livestock and the general ambiance of the store. Be certain your store is clean—especially the tanks holding live animals. It’s a small thing to do for them, but they will appreciate it greatly. 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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