Miniature Market
by Ed Taylor
July 1, 2011
The nano-aquarium category is growing by leaps and bounds, and retailers should position themselves to make the most of it.



It’s a small world after all. In fact, the smaller it gets, the more some people like it. Telling a customer that he or she can have a fully functional aquarium that can sit on a desk in any office grabs their attention. Showing them just how decorative, dynamic and diminutive that fish tank can be sells the concept. Finally, offering a package at a phenomenal price point, with all the equipment included, makes the sale. Now, all you have to do is follow through with your end of the bargain. This means carrying the appropriate equipment and the livestock and being in a position to help guide customers looking to try their hand with nano aquariums.

Nano aquariums have been around for many years. The concept was that a betta could spend its entire life in a bowl and be perfectly happy. These days, hobbyists are building far more sophisticated nano habitats for the growing number of nano fish available on the market.

The vast majority of people I see buying nano set-ups are beginners, and they are usually looking to start a marine tank since most nano aquairum-related ads are aimed at the saltwater segment of the trade. By far, the most successful nano-tank hobbyists are experienced aquarists looking for a challenge and who are adept at establishing a well-balanced miniature reef environment.

Even more productive are those few people who have discovered the one fail-safe technique for growing “touchy” or delicate species of corals. They use strict single-species isolation so that parameters may be manipulated specifically for one coral. I have visited hobby ranches with as many as 50 nano set-ups; each one dedicated to a single coral species.

Pre-packaged aquariums can be a great option for many customers. If a product is “all-inclusive,” retailers do not need to do anything but sell it and watch it go out the door. The instructions are in the box, often even in the form of a DVD.

On the other hand, I cannot tell you how many people come back to the store to get information about setting up their nano tanks. Frequently, they have broken an important piece of equipment because they could not figure out how to use or install it. So, any store that takes nano tanks seriously must set up a special “nano” department, catering not just to marine enthusiasts, but to those wishing to keep miniature freshwater species, as well.

In fact, there is a revolution taking place in the freshwater spectrum of the hobby. Freshwater shrimp habitats started as a trend in Japan and quickly spread throughout Asia and Europe. These are true nano tanks, and nothing could be more apropos than a complete miniature tank set-up. To make the most of the trend, retailers should carry a variety of shrimp species, and make the habitats for each one look different to inspire customers to personalize their own shrimp tanks. I recommend using small tanks for displays and larger nano tanks to house the shrimp for sale. Everything having to do with shrimp should be in one location, including tanks, gravel, décor, food, etc.

There are more miniature (or micro) species of freshwater and marine fish than most people know. They have been rare in the hobby for many years for a variety of reasons. The most obvious reason being that they have been overlooked–they are so small that collectors in the wild never even knew they existed. But many new species are coming on the market now, including danios, rasboras, catfish and a tiny freshwater pipefish. The floodgates have opened and collectors around the world are looking more closely at their catches.

In the meantime, marine divers are now collecting those miniature fish that they already knew about but never figured were worth anything: shrimp gobies (with their commensal shrimp), crabs that live in the spines of sea urchins, fish that live in the body cavity of sea cucumbers and jawfish and garden eels that live in the substrate. The list is endless.

Good customer relations require that retailers thoroughly back-up the equipment they sell with what it takes to keep it running. Expendables, such as cartridges, sponge pads, media bags and filtration media, must all be on hand when needed. These, of course, are small, so retailers shouldn’t leave them on the shelves to be shoplifted.


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.