In today’s retail world of big-box stores and Internet pet-supply companies, the one thing that has not changed is the need and demand for aquarium installation and maintenance services. There may be a few less clients out there due to tight budgets, but when someone buys a tank, they often need a professional to set it up. Aquatics specialty retailers that do not offer these services are missing out on a great opportunity to build their businesses and establish rewarding, long-term relationships with their customers.
I can’t imagine a more important customer service for a pet shop to provide than aquarium setup installations for novice fishkeepers who want a fishtank, but don’t have a clue how to set it up. Retailers that include installation fees in some set-up packages find themselves selling a significantly higher number of units. Before adding this service, however, store operators need to hammer out the details, from pricing and extra fees to service policies, such as what to do when someone fails to pay.
Price is Right
Among the first issues to consider is pricing: How do you come up with a figure that will seem reasonable to customers, but will still be profitable? If everything else is equal, the most important factor to consider is distance. How far away from your store is the installation location? This will determine how much you charge. Most other factors, such as the size of the tank, type of filtration or whether it is a marine or freshwater setup, are built in to the fees.
Most service providers will probably work in both homes and businesses, so access to the setup location must come at times convenient to both the provider and the clients. Restrictions on set-up times should always incur extra fees—for example, if the only time you can work is in the middle of the night when business is not being conducted. Other reasons to charge extra include having to carry equipment up one or more flights of stairs or having to bucket water into the tank because there is no hose connection nearby. The possibilities are endless, but are not nearly as complex as they might seem. It’s all a matter of experience; once you do it a few times, you will learn exactly how to price every situation.
The most challenging installation customers are the ones who think you should do the job for free. These people usually expect the tank and equipment to be delivered for free, as well. I usually include delivery in an installation fee; I call it a “delivery and set-up” charge. As soon as someone starts nickel and diming me about this fee, I back away from the entire deal. Customers are free to pick up their own tank setups, take them home and set them up themselves. If they pay me to do this, however, I guarantee the equipment will be safely delivered and installed.
Many people want a fish tank, but few people actually understand what is involved in maintaining one. When aquarium maintenance is done right, it is (dare I say) a very rewarding experience for both the caregiver and the recipient. You get paid and get the pleasure of seeing a job well done. The biggest downsides to maintenance are the emergency calls—a few of which must be handled immediately, no matter what time of day. Human nature being what it is you cannot expect to dictate what customers put in their tanks. You can, however, show righteous indignation when you find fish in the wrong environments. Also, you can hope these ill-fitting additions did not come from your store. When a customer simply refuses to follow your advice on both livestock and equipment, it is time to move on. This is an easy decision to make, and it will be a lot less of a hassle for you.
It is also highly advisable to promptly obtain payment for services rendered. If you do the work, you should be paid. Businesses might want to send a check, and that’s fine, as long as it comes before the next scheduled maintenance visit.
A Helping Hand
Of course, if you are operating a thriving business and are in high demand for your services, it may be necessary to farm out some of these duties to an employee. An employee sent out to do tank maintenance needs to be the best representative that a retail establishment can find.
He or she must also be experienced enough to handle any issues that might arise at remote locations. There are always unforeseen problems, and no one can be perfect enough to anticipate surprises. I tell my people to thoroughly check out new clients’ tanks before they start work. One of my few rules (or restrictions) is that there should be no children or dogs anywhere near an installation or maintenance site.
Meanwhile, storeowners should ensure that the employee is provided with adequate maintenance equipment and a safe vehicle. Everything he or she needs must be in the van or truck and not sitting back at the shop. The employee should be told what to expect and what is needed to do the job for every account on the schedule, before heading out. Store operators should never allow an employee to use a personal vehicle for maintenance.
A maintenance business can take on a life of its own for retailers in robust metro areas. Servicing reef aquariums in retail locations or professional offices can be particularly profitable. Of course, there are many “wanna-be” experts out there eager to muscle-in on the maintenance business to make a few extra dollars, and they are often willing to work for less money. As a retailer, however, your strength comes in having a storefront, a fixed location, a good reputation and the ability to order both merchandise and livestock whenever it is needed.
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.