Over the last few years, as consumers have tightened their budgets in response to the economic climate, manufacturers looking to make a splash in the aquatic segment faced a dip in market growth. However, those who exhibited in Global Pet Expo’s Everything Aquatics section say consumer demands have changed and the industry is evolving.
“I think everyone went into shock with the economy, but things are better now—people’s attitudes have changed,” says Stuart Dunne, president of Universal Rocks.
Stuart moved Australian-based Universal Rocks—a manufacturer of artificial rock and landscapes, including ponds and aquarium and reptile backgrounds—to the United States during the economic downturn. “It was a struggle getting stores to invest in displays and new products, but we seem to be on top of that now, we’ve grown about 20 percent,” he says. “We’re moving in the right direction, and this year I expect at least 50 percent growth.”
Michael Elliott, co-owner of Aquatic Life, a manufacturer of aquarium equipment and supplies, has also seen steady growth in the market. “We attribute the growth to a number of factors—the main one is launching products that didn’t exist in the market or in the same sales channels prior,” Elliott says. “The people that have invested in livestock, and the equipment to keep marine fish and reef aquariums have the drive to find ways to support their hobby.”
Alexander Phelps, product specialist at AQUATOP agrees that the aquatics segment continues to grow because companies are meeting new consumer demands. “I have heard claims of the aquatics industry growing stagnant or that e-commerce is ruining our fishy business,” he says. “The industry is evolving and improving, even with the economic downturn, and this is accomplished by continuing to meet new market demands.”
Small companies have the ability to stake their claim amongst the “big boys” as they continue to introduce innovative products to the market, Phelps says, citing Ecotech and Hydor as companies that have revolutionized the way we turnover water in an aquarium. “A lot of these new demands that are being met are hobbyist driven demands,” Phelps says.
Manufacturers poised for growth are taking note of these evolving demands as they continue to develop new products. For example, electricity and replacement bulb costs are consumer concerns that are driving demand for a more efficient way to support photosynthetic life, and LED lighting systems have become an unstoppable trend.
While LEDs have been around for several years, they have only recently come down in price, explains Elliott. “In the past, people were using LEDs designed for general lighting and the light outpost is not ideal for sustaining coral,” he says. “LED production has evolved to now make it possible to use LEDs that emit the proper wavelengths of light needed by corals for photosynthesis.”
Aquatic Life will launch six SKU’s of its 1W LED light fixtures at the show.
Nano aquariums are also trending, according to Phelps. “The nano trend has helped make aquarium keeping more accessible and affordable for consumers,” Phelps says. “We have tiny components helping tiny ecosystems to thrive. There are readily available CO2 systems and protein skimmers that are no bigger than a can of soda.”
AQUATOP is capitalizing on this trend by launching Glass Nano aquarium systems with filtration and energy-efficient lighting at the show. The systems use glass and a frameless design perfect for desktops, dressers or any small nook. The line includes the AT Nano System, the SC-380 Semi Circle aquarium and the ST Series. The Nano Series is customizable and users can add their own filtration systems. The ST Series is a decorative glass aquarium with filtration, lighting and an easy access lid.
“These glass tanks have key features that will appeal to retailers,” Phelps says. “The scratch-resistant glass gives hobbyists a bird’s eye view without messy silicon or acrylic, plus the design is simple without a lot of components—less components mean less problems.”
Dunne says while improved technology has boosted lighting trends, he hasn’t really seen much improvement in the décor category. “In regards to decorations, there isn’t a trend and that’s why I see it’s a huge opportunity to be here,” Dunne says. “I’m the only one here in America that’s making lightweight artificial rock backgrounds that people can install themselves.”
While the décor category hasn’t seen much improvement, merchandising these products is key to moving the product out of a retail store and into the homes of hobbyists. Retailers should consider displaying décor products as a complete setup. Selling bits and pieces only appeals to consumers who were already looking for the product, Dunne explains. “If you go to a museum or zoo, they’ve spent thousands, in some cases millions, of dollars creating natural habitats for these animals but you go into a pet store and nothing has improved in years on creating that look,” he says. “If you set it up beautifully, you really inspire the people who weren’t really looking for that item [to buy.]”
Though consumer confidence has changed, retailers need to stay ahead of the competition. E-commerce has impacted the aquatics segment, and brick-and-mortar stores need to work hard to survive, Dunne says. “The Internet is not going away, so you either work with it or you’re going to die,” he says. “For stores to survive, they need to work hard.”
Dunne suggests retailers continue to be very service-orientated, be competitive with pricing and think of volume. “Have a theme park of interesting displays at the front of the store and offer the services to back it up,” he says. “That’s really the key.”