Let’s say you’ve got a thriving pet specialty store that has strong sales in aquatic livestock and supplies. You have a core base of customers who have grown to love you, and more importantly, they trust you and consider you a great resource. Word of mouth brings new customers to your door, and business booms. But after these new hobbyists purchase that large tank, along with all the necessary equipment and livestock, they are on their own—and often, they are doomed to fail.
Unless, of course, you can help make it work by getting them on the right track from the get go.
It is a major mistake for almost any store that sells aquatic livestock to leave aquarium installation and setup out of its repertoire. These services not only enhance the retailer’s bottom line, they help customers get off to a great start and, hopefully, ensure future success. Still, there are many factors to consider before launching an installation and setup service. In order to make the service even moderately successful, retailers need a solid plan, knowledgeable employees and a fair but profitable pricing structure.
Price is Right
Probably only 50 percent of customers who buy a large tank, stand and other setup paraphernalia will be able to get those items home themselves. It is more likely that they will need to have them delivered, and that means the store will be charging a delivery fee. This is standard practice for furniture and appliance stores—just as it should be for aquatics retailers.
The larger and more complex the setup, the more likely it is that the customer will also require someone to install and set up all the equipment. Be certain to make the distinction between these services: delivery, installation and setup.
Delivery is straightforward; you take all the items to a location and drop them off. Many people do not know exactly where they want a tank, so you may end putting the items in a temporary location until they decide. Once this decision is made—almost people require serious consultation in this area—the tank can be installed.
Frequently, delivery includes installation, but not always. If it does not, and a separate trip to the site is necessary, there should be an additional fee. It is rarely a good idea to set up a tank immediately after it is installed. Give the owner a chance to ponder his decision before signaling the thumbs up to complete the project.
There are many ways to calculate the fee for setting up an aquarium, and many factors must be taken into account. First and foremost, how many gallons is the tank? Next, how far away from your store is the client? Part of the distance factor is time. Suppose you must travel over large bridges, through tunnels or utilize toll roads. Maybe you are in the Los Angeles area where 30 miles might take two hours or more if it is rush hour or there is an accident. Time is money, so you should charge accordingly.
Let’s say you must park in a downtown area where on-site parking is not possible. This means you will pay a parking fee, and you may have to make numerous trips to and from the parked vehicle to get equipment. Also, you may be riding an elevator, or even worse, trudging up and down stairs.
Every little thing you do takes time, so you might be tempted to charge by the hour. I can absolutely guarantee this is virtually never the right thing to do. First of all, people will expect you to charge strictly for the time you spend in their homes or offices. People will also expect you to work really fast and efficiently since they are paying you by the minute. In other words, they will watch the clock, and that is not something you want them to do.
The costs for every tank setup you do should be quoted to the owner before the first bit of work is done. The cost and liabilities that are inherent in the project should be clear to both parties. You should always require full payment upon completion of the setup, and in the case of multiple-day jobs, require partial payment through work stages. Make it clear from the beginning that it may be necessary to stop work and return if difficulties arise. Never guarantee a single-day setup, but explain that it is your goal, if possible.
Now, what else do you need to consider? How far away is the water supply, and is there going to be sufficient hot water so you can fill up the tank at the proper temperature? Some offices have small hot-water heaters; they can run out after 20 gallons. Perhaps, you need to bring water, such as RO or DI, especially if you are setting up a marine fish or reef aquarium.
And don’t forget to make it crystal clear that there is a setup fee tied strictly to physical work, as well as a charge for all products used, such as processed water, marine salt, carbon, filter materials and incidentals. If you are setting up a sump, you will also be spending money on connectors, hoses, clamps and other types of plumbing essentials. Your setup quote must include both goods and services. The goods part will be flexible, but the services portion should not vary unless there are extenuating circumstances. You don’t want your customers to think you are padding the bill. PB
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.