Adjusting the Shelf
by Edward C. Taylor
February 11, 2013
Give shelf-stable food sales a boost with some smart marketing strategies and solid sales tactics.



How many of your customers are savvy enough to tell if one shelf-stable food is better than another? My guess is that there are very few—perhaps one in a hundred. If I am correct, that means it is up to you to aim most people in the right direction when it comes to selecting a fish food.

The challenge is that not that many people are going to ask for help when it comes to selecting a food. One-on-one customer service in the fish-food aisle is not a common event. Most people only seek help when it is absolutely necessary. Still, having the right assortment for your customer base and being prepared to explain to fish owners the ins and outs of feeding will go a long way in encouraging shelf-stable food sales. With some clever marketing strategies, retailers can even boost sales in a category known for its relative predictability.

Virtually all pet shops carry a variety of shelf-stable foods, just as they do many other products. Still, foods are different because they directly impact the health of the fish. Tanks, filters, pumps, heaters, lights and décor items are not as critical, so you can easily recommend one over another without compromising your professional opinion. That isn’t always the case with fish foods, where quality really matters. However, it may be necessary to offer a range of good-better-best products to encourage sales over a broad spectrum of food products.

If you want to compress your sales into one or two brands, you must concentrate your efforts on these. On the other hand, if you would prefer to spread out sales over numerous brands, you need to develop a strategy that will accomplish this goal. Either way, the question arises: Since people buy food only as needed, is it possible to actually increase fish food sales?


Raising the Shelf

It is certainly possible to influence your customers’ food selections, but this does not really increase food sales—it only redistributes them. If you really want to do something that increases food sales, I believe there are only a few ways to make a significant impact on sales.

The first way to increase sales is to attract new customers. The more customers you have, the more fish food you will sell. A good way to do this is to carry a food that none of your competitors stock, and then convince fish owners in your area that it is the best food available. If you have a food that is not available locally, you have no competition at the price point. This means you can keep your profit up without worrying about other businesses dropping their prices.

One way to give your shelf-stable food sales a temporary boost without getting new customers or carrying an exclusive line is to convince regular shoppers to consider varying their food options. Since many customers buy strictly flaked foods, retailers need to convince these conventional shoppers that numerous fish species accept food more aggressively if it is offered in a form more appropriate for their feeding techniques. This opens up unlimited possibilities—pellets, sticks, tabs, discs, nuggets, sheets, etc. Get your customers to feed these items in addition to flakes, and you will increase food sales. This sales bump will only last for a short time since feeding more of the new types of food probably means feeding less of the flaked varieties, but at least it increases the diversity of sales.

Lastly, you must convince customers to feed their fish multiple times a day instead of only once. In fact, even twice a day is not really enough if you understand the metabolism of most small tropical fishes. You can feed these fish every two to four hours, if you wish—just don’t overdo it. Now, you will sell more fish food without carrying exclusive brands or adding new customers. In fact, your customers will have healthier fish and they will need to visit your store more frequently to purchase fish food. Everyone wins in this scenario—even the fish.

How do you get people to feed their fish more often? It’s simple. At the store’s front entrance, place a large sign that cannot be overlooked. It should say: “Are you starving your fish? You eat three times a day, so should they! Don’t neglect your wet pets! See a sales associate for more details!” And be certain to have a well-informed employee ready to convert the non-believers. In fact, I suggest you give away a small can of food to anyone willing to listen to a short presentation that explains the benefits of multiple feedings.

Lastly, keeping the shelf-stable foods well stocked is extremely important. You never want a customer to come in looking for a product that he has purchased in your store previously, only to discover that it is out of stock. That breaks a cardinal rule of retailing: Repeat-sale items must always be available for purchase. Even one visit that results in a customer walking out the door empty-handed may mean a customer lost forever.


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.