The nano concept, as it is employed in the aquatics trade, can be a very good idea. After all, a nano tank is a completely integrated unit with virtually everything that a consumer needs all contained in a single box——minus the fish, of course—which makes for no-muss, no-fuss selling. A retailer can truly tell customers, “This is all you need, except livestock and décor.”
With all of the equipment included, and instructions that make it simple to set up, a nano-tank makes a great aquarium for anyone who is contemplating their very first setup. It does not take up a lot of space, and it is clean, contained and basically foolproof.
Selling nano tanks, however, is far from foolproof.
Complicating things is the fact that many of the nano-aquarium packages on the market today are geared for the marine segment of the hobby. If maintaining a small aquatic ecosystem is difficult in the freshwater realm, it is next to impossible in the marine world. Here, the everything-included concept works well, but the “nano” part does not. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen some fantastic nano-reef tanks; but they are almost exclusively owned by long-time marine enthusiasts who wanted to try a more challenging approach.
If a pet store is determined to make nano-tanks an important element in its aquatic sales, the staff must be on board with the concept. Many marine employees will tell customers that nano-tanks are a bad idea; after all, things can go very wrong very quickly, especially if the customer is not up to the challenge.
Proper education is the key to breeding successful nano-tank customers. This requires time and patience on the part of the store staff, which may have to spend an hour or more making a nano-tank sale. And that’s the proper way to do it. Retailers should strive to make sure that every customer who walks out the door with a nano setup is successful. It’s your reputation on the line if customers fail to achieve success with nano-tanks they purchased at your store. Of course, 100-percent success is not going to be possible, as retailers can never expect everyone to do precisely what they recommend.
One of the biggest challenges to setting up a nano-aquarium is choosing its inhabitants. Selecting livestock for small aquariums requires a really sophisticated understanding of fish species—particularly how large they grow and how aggressive they are. Few beginners have this level of expertise, so if they are going to be successful, they are going to need a good deal of tutelage. With this in mind, retailers must make sure that their employees are up to the task.
There are plenty of marine fish and invertebrates that can do quite well in nano-tanks. Of course, if these are scattered around the marine department, they may be difficult to find. I suggest that retailers select a few tanks that are dedicated to nano specimens. Then, when the time comes, store employees can simplify the process of choosing livestock for nano-aquarium customers by bringing them over to these tanks.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of customers who buy nano-products for marine setups expect to be able to keep anything they want. As soon as they realize how restrictive their choices are, many become discouraged. Others simply choose to pay no attention to the suggestions made by the retailer. They buy what they want, and when disaster strikes—as it almost invariably will—they usually blame the store where they bought the items. To avoid this dilemma, retailers should permit their employees to exercise discretion when they sell marine livestock. This applies to any scenario, but especially to nano-sales.
The fish that are perfect for nano-tanks are not all freshwater, but the vast majority of them are. Bettas can be a good choice, but not the aggressive male/female bubble-nest building species. Instead, focus on the mouth-brooding species that have become more popular recently. Fill a tank with live plants and these fish are easy to maintain. Likewise, there are numerous species of pygmy gouramis and micro-cyprinids that grow no larger than 1 1/2 inches in length.
The very best fish for nano-tanks are members of the killifish family, Cyprinodontidae. There are literally hundreds of these that could easily be kept in 10-gallons of water or less. The problem with killifish is the way they spawn. They lay a few eggs every day, over a long period of time—frequently for months, without taking a break. This makes killifish difficult to culture in large quantities, which is almost a prerequisite for selling a fish commercially. There are, therefore, very few killies sold in pet shops. That is a shame, because they are really the perfect definition of a nano-fish; they stay small, they can live in a tiny environment, they are not aggressive and they are easy to maintain. Retailers that can find a good source for these beautiful little creatures and set up nano-tank killifish displays are almost guaranteed to increase sales of both the setups and the fish.
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.
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