There’s a lot to think about when it comes to selling fish foods. There’s not just prepared, frozen, live or gel foods, there’s an entire world of fish foods and all the thousands of different species of fish and other aquatic creatures that eat these foods. Remember when your food aisle said “Fish Foods?” Hopefully, you passed that phase years ago.
All things evolve (or cease to exist), but the packaged, canned, bottled and otherwise “prepared” foods are still the heart and soul of the fish food segment of the hobby. The reason why is obvious; feeding from a container requires no preparation. Pick up the can from under your tank, open the lid, take an appropriately sized pinch and swirl it through the water so it is well distributed. What! You have just been dropping it on the surface! Surely, you realize this is not equitable distribution of the food. You are not doing the substrate feeders a favor and certainly not taking into account the shy species that don’t like to mix it up with the general population.
My point is, if you don’t care about your fish, this is the way you feed them. Take my word for it, after 55 years of feeding aquarium fish, it is an art form that very few people know how to do correctly. You must select the proper foods for the fish in any given aquarium, be it in your store or in someone’s residence. It is obvious that most fish can and do recognize the people who feed them. They can tell one container from another if you hold it in front of the tank every time you feed, and they know when you are going to feed them frozen food rather than prepared food.
Breaking Up Feedings
Here’s a great tip for you and your customers. Let’s say you are going to feed mysis shrimp to a tank. First, you break off a chunk from the package. Then, you cut that up into appropriate-sized pieces (depending on the size of the fish) with your bare hands. Don’t cheat and wear gloves. Once you have finished getting the food ready, take your smelly oily hands and stick them in the tank and swirl them around a little. This alerts the fish’s olfactory senses as to what is coming. Wait 30 seconds and then put half the food in. Once this is consumed, add the remaining food.
This technique works with just about any frozen food, because if a frozen food does not have a noticeable odor the fish are not going to eat it with enthusiasm. Years ago, I put up a sign above the freezer cases that held the frozen fish food. It said “Frozen Food - the Next Best Thing to Cooking for Your Fish.”
Maintaining a Steady Supply
The aquatic hobby has evolved a good deal over the years. Back in the 1960’s, very few shops had any marine organisms for sale. My first trip to Florida was a real eye-opener when I realized that hobbyists who lived in the southern part of the state had plenty of marine fish in their tanks. Segue to 2021, the COVID crisis has made it difficult to obtain a truly diversified inventory of aquatic animals. Livestock is scarcer, prices are higher and demand is still robust, almost to the point of frustration. Right now it’s still a real challenge to obtain and maintain enough fish to sell.
So, it’s more important than ever for you to stock whatever foods you can to help your customers keep their fish healthy. This will most certainly include a wide selection of frozen foods and live foods (if you can get them). Since most live foods are going to reach you via air freight, there may be problems due to fewer flights being available to carry live cargo. Depending on your location in the country, you might be fortunate to have distributors who will deliver to your door. One live food you can always count on is earthworms. These are great for medium to large fish. The smaller items such as brine shrimp and black worms may be a bit problematic.
Feeder fish such as guppies or other livebearers are still plentiful from Florida farms. You can also purchase feeder glass shrimp (a freshwater animal) or grass shrimp (a brackish-water version). From colder climates you should also be able to obtain feeder goldfish. Ground-sourced live foods are going to be your best bet. If they have to fly, the freight costs are bordering on unacceptable. Bait shops may have what you need, but that just means paying retail and selling at a much higher price than normal. Use this contingency if it works for you.
Highlighting the Merchandise
When it comes to displaying and selling live foods, I have always insisted that customers cannot select their own items. It is up to you whether you want your holding facilities to be on public display. I prefer to have them in a room not open to the public. If customers are curious about how you maintain your live food items, I don’t see any reason you can’t show them, but you should always have a sales associate give them a guided tour.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have massive filtration on live feeder fish. UV-sterilizers are essential as well as heavy aeration, good lighting and good water flow. Keep them warm or cold depending on what they are. This typically means that feeder goldfish will require a chiller as part of their filtration system. Frequent water changes will cut down on disease, and it is certainly a lot cheaper than having to use medications.
Adding new feeders to a system with fish already in it is like asking for trouble. Most shops do not have the luxury of having enough space to run two co-equal environments that can be alternated between shipments. Do this if you can. Also, change a percentage of the water every day; this will reduce mortality. Spending money on drugs to treat feeders is like flushing your profits down the drain.
Now, frozen foods will sell without too much effort, but people frequently buy items that are inappropriate for the fish they have. You don’t usually have time to talk with every customer, so that makes signage an essential “silent salesman” when it comes to frozen foods. You should, at a minimum, have a sign that delineates the types of frozen food you sell, i.e. brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, bloodworms, beef heart, clam, scallop, etc.
If your marine department has an extensive selection of live corals and other reef invertebrates, you may wish to sell live copepods, phytoplankton, macro algae, etc. These items should be held in proprietary refrigerators. Since these food containers are small, I recommend a lock on any such appliance. Better safe than sorry.
A few shops, usually those that sell reptiles, will offer crickets and mealworms as fish foods. These are acceptable since many fish in the wild eat just about any insect or worm that happens to come their way. A good recommendation is to suggest a person only feed one specimen of these non-aquatic foods at a time. Any such uneaten items should be removed after a reasonable length of time.
Overall, live foods are an excellent way to increase sales and provide a varied diet to fishes of all sizes, great and small. PB