There are 1,001 themed aquarium concepts that retailers can sell their customers. Some of these are cheap and others are expensive, but the best one of all is free–it's called “imagination.” Today, too many items are pre-assembled, pre-packaged, all in one, all inclusive, good to go and fully loaded. When selling aquarium setups, give customers a valuable gift along with the hardware they are buying–give them inspiration to create their own personal themed tanks. Show people what's possible, and many of them will prove to be talented and creative when putting together specialty environments.

Specialty Tanks

In the middle of winter, the hottest packages are nano, specifically nano-reef. Set up a series of small tanks, perhaps from five- to 20-gallons in size. Make them look different, not just larger (or smaller) versions of each other. Use different types of coral, colored substrates, variable lighting and equipment from various companies. In this way, the store will be showcasing just how unique reef tanks can be while still maintaining stability. This will challenge customers to imagine what their setups might look like.

There is no denying that box kits make great gifts, but they do nothing to help the recipients set up their tanks. For them, it's a clean slate, and if it's their first aquarium, they may feel completely at a loss when it comes to tank decorating ideas. Themed tanks can, therefore, serve a multitude of purposes: (1) they give people with new kits some help, (2) they sell additional box kits, (3) they sell more decoration kits, (4) they sell more free-standing tanks, and (5) they sell the actual theme tanks as integrated setups. I like this final category because when a specialty tank that is on display in the store sells, the retailer knows they have struck a chord with at least one customer. And retailers can sell custom setups more than once–just be certain that a perfect copy of the tank can be created if the need arises.

One specialty tank concept is the front aquarium, which lends itself to a wide range of applications. I like bow fronts because they create a 3D effect–the fish and décor seem to leap into the room when they are selected and arranged properly. The best bet here is an aquatic garden display with lots of live plants and small schooling fish. Throw in a few angels or discus for dramatic effect. Slow-moving species that like to pause as they swim should be well represented. The following items come to mind: emperor tetras, cardinal tetras, harlequin rasboras, white clouds, small angels, pearl gouramis, etc. Rainbows would be great in this situation except their water requirements are different. Instead, I suggest a rainbow-themed tank with several different species mixed together. This display requires more alkaline-loving plants and a few well-placed rocks. Frankly, mixed rainbow tanks are beyond spectacular.

Another tank concept is a corner bow front, which comes two different ways–with two or three panels in the back. What about putting all three bow fronts together in a “bow front bonanza blowout” display? Each tank should have a different theme but all three tanks should be well enough integrated that a customer can imagine any of the themes in any one of the three tanks.

Aquarium purists believe that fish tanks should only come in one shape–rectangular. Thank goodness we are no longer trapped in that “black and white” nightmare. Today, if you can “imagine” it, you can have a tank to match. A lot of the fancy styles will have to be made of acrylic, since glass is only so flexible. Few stores offer acrylic tanks unless they are custom-made since the price difference for standard sizes and shapes is dramatically different. I can't imagine not having at least a small number of acrylic units to sell; otherwise, the store is depriving its customers from entering an entirely different world of aquatic display. Try to find a local fabricator who can make units to specifications on a fairly tight schedule. Anything longer than four weeks will not permit a store to sell the product in a reliable manner.

A fascinating theme to consider is what I like to call the “Reverse Gulliver” aquarium. In the book Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver (a man of normal size) traveled to the land of Lilliput, which was a miniature version of his world. A “Reverse Gulliver” tank consists of small species of fish in a relatively normal size aquarium. A 20-gallon (long) or 30-gallon (long) are the best sizes to use. Everything living in the tank should stay small - the fish, the plants, and even the invertebrates. In order for this concept to work, however, there needs to be a fairly large number of fish (since they are so small). Some fish I would choose include: Rasbora maculata (dwarf rasbora), Danio choprai (glowlight danio), Corydoras pygmaeus (pygmy catfish), Dario dario (mini-red Badis), Yasubikotakia sidthimunki (dwarf loach), Otocinclus affinis (midget suckermouth catfish), Paracheirodon innesi (neon tetra), Epiplatys annulatus (clown killifish), and Aphyosemion australe (golden lyretail killifish). Also, there are numerous species of freshwater shrimp from Asia that are small, non-aggressive and fascinating to watch. Likewise, a few snails remain both small and not particularly fecund, so they won't eat the plants or over-populate the tank.

Selling Packages

Retailers can buy pre-packaged “box” kits for resale or they can put together their own version of the same. There is no reason to offer kits identical to the commercial options. Instead offer kits that are special in some way–more options, upgrade options, livestock packages, décor packages, free home set up, finance options, etc. I always like to add a surprise element to every setup. Frequently, this consists of gravel, rocks and other décor items that can be organized into a specific décor package. This may include equipment, such as an integrated aeration system. Try not to repeat the same option–people can get uniformity in box kits. The in-store specialty setups need to expand “outside the box.”

Depending on how many employees there are and how busy the store is, it may be difficult to find time to think up and create specialty displays. I have found books, magazines and the Internet to be excellent sources for ideas when it comes to tank décor. Personal websites of serious hobbyists may contain unique designs that commercial sources would never consider. These can be easily adjusted to fit the store environment and help sell even more setups.

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.