It’s amazing to me that in 2021, with COVID running rampant across the world, the aquatic hobby is experiencing record sales. This unusually heavy demand has placed a strain on the supply of aquatic livestock, and if a store wishes to maintain a healthy inventory of live items to sell, it must get creative.
Since ordering from your long-time suppliers may not be sufficient, check wholesalers in large cities, search for local breeders and be ready to hit the road and make in-person visits to anyone and anywhere you can find livestock.
Timing is everything, and Hawaii shutting down the majority of collectors on the islands comes at just the wrong time. Unfortunately, it appears our industry has tried, but failed, to rectify that situation. Fortunately, the subject of this column (aquatic invertebrates) is less affected than the fish segment. In the marine hobby, these two groups of animals go hand-and-hand. Many corals are now raised in captivity, with only a small percentage of fish falling into that category. While the cost of reef fish has skyrocketed, the cost of captive-raised (fragged) corals has increased only modestly.
Those few reef-dwelling fish that are being farmed have increased in price and will continue to do so for some time to come. With this in mind, perhaps it’s time to place a greater emphasis on marine invertebrates. I can think of a hundred-plus non-coral items that will sell quite well in a shop. The problem is, most of them must be collected, much like fish.
Perhaps you can make up some of the marine slack by augmenting your sales with freshwater livestock. The news here is not all bad; if you are hoping to carry the small ornamental freshwater shrimp that are making such a big splash over much of Asia, the Middle East and Europe, there is ample supply. There are several species and almost countless genetic varieties of these harmless and fascinating creatures.
Selling ornamental freshwater shrimp requires you to have at least one employee (as well as yourself) who is an expert at setting up and maintaining these delicate animals. The great benefit to carrying shrimp is that customers are virtually guaranteed to buy an entire set-up for each type of shrimp they wish to keep. In other words, hardware sales will probably outstrip livestock totals. That is a fact of life that a retailer should never complain about.
While some states have partial or total restrictions on sales of crayfish and snails, this is not a problem with ornamental shrimp. In order to get serious about shrimp, let me make a few suggestions as to a strategy that should guarantee steady sales of these diminutive invertebrates.
First and foremost, they must be showcased; don’t stick them in the back of the store in a forgotten corner. Their environments benefit from strict attention to detail. If you are familiar with the concept of a shadow box, I highly recommend a row of these—perhaps four to six with a different shrimp environment inside each one. First, make the boxes from 3/4-in. plywood, glue them together and reinforce the corners with right-angle metal straps, and then paint all surfaces flat black. The top should be hinged for easy access, while the front is wide open for viewing but covered by a black cloth curtain that can be opened or closed.
All light that reaches the environment will come from the small overhead fixture supplied with the shrimp set-up. This almost invariably consists of LED-bulbs and it should have three modes: all-white, mixed blue and whiter and all-blue.
With a setup such as this, the shrimp will be oriented toward the front most of the time, as that’s the only direction that external light will come from. With these micro-environments, they can be easily overrun with algae. While the shrimp will eat some, too much algae will ruin the look of the set-up and probably kill off any higher-order plants. If you are fortunate enough to have a sales associate who is talented at setting up these mini-aquariums, you can probably figure out a way to package up the entire set-up and sell it in toto—shrimp and all. Your shop may become the shrimp capitol of your area.
In marine habitats, many shrimp species get considerably larger than their freshwater counterparts. Some of them are captive-bred, but most are wild-caught. The most highly sought-after marine shrimp are those that live commensal with other types of marine invertebrates. Sold in tandem, these naturally-occurring partners are in high demand and low supply. If you are able to obtain any of these, do not place them in environments that contain other animals unless you have thoroughly researched their compatibility.
In reality, there is an endless list of marine invertebrates that can be maintained effectively in a home aquarium. Many of them are in short supply due to COVID: heavy demand, fewer collectors, fewer airline flights and more expensive air freight charges. Still, people are buying whatever they can get their hands on, so don’t be deterred by high prices. As long as you can keep it alive at your store, you will be able to sell it.
In general, invertebrates in captivity have always been an adjunct to the leading characters—the fish. An aquarium with nothing but invertebrates is still quite spectacular, but even the most ardent coral-heads throw in a few fish just to make the display look more authentic. While marine invertebrates are by far the most diverse, they offer the greatest challenges to the retailer because they demand very specific requirements in order to remain healthy. Competition in the marine phase of the hobby is quite intense so, if you are going to follow that path, you should have the location, the space, the personnel, the expertise and the money to outclass your competitors.
As an entry-level item, nothing could be better than a freshwater ornamental shrimp habitat. I suggest these to anyone who is searching for something different or exotic in the world of freshwater. The cost to get involved is not prohibitive. The success rate is high. The enjoyment is high. The cost of maintaining is low. The cost of the animals themselves is reasonable. Shrimp rarely attack each other, so there is very little drama. If customers enjoy the shrimp, they can easily add another small environment. And, without too much trouble, the shrimp will reproduce and you can end up with more animals than you started with. It’s a win-win situation. Anyway, who doesn’t like shrimp—small or large! PB