Things I Learned While Running an Aquarium Store

I learned a lot of things when I managed a local fish store. Some things were what I expected and had already incorporated into my own tanks, but many things and observations about customers in general were very interesting. These are some of the most notable lessons learned:

You need a lot of money to start one.

Apparently fish don’t care what the temperature is during a water change. We did full cold water changes on our 220 pacu tank and the 220 African cichlid tank, so cold that the outside of the glass was frosty with condensation. This is an extreme and we were very lucky this didn’t kill all the fish or even cause a disease outbreak, so this is definitely not a suggestion.

People can’t read. They can’t read the times posted on the door that tell them when you are open. If the door is unlocked (doesn’t even have to be open) then they think you are open. Even if ALL the lights are off they will walk around looking in all the tanks like normal, even if nothing is visible. Apparently overhead lights off, no tank lights on, and no one around or greeting you doesn’t mean anything. That’s what we get for working while we are closed.

Air pumps will save your entire tank one day. The 220 African cichlid tank’s FX5 was full of sand and stopped running. The water became cloudy, but it stayed off for an entire week with no signs of any problems in the fish because we had such great aeration in the tank. This happened multiple times and in multiple tanks (including customers’ tank). Air pumps can definitely save your entire setup.

Certain live sands can cause a brown algae bloom in a reef tank (even just 20 pounds in a 700 gallon system).

You absolutely have to tell people to top off saltwater tanks with RO water and not saltwater, even if they have been doing it for a long time (and sometimes anemones can acclimate to a salinity of 1.045 if you are lucky).

No matter what the fanciest thing is in the entire store, kids will only remember the two foot pacus.

I love filters with a backwash option. Doing a water change on a fish system that has a backwash filter is amazing, the future of filters. To clean the filter while draining the tank with a pump at the same time is genius.

People love hormone colored peacock cichlids, even when you tell them their colors will fade soon (just have a few mature males in your display tank).

Stingrays will learn to eat New Life Spectrum food very quickly, within a week.

Most reefers won’t spend more than about $30 for almost any coral they will ever buy.

Don’t light your fish only tanks with VHO T12 bulbs unless you like algae more than fish.

Having room to walk behind your fish systems is amazing, and not being able to sucks.

Putting Estes Marine Sand in your display tanks will force you to have cases of it ready to sell (we had to keep about a dozen cases of various colors in storage ready to go).

People love Xenia.

People cut corners way too much on reef tanks.

People think that since their fish and corals are alive then they don’t need to improve anything.

You (think you) are a coral expert if your Xenia and Kenya tree corals grow quickly.

Bristlenose plecoes are your best friend. Put one in each tank in the store and you can cut an entire employee off your staff. Put one and a Mag-Float in every tank you service and you never have to algae wipe again (and the clients will love how much cleaner the tanks are).

Nassarius snails are amazing.

No matter what coral it is, people only like it if it is brightly colored and waves in the current. Even if it is a species with a horrible track record in captivity they will want it if it is bright and flows.

If people don’t know to call it coralline algae, don’t try to sell them a two-part calcium and alkalinity supplement or ask them to test either, just show them the Purple-Up.

Selling water sucks. It is time-consuming and not profitable, and way too many customers only ever buy water.

Some people will try to haggle over every price, some will even try to get you to not charge them taxes if they pay in cash.

People like peppermint shrimp way too much.

A diamond goby is irresistible to most saltwater keepers.

Everyone wants a bigger tank.

As long as someone comes in once they have been coming in for years.

If they come in twice they come in all the time and deserve a discount.

One of the best quotes was “Which of these corals is the easiest? I have tetras.”

The people who know and do the least will be the ones who come in with a bunch of cories that accidentally bred in their tank, not the guy who tries to do well and works hard at his tanks.

Emerald crabs will eat snails and hermits.

If you have been carrying electric blue crayfish for a while and can’t keep them in stock for even a week and then try some new types (like white and apricot crayfish) then your demand for cool crayfish will completely disappear.

Sell stuff that was given to you cheap. I have seen shops sit on large Oscars for months at $40-50 and never sell them. We would mark them for $10 each and sell every one of them in a week or two.

Feed everything New Life Spectrum (NLS) and your losses will decrease drastically. Tell people about it and your sales of NLS will skyrocket. If someone asks for Tetra or another cheap food, no matter what you say about NLS they will just say “They’re just mollies”.

Axolotls are lizards that will “jump at you like pit bulls”.

Even grown adults will go out in public wearing cutoff sweatpants and a ragged old T-shirt.

Some grown adults don’t own wallets, they just cram all their cash in their pockets.

Some grown men own Hello Kitty and Betty Boop credit cards.

People don’t understand that if they only ever ask you what to buy and then go home and buy it online that they will have nowhere to go in a couple years. It is a growing problem that people only spend money online. They come in and ask questions for 45 minutes or more, buy nothing, then come in the next week telling you how their nice LED light is coming in soon. Then they spend no more than $20 on coral frags and that is all they ever buy and can’t figure out why half the fish stores in the region have closed in the past two years.

People will always come in two minutes before you close, and most of them will be regulars who know your hours.

People will ask you if you have the same thing in stock time after time and when you finally get it in for them they won’t buy it.

People love Poly-Filter. It changes colors as it absorbs things so they know it is actually doing something (even if you can’t see a difference in the tank).

See Also: Tips for Selling in Retail