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Old 01-24-2007, 08:18 AM   #1
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Starting my own LFS. Advice??

Hi guys,

I am a teacher in the UK and i have been keeping fish for a while now. I am seriously considering ditching the whole teaching idea and opening my own aquatics store. Does anyone have any advice?
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Old 01-24-2007, 08:27 AM   #2
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Well, don't lie to your customers would be the first thing!
Also, starting up a business in the UK is not as easy as it sounds (or as easy as Dragon's Den would have you believe -> that's only television after all).
Market research, and more importantly funding: where are you going to get the money from to start up? Commercial property costs money (either to rent or buy), stock costs money, and a bank is not going to lend anything if the idea is not innovative enough or you don't have capital of your own to put forward first. If you have an LFS nearby, you would have even less chance of securing support from a bank.
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Old 01-24-2007, 08:33 AM   #3
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Thanks for the swift response.

I wouldn't lie, i don't believe in it. And believe me when i say that i am not as naive as to have watched Dragon's Den once or twice and then thought i would start my own business!

My wife started her own business 15 years ago and she has had ups and downs so i am aware of at least some of the difficulties in starting up.

I do have a small amount of capital to put in but i would need to secure some kind of small business loan from a bank. I don't have any aquatics stores really near to me so i don't think there's be much of a cross over of custom.

I have been looking into the kinds of qualifications which would be useful. Any advice on those?
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Old 01-24-2007, 03:16 PM   #4
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No qualifications required (bizarrely) although you may want to look at some of the OATA certification available: I'd recommend that, and considering membership within the OATA, beyond the difficult process of actually starting up!
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For expert advice check out these great sites:
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Old 01-24-2007, 03:32 PM   #5
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carry things YOU use and the things you don't learn everything about them, my LFS doesn't know anything about the products they sell
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Old 01-24-2007, 04:00 PM   #6
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Well that just seems silly. My Father always used to say, "know your onions" I guess this was what he was referring to.
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Old 01-24-2007, 04:37 PM   #7
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There's a huge difference in being captivated by a hobby, and being forced to make a living from it. Have you ever worked at an LFS? Before you take the plunge it would be a good idea to work at one for awhile. Gain experience. Learn some of the ins and outs, and then see if it's for you.
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Old 01-24-2007, 05:25 PM   #8
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Good advice Brian, thanks.
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Old 01-24-2007, 05:43 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Smidge
Well that just seems silly. My Father always used to say, "know your onions" I guess this was what he was referring to.
Now I know where the title of the Shins' song "Know Your Onion" comes from. Thanks.

Also, best of luck if you decide to open up your own LFS!
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Old 01-24-2007, 06:06 PM   #10
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I would like to see a LFS that actually knows what their talking about and cares about their stock. I hate seeing potentially large fish or sensitive ones being bought because i immediately think they'll die.
I know i shouldnt really think that because the buyer may be a good fish keeper or a very experienced one but as a seller i would ask a few questions about where the fish is going.
I've only ever heard someone ask a question once and it was "how long have you had the tank" even then he got a funny look and had to justify why he said it by saying "just out of interest" As a seller i would like to know where the fish are going and how much experience the buyer has, i'm sure fishkeepers would also like to be asked questions as it shows they care about their stock. I dont mean, the second they ask for fish you start asking them as it would feel like interogation but as you walk over, open the tank, fill the bag etc...

HTH and good luck if you do start your own business!
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Old 01-24-2007, 08:46 PM   #11
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lfs make alot of money off of saltwater fish, are you proficient in that?
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Old 01-24-2007, 09:02 PM   #12
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Working in a lfs is excellent advice. Running a business can cause conflict with the "right" decisions in fish keeping. Most lfs's are the way they are because they realize that in order to make money at their business they have to do what it takes to survive. Unfortunately that can mean not always following perfect fishkeeping advice. For example, very few lfs's would grill a customer on their tank specs before selling certain types of fish to them. In an ideal world this would be great, in a business world, this would not be good. Many things to keep in mind when wanting to take a love of a hobby to a means of financial support.
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Old 01-25-2007, 08:45 AM   #13
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Zagz hit it right on the head. LFS' like most businesses make their money through turnover. That is selling their product. Most would go out of business if customers followed a fishless or very structured fish cycle. Most would also go out of business if they didn't sell all the water "conditioners" and pH "adjusters" and medications that are dangerous to use except in specific cases. Without these money-makers, a LFS is in need of a different angle that will be tough to manage.

Here is what I would want to see if I was envisioning my own store (in order of importance):

1. Pristine conditions in the tanks. Quality OVER quantity. I don't want to see every species ever bred/captured, I want to see a good selection of healthy fish that are not overstocked. I want the species in the tanks to be compatible. No fancy guppies and tiger barbs, no cichlids and goldfish, you get the idea. And I want the tanks to be well-maintained (no dead fish, no poo on the substrate/bottom, and would prefer for there to be SOME decoration/hiding spots in the tank (these can easily be removed before selecting fish). I love PetSmart's cards on the tank that tell about the species in the tank. I just wish they were accurate. I would group the fish by tank size. Something like 10 gallon, 20 gallon, 55 gallon, 100 gallon. Make it obvious when entering the next area. Don't put the bala sharks next to the guppy's, don't put the ghost knife next to the tetras. Buyers will ALWAYS gravitate towards the fancy fish regardless of whether they can maintain the fish as it gets larger. They plan on *upgrading* down the road of course.

2. Know your stuff or be honest There are so many times I hear people talking out of their arses either outright lying or making stuff up to sound smart. Just admit you have limits. Recommend a forum like this to your customers for specific questions you cannot answer, and many more people will respect you. Keep an open mind, take everything with a grain of salt, and constantly try to improve your education of the species you house, interactions, disease, etc.

3. Teach proper procedures If I had my own store I would have stacks of printouts with simple step by step instructions for doing common tasks in the hobby. I bet 90% of the fishkeepers improperly do PWC's (don't match temp, add too much/too little/no dechlor, change too little, use distilled water etc). Same goes for feeding. You can tell them anything in the store, but once they get home, have to cook dinner, or take their kid to practice, or have a bad day, they will forget (or worse *think* they remembered what to do). If they have a piece of paper with the simple how-to's they will be much better off.

4. Sell seed material This one comes down to pure greed IMO. LFS' make money from selling stuff, if the fish die the first couple times, they sell more fish. Profit! There is a HUGE market for seed material, just look at how many people post in the getting started forum that the LFS won't give them gravel, filter pieces, etc. If I had my own shop I would offer (at a markup of course) preconditioned seed material for a new person to the hobby. Imagine walking into a store and being told you need to wait a couple weeks with an empty tank for things that eat fish waste before you can get a tank. They will never come back to your store. Now imagine you tell them most of their fish will die if they just put them in a new tank, but surprise, I happen to have a fully seeded filter of your exact spec in the back that I can sell you. Have the house filtration system run through a sump setup with a hodgepodge of filter media from most/all of the filters you sell. I'd select one or two well established and recognized filters to make things easier (say AquaClear, Hagen, and Rena).

5. Highly reccomend liquid test kits Demonstrate how to use them for the main tests. Show them how easy and how little time/effort it takes. Some will still refuse it, but some people will like the fact that YOU gave them the power to monitor their own tank levels. They don't need to run into the store with a cup of water and have you test it to tell them there is/isn't a problem, they can do it themselves. This empowers your customers to be more involved and wise.

6. Refuse a sale At least in the US its your right to do so. Impress on them that you care about the fish too much to sell one when you know its not the right thing to do. Sure they might get pissed, and storm out, but I can tell you that if anyone was in earshot, they will/should respect you for it. I know I would.

Just my thoughts...
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Old 01-25-2007, 11:06 AM   #14
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Wow, great advice! Thanks so much you guys!
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Old 01-25-2007, 11:49 AM   #15
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Why stop at a store? Instead of just giving people a place to shop, provide a service for them. Tank setup and maintainance is a goldmine just waiting to be tapped. Then, not only do you profit off of your product, but you charge either a flat or hourly rate for onsite service. $$$$
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Old 01-25-2007, 12:06 PM   #16
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Here is the deal: I (and many in the hobby) would drive great distances and pass a hundred regular fish stores to get to the one store that has a GREAT selection of unique fish, always has healthy looking stock, AND has a knowledgeable staff. I have only been to a handful of stores like this. Finding the balance between your "bread and butter" sales and the kind of stock that you know may take longer to sell but will command a higher price due to its high quality (like exotic cichlids that are past the juvenile stage) is a tough one for a lot of folks. You may need to sit on it for a while before it actually gets sold, but when it sells it will be for ten times the price of your regular stock. I would also stock many replacement parts for equipment, or things like generic chunks of foam for the DIY'er, because not everyone wants to shop online and if I could get a replacement intake tube strainer for my canister filter just by going down to your store instead of having to wait for it in the mail, that would be nice. Unfortunately, this again falls under the "stock you sit on for a while" category. These items take up real estate and don't give you much in return (except a satisfied customer).

Also, STUDY THIS FORUM and ones like it to see the trends and offer products geared towards us. If you attract the experienced hobbyists, the rest will be easy. Maybe set up a few different display tanks; a nano reef, a nano planted, a nice big mbuna tank, a large planted tank full of rainbows/farlowellas... This will give people ideas past the goldfish in a bowl, and generate sales and a greater interest in the hobby.

Just a few thoughts. Good luck!
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Old 01-25-2007, 12:22 PM   #17
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Again great advice Sicklid, thanks

Oh and Justrelax, that is a fantastic idea!!!
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Old 01-26-2007, 07:56 PM   #18
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LOTS of capital....I suggest a good 150,000£-200,000£ to start....you would be amazed at how expensive both live and drystock is to buy enough to make your store look decently stocked. And this from someone who has done it.
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Old 01-27-2007, 12:43 PM   #19
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again, do you have any sw experience? lfs make a good bit of their money from sw fish
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Old 01-27-2007, 02:43 PM   #20
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Quote:
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again, do you have any sw experience? lfs make a good bit of their money from sw fish
Not really....the mark-up on SW fish is not as high as you would imagine, and the mortality-rate is higher, so profit margin is about the same at best....most of the money is made with dry-stock.
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