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Old 03-04-2003, 09:45 AM   #1
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Advice for my store

I am in the process of opening a custom aquarium and fish store in my area. I am tired of going to other pet stores and seeing crappy setups and diseased fish. Since I am going to be catering to the enthusiast, I would like to hear any comments or suggestions you might have.

What are some of your biggest complaints you have about LFS?

What are some things you wish your LFS did?


Any comments are welcome!

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Old 03-04-2003, 10:35 AM   #2
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Opening up a can of worms are we?

I would say the worst thing for a LFS to me is lack of knowledge..

I would say that a LFS would be a place to go for advice on keeping aquariums.

Most of course are in it for the money, that is great but, sometimes, I could just slap the owners of some LFS, overhearing some of the things that they tell their customers just to make an extra dollar or two.... JMHO
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Old 03-04-2003, 10:47 AM   #3
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Well that's one of my problems around here. There is no such thing as good advice. Most of these people will sell you a fish and a bag of dog food with no concern for either.
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Old 03-04-2003, 12:09 PM   #4
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How about stocking items the consumer wants and not just what the owners like.

75 gal. Reef & 30 gal. Anemone Tanks.

I get paid for what I may have to do, Not for what I do!
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Old 03-04-2003, 12:20 PM   #5
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Sell everything in a kit. Not a kit as in gravel, UGF, heater, etc, but a useful saltwater aquarium kit. In other words:

10G aquarium
30lbs sand (psuedo DSB)
20lbs LR
50W heater
Maxijet 400 or 600 PH

Come up with useful kits. Have a few established tanks with price breakdown of each or equipment used for each. Additionally, have books available, such as The New Marine Aquarium by Michael S Paletta and The Conscientious Marine Aquarist by Robert Fenner.

Be honest and customer service oriented. The better service you provide the more likely you will be to have repeat business or recommendations from people who do not buy from you. They will remember you for your service and their experience. And have a website where people can see your products and prices, such as Marine Depot does.
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Old 03-04-2003, 12:21 PM   #6
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Be honest! Do not be afraid to say, "I don't know, but I can find out."

Pay your employees what their knowledge is worth. (You can't draw experienced people paying minimum wage)

Charge a fair price for your merchandise.

Make sure you, as well as your employees, treat the fish in your store as you would if they were in your own home.

You will find it difficult to compete with online vendors, I would try not to. Make your store worth the extra dollar for it's knowledge and service.

Offer a guarantee on your live stock. It may cost you in the short run, but it will save you in the long run in repeat business.

Do not put your needs over the needs of the customer. You will make more money off of repeat regular (small sales), than one time large sales.

Try to match pricing of other LFS in the area.

Even if you don't stock it, be willing to get your fish customers other pet supplies, it is better for you to go to a little trouble and keep them out of other stores than to send them to another pet store.

Quality is what we are looking for, quality livestock, quality dry goods, quality advice and quality sevice.

Good luck and let us know how it goes.

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Old 03-04-2003, 12:32 PM   #7
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1. Have detailed explanations of the fish you carry. I will not forget the person that sold me a shovel-nosed catfish asking me if I had algae wafers for feeding. Sorubim Lima are well known carnivores that will settle for blood worms but prefer live feeders. There is so much misinformation about the habits, needs and desires of the different species that people lose fish from not feeding it properly, having the wrong water conditions, or not understanding their disposition.

2. Allow special orders. I have chosen my favorite LFS because they allow special orders if I need something (ie: my SAEs coming in today)

3. Don't carry painted glass fish, it automatically downgrades your LFS in many people's eyes that know these fish as injected, greatly decreasing their lifespan and all the while the dye fades. (sidenote - more info on "painted" fish is available at http://www.honors.montana.edu/~weif/.../painted.phtml)

4. Have display tanks that carry common fish you sell, and be willing to explain to newbies what elements of the system are in your tank (ie: heater, filter, lighting, etc.) It is one thing to explain to someone looking to join this hobby what he needs to do, it is a far greater thing to show him what he needs to do when he gets home.

On the business end -

1. Frequent buyer cards (like Petco and Petland have) encourage return business. I think Petland sells them for like $10, but then you get 10% off live purchases for a year.

2. Advertise, Advertise, Advertise. Coupons make money.

3. Hire people who enjoy animals, want to pass this joy on. There is nothing worse than an employee that is moody and brings it to work. Remind them they are their to do more than work a register, they are their to be a learning resource and should be glad to pass on their info.

Just a couple of ideas. Use them, or don't. You asked .
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Old 03-05-2003, 02:57 PM   #8
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I agree with all of the above... additionally:

- When I was getting into fish about 6 months ago and reading a ton on this board, I went to the LFS with some questions about what else I needed for my 55 gallon setup. He pulled out a bunch of stuff, most of which I know now I didn't need. When I asked him why I needed all that? He said "that's why I'm on this side of the counter". Totally condescending, and to a willing learner!!! I don't go there anymore, because he'd rather upsell an ignorant customer once than retain an educated customer long term.

Grr. Drove me nuts.
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Old 03-05-2003, 03:11 PM   #9
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When I asked him why I needed all that? He said "that's why I'm on this side of the counter".
This is the kind of %^&^ we can do without...exactly what I was talking about earlier.

Greet the customer, Be real, listen, advise with accuracy, thank the customer, give something for return business to show appreciation and you cannot go wrong...

Also, provide some good variety in live stock. I find here, most LFS get a stock list and don't budge. Same thing week after week after week etc....
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Old 03-05-2003, 03:27 PM   #10
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Knowledge of what they sell is a biggie for me, quite a few weeks ago we bought a sponge, the guy took it out of the water! Fortunately for him he wasn't a complete loss but still had to do some amputation. Our LFS doesn't list everything that is in the tank, so guess what, you have to point to something and then hope that the person helping you knows what you are talking about. Even the owner isn't that knowledgeable, I asked him if he had a smaller piece with zooanthids on it, he showed me a rock that was starting to grow a type of macro algae, I had to go and show him the larger rock I was referring to, he said Oh! you want that? I will give it to you for 15 bucks, well ok I didn't need the big piece, but you bet I went for it.

Ok, here's another suggestion, this site has really helped us, I think even giving them a card with this web address on it would help anyone just starting out or even the most knowledgeable JMO
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Old 03-05-2003, 08:45 PM   #11
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your store...

People come into the store I help out at all the time and say "I bought some fish at Walmart and all my fish died" ( I hope I can't get into any trouble for mentioning their name in such a way but it's the truth. They have everything at good prices but have no one to work the fish department properly. Then, all their tanks are connected so when one fish gets sick they all do and no one is there to even notice. So they sell fish that are already sick. So... don't connect all the tanks you have. When you get fish in from your supplier, watch them for a few days before selling them to the public to make sure they are healthy.
Another thing we will be trying at our store is having contests. The first one we will have is to change the name of the store. We will offer a prize of some sort... then we plan on having coloring contests for the kids. Have them draw pictures of their pets, that sort of thing. Also, be prepared to deal with the weirdos out there. Our store is in a small town and we can get some strange people in there. Some of them you don't ever want to see again but they are your customers... to a certain degree you must be patient with them... Another thing you may want to do is talk to fishfreek about a poster kind of thing they worked out for me. Oh yeah, childproof the best you can. I know it's almost impossible but lofs of parents come in and let their kids go crazy. They open things, steal things, and stick their hands in the tanks and anywhere else they can... Good luck....
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Old 05-11-2003, 11:59 AM   #12
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Know what your selling, and have a very wide variety of aquatic animals. plants and fish. My LFS just has goldfish livestock although they have whatever supplies you need for tropical fish. If people come in to check out all the interesting fish they will end up buying somthing or recomending your store.
My fish will kick your fishes butt
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Old 05-11-2003, 04:09 PM   #13
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i personally am so tired of buying things that "should" be reef safe and then having to try to remove them from my tank after feeding them an expensive meal...a good example of that is the purple lobster i bought (yep a newbie) had to remove my rock to get him out...another thing i would love to have is someone that would order things for me.
like pictures? visit
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Old 05-11-2003, 04:52 PM   #14
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Knowledge is obviously important. Keeping the right things are also important. All of this has been covered in previous posts in this thread. To repeat what has been said again, SERVICE is what will determine your success. You cannot compete with online retailers. They sell it for just slightly more than you can buy it for. People have to know that you can handle their problems and give them personalized advice. Brandon and I have both gone to customers houses before to solve problems with tanks. Needless to say, these folks come back to the store again and again.
Set up your tanks so they will run properly. This will cost more up front, but it'll be worth it. I would, despite the possibility of infection, set most of the tanks up on a central filtration system. You are gonna be putting in some long days with this and you wouldn't believe the time it take to change carts in 100 separate filters...not to mention the money. We almost never have any trouble with sick fish. Have hospital tanks in the back in case you do have trouble with a fish. Make sure you have good access to the top of the tanks...this was one mistake we made and it can really be a problem. Believe it or not, the way you set up the tanks can make or break you. In the SW section, have some FO tanks and some FOWLR tanks. In the FO tanks, you can put sick reef fish in for copper treatment if needed without killing off the tank. Just a few things we have learned the hard way.
Logan J
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Old 05-11-2003, 09:22 PM   #15
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Everything that I thought of has already been said, but there is one more thing:
Take good care of your bettas!!! No cups that are so dirty you can't even see if there is a fish in there!

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Old 05-15-2003, 12:36 AM   #16
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I could write you a book on this subject based on my experiences over the last five and a half years. Just to name a few do's and don'ts.....

1. Service is by far the single most important factor that will determine whether or not you are successful. To complicate this, it is very hard to find good employees that care half as much about your store as you do. If you provide a customer with helpful, friendly, personalized service they will usually come back. However, it doesn't take but one or two bad experiences and they are going elsewhere and probably telling several other people what happened.

2. Assess the market in your area. Though you may think this is the greatest hobby ever and spend half your weekly paycheck on fish and supplies, if others in your area don't think somewhat in this way then you will end up with a big expensive fish room to spend lots of time at your hobby....going broke.

3. Don't expect to get rich from owning a LFS. It just ain't gonna happen. You better love it because you will spend many hours there and some weeks barely cover your overhead.

4. Know the products you sell. If you don't have knowledge of and confidence in what you are selling it is hard to explain to others how it will help them.

5. Be active in the community. Let school groups come for field trips or donate a gift certificate to local school function. Things like this let everyone know you care about important things in the community and it is a good way to let people know about you.

6. Keep a diverse selection but within reason. Carry oddball stuff but mix it up time to time. People get tired of seeing the same type fish every time they come in so choose a couple of oddballs each week or so to keep it interesting. You will never be able to meet everyone's wishes. There's always someone who wants something you don't have. Offer special orders but be sure to get money down!

7. Keep your tanks up. A lot of people will come in just to look. If they see nice looking tanks with healthy looking fish they are more likely to want to start a fish tank of their own. When someone is new to the hobby spend as much time as neccessary to get them on the right track. Otherwise, they will get tired of continuous failure and their tank will end up in storage.

8. Service, Service, Service...........did I mention Service?

Good Luck!
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Old 05-15-2003, 12:47 AM   #17
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Have some newbie tanks set up. Just some basic tanks which are fairly cheap for a beginier. Sell a complete package with the fish and all, but make the fish redemable only after a period of time so the tanks have time to cycle. Also be sure to start a photo wall. Let people showcase their creations in your store as an inspiration to others.
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Old 05-15-2003, 03:15 AM   #18
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tell people about this site. so they can see that what your trying to sell them is something they are actually going to need and not just something that is high cost and useless. one of the first lfs's i went to turned me onto reefcentral and said before i buy anything to check into this site and ask some questions so i didn't get alot of stuff i didn't need. i tell you what i still go to that store today. and believe me it is not the best store around it is very old and most of the livestock is rundown. however i will go into there and buy drygoods whenever i'm in need because i know they aren't going to rip me off.
"The brighter you are, the more you have to learn."
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Old 05-15-2003, 03:54 AM   #19
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A few ideas for you (good ideas from other types of businesses but I haven't seen them in my lfs).

When I go to a good liquor store to buy wine, they always have a bunch of books I can browse to help me pick a good wine. Perhaps you could set up a podium with a fish encyclopedia and/or a few other books.

When I got my tatoo, the parlor gave me a little business card with instructions for how to take care of it for the next few weeks. Perhaps with kits you sell, you can have a little card detailing how to start (with a blurb about this site of course )

And I'm sure I don't have to tell you this, but please take care of the fish!!! If I walk into a pet store and see dead or obviously dying fish in a tank, I walk right back out. Petsmart in this area is terrible for that! The locally owned fish store closest to me had around 50 tanks, and not one of them had a bed of gravel! The tanks were completely empty except for fish! Needless to say I did not shop there. I drive about 45 minutes to Rick's pets in Frederick because I never see a dead fish in any of the tanks, the owner has a replacement policy (7 days) that I have never (knock on wood) had to use, and the fish are all set up in their natural habitats, and most importantly (and another idea for your store), he has a few "fish not for sale" tanks completely set up that are awesome to look at and give excellent ideas for tanks.

One more idea (I should open up my own place ). A replacement policy is good business, but I think Rick's pets policy is very smart. He wants you to bring a sample of tank water along with the fish so he can test it and see if the tank water is to blame or the fish. Once again, however, I have not, so far, had to use the return policy
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Old 05-15-2003, 11:47 PM   #20
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No offence but opening a store just because the other stores in your area are not good, may not be a good enough reason. Selling fish only is a seriously non-moneymaking hobby, expecially for small stores. i doubt you will be able to get in rare specialty fish for enthusists, keep them alive, and sell them for profit. no matter how you cut it, business is cut throat. you will go in with good intentions, but leave feeling as though you cant make money by being honest.

if you're happy with no profit, go for it. otherwise, i would put a little more thought into what you are getting yourself in to. a lot of bitter people come out of owning fish only stores.


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