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Old 05-19-2015, 08:07 PM   #1
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How to Improve Big Pet Store Chains

Okay, I am looking for ideas.

I am a school teacher M-F. Paying a mortgage and living alone makes my money go pretty quickly. So, I applied for a job at a local, big chain pet store; I am not going to name it, but I bet you could guess.

Anyway, they hired me as an aquatic specialist and have given me control of the fish department, as there are not a lot of people there with any experience.

Before I went in for the interview, I took a hard look at all their tanks and took a lot of mental notes. Frankly, the place has a lot of issues and I am kind of excited to go in there and fix it up.

The first order of business will be to put a stop to sales from one group of 12 tanks. The way they are set up, the tanks share water in groups of 12. This one group of 12 had ich as well as a fish with a fungal infection. I checked their water test results, and they showed zero across the board, which is very unlikely. They are still selling fish from these 12 tanks and not treating!!

Aside from fixing the current issues, I want to come up with ideas/suggestions for improving the department. What would you like to see at a chain store?

A couple things I am planning to do so far are: refuse sales of fish that are not appropriate for the customer's tank, educate people on how to cycle their tank and what that means, and suggest quality products.

I also have a couple other ideas. I want to keep a tank for seeded media. This would likely entail a perpetual fishless cycle and running a lot of ammonia through an empty tank and maintaining a huge bacteria colony. Then squeezing out media into bags for people starting off.

Another idea I have is to try to improve the quality of life for the Bettas. They have a large display of them, all in tiny plastic bowls. Some of them have been there for a long time. I would like to reduce the number of Bettas they keep in the store. I also would like to set up a couple of tanks as displays, examples of happy-Betta setups.

I am not really sure how much I will be allowed to do. I was only offered the job today and have not begun working there, yet...but I am hopeful that they will give me some freedom to do good work. If they don't, then I will just quit. That is the beauty of a job that I do not really need.

Anyway, sorry for the long post. Please do offer suggestions on what you would like to see the big chain stores do differently.

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Old 05-19-2015, 08:19 PM   #2
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That's great you want to make improvements but be aware of this:

Bad customers will just go to the manager to get their fish from you. I've seen it happen quite a few times. The employees at my LFS know that it's not compatible or won't work but they want to keep their jobs. Unless you have a very understanding manager you might have to let some slip to be on the good side of management and not let go within days.

When I was all angry at chain stores once upon a time I had a great idea of making brochures that explain the importance of cycling and basic fish care. They should be handed out with each fish sale and advise customers to read it.

That's my 2Ę


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Old 05-19-2015, 08:26 PM   #3
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Thanks, Caleb. I was assured that I will have authority to refuse sales and to override sales of other employees. Still, it would be naive to think they are going to let me have full control...but ****, if I am not going to do things my way. I have zero worries about telling them to go kick rocks.

I was actually thinking about handing out info on the cycling process. Do you think that keeping a tank of seeded media could work? Hell, it could be a plastic tub in a closet.
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Old 05-19-2015, 08:29 PM   #4
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I could see a manager giving me trouble over this...but I am not going to let any slip while I am there. If that means I quit on day 1, then I am ok with that.
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Old 05-19-2015, 08:38 PM   #5
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Right on thing fish,
Hope you can make a difference
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Old 05-19-2015, 09:20 PM   #6
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I could see a manager giving me trouble over this...but I am not going to let any slip while I am there. If that means I quit on day 1, then I am ok with that.

If anything you might could let some slip and let management know you are knowledgeable and know what you are doing then they may let you make the critical decisions more often.


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Old 05-19-2015, 09:50 PM   #7
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This is cool that you're doing this, and I really admire you for taking up the challenge. It's going to be hard but I'm sure you can make a difference. As far as it goes with bettas, it's going to be hard to set up a tank for a single fish, even just a few. I doubt that the managers even care. To be honest, my local big box store is not the best. There's only one guy who actually knows what he's doing, and he doesn't talk to a lot of people. Really the only reason behind having fish for the pet stores is money. They don't care about quality of fish or health, just $$$$$. That's the difference between a good LFS and just the average big box store. As far as improvements go (After you help the fish, of course) I'd work on plants. Plants can also get a lot of money and people like them. Plants are probably what I would base my LFS off of if I had one. Anyway, good luck and please keep us posted!
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Old 05-19-2015, 11:08 PM   #8
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My first suggestion would be to educate your fellow employees so that they can educate their customers as well. There is more to fish keeping than just cycling a tank. Yes, that's the start but it's hardly the end. Long term care is where most chain store customers are being short changed (IMO)
There's a + & - to keeping an established tank for cycling other tanks. There is the possibility of you inadvertently adding a disease or problem into a customer's tank via your live BB transfer which can cost the store a customer and give the store a bad reputation. I suggest educating the customer on fish in and fish less cycling and let them decide how they want to do it and where they can get their own BB cultures that are "safer" to use. Have the products available for them to purchase.
As for Bettas, if you do not want to keep them in the containers, put them in your display tanks to show customers that they CAN be kept with other fish but not with each other. HOWEVER, you will find, if you sell enough of them, the containers are the way to go. I'd just assign someone "water change duty" more frequently.

Fish selection is usually where Mom & Pop shops outshine Chain stores. If you can become a model store for "hobbyists" opposed to the general public and make the store more money, it may change things. ( You can't make a lot of money on $.99 fish but you can with higher ticket items if they are kept properly and advertised properly.)
Lastly, did I mention EDUCATE your employees? They are the direct link between the store and a happy customer or a mad customer/ ex customer.

These are just a few things. Wish you much success at the job. Hopefully "corporate" will listen.
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Old 05-20-2015, 09:23 AM   #9
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That would be a great thing if you can achieve. IMO if you could focus on key issues first, rather than trying to make it 100% perfect might be a better way to go.

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Old 05-20-2015, 11:17 AM   #10
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This is cool that you're doing this, and I really admire you for taking up the challenge. It's going to be hard but I'm sure you can make a difference. As far as it goes with bettas, it's going to be hard to set up a tank for a single fish, even just a few. I doubt that the managers even care. To be honest, my local big box store is not the best. There's only one guy who actually knows what he's doing, and he doesn't talk to a lot of people. Really the only reason behind having fish for the pet stores is money. They don't care about quality of fish or health, just $$$$$. That's the difference between a good LFS and just the average big box store. As far as improvements go (After you help the fish, of course) I'd work on plants. Plants can also get a lot of money and people like them. Plants are probably what I would base my LFS off of if I had one. Anyway, good luck and please keep us posted!
I agree that managers only care about $$$$. That's their job and its what their pay and bonuses are based on. I would try to find out how their performance is measured. If it's pure revenue, then you may have a harder time, and your manager may just want you to push fish no matter what. All depends on the corporate structure. Remember your manager it just taking orders from his manager.

That being said, it would be your job to educate you manager that selling fish to a bad environment would probably be a dead fish returned and after a couple of rounds of that now you are losing big $$$ based on the returned fish and lost business. It will hit your bottom line. Remember they hired you for your expertise and try to not let them be too short sighted.

I could write pages for you, but I don't want to bore you.
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Old 05-20-2015, 11:21 AM   #11
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Fish selection is usually where Mom & Pop shops outshine Chain stores. If you can become a model store for "hobbyists" opposed to the general public and make the store more money, it may change things. ( You can't make a lot of money on $.99 fish but you can with higher ticket items if they are kept properly and advertised properly.)
Actually you probably make the most on .99 fish. .99 fish are probably very common and your cost for those fish are probably .10-.20 cents. You probably make the most profits on the .99 fish. Plus people are probably buying a lot of .99 cent fish. The more expensive fish(more popular) there is probably less margin. Just an educated guess.
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Old 05-20-2015, 11:27 AM   #12
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Actually you probably make the most on .99 fish. .99 fish are probably very common and your cost for those fish are probably .10-.20 cents. You probably make the most profits on the .99 fish. Plus people are probably buying a lot of .99 cent fish. The more expensive fish(more popular) there is probably less margin. Just an educated guess.
Add longer shelf time and fewer demand. One point I'm not understanding is why there is a bashing on businesses saying they are behind $$$. Of course the reason why they exist is $$$. Even there are so many Charity organizations exist purely to make money.

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Old 05-20-2015, 11:38 AM   #13
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In the end it's always about money. Find a way to educate people and make sales to look good in the managers eyes and you will be set. After all, you were hired for your "expertise" might as well use it to your advantage.


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Old 05-20-2015, 11:42 AM   #14
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Add longer shelf time and fewer demand. One point I'm not understanding is why there is a bashing on businesses saying they are behind $$$. Of course the reason why they exist is $$$. Even there are so many Charity organizations exist purely to make money.

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Me too!

Petsmart for example, was able to easily get me into the fish keeping hobby. Yes they are big box. Yes they have teenage employees working in the fish department that don't care. But at my local one there are 2-3 good employees there I look forward to seeing.

When I got my GBR there, one of them asked me what fish were in my tank now. I told her I had come community fish. She said I would probably have a problem because it was a Cichlid and may be aggressive to them. I was impressed she said that and cared to ask. I explained their temperament and how if kept alone it should not be a problem based on my research. She was really appreciative of that information. It was a nice give and take.

You can make money, provide a good product and provide good customer service. Those things don't have to be separate. A mom and pop or big box can do all of these things if they put their mind to it.
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Old 05-20-2015, 11:48 AM   #15
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I could see a manager giving me trouble over this...but I am not going to let any slip while I am there. If that means I quit on day 1, then I am ok with that.
Sounds like you are going in there ready for a fight. I would ease into this let people get to know you. Make small changes over the course of a year. You are going to be seen as the "new person" not part of the crew for at least 6 months.

Also refusing sales is a bad business practice. Might be good for a single fish but bad for store and will give a bad reputation which will make a store suffer and they wont keep a manager that does that. Education is a better practice and don't stock fish that can't be kept in regular aquariums like Bala sharks, RTC, Colombian Shark Cats.

Remember not everyone is as into fish as us fish nerds most people just want something that looks nice.

Tips for improving.

1. Give weekly 15 minute all hands on deck meetings and teach something about a fish or keeping fish. Ask a question about the previous weeks session to see who remembers.

2. Tell your staff its ok to say " I don't know but I can find the answer" nothing worse than fish store employees giving bad advice.

3. Rotate new fish in as often as possible so many box stores have the same old stock.

4. If fish look sick put a sign up that says "not for sale these fish aren't up to our standards." until they are back to health.
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Old 05-20-2015, 11:48 AM   #16
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Actually you probably make the most on .99 fish. .99 fish are probably very common and your cost for those fish are probably .10-.20 cents. You probably make the most profits on the .99 fish. Plus people are probably buying a lot of .99 cent fish. The more expensive fish(more popular) there is probably less margin. Just an educated guess.
Having been both a wholesaler and a retailer myself, I can assure you you don't make that much on a $.99 "quality" fish. You need to sell a lot of them ( which is why most chain stores stock so many of them and not higher ticket items ) and they are usually the more popular fish as well so selling lots of them is easier. If you look at a "hobbyist" store vs a "Chain" store, you notice a very different clientel. One cares more about the quality of the fish being bought while the other worries more about the price they are paying. This has been my experience in my 40+ years career in the fish biz. Maybe things have changed of late? I just haven't seen it.
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Old 05-20-2015, 11:55 AM   #17
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Sounds like you are going in there ready for a fight. I would ease into this let people get to know you. Make small changes over the course of a year. You are going to be seen as the "new person" not part of the crew for at least 6 months.



Also refusing sales is a bad business practice. Might be good for a single fish but bad for store and will give a bad reputation which will make a store suffer and they wont keep a manager that does that. Education is a better practice and don't stock fish that can't be kept in regular aquariums like Bala sharks, RTC, Colombian Shark Cats.



Remember not everyone is as into fish as us fish nerds most people just want something that looks nice.



Tips for improving.



1. Give weekly 15 minute all hands on deck meetings and teach something about a fish or keeping fish. Ask a question about the previous weeks session to see who remembers.



2. Tell your staff its ok to say " I don't know but I can find the answer" nothing worse than fish store employees giving bad advice.



3. Rotate new fish in as often as possible so many box stores have the same old stock.



4. If fish look sick put a sign up that says "not for sale these fish aren't up to our standards." until they are back to health.

That's some great ideas I like this ^^^


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Old 05-20-2015, 12:10 PM   #18
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Having been both a wholesaler and a retailer myself, I can assure you you don't make that much on a $.99 "quality" fish. You need to sell a lot of them ( which is why most chain stores stock so many of them and not higher ticket items ) and they are usually the more popular fish as well so selling lots of them is easier. If you look at a "hobbyist" store vs a "Chain" store, you notice a very different clientel. One cares more about the quality of the fish being bought while the other worries more about the price they are paying. This has been my experience in my 40+ years career in the fish biz. Maybe things have changed of late? I just haven't seen it.
I am just curious, what do you think the wholesale price on a ".99" fish is?
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Old 05-20-2015, 12:54 PM   #19
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In my short experience I've been to 3 LFS 3 ******** and 2 *****stores. Of which only 1 ******* was good enough for me yo even stand there and watch the fish. And that's where I got my Orandas. I don't even want to talk about *****. And the LFS near my house for some reason always has sick Orandas. Rest of the fish seems to be okay, but the store stinks. The girl working there told me just buy the fish put a filter and you should be good !!! So I don't think LFS by definition means they know what they are talking. IMO if a hobbyist is in this business then he/she might do better a job of caring for the livestock. If it is a pure business person then they might treat the livestock as just an inventory than a living thing.
Back to OP's mission, being an hobbyist you will be a better person to deal with the livestock. At the same time just look at the overall culture of that business and tune your strategy to achieve your goal. As others said, you don't want go to extreme right away and loose the opportunity. Good luck in your mission.

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Old 05-20-2015, 01:04 PM   #20
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I am just curious, what do you think the wholesale price on a ".99" fish is?
Yeah Andy, how much do you sell your fish to the retailers for?


ps. Andy is probably the most experienced person here when it comes to the business of fish having been both a breeder and a retailer spanning decades.

The majority of those .99 fish are "bread and butter" fish and often is what pays the bills for a lfs. It is all the additional items; food, dry goods, etc that bring in more profit. Loss leaders, same as soda & beer. priced low to get you in the store.


I recently had a "discussion" with the owner a lfs who was constantly bemoaning how terrible business was.
The problem is that he has none of the common tropical, or "bread and butter" fish. He basically stocks what he likes, big cichlids, koi and fancy goldfish.
His salt section is more like a hatchery for ich, although he has some beautiful coral tanks.
Last time I was in there had had probably 70-100 4"-6" firemouth cichlids in there, who the heck is ever going too buy those, !??, he may sell one every 3 months or so. when I tried to suggest how to better utilize his floor space and stocking he got pissed off at me and complained that the little fish were not worth his time.


Funny thing is nobody is breaking down his door to buy what he does stock while a few miles away a store that always keeps all the "bread and butter" fish is ALWAYS busy from opening to closing.


sure the margins are low, but volume and add-on sales is how to make those .99 fish profitable.


Oh and I wasn't completely out-of-left-field criticizing that guy for how he ran his store considering he bought all the stock and equipment from the store I used to manage to start his.
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