Thanks for the feedback, I do appreciate it.
Keeping in mind that I'm not the owner, I'm a part time employee - so I don't make top level decisions:
I've been in the retail side of the hobby for about 20 years now, and the club and internet side for almost as long. I've worked in big box stores, small regional chain stores, and small mom-and-pop stores.
In my first stores, the fish were there to drive dry good sales - back then there were no internet stores, and the profit margin on dry goods was excellent. Now I'm in a store where the livestock is the focus and the drygoods are considered convenience items for our livestock customers.
The business is constantly evolving.
Especially here in Mass, where we have a huge # of fish clubs in easy driving distance AND big box stores galore, small independent stores need to find their niche.
The clubs (and sites like this one) are not the competition - they're our partners. And its not about the short term sale (at least to me) -- its about building a relationship with a customer but more importantly - its about building the hobby.
(a few years ago, I read in FAMA that something like 80% of new aquarium keepers quit in less than one year - and I think thats because stores are looking for fast profits and customers are chasing low prices not knowledge)
anyway - back to my point - there have always been aquarists trading high quality livestock outside of retail channels - that's why the BAS is coming up on its 100 year anniversary. As a store, we need to find our niche, and looking around and at the space we had, it wasn't going to be Cichlids (Ned), and we wanted to avoid trying to compete with the big box stores.
When we were in Boston I had at least one customer a day who wanted to know why I didn't have 99 cent fish like Petco or Petsmart.
Instead we wanted to build a store where you could buy quality WILD cardinals (buy a fish save a tree - Piaba
), microrasboras, scarlet badis, licorice gouramis, etc, plus a variety of plants for low or high light tanks.
ok, back to your feedback...
Part of the plan was to sell plants online - when we were in our warehouse location, our website was a bigger part of the business plan, and I had the plant system setup so that our e-tail manager could easily pick and ship plants - thats part of why I have 4 plant tables setup even though we're really only using two at the moment. Our website is built around WYSIWYG coral sales and we'll be picking up online again once things warm up.
I'd like to bring in more shrimps - but with only twelve 15g tanks to play with I'm taking things slow - I really want those tanks running about a year before I try anything more delicate or expensive than crystal reds, especially since I'm only there 1 day a week. I've got a few leads on some sources of imported shrimps but for the most part, our typical wholesalers don't carry much beyond the vanilla shrimps.
again - TPT isn't a competitor, any more than BAS, TFSRI, NHAS, PVAS, and the AGA are. Its a place where people get together. No business, anywhere, can plan to compete with individuals selling things privately - those individuals don't have the overhead of licenses, insurance, payroll, taxes, etc (is anybody paying MA state sales tax on those sales ?
We carry a few brands of rimless tanks, but like many small shops, we don't have space for large inventory. So brands that require a direct purchase of a pallet of tanks all at one aren't feasible -- we stick with the brands our wholesalers carry, knowing that if we order it by Sunday we'll have it by Wed without needing to store it and possibly break it.
Especially since we still have a storage unit full of stuff from when we moved that we just don't have space for.
Eventually we'll be carrying more higher priced fishes (locally bred apistos and rams for example) but nowhere near the prices of the saltwater fishes or corals. And you're right - having fish that other stores don't is key - that's that puts the Unique in UA - and that's a big focus for us.
I wish we could have more fw tanks -- we went from about fifty 15/20g tanks, eighteen 40g tanks, and twenty 75g tanks to a dozen 15g tanks. But that's a limit we're stuck with right now in this location.
I agree about the narrow aisles - I wish they were wider (I'm not exactly a small person) but that's part of trying to fit as much livestock as we can in a small footprint.
I do feed a little dry food - especially stix for the shrimps and plecos - when I first get in. But we also feed mostly frozen food, and the marine mix includes garlic and spirulina so we let it "meld" a little before feeding.
But so many of our fish need to be fed all day long - especially the pipefishes, seahorses, and anthias - that we're pretty much feeding somebody all day long.
That being said - nobody should be slam-banging thru the aisle while feeding.
so, all in all - thanks for the feedback, it's good to hear what people think. Some of what you suggested is already in the works, and all of it was listened to and appreciated.
Originally Posted by PlantedTankRookie
Tough is right.
Merely suggestions, take them or leave them, it is only my perspective as a customer. There will be some local buyers who will try to keep the local shop going, but it usually isn't enough to keep going.
1. Plants can be bought from other forum members for less $$, more variety, and much greater convenience. The convenience is significant. Here are my two options: a) Drive 35 minutes to Tewksbury on a Saturday or Sunday to buy locally (which I did, once) b) sit on my couch and browse TPT, submit an order via paypal, and wait a few days for it to arrive. Option b has zero interference with the rest of my life. If you're going to sell plants, you better sell them online to supplement the local business.
2. FW shrimp buyers are usually trying to start their own colony, which translates into very little repeat business and the possibility of a local competitor (if the colony is successful) If you're going to sell FW shrimp, focus on the rarer higher priced varieties. Varieties we can't get from a dozen or more TPT members. You may have success with the cheaper shrimp during cold weather because of shipping problems, but once it warms up, and shipping becomes easy, there will be too many competitors.
3. Ditto on the snails. What would get me to drive to Tewksbury again? Colorful or horned nerite snails (reasonably priced). Something rare that you can't find all over TPT for low $.
4. TPT is your main competitor. Perhaps high volume and cheap prices can get you a piece of the pie (selling on TPT, not locally).
5. One more thing that may get me to drive to Tewksbury in the future: Nice competitively priced rimless tanks. Although, I can already get this from Aquaful and he is a bit closer to me. Others more local to Tewksbury may be interested though.
There just isn't enough margin in FW fauna/flora. Way too much volume is required to be profitable.
There are way too many competitors on TPT; hobbyists just trying to minimize their own out of pocket expense to the hobby. Too many FW flora/fauna can be raised without difficulty so many people have these to offer.
Basically, think about what make the salt water business successful: higher priced items (so more profit margin available), difficult to breed (so little availability from the average hobbyist), and massive variety (so you can have different live stock than the shop next door).