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Related Articles: Stocking a BusinessDrygoods in Business, Livestocking a Business, Fish Food Business, Selling Aquarium Set-ups, Selling Tank Set-ups Right, The Mini-Reef Revolution, Custom Aquariums, Aquarium Lighting, Selling Aquarium Filtration, Freshwater Filters, Saltwater Filters, Pumps (air and water), Ultraviolet Sterilizers, Fish Food  & Feeding Accessories, Merchandising Corals and Shells

/Go Rin No Sho of Business

The Mini-Reef Revolution


By Bob Fenner


What is it? The biggest boon to the aquatics trade since all-glass aquaria! Emphasis on "Miniature Reef" retailing pays off big in large, repeat sales of medium to high tech equipment and livestock. Presented here are some ideas for you on how to expand and exploit this market.


First a snapshot of the background of reef-keeping attempts. Since aquaristics began, folks have tried to maintain live marine reef life. Algae, corals, sea fans and other invertebrates and fishes that lived in close conjunction with them proved to be touchy to impossible to keep alive. Various anomalies and influences were put to blame with "poor water quality" the problem by consensus.

Through parsimonious application of "sewage treatment" technology and other ancillary refinements, salt-water keeping has emerged/evolved from a few western European to a virtual deluge of new products and services supporting a burgeoning "reborn" marine interest.

What it is: 

Basically two items: 1) Specialized appropriate filters & 2) Enhanced lighting are responsible for the explosion in reef keeping. Other helpful adjuncts are improved test kits, pumps, ozonizers, protein skimmers, foods and improved quality and quantity of livestock.

Systems and Components: 

Do you show and sell reef systems and components? You should; if you sell or expect to sell much in the way of marines. These outfits are comprised of the following:


Most "all-glass" and acrylic aquaria are usable. Some manufacturers provide pre-fitted tanks with overflow/skimming ability. If space and money are available allow at least one of these set-up and running for demonstration and one for resale.

Suppliers can be found for these and other mentioned gear in the PSM Buying Guide and Directory.


Should be measured to make sure they provide adequate space for filters behind or underneath, and enough extra space for other equipment and working around it.

It is strongly suggested that the insides of these stands be "finished" with some coating material to reduce water/rot damage.


The item of highest initial expense. In the tradition of my early training at Sears (yes, they used to have a fish department) I recommend you offer a "best" and a "medium" alternate in both under-the-tank and hang-on-the-back models.

Check through your hobbyist magazines and talk with hobby organizations in your area to discern which lines are most popular for which features. Set one of these up as the prominent display in your store. Clear acrylic doors allowing inspection of your reef's life-support system makes for a heady, convincing display. Add labels and history notes and your reef merchandise will sell itself.

Filter Media: 

Once again, I would stock two types, tops. It is my opinion that Mike del Prete's Bio-Pak is the supreme product for most applications, but through consideration of per unit cost and availability, you will have to formulate your own opinions.


A handful assortment of emersed and submersed pumps in a range of flow rates is necessary. Have connectors, thru-hulls, clamps and other related paraphernalia on hand for resale.


Here's an area with large profit potential. Stock a variety of broad spectrum lamps and fixtures in all sizes and wattages. Ready sales of timers, extension cords and the like can be added by stocking them near by.

Other Related Equipment:

 The "standard" marine aquatics array of test kits, hydrometers et al. should be supplemented with as much upper-end equipment as economically prudent. Reef hobbyists are serious, heavy spenders on electronic dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide, pH, reduction-oxidation potential and other kits. They don't balk at paying for higher quality salt mixes, foods and other dry goods. A typical reef set-up can run three-hundred dollars a square foot finished.

Make a reef-retail-area in your store, if possible in it's own glass case.

Books and Videos and Magazines: 

On reef topics are hot. Rent those videos out! Thiel's and Moe's books in particular are gold mines of information and inspiration. Offer reprints of popular articles from hobbyist and scientific periodicals.


Who would have thought you'd be selling "live-rock"? Algae, live corals and a myriad of other inverts and fishes are intended for reef systems. Check through your suppliers as to what's hot and available.

Resale fishes and mobile inverts should not be sold out of your display tank(s). These are better housed in their own system, separate from your other marine livestock where no copper is used and the specific gravity is high (.025). If possible, procure a "wall-unit" with independent compartments for ease of display and catching out. Octopus, crabs, lobsters and some species of shrimp are best shown in plastic jars with flow holes.


Of reef units, dry goods, & livestock is simple. These systems are so bright and beautiful, with bizarre shapes, motion and color combinations that simply positioning a well-lit display unit draws customers and sells. If at all possible place this tank in a light-subdued area, visible at night through your windows.


This is a booming, rapidly evolving portion of our trade. There are whole Miniature Reef Stores in Europe, Canada, Asia and the U.S.. It will be necessary to continuously educate yourself and your staff in order to stay on top of the latest and greatest in the reef craze.

The potential for profit and promotion of related sales is obvious and enormous. If you haven't developed your own miniature reef revolution yet, get going!


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