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FAQs About the Service Company Business of Pet-Fishing

Related Articles: Aquarium Service BusinessPond Livestock and Service Business by Bob Fenner

Related FAQs:  Pond Business, Aquatics Biz 1, Aquatics Biz 2,

Can you keep these animals alive? If not, you're not ready to be in the reef-keeping business.

Taking Over Tanks In Poor Health, Need Help – 11/19/15
Hey crew, Scott here.
<<Hey Scott, Eric here>>
I have recently moved and started in my new location with an aquarium service company. This company maintains only 400+ gallon systems
<<And you have enough of these to profit? Wow...and congrats>>
most of which are FO. I owned a maintenance company in my previous location for about 10 years with great success but all fowler and reef setups, all setups running very near 0 nitrates.
<<But not strictly necessary…or even desirable, when inverts are kept.>>
These new systems are running extremely high nitrates all over 60, most over 160.
<<Yeah, too much.>>

this is due I'm assuming (well more than an assumption) to the very inadequate filtrations.
<<And/or overstocking, perhaps?>>
Most have only 40-80 gal sump running about 10gal of worth of bioballs with no top off system so they are sometimes half submerge at time of service when they are topped off. This plus very undersized skimmers, carbon pads, uv sterilizer and filter floss pre-bioball. These tanks are also almost stagnant pools with very little flow using only open loop return pumps.

I am definitely not an expert on FO setups as I don't use them personally but I have seen similar setups on 90 gal tanks, I would assume these should be much larger.
<<Indeed…as it sounds these are proving inadequate for the stocking levels of the systems.>>
All fish are in poor health, most Angels and Tangs have HLLE to some extent and the others just don't look great having a variety of fin rot, bacterial infection, fungal infection etc.
<<Sad… And depending on stocking, there may also be social issues contributing to these complaints.>>
There is a large variety of fish in these tanks but doesn't seem to be much aggression,
puffers, eels, boxfish, triggers, groupers, and even sharks, rays, jacks, tarpon, redfish in our larger 100,000 gal+ waterways (the waterways are in good health with adequate filtration). They are all fat due to the over feeding, mostly mysis, brine, prawn, clam, and silverside, which I am trying to train the clients not to do (easier to train a fish to not eat I think).
<<Indeed…your customers see this as a great way to ‘interact’ with the fishes>>
I have reduced the amount of food and added some algae.
<<Even with the variety of foods offered, it’s likely I think there are nutritional issues at play as well. Do consider a food pre-soak such as Selco/Selcon when thawing frozen foods. There are vitamin supplement tablets available for the larger fishes/sharks/rays (Vita-Zu is one brand), and for those fishes that will accept them, I highly recommend New Life Spectrum pellets as part of their diet. Better/more nutritional feedings don’t solve your environmental problems, but it can help the fishes to deal with them better.>>
I'm not sure what to do with the filtration though.

I am limited on space because of the existing setups.
<<Then perhaps stocking reductions are your answer.>>
I am working with the clients to purchase a more adequate skimmer
<<Will help…>>
they are in sticker shock for now especially when they were told the ones they have are adequate.
<<I can imagine…but hopefully you will be able to convince these clients to put the fishes health at the forefront. Surely they can see the decline in appearance since they were obtained, if nothing else>>
I have slowly washed the excess bacteria in the bio towers and cleaned the gunk from the sump. I am working on solutions to increase the amount of trickle filtration and lower the water level so it's functioning properly and not starving the aquarium of oxygen.
<<A good skimmer will help re the oxygen levels. As for the trickle filtration, you may find ‘fluidized bed filters’ to be more efficient.>>
I have added gyres to increase the flow in the displays and surface agitation.
<<Ah! My favorite method of supplemental water movement…excellent!>>

floss is changed weekly as well as approx 30% weekly water changes until I can bring the nitrates down to a safer level, which I am catching flack over the cost, not just for salt but time spent as well.
<<I think you have your work cut out…going back to stocking levels, what you are doing in the short term may well need to become rote>>
I pulled the filter floss surrounded carbon bags
<<Seems there is a lot of filter floss in these systems. If it wasn’t properly maintained…..>>
and replaced them with carbon reactors
<<Another good move>>
to free up space and reduce nitrates they were giving off.
<<You do understand that even in a reactor, carbon quickly becomes a biological filter (and thus produces nitrate). Some will say carbon loses its efficacy in our systems within hours…certainly within days…I would change it as often as possible>>
I added Chaeto to the sumps as I'm afraid that's all the room I have for any kind of fuge,
although there is room on some for algae turf scrubbers which I will be incorporating. I have installed fluidized bed filters
as well but am limited in size. I would love to increase the sand bed depths as most are running at about 1’’-2’’ but that will be a huge undertaking for each of these 30 or so setups.
<<And not cheap>>
There is no way to convince them to go fowler with the thousands they spent on custom inserts. I have been able to bring down the nitrates quite a bit but not below 40.
<<I’m sure you are aware you are not going to be able to eliminate nitrate production. Aside from the skimmers, nearly all the filtration discussed (trickle filters, fluidized-bed filters, media reactors) are going to produce nitrate. I think you have probably hit on a big problem re the overfeeding and maintenance of the systems, but I keep wanting to go back to stocking levels. I surely don’t know how the stocking of these systems was managed, but if the client was left to pick and choose as they pleased, well, need I say? And considering the obstacles you face re the filtration equipment and kick-back from the clients on the costs to upgrade, I think you need to take a hard look at how these ailing systems are stocked (or, overstocked)>>
Is 20 and below a fair target or will I just be stuck at the 40+ level.
<<Most fish groups are fairly tolerant of nitrate levels up to 40ppm but I wouldn’t want to walk that fine of a line, myself. I would strive to get this down below 40ppm, though 20ppm may well be unachievable here, and maybe even an unnecessary goal>>
I need suggestions to maybe something I am overlooking,
<<Stocking levels?>>
or another filtration I should look into. I can't stand to see fish in such poor health.
<<It sounds as if you have done about the best you can under the circumstances…but do consider my comments re stocking levels (starting to sound like a broken record [grin])>>
Also when I do a rinse on the bio balls I rinse them in a container of their own tank water and agitated them to get the large bacteria colonies off, and then replace them. Is there a better way of doing this?
<<Not really, no…is fine>>
<<Happy to share… EricR>>

Re: Dormant Cryptocaryon? Now; friends via petfish         9/4/15
Funny story-
So aside from doing fresh and salt water aquariums, I also work for the Northeast commercial fisheries observer program for NMFS/NOAA. I was an Observer myself for about 10 years, and then became an office manager when my first Daughter was born 4 years ago.
The job has allowed me to grow my aquarium business from 1 account to currently over 20, and I've been cutting my hours working for NMFS in order to devote to my business.
However, today I find myself doing reference interviews for individuals who are applying to join our Staff, and I come across Rick O'Ellers of New England Aquarium Services in Biddeford Maine.
<Oh yes; I know Rick, and the UNE; gave presentations during their years of Fish Health Conferences>
Rick is at MACNA, but I did have a nice chat with Shane. He was telling me that they do occasional get togethers to have a little more one on one time, and he mentioned you being one of the speakers that they work with.
<Ah yes>
We traded contact info, and I'll keep my ears open for a nice trip up to Maine.
<The campus has a fabulous location; and there are other attractions. Bob Fenner>

Hello Bob. Aquarium Service Business      1/11/15
Hi Bob.
I have been having ongoing chat with James G who has been kind enough to give me info about my fish store start up I'm thing of doing in Toronto Canada.
<Ahh; good to get vendor info. for sure. I also have some friends in the trade there that you might benefit from chatting with. Oh, and will be there in May giving a talk at the CAOAC>
James said that perhaps you might be able to offer some insight into the tank maintenance side of the business as I am very interested in looking at all sides of the business and earning as much as I can before I commit.
<Oh yes! Our old service company's Operations Manual is placed in sections of the WWM Business Subweb... AND am in the middle of writing an introduction piece for Al Connelly of TFH re this part of our trade, my history/experience (Aquatic Life Services)>
I have few questions for you and please add any insight you can as I am still learning what questions to ask about this.
<Sure; helps me to organize my thoughts for the above>
How do you find your clients.

<Best by referral from previous work; a decent presentation on your website... NOT via ads in directories. Sometimes through your store through requests for help with/installs, moving... BUT the "big" accounts (installs of tens of thousands, hundreds of dollars a month and more ongoing) don't come through LFS>
What is the rate that you charge per hour to have this maintenance done.

<At least 35 US/hour for actual work, 50/ supervision, 100 for consulting, two hour minimum... paying the service staff (or yourself) a percentage of the labor charge... thirty some percent to start... A good deal of the rest will be taken up by "indirect labor charges"... taxes, insurance, licensing... You'll see>
What is the average amount of time spent doing a maintenance per call.

<Counting loading up, travel, on-site, clean up and ordering/paperwork... an hour minimum, more often 2-3>
How often would you see a client over a month on average to do this maintenance.

<For marine systems, once a week or more... Freshwater; depends; but usually once a week>
Do you charge by test or item done or just by the hour.
<Two basic types of accounts: Inclusive (all included: tests, foods, salt, livestock...) and non-inclusive; billing the customer for all. NEEDS to be done in writing; via account folders (you'll see the forms we used at ALS on WWM>
How do you bill for this work.

<Monthly; we sent a billing statement and pay envelope via USPS>
Not sure but do you also sell fish and coral.

<We sold all products and services to do w/ ornamental aquatics>
Would you have any in sight to tank design.

<And fabricated up to 2" acrylic, had glass, cabinet work made by others... sold tens of millions of dollars worth over the years internationally>
Well that should get our conversation started.
<Heeee! I'll say!>
Thanks for your time Bob.
Aidan Dunstan
<Cheers, Bob Fenner>

Question... Service acct. lvstk. losses; accountability     6/28/13
I have had my 150 gallon saltwater aquarium for 14 years. I have had  generally good luck with one fish living 14 years and another 13 years. I have  had the same company servicing my aquarium from day 1. They come out every three  weeks and do water changes, testing, clean the aquarium and replace equipment  when necessary. They also quarantine and supply my fish when I buy new ones.
<Okay. Did such work myself for 19 years>
Last week something very strange happened and I'd like your input. I feed  the fish in the morning and in the evening. After the Thursday evening feeding,  all was fine. The fish looked great and ate well. Everything looked
normal. Most  of the fish have been in the tank for several years.
<As you've stated>
On Friday morning, the service came to do the three-week maintenance. 
Friday evening, when I got home from work and went to feed the fish, I found two dead fish (a yellow-tailed damsel and a long-nosed butterfly) and four  additional fish were missing. My Lunar Wrasse was acting strangely (listless,  clamped tail fin, hunched over) and the other fish (Picasso Trigger, Coral  Beauty, Yellow Tang and Maculosus Angel) were not eating with their usual  enthusiasm. I called the service and they instructed me to monitor the  situation.
On Saturday morning, I found another dead damsel. The rest of the fish were still acting weird and the Lunar Wrasse did not come out to eat. I called the  service and they said they would come out Sunday morning to check things out. On  Sunday morning he pulled the live rock apart and found two more dead damsels, a  dead Flame Hawkfish and the dead Lunar Wrasse. He proceeded to remove the  remaining living fish and do a large water change.
I know it's impossible for you to speculate on what happened in my tank. My questions is, is it unreasonable for me to hold the service accountable?
<Depends on your contract w/ them. IF this were an all-inclusive account; they supplying all gear, products and livestock; yes>
The  timing of the events strongly suggests that something they did during the  maintenance process caused the fish to die. It is my opinion that they should  compensate me in some form for the lost fish? What do you think?
<Could be... a change in the source/mains water; perhaps an anomaly w/ the salt mix; could be (happens in old/er systems) a cascade effect, with whatever was done maybe triggering a microbial "war", release of toxic materials... Could be that same cascade was brought on by something not done by them whatsoever. Can't say for sure of course>
This company has always done a very good job and I want to be fair to them  but I also want to be fair to myself. Your input on this is greatly  appreciated.
<I would ask the service manager what they might be willing to do...
Perhaps split the cost of livestock replacement.     6/28/13

Bob Fenner>
Re: Question
Thank you very much for your prompt reply and valuable input. Have a great  weekend.
Stephen DeFilippis
<Welcome Stephen. BTW, there is a fine chain of restaurants in our town (San Diego) of your family name. BobF>

Significant Majano colony in a significant aquarium. Svc. acct. possibilities  6/18/2013
<Guru Steve>
First, thank you for your service to the aquarium community. The internet has evolved to become both the best and worst source of information for hobbyists (mostly the worst), but WetWebMedia is among a half dozen web sites I regularly refer people to.
I have recently been asked to take over the maintenance of a salt water aquarium in the lobby of a retirement home. It is a relatively large tank of some 8 ft long by 30 inches tall by 24 inches deep and it has not had professional maintenance since... well I'm not sure it ever had professional maintenance.  There is no protein skimmer, limited water movement and although there are two individual sumps there is nothing in either of them.
All in all the tank inhabitants are  surprisingly healthy.
<A challenge for sure... Enjoyable>
So the primary filtration method can be seen in the pictures, a Majano colony.
<Mmm, don't think so... look more like Zoanthids to me>

 It is not only a type of Majano I've never seen before, but it is by far the largest colony I've ever seen. I would estimate in the 10's of 1000's of individuals.  The colony has done an excellent job of filtering the water but I would prefer another method.
<Me too; IF this is, or can be easily made the decision of the folks there in charge>
It seems obvious to me that tearing the tank down and rebuilding it from scratch would be the solution but that is not practical.
<Mmm, really? Perhaps you can sell some of the animal colonized rock and use the proceeds to upgrade here>
The custom cabinetry does not allow for easy access and the area of the install does not allow for a mess to be made.
<... Sorry; I'm not easily convinced of this... having spent a few decades doing this work...>
Further, I fear that if I suggest to the management we do a full tear down/rebuild they will simply remove the tank and replace it with bookshelves and a nice painting.  Even removing the rock and replacing it would not likely go over well with management as the aquarium is a wall divider in a very high traffic area in between their central common area and their dining room and.
<Mmm, perhaps the work could/can be done during the night, early AM, when folks there wouldn't be disturbed?>
This is a paying job so I'd like the tank to stay of course but I would also like to make this a show piece for the retirement home and I am willing to donate some of my time to accomplish this. I'm not looking for advice regarding the filtration of the system but rather specifically how to handle the Majanos. What would you do under these circumstances? The last guy they hired simply never returned :D
<Heeeee! I would at the least, do the upgrade slowly, surely, perhaps on the sly... removing the colonized rock regularly, and changing the system to what you deem is best for this customer. The approach I'd take is to present this as the low end option, and a higher-est one to management there, detailing what you'd do given a free hand, pocket book... for them, and the rationale (provide better water quality, be able to add more interesting life for their clients...)>
The pictures tell the story. There are two massive colonies at each end of the tank that are now meeting in the middle where the 25 to 30lb clam sits.
Everything that looks brown and soft in the picture of the full tank is Majanos.  The 2nd picture shows one of the colonies and the close up is a rock back at my shop under my lights.
2013-06-14-03-35-36-0206.jpg2013-06-06 06-59-47 - 0190.jpg2013-06-0606-58-11 - 0176.jpg
Yours Truly
Steve White
<Thank you for sharing. Bob Fenner>
Quinte Reef Systems

Expanding my maintenance company     3/7/13
First, I'd like to thank you for this platform you have provided for me and other aquarist to ask questions and get answers.
I own an aquarium service company. It started as a side job while working at a LFS. The store doesn't offer this service so they gave the accounts to people at the store.
<A win win for all>
Over time I have built up between 40-50 accounts, some I service weekly, others I service monthly. As I got more and more accounts I formed a LLC to protect myself and do things the right way. Things have been going very well and I'm enjoying what I'm doing, although stressful at times.
<I did this for 19 years; can/do appreciate>
I am faced with a few decisions to make.
1. I am still working at the store and would really like to break away. I am making enough on my own that I don't need the paycheck from the store. I wouldn't lose any customers but I highly doubt I would gain anymore from them either.
<Mmm, I would discuss w/ the owner/s, manager/s re... Perhaps you can pay for their leads, installs? Some few months equivalent of the monthly charge. Or some (less likely) commitment to continue to buy drygoods, livestock through them>
This is a major concern of mine but I feel like if I continue to work at the store, I will not be able to grow my business any larger.
<I assure you this is not the case. In fact, there are many "other" customers/accounts that you can/will generate that won't/don't actually go to stores... You should expand your marketing possibilities. We can talk over, or you can begin by just reading the business subweb on WWM>
I want to take it to the next level. If I leave the store, this will be the first major career risk that I have taken in my life. I will be depending solely  on myself.
<This is all you've ever had>
2. I do not have any opportunity to set up holding tanks at my house
<Really? No room at all? Maybe you can/should move to a larger residence; maybe one w/ a garage or even separate structure>
 so I was considering looking for a warehouse to set up a few tanks to start bringing in my own coral. I already have wholesale accounts set up and I have an outlet (my maintenance customers) to get rid of the coral.
 While searching I found a very small location, 250 sq.ft. I would be able to sell retail
<... don't do this. Not worth the time, headaches>
 from this location if I wanted to, but this isn't my plan. I would start with one tank, large enough to hold about 50-100pc of coral. Having a commercial location will also allow me to receive deliveries from many of the major distributors that only sell to stores, this way I will be able to get aquariums, filters, and other dry goods. Rent is very cheap for my area, under $500 + utilities.
My main concern is that I will overextend myself.
<You are wise here. Most businesses fail from one of two causes:
Undercapitalization or poor management... both symptomatic of "over-extension">
 Even though the rent is cheap, as of right now I have very little overhead.
<Again; does it make more sense to "put the rent/$500 into a better combo.
living and business place instead? The time not lost from driving back and forth is of major importance>
 If I decide to sign the lease, I would have overhead, but Also an opportunity to make even more money since I would essentially be breaking away form the store and any profit they were making off my sales will be mine.
How can I decide if this is a risk worth taking?
<Only you can decide... but there are tools that can help you... See here:
for a brief review of decision making/selecting location/s...>
 What am I overlooking or have not taken into consideration?
<Just data you may already be aware of, a plan of decision. Not to worry, you're apparently doing most all fine.>
Thanks for you time.
-Richard from Florida
<Glad to assist your efforts. Bob Fenner>
Re: Expanding my maintenance company    4/3/13

Thank you for your reply.
I have since decided to scrap the plan of getting a retail/warehouse location. You are right, the time and money that I would have to put into it would <not> be worth the effort. I would have to sell so much just to break even.
The original reason why I wanted to get a warehouse/retail was because of humidity and also not having a large space. With your help, I decided to figure out a way to make it work so I invested in a dehumidifier and a few shallow aquariums to put in my town house.
<Good; best to start, and even "stay small" in terms of ones "foot print", and overhead>
The 500+/month that I would have to spend will now stay in my pocket and/or go to coral/livestock and my overhead will stay very low like it currently is.
I am still working at the store while trying to figure out the best way to leave on good terms and hopefully continue to get clients from them. Like i mentioned in the last email, my main concern is getting new cliental. In my last email I said/you responded:
"This is a major concern of mine but I feel like if I continue to work at the store, I will not be able to grow my business any larger.
<I assure you this is not the case. In fact, there are many "other" customers/accounts that you can/will generate that won't/don't actually go to stores... You should expand your marketing possibilities. We can talk over, or you can begin by just reading the business subweb on WWM>"
Can you elaborate on this? What tips do you have to market myself and get new accounts that don't go to stores?
<Ask your current customers for leads... ask your commercial accounts if it'd be okay to put out a business card holder near or even on the tank...
Have classy stickers made and affix these to the stands, tanks of your accounts... Overall be pro-active in promoting your business. Are there business associations in your area? Medical, dental et al? Ask re how they get their meeting speakers... Sign up to give "aquariums in your office, benefits/plusses" via their speakers bureaus>
 What other marketing possibilities are out there?
<Almost endless. Ask other folks in diverse service industries... Plumbers, Landscape, Office-scape, Designers... how they generate leads, accounts... Offer to co-work w/ them>
 I am currently on Facebook and 90% done with a website which I plan on putting on Google Adwords (pay per click) and Google Places (free).
<Mmm, this should help, but DO be much more "mano a mano" locally... Really more effective use of your time. Bob Fenner>
Thank you for your time and help. I truly appreciate it.

Question for Bob Fenner - Something in the water 11/1/11
Good Morning Bob,
<Hey Edward!>
I have come to Web Web Media many times on a personal mission and always gotten good advice and answers. This time it is on a professional level. I am the office manager for an aquarium service company working in SE Massachusetts. Recently, we have been having major problems with a select number of our freshwater systems and we seem to have tracked it down to the common water source they all utilize. I contacted the MWRA (the authority who is in charge of the water supply) and they provided me with the following report, which I attached to this e-mail. When we test the pH of the tap water in these locations it ranges anywhere from 8.7 to 9.2!
<I see this. High!>
That combined with the ammonia and chlorine is causing chaos with our freshwater systems. We currently use Kent Marine 7.0 buffer to handle to pH and StressCoat to deal with the chlorine. In some instances we have resorted to Ammo-lock by Aquarium Pharm to neutralize the chlorine. Can you make any other recommendations for how to handle this toxic water so it is safe to use on a large scale?
<Yes... the very best would be for you to "batch treat" the water at your facility and haul it about to the customers systems... Is this a practical possibility? IF so, then I'd blend about half this "liquid rock" w/ half made into RO. If not... is there a likely means of storing good volumes at the sites? I would use a contactor there to render the water the same as above... If not, then let's talk a bit further re more expensive haul-able gear for running the water through (likely leased from a water treatment service)>
Any help you can offer would be appreciated!
<Not to worry; we can/will solve this issue for your systems calling for softer, lower pH water. Bob Fenner>
Best Regards,
Wendy Amaral
Office manager
Aqua Vision Tech, LLC
Re: Question for Bob Fenner - Something in the water 11/1/11

Not really practical to be hauling around several hundred gallons of water.
The fish we are having the biggest problems with are ornamental Orandas. We may be able to store water on site for some locations, but others may be problematic. What type of haulable water treatment gear did you have in mind?
<Mmm, a dual resin container that you can hoof about... that can be hooked up to a sink, run under low/er pressure, that will remove about half of the material that is the 623 units of conductivity here. Do you have a "Culligan" or such outfit nearby (almost doubtless given the water there) that a sales rep. can come visit, or you can get on over to show the .pdf you've sent along and some idea of what values you're hoping to render?
They'll have some smallish contactors that they'll recharge on an ongoing basis... again, hopefully you can rig a dolly for this, along w/ hoses, connectors and the usual gear to haul into your service accounts w/o too much intrusion. We used Zerk connectors, good 3/4" ID Color-Rite hoses...
Cheers, BobF>
Edward Warman
Aqua Vision Tech, LLC

Chemical Poisoning, household cleaners   3/1/11
Hi to all,
its been a bit since I have needed serious help, if anyone knows about my issue it will be one of you gentlemen.
Here it is, I have been involved in the science of fish keeping for 20 some odd years, I have worked on the consumer and seller side of things. I have read more books than can be easily found in a 20 mile radius from me, the Conscientious Marine Aquarist being one of my favorites (I aspire to be half the aquarist Bob is). My question is this Windex, granite cleaning spray, pledge and probably a few chemicals I don't know about are being used in a room containing a 90g saltwater "reef" tank kill off coral?
<Can seriously harm them; perhaps kill>
(Windex is being sprayed on a sliding glass door a foot away from tank)
<Mmm, get whoever to spray the cleaner directly on the cloth/paper towels and apply these to the glass... NOT spray the glass. This will greatly diminish the amount of aerosol getting into the air, tank>
I know the location is not ideal being on two outside walls, it is my client's tank and that's just the system fits with room layout. every two weeks I come in to service and the house smells like chemical soup. I open doors and windows but I fear the housekeeper comes weekly. I have totally hobbyists stories. I want to know if anyone has done actual scientific tests on the use and contamination household cleaners in saltwater fish tanks?
<Not as far as I'm aware, but the ammonia in at least the olde/stock Windex product has been scientifically tested MANY times for toxicity w/ aquatic life>
The system for about 1 year keeps trending to grow a lot of algae, and tends to loose its snails and hermits in spurts. Every time I get the algae, coral, and clean up invertebrates balanced, two weeks later I come in to find a combination of rotted or melted coral, dead hermits, snails and from the die off copious amounts of algae. The fish are unaffected, no loss in over a year for them. That tells me the tank has to be somewhat viable since it still grows algae and fish are good. My client is less than receptive to the idea of his maid killing his tank, I really need more info on the potential effects of chemical cleaners around tank. The tank has no chiller (or lid to help with heat exchange), and from salt spray on the metal halides I don't believe my client is diligent with freshwater top off, so some temperature flux is suspect as well.
<Mmm, I'd add a simple auto top off system and another heater, set a little (a degree) lower.>
The tank has live rock, about 120lbs in tank, and 30lbs in filter instead of bio-balls. It also has a g-series skimmer that works well. Water testing is always consistent, ph 8.2 - 8.4, dKH - 300, nitrite 0, nitrate 10 ppm usually (20 ppm occasionally), ammonia 0. Lighting is two 150 w metal halide (8hrs per day), two 96 w actinic (12hrs per day), moon light led's (8hrs per night). Any information or links would be immensely helpful, as well as any thoughts you may have on the tank's problems.
Thanks a million!
Daniel Chidester
<Daniel... do you routinely utilize activated carbon products (e.g. Chemipure), Polyfilter in/on your accounts? I would here. Bob Fenner> 
Re: Chemical Poisoning... keep the roses, toss the thorns 3/1/11

Hi Bob,
Thank you for your quick response, I have not found (other than hobbyist reports) the Windex study, I have been searching the term household chemicals, I will look for Windex specifically.
<As I hinted at the olde "Ammonia D" formula is easy find data on... the NH4OH...>
I am not a huge fan of carbon, but yes I use it regularly in my services.
The tank in question has about 2 cups of activated carbon in sump. I replace carbon 4-6 weeks normally, tanks with extra issues I change bi-weekly. Two or three years ago, and every so often since I recommended the Windex along with any aerosol not be used anywhere near tank (including spray in towel not on glass), I have even stressed vinegar based products as being equivalent, and much safer to no avail. The problem is the client thinks the concept is "manure", his exact words a bit more harsh. At one point even with the issues the tank was balanced and thriving, for about a year now the housekeeper is coming at least on the service days, and slowly but surely the tank has lost its coral and grown more and more algae.
That's why I was looking for studies so someone else not me has proof of this preverbal elephant in the room. At this point there is very little coral left, even leather coral I thought was doing ok (growing, good polyp extension) for a few months, I came in one service to find mush, not any even base was solid, just piles of goo. Between this chemical issue and temperature flux, I think tanks spiking up from pumps running nearly dry then dropping down when sump is refilled (client prefers to manually fill, not auto fill). I change 15-30 gallons (depending on nitrate level) every two weeks, I go through tank and remove most algae growth with a turkey baster, toothbrush and lots of elbow grease. I clean sand as needed, stir regularly (sand infrequently loads up detritus) and suck the mulm out. I test, I look for what's growing and accumulating where, and I diligently change water. Sometimes I think am I messing up? Am I nuts to think this is an 'x' Factor issue? I have literally seen the maid spray stuff in the room to the point my lungs hurt.
<Daniel... from the apparent angst this account is causing you... if you can afford, make sense of giving it up, I would... A personal note re folks that we "hang about with"... even, yes, customers... need to have at least confluent value systems... These folks obviously don't... Leave them to their life-cheating behavior/lives>
I am specifically told not to interfere with her job, and I am sensitive to cleaner fumes (almost never use them myself). On a side note I do supplement Kalkwasser (1/4 tsp. per 10g) to keep up calcium and ph. Calcium is useless with out buffer so I use sodium bi-carbonate (1 tbs per 50g), and as needed (based on load/growth) I will add a general trace element supplement (1/2 dose or less). I'm not a fan of supplements (prefer water change) but I have had tremendous success with this method personally and commercially, as in soft or stony coral grows well long term 4+ years and strong skeletons. I know what happens with over use of these supplements (learned a little goes a long way years ago). I would be interested to know if you agree with my focus on the problem, or do you feel I am off in my care? Maybe you see something I am missing.
Thank you for your valuable time, its always an honor to hear from you,
<Glad to share with you. BobF>
Daniel Chidester 

Fish House Girls 10/23/10
Seems like an amazing new company here at ReefAPalooza.
<Ok... B>

Re: Pop Eye (Update on Banner Fish) & Aquarium Maintenance Jobs   10/15/10
<Hi Christopher,>
I've tried garlic soaked food. No Live Brine yet but I could call to see if I can get some. The rock isn't really live because the lighting isn't strong enough but I do add seaweed on a clip.
<I bet the rock houses a good number of detritivores such as amphipods.>
From my work I am 10 minutes away from his shop where the aquarium is housed at. He asked me how much my time is worth. How much would it cost on average to do routine maintenance on a
537 gallon tank? You know water changes and so forth. Figure he buys all
supplies. Just a guess will do.
<This is a tough one. Is it your first maintenance gig? Often when starting out it's good to keep the prices low, so that you get more positive press. Do you enjoy doing it? Try and figure out how many hours you spend doing it, then figure out a decent hourly wage. See if he goes for that number. A lot of it depends on how much money the owner has, and what kind of tank. I've seen big reef tanks in peoples houses cost upwards of thirty thousand dollars a month in maintenance fees. But, smaller FOWLR sometimes only cost $50.>
<Scott T.>

Aquarium Leasing. - 7-14-10
Hello Bob,
I hope that you are well and having a relaxing summer!
<And you my friend>
We are melting here in New Hampshire and my once beautiful green neighborhood has become mostly brown fields of burnt grass. We have some relief today with a fine rainy, cloudy day that is much appreciated.
<Such is "the weather">
Anyhow, along with a dried up yard I am finding that business has dried up this summer as well. We are going to be losing a couple of aquarium service accounts at the end of this month due to clients offices that are going out of
business or just simply shutting down of the branch that is in our service area to consolidate.
The phone has not been ringing much for the last few weeks and the loss of accounts right now is very painful.
<The U.S. is in a tail-spin economically... too much spending, activity that is counter-productive (gov't, military...). When the government controls both the currency and courts this always happens.... Allowing "lifetime civil servants" is always a disaster... their ranks expand exponentially, come to absorb all available and borrowed energy... bankrupting the system... something about folks who don't study, understand "history" allowing its mistakes to be repeated... For you at any length... I strongly urge your looking into expanding the breadth or types of work you do... Pond clean-outs, tank moving, one-shot clean-outs... More effective advertising (Craig's List), putting notices on Face Book to your friends, existing, previous clients...
Cutting, delaying as much large costs as practical. The economy is going to get worse.>
The question that I have today is in regards to aquarium leasing information.
This is something that I have not yet offered and would like to find more information on. I find that other service companies and stores in my area are not offering this, but feel that this may be a good option for local businesses
that might be interested in having an aquarium display.
<We (Aquatic Life Services) used to have leases as well as non-leased all-inclusive and not contracts>
This idea came to me as one of the service accounts that we will be losing this month is a Caribbean biotope aquarium. The tank is in excellent condition, but the client has no time to try to sell the tank before the move date and wants me to take it. Because of the specific type of tank that this one represents I thought of a small local museum that has small exhibits and activities for children. I am very familiar with the place as I have six children age 9 and under in my house!
<Good gosh! "and little children">
I would like to contact them to see if a lease of this system would be of interest to them.
<Good idea>
My thought now is that aquarium leasing may be more attractive to offices that may not want to commit large amounts of money to purchase an aquarium system, but want the benefit of having one in their place of business. Can you offer some advice on this or possibly direct me to where I could find more information?
<Yes... I would calculate what it would cost to purchase such a system, complete, installed, divide this by a few years as months, add the service (monthly) cost to this and offer this as a/the price>
So far I have not been able to find much. Thank you as always for your time and for sharing your knowledge and experience!
Michael P. Gillespie
<Steady on Michael. This is not the "end"... there is at least a couple more cycles to our economy. Bob Fenner>
Re: Aquarium Leasing.  -- 7/14/10

Hello Bob,
Thank you for your response. Yes, thinking "outside the box" for services offered has been one of the big topics of discussion here. Pond service is spotty, but comes in here and there. Tightening the belt with expenses for sure. I've found my free craigslist, Facebook and other free advertising has produced far more than the yellow pages and other expensive advertising that cost me hundreds each month.
<We are in agreement>
Really wish that I could cancel those at this point! I have also been sending out letters with offers for free service
visits to my clients for referrals to their neighbors.
<A good avenue>
I will use that formula and put together a couple of lease systems. The Caribbean biotope tank is already complete and ready to go. Just need to find someone that is interested. Ah! Just trying to hang in there. Stressful time of year!
I was hoping to catch you at the Fish Health Symposium in Maine next month, but it might not be in the budget this year unfortunately.
<Ahh, a shame to miss>
Michael P. Gillespie
<And you, BobF>

Shark question, mysterious loss, commercial/service co.     5/19/10
Hello WWM crew!
If you don't mind a few minutes of your time...
<Not at all...>
I am looking for a second opinion on something. I am the owner of a small aquarium sales, installation and maintenance company in Florida, and we had an aquarium related incident with one of our maintenance customers,
(thankfully this has been the only incident we have ever had).
The customer has an early 90's era 300 gallon tank. It was originally setup with a large canister filtration system, (canister #1 had a large 15" pool filter and canister # 2 was essentially one giant chemical reactor filled
with about three gallons of carbon + a UV sterilizer and a broken early 90's chiller).
<I'd remove it from this system... too likely to be/come a source of metal contamination... And slows circulation>
The canister system was plumbed to bulkheads drilled in the bottom of tank,
<You and I's least fave placement>
but had not been used in many years. The last maintenance company before us tried to update the filtration by installing a medium-sized wet/dry filter. Unfortunately they did a terrible job.
First, they left the canister-style filtration system in place, with no shut-off valves.
You can imagine how bad the hydrogen-sulfide smell was when I eventually capped-off the bulkheads and removed the canisters. The pool filter was black with hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria. Needless to say, this went directly into the garbage.
<Good riddance>
Second, they plumbed the wet/dry filter with one single 1 1/4" pvc pipe that ran from the bottom of the tank to the water surface. At the end of this standpipe is a crude "screen" (slices cut into a piece of pvc pipe). As you can imagine, this setup is loud, (a Durso style is not an option since there is no overflow compartment of any sort), ugly (the standpipe sits smack in the middle of the tank, off to the left hand side), and circulates very little water, (200 gallons per hour at the very most).
Third, the aquarium contained no live rock what-so-ever, only fake decor and bleached corals. The store that maintained the tank has since gone out of business and had a *very bad* reputation. My guess is that the owner had a surplus of old-school aquarium decor and saw this particular tank as an opportunity to unload his junk.
I know that the owner had originally kept juvenile leopard sharks, (he donated them to a public aquarium when they grew too large), but when we took over the aquarium was only stocked with a handful of small to medium
sized fish, all of which were easy to keep and feed. The tank ran just fine, and received 40 gallon water changes and cleaning every two weeks, (I know that 40 gallons is small for a 300 gallon tank, but the bio load was very
Last year the company where the tank is located then went through re-structuring, and there was a period of several months that the tank received no maintenance at all. When we were able to return most of the fish had died and I pulled out several intact, complete skeletons of a few recent casualties.
At this time, the tank owner decided to turn the tank back into a shark system. Luckily, I was able to talk him out of leopard sharks, and ordered him two medium sized coral cat sharks instead. In my opinion, 300 gallons is too small for any sharks at all, but I figured that if he was going to keep any sharks in a tank that small then they might as well be Coral Cat Sharks, (since they stay small compared to other species).
<We are in agreement>
In preparation, I removed the old fake decor, and replaced it with 200 pounds of Fiji live rock (I felt that the extra biological filtration was essential because the wet/dry would not be able to handle all of the ammonia). I also put in several handfuls of macro algae, and performed several 50 gallon water changes over a period of about 1.5 months or so.
By the time the sharks went in, the tank was stable, and the macro algae had become very well established, and was growing quickly, (again, I chose this set-up to help maintain the best water quality possible considering the
less-than-perfect conditions of the tank).
This is where things go down hill.
I [thought] that I had also made it clear that the tank would need the water changed every two weeks due to that fact that sharks (1) need excellent water quality and (2) were high ammonia producers. Between 11-23-09 and
05-05-10 the water was only changed six times. Below are the days that we able to get into the office to change the water:
11-23-09 - Water change/ Sharks arrive
12-23-09 - Water change (50 gallons)
01-08-10 - Water change (50 gallons)
03-09-10 - Water change (50 gallons)
04-01-10 - Water change (50 gallons)
05-05-10 - Water change (50 gallons)
On May 6th, 2010 (the day after the last water change) both sharks died.
When I first got the news, I panicked. I could not believe that a 50 gallon water change could kill two sharks. I immediately sent a water sample to AWT in Colorado. Here are the results:
Ammonia- 0.150 (bad)
Nitrite- 0.355 (bad)
Nitrate- 5.4
Phosphate- 3.32
Silica- 0.5
Potassium- 168
Calcium- 302
Boron- 3.5
Molybdenum- 0.1
Strontium- 12.6
Magnesium- 1588
<Too high, out of proportion w/ [Ca]>
Iodine- 0.18
Copper- 0.07 (probably from contaminated freshwater top-off)
<... is this ppm? Is significantly high for sharks>
Alkalinity- 2.55
The salinity was 1.026.
This was 50 gallons of water from a 225 gallon water tank. The rest of the water from that particular batch of water was delivered to 8 other aquariums, with ZERO loss of any marine life, (we checked). The water we use is filtered through a high efficiency commercial grade 300 GPD RO/DI system, which designed and built specifically to our specifications by Aqua Engineering & Equipment, Inc just outside of Orlando. The water is electronically monitored, the pre-filter is changed weekly and the carbon block is changed every two weeks. All of the water is mixed to 1.026 SG with Instant Ocean and reef customers get extra calcium and magnesium by adding Brightwell Aquatics brand liquid supplements, (this particular customer does not get supplemented water).
<I don't think the loss of the sharks is/was that related to your source water>
Needless to say, the water quality problem was not because of our water.
It was because the water in the aquarium was allowed to get this bad, (we had no control over this).
Nothing about the tank cleaning was done differently, either. We have been cleaning this aquarium since 06-27-08, and the methods used to clean it have not changed. We clean the glass with an algae scraper, "gravel vac" the sand
and clean the rock using a nylon brush/ turkey baster. We rinse or change the filter floss and spray down the glass with fresh water from a plastic spray bottle. We use ZERO chemicals in the tank. The old water gets flushed down the toilet and new water is pumped from our water tank into 5 gallon water jugs and brought upstairs via a hand truck and elevator. Nothing complicated, and we have been doing this for years.
<I did so for 19 as well>
this leads me to believe that what caused the death of the sharks was a rapid change in water chemistry.
<I do agree... likely low DO>
I think this for three reasons:
(1) The sharks had been breeding, but stopped. When I was there on 03-09-10 there was at least one shark egg. By 04-01-10 there were at least four shark eggs. By 05-05-10 all of the shark eggs were dead, and floating at the
surface of the tank, decomposing. This makes me think that deteriorating water quality from lack of water changes had 'killed' the eggs, (assuming that they were even fertile to begin with).
(2) The sharks were particularly lethargic, even for Coral Cat sharks.
<This is a clue>
(3) The person who fed the sharks mentioned that one of sharks had, at one point, stopped eating almost entirely.
<This as well>
When all is said and done, the water change itself must be what caused them to die.
<Mmm, I don't follow... What is your reasoning here?>
Exactly why is what I am trying to figure out. One problem is that we are a no-contract company, and I can't "force" them to let me come in and change water every two weeks, (remember, this is how we make money, so you would be correct in assuming that I did try my best to keep them on an every-two-week schedule). I also made two attempts to get into the office.
I tried to get in on 04-23-10, but the office manager asked me to "come in next week." Then, the following week, I attempted to get in again but she never returned my call, (I called twice). Now I'm put into a situation where I am responsible for two sharks dying because of a water change, but they did not follow my advice for two week water change intervals.
<I don't consider you, your co. liable here>
I guess that I will be changing the way we do business, and require contracts, (other then the contracts that our customers sign now, which does limit our liability).
<I do strongly endorse this change, practice. We, Aquatic Life Services, ONLY did work on contract... IF something goes sideways, your insurance co. will NOT enforce your policy w/o such>
Do you think that the rapid change in water chemistry?
<I think this is likely... a "cascade event"... with low dissolved oxygen the most likely "cause" here>
Do you think I should require contracts?
Any thoughts or advice on the situation?
<I'd ask the account to "split" the cost of livestock replacement... and require there be a set time for you to service this system at least every two weeks, if not weekly>
Thanks for your time, and keep up the great work!
<Welcome Jay. Bob Fenner>
Re: Shark question    5/20/10
Mr. Fenner-
<Just "Bob" is fine Jay>
Wow, thanks for the lighting quick response!
Yes, the copper was 0.07 ppm... I'm sure it was driving the sharks nuts.
The high copper is also a concern to me. I am assuming that it is a result of topping off the water with tap water, slowly building up over time. A chemical reactor with carbon ran every other week should help here a bit.
<I would use a good grade of carbon... rotate the bags out every month here... And add aeration... a sump and gigantic skimmer likely...>
The phosphate level is also strange, especially considering the amount of macro algae/ marine plants in the system, and the magnesium/ calcium ratio has me confused, especially since this customer does not get any supplementary dosing of either.
<The HPO4 is sky high>
I think that the poor guys were on their death bed to begin with, and the stress of the water change and cleaning just put them "over the edge," (especially considering the dead eggs and lethargic lifestyle).
<Very likely so... and once they started to go... the aforementioned cascade event>
Do you have any thoughts on increasing water flow with out adding potentially disruptive [to sharks/ metal] powerheads?
<The modern inside use products by Tunze and Koralia (and sometimes EcoTech/Vortech) are to be recommended. These are pretty well insulated>
The only thing I can think of is a Wave 2K, since the motor sits outside the tank, but that would probably be overkill for the sharks. I could also plumb in a second wet/dry,
<Mmm, am not a fan of their use with Chondrichthyous fishes... too much generation of NO3>
but I'm not sure if the customer would agree to the expensive process of having to drain all 300 gallons/ remove the rock and sand in order to add a second standpipe and return.
I hate the idea of having to require long term contracts.
<Month to month is fine>
I don't want to alienate customers who live paycheck to paycheck, but I think that it will be necessary to give us more protection/ less liability.
<? Are they, the customer, expecting you to pay for the improvements up front? I would not do this>
Right now everyone signs a work release/ terms and conditions (which actually states that "due to their delicate nature, there is no guarantee on livestock"). We have since written a new work release/ terms and condition that makes statement much this more clear and concise. The customer fills it out, signs and dates it. We keep the original, and the customer gets a "yellow copy" (carbon paper imprint).
Well, I suppose the best thing to do now is do a large, (maybe 100 gallon) water change to re-balance the tank. Honestly, I had been considering sending him a refund check via certified mail for the sharks and just walking away, (wiping my hands of the situation), but that would make me look bad/ make him unhappy.
<And weaken you. Again, I encourage you (strongly) not to do this>
I try to be VERY customer service orientated, and we have earned an excellent reputation for giving our customers great advice and charging the lowest prices within 100 miles more more. We have never lost a customer because they were unhappy with our service/ we killed their fish, and we don't want to start now. I built this company literally from nothing... from using a few water jugs and a couple buckets to earn some extra cash in college... to a full service aquarium sales, installation & maintenance company.
<This parallels my life, time frame>
Its a frustrating situation...
<Can be... but (and this is easy for me to state, distally in both space and time), all will take it's place in perspective as the years go by. You can trust me here>
Its a fine balance between being inexpensive and flexible [with people's schedule] and being pushy with my customers, (I never try to be pushy or pressure people into buying anything... I think its one of the reasons people like us so much).
<Register, reflect on your priorities... business is not a matter of "being liked", likeable... but doing the job at hand well... the PR aspects are tertiary at best>
Well, again, thank you for advice. I have admired your works for many years now, and I appreciate the fact that you take time out of your day to help out others!
<A pleasure to serve, share with you. BobF>

Service Gear Sterilization. -- 1/28/10
Hello Bob,
I would like to say that I had a great time at MACNA and it was an absolute pleasure to finally be able to meet you in person. I am very much looking forward to seeing you again at the CTARS conference in April! Thank you as always for sharing your knowledge.
<Am sure you are doing the same; and I thank you>
I have a couple of questions for you today in regards to aquarium service gear sterilization and an issue that I am seeing specifically in Tangs in some of my clients aquariums. This has been puzzling me for a couple of months now and I am in need of some help to find a way to fix it. I am currently preparing to send some samples to a veterinarian that specializes in aquatics.
<Sometimes a route to go>
The first question is with sterilization. My current means of sterilizing my service gear is rather basic. When arriving at a job I fill a 5 gallon bucket with hot tap water and rinse my hands and arms with tap water as hot as I can stand it. I place the tools that I will be using in the particular aquarium in the bucket and commence with testing of the aquarium. This will usually take me about 15 to 20 min.s. My next step is filter and auxiliary equipment servicing to give more soak time to the gear in the hot water. Is hot tap water enough or is there another way to sterilize that is going to be convenient and more effective?
<Mmm... there are better, more assured methods... though they have their downsides... Our olde svc. businesses used diluted formalin, sometimes bleach (diluted by 1:20)... and there are commercial products nowadays>
As you know it is important that every process be quick and portable while on a service route.
<Yes... we used multiple sets of filter cartridges, towels, algae scrubbers, nets... most everything in different systems... especially ponds with expensive Koi, any possibility of transferring infectious disease (Viremia, Ana aki...)>
The reason for my starting to doubt that this process is complete enough is due to my next question. I have 3 accounts that have Tangs that appear to be wasting away for lack of a better description. The accounts are all in different areas and different types of systems. The foods are provided to my clients included with service and are what I believe to be of excellent quality and variety.
<Oh! A chance for a very useful "plug" here. Do look into Pablo Tepoot's "Spectrum" brand for your accounts, in particular for the Tangs here... completely nutritious and very palatable... A cure for thin-ness, HLLE...>
Water quality is excellent to the best of my testing ability. No detection of Nitrate, Phosphate. Specific Gravity is kept at 1.025 to 1.026 in all of my reef systems. The pH has been dipping a bit low in some of the tanks this time of years, but never below 7.9 on the meter. The fish all feed aggressively and according to my clients are all eating well and on the recommended schedule. Also according to my clients and in my own observation there have been no problems with aggression or stress to the fish among these tanks. Looking over the system logs there is no indication of obvious problems that could be leading to the wasting of these Tangs. The one common factor among these tanks is that there is no ground probe installed in any of them,
<Mmm, am decidedly not a fan of this technology. More often a source of trouble than not>
but the wasting has been observed all along the same timeframe. Going by my service logs, these issues started after one of the clients added a Powder Blue Tang from a large petstore chain without my knowing and without going through my quarantine system.
<Also... know that Acanthuroids (yes more than the family) are quite susceptible to some sort of "alimentary" faunal trouble... That seems to be preventable through a combination of anti-protozoal and anthelminthic treatment (Metronidazole and Praziquantel often)>
The fish looked to have the same symptoms as what I am seeing in the Tangs now and the fish died shortly after addition to the tank.
Symptoms observed in the affected Tangs are loss of color, degrading fins and overall skinny appearance of the fish to where the ribs and bones are visible. The fish all eat well as mentioned above and the gut area is wide and full, far from pinched. These fish will often chase the scraper blade as I clean the aquarium to eat the algae that comes off. They all behave as normal, healthy fish. The species affected are a Purple Tang, 2 Regal Tangs (in different systems.) a Yellow Tang and a Yellow Mimic Tang. The Mimic has died recently and is going to be shipped to the vet for testing.
<Good... ask them to look for lumenal evidence of Octomita/Hexamita>
All other fish, coral and inverts housed in these systems appear to be in excellent health. Tangs and other fish kept in my holding systems for quarantine and other clients tanks show no similar symptoms and are all maintained with the same foods, service routine and pre-mix saltwater brought to each job and RO/DI water for top off is all provided for the clients as well.
<Good practice>
Any help and recommendations in this matter would be very much appreciated.
I need to figure out what the cause of this is before there are anymore losses and before this starts to become an issue in another aquarium. I thank you in advance for you time and as always for being so valuable a resource for the aquarium industry and to the hobby!
Michael P. Gillespie
<A pleasure to be part of the professional trade. Again, I would consider (our companies eventually went this route) a routine of bringing in, prophylactically treating all livestock to be supplied to your service accounts... This "value-added" service works to all's advantage as you will expect. Please do write back for more input, clarification if you'd like.
Bob Fenner>
Aquatic Creations LLC
379 Amherst St. PMB 131.
Nashua, NH 03063
(603) 809-7733

Re: Service Gear Sterilization. billing terms 1/30/10
Hi Bob,
Thank you for your response! I will be sure to start with that process and rotate more gear into the service rig. I have also gotten response for the vet to use a Povidone iodine solution to disinfect the gear between services. Do you see any potential problems over the long term (or short term!) with this process?
<Mmm, discoloration of gear, clothes, hands... and tends to make some types of netting brittle over time/exposure>
I certainly will be rinsing well, but am a little concerned about more absorptive gear like algae sponges.
<Oh yes... these too>
Perhaps a spray bottle in the service van with a bleach solution to spray down bucket handles and stepladders in between client visits.
Ah! Wasn't sure if I could mention specific products here. Yes, the Spectrum line is definitely on the menu for all of my clients fish fresh and salt, along with Omega One, Rod's Reef and dry Nori.
<Good products I agree>
Certainly hope that with the sample we are able to stop this problem in its' tracks. It is heart breaking to see perfectly healthy fish waste away for what appears to be no good reason. If there were to be a bacterial relation to this wasting of these tangs, would a Melafix treatment be of any help?
All of these tangs are in reef aquariums with some elaborate aquascaping and it would be rather difficult to remove them. Possible if necessary though.
<Again, prophylactic treatment with Metronidazole and an anthelminthic...
at your shop/facility is the best>
Another question for you off topic if I could. I have been having a lot of difficulty with clients and late payments on accounts.
<Definitely a sign of these bad times>
At the moment very behind to the point that ordering and basic operation of business has been greatly affected. I have put in place a late fee for past due accounts with a 5 day grace period and discontinuation of service 15 days past the grace period.
How do you feel about this approach given the economy?
<In my time we were more lenient...>
Should I just bite the bullet and wait for payment?
<I would... extend terms a bit longer at least... a month... Calling the client at two week intervals on lates>
I have considered that it may be better to be owed the money than to not be making it at all, but at the same time thousands of dollars in unpaid service invoices are piling up and to make matters worse some include product! I am interested in your opinion on this and your experiences.
Again, thank you for your advice.
Michael P. Gillespie
<Thank you for sharing Mike. Cheers, BobF>

Re: Service Gear Sterilization. & Finance  -- 02/02/10
Hello Bob,
<Hey Mike>
Thank you for your advice on that last question. I thought that the plan was fair, but wasn't sure what to look at as a standard.
<Mmm, well... I've been to several (from the Middle English meaning "many") aquaculture facilities, pet-fish and aquatic source protein, research and earnest production, around the world... Some folks use nothing (!), others
have a whole bunch of separate gear, but most use formalin/formaldehyde or a bleach (hypochlorite generally) that they switch out daily and make anew... Some use other materials that I'd just as not mention here for fear of having people make big errors in poisoning their stock... The better approach IMO/E has been to have "separate areas" like AquaTouch out in Phoenix, AZ, where all new/incoming livestock is COMPLETELY isolated from established stocks for two weeks... ALL gear, tanks, even filter media (which is bleached every two weeks and replaced by established)... are distally located from store/for sale, service/for-stocking organisms>
The other legitimate service companies in my area typically require payment at the time of service.
<I would NOT do this... how legitimacy has anything to do w/ this arrangement I don't see... A professional service that is ongoing in nature will have established terms of at least monthly billing.>
My clients are left a receipt at each visit with their totals for service and materials or livestock if applicable for the visit.
<Really? If this works out for you, so be it. Our service companies had a financial division that handled all billing, collection... Monthly statements mailed out, computer generated billing, with the cost for all (inclusive and not... i.e. cost-plus... livestock, food, salt etc.) detailed from the service tech.s Account Folder notes>
On the first of each month the total bills are all put together on a statement and sent out with payment due within 10 days and then the 5 day grace period.
<Oh... I see>
Should I go with totals due 30 days from the 1st of the month?
<Yes; I would change to this last. Five days grace is not enough time IMO>
Michael P. Gillespie
<And you. Bob Fenner>
Re: Service Gear Sterilization. -- 02/02/10
Hi Bob,
<Again hello to you Michael>
I understand. Looks like I may have to consider making some changes to my billing policy. I apologize, by legitimate I was speaking of other licensed service businesses that I know of. There are some "side job" operations that I don't know much about.
<Surely... and I do want to remark that I applaud your apparently open attitude. Being nimble of mind (and foot) is a hallmark of a successful individual, business person and even species>
We do a decent job at maintaining a clean shop with our holding systems and all livestock from fish to snails are quarantined prior to addition to the clients tanks. There are some clients that just can't wait and will add things that they see in stores. I like the idea of the bleach as I am sure that it will be far more effective than the hot water alone. I feel that the service route is the area where there is a lot of room for improvement.
I just want to make sure that I use the most effective method that is safe for the livestock and that wont add a large amount of time to the service visit.
Thanks You,
Michael P. Gillespie
<Ahh, and I would be remiss to not mention the need for at least another "bucket in series" for rinsing nets and specimen containers after sterilization/dipping. BobF>
Re: Service Gear Sterilization. -- 02/02/10

Thank you again for all your help and time with my questions. I am looking forward to Aprils conference! Take care and be well.
Michael P. Gillespie
<Thank you my friend. B>
Aquatic Creations LLC
379 Amherst St. PMB 131.
Nashua, NH 03063

Aquarium Service Advertising. 09/14/09
Hello Mr. Fenner and Crew,
<Howdy Michael>
Thank you very much for all of your help and advice over the years. I am truly excited to be going to MACNA this year and will be attending on Saturday specifically to see you and for your talk on hitchhikers!
<Ahh! Makes the presentation all that more exciting for me>
Will you be available for some service industry questions during the day as well?
<Likely so... other than sleeping, other biz of life, oh, and doing the few hours a day that I do on WWM, I try to be out and about at these venues, mingling, chatting with folks>
I feel that I have been very fortunate with my company Aquatic Creations LLC to have been able to remain in pretty good shape despite the economy.
I would certainly love to hear your feelings on the state of the aquarium industry.
<Mmm, okay... The industry is doing 30% some worse in recent years for most all retailers, manufacturers, but many in the svc. side have done quite well. Glad to hear/read that you're amongst these>
With all that said, you and the crew have been an absolute blessing to the industry and to the hobby. I look forward to continued education from your site for many more years!
<Thank you... and us!>
My question for you today is in regards to advertising. There has been many posts made to this topic on WWM, but specifically you seem to favor that we hit the pavement and make contacts.
<This in addition to having a "good" website (with examples of work, some indication of costs... that is attractive, navigable...) is the best route (or at least vying with doing a good job at/with existing accounts (and having business cards or other contact info. located on, in cabinetry...), and getting about locally with better/best fish stores, designer/s and their outlets... Is really the best return on investment (time and dollars)
for growing your business, adding accounts>
I like this idea as well and feel that I am personally far better at communication face to face. What is the best approach for this method of reaching out to potential clients given the present economic climate? My
personality does not allow me to be a high pressure salesperson. What are the right types of businesses to approach and who are the right people to talk to within those businesses?
<Mmm, well, coming right up are the "holidays" season... You might want to try having potential customers come to you, by participating in "Christmas Shows", having a display (manned) at an entrance/exit to a
large/fashionable (higher end) shopping mall, attending a professional (medical, dental...) trade show as a vendor... OR getting out yourself to professional settings, AFTER making initial contact (likely via the phone), finding out who is the decision maker, IF they have a system currently and/or know who may... and meeting with them with your brochure/s, sales "book" (can be images and script in a laptop ppt presentation or analog in a binder)...>
Another side question to you about advertising. This may not really be answerable, but I am sure that you have experience with this and could possibly offer up some guidance. I have purchased 3 good sized central
systems for holding and quarantining our livestock prior to adding it to our clients tanks. The initial intention for these systems was strictly for that purpose, but I have found that there is a good number of hobbyists
that are happy to pay a little more for a clean, quarantined animal.
<Yes, and well there should be>
I do not want to step on the toes of the local retail stores as we do get a lot of service business from referrals from these shops, but I also don't want to turn away sales from interested customers. Do you have any suggestions on how to advertise a quarantined product without upsetting the local walk-in retail shops?
<Be open, honest with them about your practices... IF folks are finding you (that is, instead of your advertising, soliciting them) I would go ahead and sell what you can at a fair price (i.e. giving away nothing). DO bear in mind that all of this is taking up your time, that you are incurring an opportunity cost that you should in turn be adding to the price to compensate yourself>
Thank you in advance for your time and I look forward to seeing you at the end of the month!
Myk Gillespie.
Aquatic Creations LLC.
<See you soon Myk. Bob Fenner>

Re: Aquarium Service Advertising. -- 09/14/09
Hello Mr. Fenner,
<Just Bob please Myk>
Thank you very much for your quick response. I certainly do appreciate your advise here. My website www.reefdelivery.com is not spectacular, but is inexpensive and easy for me to operate and update.
<Actually, it appears to me to be very nice... complete. My own kibitzing... would have a rotating customer's system graphic... much larger than what you have... under your masthead... and Bigger thumbs, maybe a sub indexing of systems by type (fresh, marine)... and size... on your "Our Clients Aquariums" page/folder...>
The decision was made at the beginning of the year to go with the new website from the original www.aquaticcreationsonline.com. I got more than a few complaints to the length of that name.
<Hmmm, yes... reminds me of our (Nature Etc., Inc) last go at having retail shops... I thought "Aquatic Environments" was a great name... descriptive, encompassing the living, non-living aspects... Poor idea. Luckily a waitress at a bar we just happened to be visiting, chose the much better "Wet Pets" and saved us from going broke from each letter cost in can signage, and causing car accidents from people driving by trying to read the whole name.... Heeeee!>
I do plan to bring an experienced web designer in to make suggestions, especially for the products pages for those that may wish to make online purchases. These need to be much more user friendly and capable of shopping cart purchasing.
<Good points>
My clients tanks do not have any form of advertising for me on them.
Instead, I have offered an incentive program to my clients that offers them a credit to their service account for their referrals.
<Mmm, if they are tolerant of this... ask that a professional appearing, small, metal/Mylar backed name and phone number sticker be placed inconspicuously on a bottom edge of the tank...>
I've gone back and forth about the idea of advertising on my commercial accounts tanks. I feel that it could take away from the beauty of the display. Perhaps there is a way of doing this that would be eye catching, but not an eye sore?
<Yes... see my note above... And DO hand out business cards to the folks there and abouts...>
I had not even thought of attending other industry trade shows! What a fantastic idea! Being in NH. I would imagine that there is likely not much locally to my service territory, but I will certainly look into that. This would be more feasible for me as a manned display at the mall would have to be manned be me and I don't think that I could afford the time.
<Can be a real bonanza... Takes time, planning though...>
Thank you again as always. I look forward to seeing you at MACNA this year!
Myk Gillespie
Aquatic Creations LLC.
<Ah yes. BobF>

Re: Aquarium Service Advertising. 9/16/09
Hi Bob,
Pardon my formality. With 8 years USMC I've developed some habits. Some good, some not so good!
<No worries. Dad as a NAV lifer, one wife a major in the AF, myself drafted in the A...>
Thank you for reviewing my website. I will be sure to go over that with the site pro and see what can be done with that. I know that there may be some limitations with graphics and features due to the format of the site, but I am looking forward to seeing what is possible. I do plan to set the clients tank photos into separate categories in the future. Need to get more freshwater clients! Some of my competition wont deal with freshwater accounts. Seems very strange to me as personally I find them to be very important. Ah well, more for me!
Wet Pets does roll off the tongue a little easier. Funny how people looking at things from a different perspective can sometimes see a lot more clearly. Of course, everything makes more sense when you are at the bar! I find that my kids (All 4 of them!)
<A gaggle!>
can be a fantastic problem solving resource for me when it comes to the business.
Myk Gillespie
Aquatic Creations LLC.
<& you, B>

Aquarium Maintenance Certifications? 4/27/09
Mr.. Fenner,
So I've been in business for about 10 months now...I was tired of waiting for a favor from a friend for a professional website. so I took it upon myself...www.ecoreefsystems.com. Nothing special by any means.. but effective. Or so I think, any recommendations as to what I should add/subtract/ change etc to the site?
<Mmm, maybe add something to your link "Pricing" or delete the link... And I'd squish all down size wise so the whole homepage can be viewed w/o scrolling>
Aside from the website im continuing to build my business identity. Im in the process of getting insured, obviously I hope that I will never need it, but for about $500 I can be liability insured up to 1 million. worth every penny...
<Oh yes>
So, on top of being insured, what other certifications can I acquire to better the identity of my business?
<Nada unless it's required in the State you're in... for jobs beyond a certain dollar level... attaching fixtures to walls... that you be a subcontractor>
Something along the lines of installation certifications etc?
<There is no such thing as far as I'm aware...>
There's always scuba certifications...but I don't see how that would be able to help very much at this point... although I cant wait to scuba..snorkeling is enough of a trip as it is haha...and that was just some pretty mediocre spots in Bermuda and key largo...all in due time to experience the real deal of underwater excursion... btw..I've been getting rock from pacific island imports...thanks SO much for that recommendation! Their new xl Jakarta "angel rock" is easily the nicest stuff I've ever seen. And 400 lbs of it looks truly spectacular in a 210 haha.
<Ah good>
Needless to say, business is progressing yes (to a degree), but not to the extent that I would like...not really able to make a living. Which I understand is common when starting a business. But im pretty much out of
ideas as to how to progress at a more desired rate.
<Get on out and knock on doors... Hospitals, restaurants that already have systems is a good place to focus>
I've gotten sponsorship on nhreefclub.org, and am working on it for bostonreefers.org. But I cant quite afford that yet.. pathetic..I know.
Any words of wisdom to help out this young grasshopper?
Thanks so much,
<And ask the local fish stores under what terms, conditions they'll "plug you" for installs, maintenance. If you have enough time, need, consider working for them part time for leads especially. BobF>

Licenses and insurance 6/24/09
Hello crew,
Love the site. Been using it for years.
Anyway, my dream (right now) is to open a LFS but seeing how I don't have the time and money right now, that's on the backburner.
<There is time>
However, I was thinking of becoming an aquarium consultant -- help people design and implement aquaria systems. I have about 20 years of FW experience (off and on - although on for the last 10-plus) and about six years with SW. I do tons of research and am just generally interested in the hobby.
<Good qualities... Are you also "business savvy?", Inclined?>
Cutting to the chase, do I/should I need/have a business license?
<Need to check with your State... there are no such "certifications" in the trade itself... But you may require a residential license to operate a for-profit venture from your home>
Would it make it easier (down the road) to eventually open a shop?
<Yes... likely much more so... in terms of working knowledge, as well as strength of commitment on your part>
What about insurance as a consultant?
<Mmm, do you have "much" to lose? Best for now to develop a working business and marketing plan for your proposed venture. Have you experience here? If not, there are books, courses, the Net with useful input... and we are always here for inter-rator checking and agreement>
Thanks for your time.
<Glad to conspire with you, Bob Fenner>

Re: Licenses and insurance 6/24/2009
All right! The esteemed Bob Fenner!
<Heeee! Maybe "steamed"...!>
Love your "Conscientious Marine Aquarists" book.
My original plan is to just help people negotiate the maze and intimidation of the LFS - basically help them decide what kind of tank they want to set up and then help them buy and install.
<Ahhh! How will you meet up with these folks? I.e., how will they know of your services, availability?>
Hopefully that would lead to some sort of service/maintenance contract with them.
<A good idea to put up a web site, offer as much in the way of complete services as you feel comfortable...>
Eventually I would like to get into more of retail part of it -- buying the equipment, livestock myself and selling to customers.
<A good, workable order of progression>
You asked if I'm business savvy - to tell the truth, not a lot of experience in that realm but I think I'm smart enough to figure it out.
<Good... any chance of working with an established firm in the field for a while to gain experience, insights?>
I just know that if I have to work for the rest of my life I might as well do something I enjoy.
<Bingo! We are in total agreement here>
As for insurance, you asked if I had a lot to lose - just my house :)
I do have a book on developing a business plan but the numbers part is kind of confusing and at this point I have no idea what to charge for consulting fees.
<No worries... draw up what you can... and we can visit over the Net, you can easily share with a bank, other money institution, even a relative in the know...>
I was thinking a flat fee for first consultation and them charge hourly?
What should those fees be?
<Mmm... a few ways to come about with a figure... but really, "what the market will bear"... Check about... see what the stores, service companies are charging... Our "olde" service company used to charge $35 per hour for labor (counting transit time), $50 for supervision, and $100 per hour for consultation (minimum two hours)... but this was back in 1991!>
Basically right now my plan is to sit down with clients, discuss what they want then go to LFS with them, buy gear and set it up.
<Mmm... depending on your "target market", and how much business there is to be had in your geographical area... I would "shoot beyond" this... and cater to wealthier folks who most likely will not be going into stores...
Develop pix of your efforts, a web site, portfolio (on a laptop if you'd like, though in-print materials are still the best available, most appropriate technology), and get on out there! Doctor's offices, Restaurants... to generate initial business, contacts... And visit upscale stores to look into forging business associations>
I plan on putting together some kind of presentation to describe the different type of systems (glass/acrylic, FW/SW, different filtration methods, etc).
<Mmm, again... I would not "shoot" for the middle classes... Rich folks, really your potential/real customer segment, aren't interested in such technicalities... Almost always, they simply want to know... how much, how big (or the cost influence of size, height...) and how often you'll be coming by to fix, check all... Do take a few hours to look through friend Jim Stime's fab "LA Fish Guy" videos...
very instructive...>
While the business plan numbers may be confusing, I think I can come up with a marketing plan and a web presence. I'm thinking if I have a business license it might make everything appear more "legit" to perspective customers as well as eventually allow me to but from dealers at wholesale.
<Yes... you definitely will need a fictitious name statement and local business license to purchase anything wholesale in the trade>
As an aside, research on WWM suggests having business cards/Yellow Pages ad. Anyone can makeup business cards but do you need a business license to buy an ad in the Yellow Pages?
<Mmm, often so... and do be careful here re making large cost commitments at this juncture. There are more cost-effective investments for your time, cash...>
Who do I contact to find out about needing and obtaining a business license?
<Do you live in a large/r city? If not, the State bureaucracies...>
Thanks for your time, help and input.
<Welcome. BobF>

Re: Licenses and insurance 6/24/2009
How will I get my "name" out there? Good question. I've seen a couple "aquarium service" ads on Craigslist, but they are very basic and don't seem very professional.
<Ahhh! I don't think this is the route to go either... Again... you MUST define who your target customer is... Do put yourself in their place... Are such people likely to seek out such services via Craig's List? I doubt so>
I'm guessing Craigslist could work, as long as you give enough info. But classified ads? Fliers on the bulletin boards at LFS?
<Mmm... help through the LFSs, but not classifieds... again... think like the folks you want to sell to... Where do they hang out? Interior Designers, Architects, other professional service appliers... how do they reach these folks?
Obviously, door-to-door, per se? Any other ways to get the word out?
<... many ways>
As for target audience, I think it might be a bit easier targeting the "middle class" section -
<... but Nate... these folks (I'm one of them) don't have the means, nor really often the interest to employ someone for such services>
I love talking about this stuff and would like to, hopefully, find people that are interested in the hobby as much as the "how much, just build it for me and I'll enjoy it" people. Although it seems if I want to target this sector, it would behoove me to have a business license so I can buy equipment at cost? After all, there is a reason they're rich :)
As far as I can tell, there doesn't appear to much of a presence of consultants/service companies in the area I live (East Bay Area, Cali) at least none that I can find on a Google search, so it's hard to know what the market might bear.
<Look in the Yellow Pages... there are several I'd warrant>
Aquarium Concepts (formerly of Hayward, now Dublin) is probably the best LFS in my area (perhaps Bay Area) but they are a good 15 minutes from my house. I would guess they offer installation and service but the local LFS in my town doesn't appear to offer anything like that.
<Here is a good place for you to start... Go there and talk with the svc. mgr... and ask for a job>
You gave figures about what fees to charge, adding those numbers were back in 1991. Have those numbers gone up or down since then?
<Some places up... I have not heard much lower>
Obviously logic would dictate they've gone up but given the advances in the industry, have those fees have gone down? I definitely don't want to price myself out of the market.
<You have to find, define the market first>
But first things first: I think I need to do a brain-storming session to determine what I will offer and come up with a presentation to present to potential customers and then develop some kind of website. Agree?
<Actually... concurrent with working in the field itself... pet-fish retail or service... Apply for jobs while doing all else. B>

Re: Licenses and insurance   6/26/09
Good morning,
In our last email conversation, you asked how I would contact perspective
customers. I did some brainstorming last night and came up with some ideas.
What do you think?
- Direct mailers to doctors/dentist offices?
- Direct mailers/fliers in realtor/brokers offices?
- Vet offices?
- LFS?
- Country clubs/membership-driven gyms?
- I live in wine country, what about targeting local wineries?
<All possibilities>
It seems if I have to get tanks setup in areas where those with disposable income congregate (doctors offices, country clubs, etc.) it might help generate leads?
Also, I did some research in my local yellow pages and found seven consulting/maintenance companies. Three have a web presence, four do not.
They are located in the cities and towns around mine, none in my town directly. All of them are at least 10 to 45 miles away from me.
I contacted one that I would not be competing with directly trying to set up an informational interview about the business. Is this wise? Should I call others to find out their fees, essentially posing as a potential customer?
<Why not?>
Again, thanks for all your help. You're forcing me to think about the things I wouldn't have thought to think about (I know, that's pretty deep) :), you're not just giving me the answers.
I need to find these answers myself.

Re: Licenses and insurance   6/29/09
I was wondering is it necessary to have liability insurance before doing business?
<If you're going to have it, yes... Not just a/the "legal" question, but your sense of the possibility of suit, loss...>
In one of the older posts I read on the site, it was mentioned that one needed a business license and vehicle insurance and liability insurance "when you can afford it."
<Yes... a/the/my "Spartan" view... i.e., one can "start" without the legal necessities... But, in this day and age, should you?>
While I know I should probably have liability asap, how long can I conceivably go before I absolutely need it?
<Till you have, create an accident that causes high enough cost. RMF>

Re: Licenses and insurance
Hello and thanks for all the info thus far.
<... welcome in measure>
I am, however, a bit confused on what to do first -- decide on business structure (dba, s-corp., LLC), get licenses and insurance AND THEN start marketing myself? Or can I get my "Sales pitches" in order and begin marketing while working on the other things?
<I'd get going and apply for a job in the field IMMEDIATELY... forget about all self-employment trappings for now... You're not ready>
Other than deciding business structure, the other big dilemma I have is the possibility of being sued. Should I only concentrate, then, on service/maintenance aspect, perhaps even consulting and stay away from the actual set up of aquarium? It seems the biggest concern would be messing up an install and having a tank drain all over someone's office or home as opposed to the other aspects (service/maintenance, etc?)
Again, thanks in advance for you help/insight
<... Stop Nate... apply, and work for someone else... retail or service for a few months... THIS is the best route for you to take for now... by far.

Re: Licenses and insurance 6/30/09
Well, working for someone else is just not feasible. I have a family to support that I wish to spend some time with and already have a FT job. I was hoping to slowly build up this idea but I guess I have to just scrap it.
Thanks for your help
<Mmm, not at all... Sign up and work for either aspect of the trade part time... Weekends, nights... B>

New Set Up and Service Business, Lvstk., Tanks/Filters sourcing, charging...  2/209 First, what a great wealth of information you provide on your site, thank you for the help you have already given. <Welcome!> I am in the process of opening a set up and service business here in Columbia, SC. <Ahh! Congratulations on your journeys beginning> I have 20 plus years of business management experience, and 30 plus of aquarium experience, so I feel good about my chances. I have plenty of outside sales experience, and I think I have the ability to get the clients, and the customer service and aquarium/fish experience to keep them. My business plan begins with this service business and later evolving into a store front, if possible. <Heee! Been here, did that... and loved it> My first question is, exactly where do you recommend I buy my fish from? <The best local, then supplemented, going with distal sources available. It may well be that partnering in ways with the LFSs is best to begin with... One or more may grant you substantial discounts, even feed you leads/work in exchange for your steady patronage. As your business grows, and you have the space/capacity, time/need for larger volume, doing business with some of the better outfits... Maybe Millie/All Seas in Miami, Quality Marine, Sea Dwelling Creatures, Pacific Aqua Farms, Underwater World in LA... among others, will become worthwhile> How about the tanks/filters/etc? <Mmm... best for you to "go underground" here... Likely work in/with a local retailer to gain useful contact knowledge re what's available right there... It may well be that there are local folks who make superior units within easy delivery distance... Yes, better to deal locally usually... faster, more agreeable service... Often substantial savings all the way around. Am going to BCC two "Carolina" friends... Eric Rood and our own WWM Crewmember Eric Russell, and ask that they proffer their help/input to you here> Along with that, I am planning on having several tanks set up, that I can take filters /water/properly bio'd medium, etc. so that I can set up a running tank for a client. <Good> How do you recommend this process be done. <Posted on WWM> I assume if someone is paying you to set up their tank, they don't want to wait 6 weeks or more for the tank to cycle before having fish. <You are correct> Lastly (I know, I talk too much as well), I am aiming for servicing contracts to be the bread here, what are average rates for say cichlid tanks (I plan on specializing in Africans and South Americans) vs. assorted tropical vs. reef tanks. <Mmm, highly variable... There are three principal ways of arriving at good numbers here... "Figuring out your costs either net or retail for materials if inclusive contracts, and an hourly rate to include your time on site, managing and travel", Replacement cost for the materials, plus your total time, or "What the market will bear"... Best/better to start low when you're new...> I feel like I have what it takes as far as business and trade, just trying to tie down some of the options that there seem to be so many opinions about. Thanks again for the help your site has already given, and the time. John Baker Columbia, SC <Welcome. Bob Fenner>

EricR chimes in Re: New Set Up and Service Business in SC     2/3/09 First, what a great wealth of information you provide on your site, thank you for the help you have already given. <Welcome!> I am in the process of opening a set up and service business here in Columbia, SC. <Ahh! Congratulations on your journeys beginning> I have 20 plus years of business management experience, and 30 plus of aquarium experience, so I feel good about my chances. I have plenty of outside sales experience, and I think I have the ability to get the clients, and the customer service and aquarium/fish experience to keep them. My business plan begins with this service business and later evolving into a store front, if possible. <Heee! Been here, did that... and loved it> My first question is, exactly where do you recommend I buy my fish from? <The best local, then supplemented, going with distal sources available. It may well be that partnering in ways with the LFSs is best to begin with... One or more may grant you substantial discounts, even feed you leads/work in exchange for your steady patronage. As your business grows, and you have the space/capacity, time/need for larger volume, doing business with some of the better outfits... Maybe Millie/All Seas in Miami, Quality Marine, Sea Dwelling Creatures, Pacific Aqua Farms, Underwater World in LA... among others, will become worthwhile> How about the tanks/filters/etc? <Mmm... best for you to "go underground" here... Likely work in/with a local retailer to gain useful contact knowledge re what's available right there... It may well be that there are local folks who make superior units within easy delivery distance... Yes, better to deal locally usually... faster, more agreeable service... Often substantial savings all the way around. Am going to BCC two "Carolina" friends... Eric Rood and our own WWM Crewmember Eric Russell, and ask that they proffer their help/input to you here> Along with that, I am planning on having several tanks set up, that I can take filters /water/properly bio'd medium, etc. so that I can set up a running tank for a client. <Good> How do you recommend this process be done. <Posted on WWM> I assume if someone is paying you to set up their tank, they don't want to wait 6 weeks or more for the tank to cycle before having fish. <You are correct> Lastly (I know, I talk too much as well), I am aiming for servicing contracts to be the bread here, what are average rates for say cichlid tanks (I plan on specializing in Africans and South Americans) vs. assorted tropical vs. reef tanks. <Mmm, highly variable... There are three principal ways of arriving at good numbers here... "Figuring out your costs either net or retail for materials if inclusive contracts, and an hourly rate to include your time on site, managing and travel", Replacement cost for the materials, plus your total time, or "What the market will bear"... Best/better to start low when you're new...> I feel like I have what it takes as far as business and trade, just trying to tie down some of the options that there seem to be so many opinions about. Thanks again for the help your site has already given, and the time. John Baker Columbia, SC <Welcome. Bob Fenner> <<Hey John! You may already be aware but...a couple of the better brick-and-mortar stores around here in Columbia are FINS and Fishy Business. Rick West at FINS and Guy Griffin at Fishy are great folks, but approaching them may be a little tricky as both locations run their own install/service operations. Other possible retail contacts would be Richard Bullard from A Fish Store in Sumter, and Scott Groseclose who runs an aquatic WEB business (Aquarium Specialty) and is based in Columbia. You may also find it worth your while to contact My Reef Creations (MRC) in Lawrenceville, GA re filtration equipment. Good luck with your enterprise...Eric Russell>>

Please help. Petfish biz... Svc. and Culture of Fragged Cnid.s Hello everyone, <Nate> this is my first time writing but Id like to thank you all involved in the answering of questions. The few hours I've been sitting and reading has been VERY informative. So im 21 and starting the business "AquaTech Aquarium" out of my parents basement. <Ahh!> Im located in New Hampshire and have got a bunch of tanks set up growing out all sorts of corals. Im trying to get my black Polymnus clowns to spawn but no luck so far. <There are far easier species... and more easily sold... I would go with "stock" items like Ocellaris, Perculas, Maroons... first> I just picked up six 75 gallon reef ready tanks and four 29 gallon tanks with 3/4" bulkhead fitting in the bottom. Im going to have 2 separate systems. The reef system will have four 75's and 2 70's. One 70 will be the sump and the other will be the refugium. I've got an MRC MR-3 with a Japanese Iwaki 70RLT ready to go. The 2nd system will be fish only and will consist of the remaining 75's and 29's. I've checked out; http://www.tropicalfishfind.com/Importers.asp and sent a general email to about 30 of the exporters. <Mmm, for... stocking? I would NOT do this importing yourself... Too many possible sources of disaster... no real savings...> After getting a pricelist from about 12 from Indonesia i found Roy Wicaksono from Bali Marine Supply to have the best selection and pricing. He is unable to ship to Boston never mind anywhere in NH. I then learned more about the idea of transshipping. <Nor would I do this... orders are going to be too large, specimens too unpredictable in health, size... and still troubles with likely high incidental mortality> I guess the only way for me to import is to have the shipment go through LAX or JFK first. I had a nice conversation today with Joe from Pacific Island Imports (pacisland.com) and found his selection to be impressive but the cost of shipping etc has led me to believe that there has GOT to be a better way of going about this. <Mmm, there is> If im paying for the shipping to both the US and then from LAX/JFK to Manchester, NH i might as well try and find out HOW to go about avoiding the middle man if that is possible. I then learned about CITES and customs etc which has led me to believe that the needed customs agents for this kind of thing only exist in LA and NYC? <Mmm, this and other towns with Customs facilities... e.g. Chicago...> So i decided to find a transhipper out of NYC and then go from there. In my Google search for one i found this site. Which has led me here... <Ok...> Any suggestions on how to go about finding a few different suppliers in the northeast or west coast if they are somehow cheaper. <Yes... If you're intending to "frag" larger colonies, grow them out a bit, re-sell somehow, I'd just buy such specimens from reputable marine livestock wholesalers... In LA, do consider Pacific Aqua Farms, Sea Dwelling Creatures, Underwater World, Quality Marine...> Would these more local suppliers mind using my exporter if i were to pay them a fee in addition to reoxygenation and reboxing fee? <Mmm, I doubt it/this... and again, after "living this industry" for a few decades, I am adamant re my stance here. You might "get away" with a decent to good shipment trying your direct import, transshipping, or variation in between here, but I assure you, you will "get caught" with a bad one, too small/unsalable items, an errant shipper... sooner rather than later. What is it you want to do? Make money and have a modicum of a good time in our ornamental interest? Buy from legitimate wholesalers... That way you can almost hand-pick specimens, be assured of some recourse should something go wrong (it will), and talk with someone who speaks English when it does.> I ask this because after comparing prices between Bali Marine Exports and Pacific Island Imports. <Again...> Any and all guidance/direction would be most appreciated. -Nate Guerette <One other strong suggestion I have for you is to start a "service" branch of your business. Seek out and do marine aquarium maintenance... You will make money thereby and be able to use the tank space and power/electrical costs of others to grow out specimens... Along with indirectly increasing demand for your tank-bred/reared specimens. Be chatting, Bob Fenner>

Re: Please help.  -08/27/08 Mr. Fenner, <Just "Bob" is fine Nate> Thanks for the quick reply! I do in fact service tanks. Only 13 right now. But I've got to start somewhere... <This is a great start!> To give some insight on the market in my area...the hobby is fairly large in Boston... <Ah yes... have been, visited there a few times over the last three decades... in the pet-fish, public aquarium interest> and tends to get less and less popular the further you get away from it. The town of Salem (70,000) has about 90% of the quality marine LFS's in the state of New Hampshire. Salem is about 30 minutes north of Boston. I, live in Manchester(105,000) which is about 35 minutes north of Salem... <A good size, demography of population> The closest place for marine fish next to Salem is the local Petco... <Mmm, not really a "player"> The city of Nashua which is about 20 minutes west of Salem forms a triangle between the 3 cities. The hobby doesn't exist in Nashua either. <I see> My thoughts are... if i were to go to the dentist or visit my pop-pop in a nursing home at young age and see a gorgeous constantly changing for the better reef tank.. The idea of the hobby would then be seeded at a young age. vs. hearing from friends that salt water fish tanks are nearly impossible and nix the idea in the butt right there. Only to explain to these kind of viewers that changing substrate from crushed coral to live aragonite makes a world of difference in itself... <Ah, yes> The notion of crushed coral having any buffering capability is ludicrous. I start to break a sweat if a clients tank has a pH of 8.0 never mind getting down to the 7.8 buffering level of crushed coral... <Steady there...> Anyways...by setting up quality healthy reef tanks in the Manchester/Nashua Area (100's of active tanks in the Salem area and make 12 total in manch/Nash) i will then not just be having business in the here and now. but essentially be advertising for more business in the future. <Yes, that's the ticket!> Starting a business in the parents basement has its ups and downs.. <I ran my/our service company from my home for twelve years... I do understand> yeah im 21 and living at home. <Heeee! I have friends in the mid-30's, including Anthony Calfo, who still live at home... No worries> BUT...zero overhead. The tank servicing companies in the Salem area have a reasonable knowledge of the hobby but none of business. I have been meeting with a gentleman from the organization SCORE for 5 weeks now. developing a well rounded business plan etc. <Ahhh! Excellent... Am very glad to see this SBA service still about. I/we too availed ourselves of the Service Corps of Retired Executives... I only wish that more of our actual government "leadership" used/were guided by such a ready resource of talented individuals> I currently operate under the name of The Salty Frog: Aquariums and Terrariums. I breed poison dart frog which is where my interest to install terrariums came in. But since Fruit Flies being all of the place isn't acceptable my most clients. <Mmm, Nate... do a bit of investigating... there are "flightless" Drosophila melanogaster genotypes about... that can, could be cultured> i figure ill still to Reef tanks and move to... AquaTech Aquariums. So perhaps when i have the capital in a few years for a storefront or warehouse(whichever the course of time takes me) ill then have a greater demand for my services/product and well on my way. Theoretically... <Do take your time moving into a "store front" setting... MANY downsides... expenses galore, and look in the mirror... There is only ONE of you... think on this> My big bro is a Columbia grad and has networked a web design hookup. So ill be getting an 8500 package for free. I have to pay about 100 in overhead...im devastated. In trying not to burn any bridges and im currently underway of developing a full business identity...so that i may have the best shot possible when going after the top dog clients that will yield the best advertisement results as well as having the cash to afford the setup i recommend. I believe in doing something right and therefore doing it once...and having the right tool for the right job is great...but almost never cheap. <Mmm, and don't discount the "low tech" approaches... DO take photographs, develop a "carry about" business presentation... with pricing, what have you, to make one on one pitches to potentials... AND do get on out and beat the streets, yes, in person, seeking new clients. I take it you have or plan some simple/cheap "Yellow Page" ads as well...> To wrap up today's journal entry...The serviceman in the Salem area buy anything and everything from the Salem LFS's. They get about a 10-15% discount and charge the clients full. It about covers the cost for their diesel transportation. I have set up accounts with Royal Pet, Champion Lighting, MRC, Bayside Aquarium Supply, Savko Plumbing Supplies, and a few others. and I can order all of my hardware through champion and have it shipped out next day. order my dry goods from bayside and replenish once a month etc... <Outstanding... DO become the "A" player in your field there... and aim for quality and service (i.e. NOT price) in your dealings... look/select for the best clients and leave the "dubious" ones to the "other service companies"... This does work over time...> As far as livestock. I would like to charge an extra fee for a 30 day limited warranty on livestock. <Mmm, do you have "inclusive accounts" where you supply all livestock (at an added fee basis)? I would definitely quarantine/hold all new livestock for a few weeks before placing in a customers account> Which of course requires proper QT. I read your Acclimation page from cover to cover and would like to thank you for that insight and ask for some direction on the discussion of acclimating inverts? <Really... just "good" selection of species, specimens, drip acclimation to existing/bag conditions, slowly (weeks) changing to system standards through water changes> In order for all of this to be said and done..i need lots of tanks..and more importantly volume. My first step after the set up of both systems is to order a bunch of rock...Tonga was my first choice but i guess some jerks thought to be a wonderful idea to jackhammer and mine their way right in front of the capital high school .which has led to a ban of exporting the rock period end of story. prime example of getting too comfortable in ones own shoes. <Other things going on in Tonga... the too-usual vagaries of totalitarianism... Look to other S. Pacific nation choices... no worries. SDC, PAF...> The shipping of rock and other livestock is going to be pricey no matter how i cut it. Im assuming shipping will be cheaper from NYC than LA. <I would NOT assume this... ask for bulk (like ten box plus) deals... maybe make a "piggy back" deal with some LFSs there... to get freight and volume breaks... Can be done> Any recommendations of a Rock, Vert/Invert supplier out of NYC or simply in the Northeast? <Mmm, no. I don't know anyone well enough to plug... I do know some I would steer clear of though...> I believe that covers all of my thoughts and concerns this morning...haha Thanks so much. -Nate <Be seeing you, Bob Fenner> Re: Please help.  -08/27/08 Bob, <Nate> I've got to run off to a score meeting and then a soccer scrimmage. just became the keeper coach to my old high school V team. Good times...neways. No yellow page adds or things of that nature just yet. Not top priority just yet. Jays Aquatics out of Salem is now the "best" LFS in the state. thus far i have been doing the majority of my business through him. iIl def approach him for a piggyback. <Good... have them contact me if I may be of assistance here> Any idea of where i could get a used Baldwin BM41 Suction Cup Drill Press? They are like 650 new... <Heeee! Yes! Try listing your want on Craig's List...> i hear they last decades in which case id prefer something used. Or used tanks volume pumps etc? i know the guy i got the 75's from bought them from a wholesaler who buys out pet stores...he obviously wouldn't tell me from who. If i choose to maintain the lone wolf approach im sure i will stick to breeding and propagation. If i come across a worthy partner..than i shall look further into a storefront. I do want time to just take it easy and enjoy the weather... <I take it this encompasses life itself> have time to coach etc. And not have to pay someone in order to take time off. <Bingo> A great deal of my setups take care of themselves as much as possible. I see this being the case in a warehouse situation. Liiiike a 2000 gallon refugium would be fun...ooor bigger. time will tell. SDC-PAF? Still new to these terms..haha <Sea Dwelling, Pacific... some of the folks on 104th, LAX...> As far as acclimation...is the pH level going to drop on inverts like it with fish? CO2? O2? etc? <CO2 is most useful, inorganic acids like HCl otherwise...> If not...i don't see why i cant simply dip the corals etc and add them to my main system. <Heeeee! Can be done usually... but NOT with long-haul shipping, like importing...> Im kind of limited on space and so having several different system each at different parameters doesn't appear too practical. Or at least i am not totally certain how to go about this. But im looking to get the tanks mounted and plumbed as soon as i have a finalized idea and can place an order for like 32 bulkhead fittings and 50 feet of spa flex etc. <Mmm, do use the specified primer and solvents here...> Again i have 6-75's, 4-29's. 2-70's,1-55...and can get more if need be. given what i will be getting in for livestock and from where. What's your suggested setup that is bound for the greatest potential of success? <See WWM... the Aquatics Business Subweb... for centralized filtration et al...> ...Thanks again Bob -Nate Guerette <Welcome. BobF>

Re: Small Business Support   8/5/08 Dear crew, I Googled aquatic wholesalers in Arizona and came up with a few different results. Does anybody know the companies name? I looked through about 15 of my magazines last night and couldn't find any wholesalers in Arizona in the mags I have. Can anybody tell me which wholesaler in Arizona he is recommending? <... Thank goodness for the generosity of Bowtie (nee Fancy) pub.s... allowing downloads of FAMA... tis "Vasca Aquarium Supply", 866 629 8122 in Tempe..., http://www.vascaaquariumsupply.com/ Note to browsers: they don't sell retail. Bob Fenner>

Ad inquiry... Aq. Svc. biz for sale... but where?  -- 07/11/08 Robert, I'm brokering an aquarium maintenance business for a buddy of mine. Do you have a classifieds section? <Mmm, not per se, but...> Would you consider a free listing in exchange for 1% of sale price? <We'll post.. on the Bus. Opportunities areas... please send along contact info. or stmt. authorizing posting of your here> The business did $111K in service last year and is for sale for $240K. Best, Adam-- Adam Harreld <Bob Fenner>

Re: Ad inquiry Robert, <Adam> Thanks. To ensure you get your 1% if we sell to someone who finds it on WWMedia...we'll make the initial contact go to you. Then you can email me the potential buyer's info. Here's the classified: Aquarium maintenance business in southwest USA for sale. $111K in revenue in service alone in 2007. Also comes with over $25K in inventory. Priced at $240K with $100K down. For more info, please contact Robert Fenner at Fennerrobert@Hotmail.com Best, Adam <Real good... will post, forward contacts to you at the above addr.. BobF>

Re: Service company and feeding 7/8/08 I was able to download one of the shows by Reece. Listened to the first half before I made some dinner for the kids. Pretty good, I'll be keeping an eye out for your appearance. I'm sure it'll be interesting! Bout the same the same story with the B/F currently, I'll keep working on it. I left them by themselves with the feeder this three day weekend and this morning they all looked fantastic, so that's refreshing. (Amm-0, Nitrite-0, Nitrate-.15, Phosphate-0) You know, the service biz ain't no joke, it's been very nerve-wrecking for me so far. <With great rewards...> Normally you're with your tank every minute that you're home, observing. Can't do that here, it's tough. I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about, it's hard to describe. Gonna keep on keeping on though, I'm thriving off of it. The other tank is a 220G display with 80G sump, I built it in-wall in the guys basement. This was a SERIOUSLY underestimated project! The entire time I was very overwhelmed. <Live... and hopefully learn...> Has all the bells and whistles, halides, MR2, GEO 624, CL with 4-way OM) Took me two months solid (which would now take me half as long now that I've done it, and the owner knew this going into it) Any advice? <Ask for more money, or chalk all up to experience and move on> I just read over the "Silver-Tipped/Columbian/Jordan/Ariid Cats" and I like what I've read. You didn't mention fish but at least one of mine would be this Catfish. My pops always had em growing up, LOVE the look and the way they glide through the aquarium, definitely shark-like. I'm interested in adding a small shoal, (3) to a 110 FOWLR I currently have here at the house. Upon further research it seems I may have put together a nice environment for this species. My question is, at what age will they be completely comfortable to full strength sea water? <With growth, more than time, when they're six to eight inches in length... about a year possibly> As long as I can remember, they've always been offered at the 3"-4" range, usually on the lower end of that. Will youngsters be ready for a FOWLR assuming I went through the recommended acclimation procedures? <Yes> I'm thinking three of them with an adult Volitans would make a great aggressive display. <Okay> Pretty cool Walt Smith is a friend, along with many others, Calfo, Michael, Paletta, come to mind among others. Wow. My friends just go to bars and clubs.... lol. <Mmmm, this is about all we do as well... while talking about aquariums of course> Nice talkin to ya. <BobF>

Question please help... Aquarium Service, calculating... gross revenue, net...  7/6/08 Ok I've been in the Aquarium cleaning business for about 10 yr now, and it's time for me to expand. I also worked in the Pet industry for about 13 yrs as head of fish department between 2 small franchise pet stores. At first I was cleaning aquariums in my spare time until I finished school and went full time for the last 3 yrs. I have about 40 clients, mostly commercial, <A good number, kind> and working out of my home. <Good... keeps expenses down> So overall I'm very familiar with the industry, but the question I have is finding a median to potential gross income for my business plan. I've search for sometime, and I see that so many companies operate so differently. Now the area I'm in there is very few competition, it's about 6 companies total in my part of VA including myself. I've been playing with this figures for a while now, and can't come to a conclusion. I don't know what is realistic for a yearly gross sales in service. <Six figures is a good round number> I can figure what I need as far as expenses, advertisement, and etc. Please help if you have a national average or formula so I can complete this plan. <Don't have... don't know that there ever has been such figures, data> Ok I give you an example, my fix expense according to my plan is about 9k per month, and my break even analysis came in around 220 K per year. <Wow!> I don't know if that is realistic or not, I see some companies that gross more / less than that figure, but they design and make aquariums as well. I know in the Pet store industry you can figure out the sales forecast by $200 -$250 per square foot of retail space. <Yes... a good minimum nowadays> What about the aquarium service business, how can I figure a ideal sale forecast or gross income from service? Thank you <Can be calculated by your desires... that is what you hope to make gross and net... and figured backwards by the hour... Or calc.ed by going forward with what you charge per hour... counting or discounting travel time, shopping... admin... If you don't already figure these in already...> I'm tire of working out of my home, I want a warehouse to work out of and ready for financing to get the ball rolling. I know what needed to get setup, and how to execute the plan, but trying to predict what I can actually make is unknown. I know I'm really getting out there and it time for me take action. <A big step... May entail having to hire other/s... Do you have an operations manual in place? Perhaps a partner who has a strong operational side would suit you... Bob Fenner>

Starting a new ornamental aquatics svc. biz... approaches  - 06/08/2007 hello, long time reader 1st time typer. well to give you a short story, I have 3 tanks. 1 guppy breeder tank on the way. 55gl fish tank fresh water, 40gl saltwater FO. and a 20gl reef tank with corals. want to start up a prorogation tank, and I also want to build a pond in my yard, (just got a house) and Ill be putting a fish tank probably 55gl at my pizza shop that I own. ( just a small pizza shop) <Yummy!> But my Question is how would I go about starting a aquarium maintenances business. and also work on ponds. (cleaning and stocking) wondering how much ins. would cost.. the city I would working in has a population of 65,000 and a few miles away there is 2 other towns of 20,000 total. there is only one other business that does what I would like to do, they also design and build aquariums. hear is the competitions web site http://www.newwaveaquaria.com/ the funny thing is the owners live some what by me. ... <Best to start... at the beginning... start to apply for a fictitious name stmt., business license, URL for the company's website... generate a presentation to post, take on the road analog to show potential customers... with pricing... for what you offer. Make a business and marketing plan... with demographics, who your potential customer is... And you have read: http://wetwebmedia.com/AqBizSubWebIndex/Biz%20Index/Biz%20index.htm my take off on Musashi's "Book of Five Rings"... the five critical elements of business: location, finance, personnel, set-up and stocking... any one of which if it's deficient can be crippling... Much to consider. Bob Fenner>

Service Maintenance Contract Help -02/25/08 I started a small mom and pop Saltwater exclusive LFS in May of 2007. I have regular walk-in hours and regular by appointment hours. Basically if we are not at the airport picking up live-stock or out doing service contracts we are open. <nice> I have recently landed a nice contract for a high-end computerized saltwater reef system, which will be in the children's section at a County Library. I have searched the web looking for a draft of a Service Contract and have not found one. Do you have one or know where I could find one? I would like to use the verbiage as a basis to create something more professional for my store? <I would strongly suggest you consult a lawyer to help you draft a general/standard service contract for all your customers which you can tweak to customize for each job/person. But if you'd rather do it yourself, please do consult some of the "writing your own contracts" books and/or guides on the web. Some sources even sell generic service contracts you can work with.> I have tried searching the web site, and it keeps showing this, but I can't find that section: SvcCoFAQs Not having ever seen an aquarium install/service contract (do you know where I could take a long at an example?), I've come up with the following ... www.wetwebmedia.com/AqBizSubWebIndex/svccofaqs.htm Thank you, Cathy Sara M.>

A Fair Price for Hobbyist Style Services   2/17/08 Hi guys! I have a question whose answer probably is more of an opinion than a fact. I need to ask people I trust and who have experience and NO ONE fits the bill more than you guys. I've asked your panel of experts questions a few times in the past and have always walked away impressed and more knowledgeable than before I asked. I am simply a reef hobbyist and normally have absolutely no interest in the business aspect of the industry. I live in the Baltimore area and my brother is in the building management field. In his work, he ran across a client who has a 75 gallon tank at home and a 55 gallon tank at her office; both supposedly reef tanks with live rock and coral. The tank owner is dissatisfied with her current service and after hearing about the service person's practices and attitude, I certainly understand why (filling a reef tank with tap water that has not been aged, mixing different clownfish types in the above mentioned tanks, putting puffer fish in reef tanks, etc). Apparently he spends 20 minutes 2 times per month on each tank. Knowing how much time I spend on my tank at home with it still being less than perfect, I don't know how 40 minutes per tank per month can produce anything even slightly resembling a reef tank. In addition, apparently there has been a glut of livestock loss and the serviceman was quoted as saying "they're just fish". <Mmm, poor> Needless to say, the owner desperately needs help and after hearing these stories, I am desperate to step in. The owner is not super knowledgeable about the tanks, but is willing to learn. Regardless, she would like me to care for both tanks twice per month, which I would think should be manageable with the owner and her husband doing some of the smaller day-to-day tasks. They are also willing to put out the money to get their tanks up to speed as far as equipment. <Good> I haven't personally seen the tanks yet because they do not live particularly close to me. Okay, I know that's a lot of lead up to a now kind of vague question, but I have no idea of what to charge them for this service. I want to be fair to both of us and I am certainly not doing this to get rich and DEFINITELY not trying to exploit these people in any way (which I very much believe their current service is doing)... I just want to be fair. I plan on spending at least 2 hours minimally on each tank, 2 times per month as this is minimally the time I spend on our tank at home. I'm just going to use the government standard to compensate for car mileage and gas (which is at about $2.95 per gallon in the Baltimore area), so I just need to know a "round about" figure for the actual service. I know this is probably not an easy figure to suggest with the limited information that I've given you, but that is the information that I currently have. Your figure does not have to be precise either; just a guesstimate at what is fair is all I'm looking for. I respect your panel's opinion more than any other resource I can think of. I thank you in advance for both your response to this particular question as well as all of your invaluable help and advice both past and future. There is no more credible resource for aquatic inquiries of any kind in my opinion. Thanks again-Nick Sadaka, Baltimore, MD <Mmm, well... our old service rate was $35/h... but know of folks who charge 50 to a hundred... Ours included transit time (to/from) but our routes were tight... We did do "charity work" (and I still do), gratis... But I would charge "something reasonable" here... Likely in the 3-400 dollars per month range... Do keep track of your total time, counting travel, shopping... and go over this figure with your customers periodically (we did annually)... Up to you re charging for shopping, margin for profit... Bob Fenner>

Re: A Fair Price for Hobbyist Style Services 2/17/08 Hi Crew. I just wanted to say a follow up "thank you" to all, but Mr. Fenner in particular since he answered my original query. It's uncanny that you came up with the absolute exact figure that my brother did (who is light years more business savvy than myself, but knows next to nothing about aquatics). <Ahh! "It" takes both disciplines/knowledge bases to make a service company work successfully> This gives me another document to bring to the owner to show her that I'm being fair. Once again, thanks for the speedy, thoughtful reply. You are the best!-Nick Sadaka <I hope to help you develop here in future. Cheers, BobF>

Fish Death...What's Normal/Acceptable ? -11/27/2007 Hey Howdy Bob !! Scott from Blue Marlin again... <Hello Scott!> I have a question for you and all the other crew members. What is considered normal or acceptable for the rate of fish death? <... Mmmm, a bunch to state here... Some for sure... not too much, for economic consideration... And variable, by species, size, source/location... a few percent...> I know that that question is pretty loaded and depends on many variables, however, I take every fish death that any one of my client tanks may have very personally and have spent many sleepless nights thinking/worrying about what I did wrong... <Mmm... we should chat here... A very important "point", bench-mark in ones time on the planet in determining (by action) in their life what is ones domain, what is beyond... and delineating personally between these two... "Grant unto Caesar..."> to the point that I want to give up on my business. <Mmmmm, again...> I spend weeks or months quarantining all new fish, agonize over water quality and go to ends of the earth to educate my clients on proper feeding techniques and things to look for before there is a death. But much to my chagrin, there are still fish that die for what appears to be no good reason. <Correct... and I assure you this would be the case if I, my other advanced aquarist friends, public aquariums... anyone were in the same position. Many aquatic organisms do "simply" die... mysteriously. A good deal can be understood from the point of view of their general "reproductive strategy" in space and time... the production of a maximal number of sex products, juveniles... and the long "neotenous periods" of much of the life under the sea... even vertebrates... They're just not "ready for prime time"... and their world/s are fraught with many and changeable challenges... Hence many do "just" die... w/o apparent cause... NOT to be taken personally. Do your best, keep learning... and press on... IF possible/practical, practice ameliorative activities... like writing/sharing your experiences... for fish mag.s, BBs, local fish clubs...> I've been in the hobby since I was 13 and have been doing it professionally for the past 8 years. Im pretty sure I already know the answer to this issue, but is it possible to have 100% of all new stock survive? Or is that a pipe dream that is just not attainable? <The latter my friend. Won't happen... we're mere people working in a/the real world, not Mohamed/Buddha/Jesus...> I go to all my LFS and see sick or dying fish all the time and think to myself that there is no way that I would ever let that happen. <IS the nature of the beast/business... much is done in this world that is a matter of "economic expedience", apathy, ignorance... Witness the invasion of sovereign nations, oppression and heedless murder of civilians...> However, I also think that it is inevitable that a certain percentage of fish just don't survive being taken out of the ocean and crammed in a box full of water. Waiting sleeplessly for your input. -- Scott C. Wirtz Owner <Further Scott... come out and go diving, visiting with me... We'll chat and you can hope to gain perspective... at least share mine. Cheers, Bob Fenner>

Regarding my new business, svc.   11/13/07 Hi Bob, I talked to you briefly through WetWebMedia emails I was writing to you in regards to my 90 gallon reef. I was helping a friend with his business, and thinking of starting my own. If you don't remember, I designed the 90 gallon reef with the black upholstered Egyptian stand. My fiancé© and I have finally made it to the coast, we now live in Arroyo Grande on the central coast in California as of last Friday. I have searched all over and I have yet to find a fish shop here, or a service company. <Mmm, is there a reason... population, demographics of income, age...?> I have seen several tanks in need of some TLC, and decided it was finally time to get the ball rolling on my company. I remember you telling me to let you know when I was ready so we could discuss the business and how to start it right. I have a name set up and approved by the Secretary of State (now registered) Exotic Aquascapes is the name. I have a resale permit now as well. <Good>What I am going for with the business is aquarium design, set up, and maintenance. Ultimately I would like to handle the projects from thought to completion, making it as easy as possible for the folks purchasing the aquariums. As far as client base I was thinking of hotels, restaurants, businesses, doctors offices, gyms, vacation rentals, and private homes. Cleopatra's pearl as I call it (my 90 gallon "Egyptian themed" reef) is all set up and looking beautiful we got some great shots of it for a brochure and website. I've spent my whole life working with art, design, and aquariums. In fact when I was born and brought home from the hospital my parents set my play-pen up in front of an aquarium and my love for water and fish grew from there. At one point I had 9 tanks at home all running and all different. I bred discus for a while, I had a breeding pair of Zebra Plecos, and kept many of the L numbers. I grew up in the back of my fathers graphic art studio in the central valley learning a lot as I spent time there. I have the ability to do full color renderings of the aquariums I design so the folks doing business with me can get a sneak peak so to speak. I have tools and service equipment to work on maintenance projects and I have been teaching my fiancé© how to do a lot of the basic stuff as well as having her read your books, as well as Anthony's books and several other great publications. I have 30 books in all on aquarium maintenance, design, and animal selection and husbandry. I also picked up a microscope (one you recommended, and a copy of fish disease, diagnosis and treatment. Those last two have been incredibly enlightening. I am set up with SDC for the livestock, as well as Underwater World, I do want to check out Quality Marine though. <All good companies> I got very lucky and met a girl that wishes to work with me (she loves it almost as much as I do) and I have a wonderful family that is very supportive. I would greatly appreciate your input on this endeavor. Thank you so much for your time, and efforts you are truly making a difference, Brian Crenshaw <All sounds very promising up front... Now... what about your business background? Have you formulated, formalized a business plan? And, I strongly encourage your generating marketing a plan... and a guess at a spreadsheet of likely income/expenses... monthly... for a couple of years... for you to gain an understanding of what your costs likely will be, and something to check back on... modify with time. And, we'll be chatting, Cheers, BobF>  

Aquarium pet business 10/22/07 Hello to all, <Howdy Al> I would like to ask Bob Fenner a question. <... okay> I am just beginning to market an aquarium sales, service, and leasing company; along with this endeavor I am going to offer products for sale on my website, with the ultimate goal of opening a brick and mortar store within the year. <Wowzah! I do hope you're organized, focused... don't have much else of anything going on otherwise!> I have insurance for the business and am currently setting up an agreement with a drop shipper whom I trust. I am interested in the knowing best way to market such a business and more importantly How would I create payments for leasing and renting; <A bunch to state... the first biz (s, s, and l let's say) is likely best pursued by a blitzkrieg approach... Asking "friendly" LFS's to plug you for installs they don't do (for a commission), visiting with likely prospects (businesses with tanks already, medical buildings, restaurants... in person... with a brochure, business card attached, a portfolio to share... with stated pricing... Seeing if there are extant service companies in your geographic area that might sell...> should this price include service, <Yes> moreover should I stipulate that I should be the only person authorized to service the tank due to the fact that I will be responsible for all of the livestock, leaks, etc. <I would NOT do this... lest you find that you are hiring someone else... and there are troubles> My local area is the Bronx and Westchester in New York. I was wondering if you could also tell me about any areas where I could network such as expos or some club or organization where fish and reef people would generally meet. <Mmm, I would NOT count on folks in the hobby to be of much help in your business endeavours... Your customer base and they will be entirely distinct...> I will not be doing this as a side job or to pay for my hobby this will be a legitimate business with profit in mind. Al <Have you worked in the trade before? I STRONGLY encourage you to do so... Perhaps concurrent with these other aspects... The drop shipped drygoods business will not grant you sufficient margin to compete with the large, well-established etailers in our trade. I would not waste your efforts there. Unless and until you can develop direct relations (as a distributor let's say) with some new, novel lines... I would stay out of that arena. Bob Fenner>

Re: aquarium pet business... service, charging  10/22/07 Hello Again, Thank you for your prompt and informative response. There was one topic which you did not touch base on. If I may; I would like to repeat the question. How would I go about calculating lease and rental payments? Example tank costs $1000.00 on a 6 month lease. Sincerely AL <There are three general ways to come up with such a pricing structure: 1) What the market will bear, 2) Relative to what others charge, and 3) A calculated mark-up for goods, tools and materials and your time (on site, administrative and transit)... Does this make sense? BobF>

Re: aquarium pet business 10/23/07 Hi Bob, Sorry to be a bother but I am still unclear on the subject. Yes. pricing is both subjective and objective That part I get. I was looking for a hard line formula for depreciation of an asset which you might use for a small asset class like an Aquarium which is generally lower in cost and there for would naturally have shorter lease terms. <To this more specific criteria set, I would fully depreciate ("expense") something a thou or less in a year... over twelve payments... Thousands of dollars I'd extend over a few years... but never more than five; sixty payments> When trying to use the same formulas lets say for a car or some type of heavy construction equipment the lease premium is too small. Somewhere around $7.50 on a $1000 aquarium per month for 12 months with a 100 buyout. maybe I am looking for something that's not there; at this rate it would not pay to offer leases unless you lock in for the service contract as well. Thank you AL <I see. Welcome. Bob Fenner, who has indeed, "been here, done this">

One More Question on the Ridiculously Large Aquarium Maintenance 8/10/07 We're getting very close to sealing the deal with the 5,000 gallon, which now sounds closer to 10,000 gallons, client. The aquarium pricing and service pricing sounds good to them, now that we've agreed to charge by the hour, but I'm wondering if there's an "industry standard" for maintenance contracts. <Not that I've seen, am aware of... Have knowledge of some folks in the west charging as little as fifteen dollars per hour (way too cheap) in some settings... others up to a hundred for consulting, about half this for actual work...> Obviously maintenance on a 75 gallon will not make or break any company, but our business will depend quite heavily on the maintenance of this aquarium. I'd hate to see some "dork" off the street come in and undercut us for a couple reasons. A) Nobody wants to lose any business, especially one of this magnitude, B) This aquarium would be in a high-traffic, very-public place, and we'll be promoting this aquarium because it will be a great project for our "portfolio". If somebody comes in and offers to do it for less money and the tank goes "down the toilet", I don't want anybody thinking that we're responsible. <Mmm... this scenario won't happen, I assure you. An entity that would invest in such a system is concurrently smart enough to realize what can/could happen here... No worries. Just do a good job and charge fairly for it, consistently> We haven't ever offered/required a service contract (although it might be something to look into for even smaller tanks, with an incentive to the customer), <I would do this... Very important for a few reasons... For one, to show that you're a "real" company... Two, to provide for continuity, for you and your customers... and Three, to show "others" (e.g. banks) should you want/need to display your "realness"> but I really think this something I'd like to do this time. Any idea what others are doing? Ideally, I'd like to ask for 3 years, but I may be expecting waaaay to much. <We just had annuals> I just need to know what others are getting. Any suggestions? <Twelve deep breaths, regular walks... and a visit out to S. Cal., elsewhere w/ me/us to do a bit of dive adventure travel once a quarter... where we can chat such issues over, you can refresh, renew your purpose, direction... and relax. Bob Fenner>

Come get my fish. Looking for aquarium removal svc.    8/6/07 Good morning and thank you for this wonderful service. I have had an aquarium for 15 years (started as a gift for my kids who are now grown) and enjoyed the experience. About five years ago, we decided not to purchase any more fish and to take care of the fish we had and let nature take its course. I now have two fish left, two very large rainbow sharks that I estimate are about 8 years old. This morning my tank started to leak, and I don't want to establish a new tank. Do you know of a service that will come to our home, take the fish, and break down the tank? One fish needs special attention because he has a lesion below his mouth. I just don't know what to do. Thank you for any advice you can provide. Jeanne Pearlman <Hello Jeanne. Nope, I've not heard of anything that provides this service. Possibly the best thing to do is call the local animal rescue or aquarium club and ask for help. At least here in the UK there are several "good Samaritan" fish rescuers who will re-home fish for a nominal cost. Otherwise, call your local aquarium shop and see if they'll take in the fish and re-home them. Failing that, call the kids and tell 'em to come get their fish. Once you've re-homed the fish, breaking down the tank and disposing of it shouldn't be difficult. If the heater, filter, etc. are in working order, consider donating to charity so others can enjoy them. Cheers, Neale>

Rent-to -Own Aquariums.   7/30/07 Hello WWM Crew, <Myk> I like to check the Biz FAQs regularly and I noticed a post regarding rent-to-own aquarium systems. As most are right now I would imagine, business is a bit slow for my aquarium service company. <Some areas definitely so... Though other regions, segments (rich folks et al.) are booming> I like the idea of the rent-to-own and was wondering if you could offer some guidance on approaching this. I have never done something like this before and have no idea how to go about it. Is it best to come up with a standard set up and offer it for a rental price over the course of a year? Should the system be marked up for a profit beyond the service contract? Any information that you could pass would be greatly appreciated. Thank You, Myk. www.AquaticCreationsOnline.com <Well... can be another possible "in" to sales... And our old service Co. did try this for a few years... For our parts we found that only the commercial side was interested in such (some restaurants for ornamental rigs, but quite a few seafood holding systems...). The long and short of it/this is/was that it was not profitable for us compared with outright sales or simple leasing... We might have had ten such deals and two of them if memory serves went sideways... One with the system being damaged beyond economic repair, the other with the folks disappearing altogether! Better to further your efforts in expanding into other markets geographically, or expanding into ponds, planted tanks... IMO/E. Bob Fenner>

Re: Rent-to -Own Aquariums.  7/31/07 Hi Bob, <Myk> Thank you very much as always for your help. <Welcome> It sounds to me that it would be a safer approach to try to stick with commercial with the rent-to-own plan. You also bring up a good point about the seafood systems that I hadn't thought of and will explore this more. <Ahh!> I appreciate your time, have a great day. Myk. <Glad to help you. BobF>

Looking for info to start a service Co.  7/28/07 Bob, <Frank> I've seen your name all over the internet. Seems logical to ask you, do you have a book for the aquarium service business? <Mmm, no... have our old service manual/Ops. manual... and bits, pieces of  articles, responses to queries re the svc. side posted on WetWebMedia.com's Aquatics Business SubWeb for alls' perusal though> I find myself wanting to start an Aquarium Service Company. I have great knowledge regarding both salt, reef and fresh care and maintenance about 30 years. I'm sure there are ins & outs about the business that I could learn about to make travels down the road to Fish Geeky-ness less bumpy. <The knowledge/skills you possess currently are absolutely requisite... AS is business know-how... and a/the personality, drive/ambition to pursue such a vocation> I have been in the hobby for too many years but I know there is always something I can learn. <I as well my friend. Bob Fenner> Frank

Re: Looking for info to start a service Co.  7/29/07 Bob Thanks for your response. I have reviewed most of your articles on WetWebMedia.com, excellent they have helped me to better understand the industry. <Ah, good> Is your service/Operational Manual available? <Actually, don't know... is in an old word-processing format that haven't tried to convert for years... and am out of town in HI for a month> Do you have any experience with Fresh Water Service and/or the 75% water change complete on each service which is noted on some service company web sites. <Have considerable exp.; but don't suggest such changes UNLESS you're  hauling/bringing your own water... Some folks do> Again thank you for your help. Frank Zoche <Welcome. BobF>

New <actually...> biz idea, "Tanks (Love) For Sale..." TV ads ineffectiveness   7/7/07 My name is Joseph and I am from SF Bay Area California. I have a business idea I want to run by you guys. <Okay> I want to start a Rent-to-Own aquarium business. Targeting the mid income public. <Good idea... we did this for almost two decades> Using Television commercial. <Mmmm, not likely at all to be "cost-benefit useful"> Full service hands free packages, I know the rent to own business and I was into the hobby for about 5 years. I know how addictive and gratifying it can be. I also know the work and responsibility. I feel I can offer the plusses of the hobby without the hard messy stuff. Has anyone tried this? <A few folks, companies over the years, yes> I cant find any businesses like this and have never seen anything like it. Especially advertised on TV. <Our trade, ornamental aquatics, HAS used this medium (mainly Tetra's (under Ulrich Baensch and WLA's stewardship) co-op ad programs years back... But, as stated, there's not enough 'catch per unit effort' to warrant such expense... Perhaps targeted ads in the local mag.s for home improvement... Attending professional trade shows... Placements in kiosks of sorts in large shopping malls with the demography of population you perceive your customer base to be made of... We/Nature Etc. Inc. used these last three to economic advantage... Bob Fenner> Thanks for your time, Joseph

Large Scale Aquarium Systems - 06/27/07 Hello Bob, <Brian> I am always anticipating what seems to be the next level or natural progression of where my business is going (so I think). <You are wise here, twice, perhaps thrice> It seems that it is only a matter of time before I am given the opportunity to either design, install or maintain (preferably) a "Large Scale" aquarium system. To me a "Large Scale System" would be defined as 1,000 gallons or greater, salt or freshwater and usually for public display (restaurants, zoos, science centers etc.) With my experience up to this point being aquarium systems (primarily saltwater, and specifically saltwater reef) up to 800 gallons or less, how does one transition into the business of these systems. <Accept the task at hand, think/cogitate (maybe furiously), and get on with it... Akin to food recipes, a good deal of what is done is scalable> I would think that the most ideal method is to apprentice with a company or organization already dealing with these systems? <Could be> I do not want to lessen the magnitude of these systems by thinking that they are very similar to smaller, < 1,000 gallon systems, with the only difference being a matter of scale in filter sizes, plumbing sizes, lighting etc., but I wonder if that is indeed a lot of the difference? <In all actuality, not really> I am also in the water garden arena and I have built and managed systems of up to 40,000 gallons. However, I know that these are open systems, and treated very differently from closed/aquarium systems. Your expert input would be greatly appreciated! Sincerely, Brian Dahle www.fishmanservices.com <Mmm, is there a given aspect you'd like to discuss? I do agree that lake mgmt. is different than small volumes... harder, longer-term, less-expensive means of "turning" (like navigating a large ship with a small rudder)... but in practical consideration, there is not much difference between a hundred gallon fish tank and a thousand gallons... or ten times this amount. Cheers, Bob Fenner>

Ridiculously Large Aquarium Maintenance -- 06/27/07 Hello again, We've been going back and forth with a client that could potentially end up getting an aquarium for a retail place that is as large as 5,000 gallons. We've been doing a lot of research on different filtering methods and are ready to give them the quote, but I'm a little stumped on what to charge for maintenance. Our standard maintenance charge per visit for "reasonable" (we've never done anything "unreasonable") aquariums is $25 minimum + $.50/gallon. This would be for one monthly visit. If it's 2 times per month, we give a 10% discount per visit, and if it's every week, we give a 15% discount per visit. While this has worked well and has been worth our while thus far, using the same formula for this aquarium would end up at $2,125 per weekly visit. I've read you recommending that charging "hourly" is a great way to go, but I'm just not sure how we quote something like that. <Mmm, figure what your time is worth... to yourself, your customer base... calculate or add in time for transit, gathering supplies... and this is about what you charge. Our service rate was $35 per hour... but this was in the early nineties...> I'd love to just call someone with experience and see how much they charge for something close to this size, but I'm thinking that the maintenance people might view me as competition. I'm not trying to be greedy and see how much I "could" charge, but I'd love to have a reference and be reasonable. Any insight on this? <Mmm, I'd charge the folks $200 dollars a visit, plus retail on livestock, drygoods... and see how this works for a year. Bob Fenner>

Re: Ridiculously Large Aquarium Maintenance -- 06/28/07 That sounds very reasonable. Thanks for the advice. <Welcome my friend (and fellow industry professional)... And to be clear, I don't sense or want to be mistaken for proffering "advice", but only respond with what I would do given my background and the information presented. Cheers, BobF>

Before I Mail These Out... Service, etailing promotion... FWIW/Alternatives   - 05/01/07 First of all, thanks for the response on my last marketing question.  I've decided to start marketing my saltwater-only store by using direct mail to get my tri-fold brochures (very colorful of course) out to the customers with the greatest potential. <Good idea> Please stop me if something doesn't sound right, and/or if you have anything that I'm missing.  In hopes of boosting immediate sales (and possibly service accounts), I'm considering on targeting the following: -Doctors, Physicians, Hospitals, etc. -Dentists, Orthodontists, Oral Surgeons, etc. -Lawyers(?), people with "disposable" income, etc. <A good target audience> I wish I could find a list of "The most likely places to see an aquarium", but my search fell short, so I'm going on assumption only.  In the smaller towns of Michigan, saltwater aquariums are scarce, so I don't see first hand where the aquariums should be.  Please let me know if there are any obvious ones I'm missing. <Mmm... well... do think there is more "bang for the buck" to be had by building your site... having time go by... offering "bonuses" to your existing customers for their help... tie-in sales> In addition to boosting immediate sales, I also want to build relationship with other businesses, in order to generate some future sales.  I want to reach the following business, just to let them know there is someone in the area with the expertise, and so they keep us in mind if any requests came from clients and/or if they just want to put an over-the-top aquarium into a new project: -Architects -Builders -Engineers -Contractors -Interior Designers/Decorators   <Good thinking...> I guess I'm not sure who is the most responsible for putting an aquarium into a design/project, but I'm guessing that most of the businesses I listed would influence the decision in some way.  Again, let me know if you'd make any changes to my list of "future business" targets. <Not targets... but the means stated... is expensive, and don't think the ROE (return on effort) will be there> I'd just hate to miss out on an enormous aquarium installation, just because a builder didn't know we existed.  I wanted to run these by you and get your thoughts before I "pull the trigger".   Thanks again Bob! <Welcome... Am back in San Diego, and sending out billings today. If you folks want to stay on WWM, do make a payment today, or we'll be dropping you. BobF>

Partnerships with local establishments... Where pond service and retail cooperate to all's benefit     1/14/07 Hello Bob, <Hey there Brian!> Your passion for this industry is infectious to say the least! Thank you for sharing all your experience and resources, a true well spring and boon for us all! I have been operating an aquarium and water garden design, installation and maintenance business, out of my home, for several years now. <... and I did the same as you are likely aware> I was thinking about going retail, but have diverted that thought to partnering with local retailers and offering my services to them. So far so GOOD! <Yes... and retail is really hard... Harder than stand-up comedy IME!> I have been in concert with two retailers, a garden shop for the water garden business and an aquarium shop for both the water garden and aquarium business (I am providing my aquarium maintenance service to their customers). My problem is that I am having some difficulty getting these wonderful establishments to carry the water garden parts and pieces. They love the enhancement the water garden display brings to their establishments, aesthetics and all, but are not willing to take the next step and start stocking the drygoods.   <Mmm... this will likely come... with growth of both your and their businesses... in the warming months... this season or next...> I have entertained the thought of occupying some floor space, maybe on a rent basis and put my money where my mouth is and carry the items for retailing purposes. <Mmm> This is where it gets sticky. There are all kinds of issues that run across my mind with this proposal. Commission on sales, keeping track of sales, cost to me for floor space, having an individual staff my space, etc. . I am trying to have a great access point to send my current and future customers to, so they can have a nice "retail" experience and hopefully round out my  "fullserviceness".   What are your thoughts on this matter. Is it a bad proposition for my current business model, which is to be a full service, service company? <Well... for one, kudos on your apparent drive, ambition... and direction... When do you sleep? And... secondly... I would not go the renting space, providing drygoods route here... Too likely to be real troubles with jealousy twixt all the other outlets... and as you state, not easy to monitor your/their inventory... I myself encourage your ongoing efforts at encouraging the stores to stock more... and make offers to help them with presentation/s... Like free in-store pitches on water garden design, installation... stocking, maintenance... Perhaps an offer to build, place a small sample pond (we used to have Tetra 32 mil liners on sort of "Lincoln Log" emplacements in our retail shops... Maybe to help them plan an end-cap display with pond-oriented merchandise... Foods, water treatments... to a few pumps (like the Luft) filters, large nets... for the "pond season"... You can even look for some help with all this with some of the larger manufacturers and distributors...> Will it somehow start conflicting with my current loose "partnering" situation with these establishments, and maybe create a future strain? <Yes... I think this is too much a possibility> Your sage advice would be much appreciated! Brian Dahle The Fishman Aquarium and Water Garden Services www.fishmanservices.com <Remember... persistence pays... Hope to meet you on the pet-fish high and by-ways. Bob Fenner> Aquarium Service Insurance  8/25/06 Hi, <Hello there> I am starting an aquarium service business out of my home. <Ahh, congrats!>   I have and a very difficult time finding liability insurance that will cover my business. <Mmm... a bunch to state, relate here... for now it might be best for you to chat with your present Insurance co., agent, ask re extending the current policy, perhaps getting a "tool rider" to cover your business... If you're the only "employee" you may not need other ins. (e.g. "Worker's Comp.")>   Can you or anyone on the message board tell me where you are getting insurance?  I can be reached at: AquatiClear@mac.com  I would really appreciate any help I can get. Thanks, Ken, AquatiClear@mac.com   <I will ask Steve Pro, Jim Stime... folks I know in the industry to chime in here. Bob Fenner>

Re: Aquarium Service Insurance  8/25/06 Hello Ken, UGH, insurance. Much to my frustration I seem to have to go looking for this every couple of years as either the broker no longer carries this type of policy or the insurance company no longer writes that type of policy. Here in Los Angeles I am aware of two insurance companies who offer this type of insurance, The Hartford offers a 'pet grooming' policy which is inexpensive ( $500 / year ) but is not really comprehensive enough for us aquarium service guys and Golden Eagle which is much more expensive ( $1500+ / year ) but is more specific to our business. The trick is finding a broker who will take the time to understand your needs so you obtain the correct policy. My current policy covers my three businesses for $1,000.000 plus $20,000 worth of inventory at my home and cost me $2,000 per year. As much as I do not enjoy writing the big check I do feel that this policy covers me appropriately. Jim Stime, Jr. Resplendent Group Aquarium Design www.aquarium-design.com MyFishTank.com www.myfishtank.com Midwater Systems www.jelliquarium.com Centropyge.Net www.centropyge.net MACNA X www.masla.com/macnax.html <Thanks Jim... see you later next month! BobF> Aq. Svc. No Show Policy   8/21/06 Hello WWM Crew, <Myk> I have a quick question for you about a policy for my aquarium service business.  What would you recommend for a no show policy? <Ours was to charge for a/the service call... And charge for a special visit if they wanted one before the next scheduled>   In other words, when the serviceperson arrives at the clients location and there is nobody home.  I am trying to come up with a policy that is fair since local clients are little more than a scheduling hassle in the event of a no show. <Mmm, perhaps a "call before and secure appointment" policy for such clients?>   On the other hand, we do have some clients that are about an hour plus drive away and the time consumed for a no show in this case with the added problem of fuel cost is a big concern for me.  I would be very grateful for any advice. Thank You, Michael P. Gillespie Aquatic Creations LLC. <We factored in all time... to gather tools, materials, transit to/from in our service charges per customer. Bob Fenner>

Re: No Show Policy   8/21/06 Dear Mr. Fenner,    <Michael>   Thank you very much for your response, I will certainly be adjusting my policy!       <Glad to share... I "did this" for nineteen years, full-time... as you can likely grasp from reading the postings re the service industry posted on WWM. Cheers, Bob Fenner>   Best Regards,   Michael P. Gillespie   Aquatic Creations LLC.

Aquarium Service and Equipment <help> needed!?   5/23/06 Hi Bob! <Michael> I have only recently found your website and articles. Very Nice! I have been in the Hobby for about 10 years now and am looking to get into the service business. <Did this myself for many years> I have talked to the few fish stores we have in our area and it seems there is a need for someone to set-up and maintain aquariums. So why not me!!=) <If this is what you desire> Pricing has been my biggest problem (difficult to know how your services cost) but I am starting to figure it all out! <Mmm, three ways to go about this... 1) What you might charge per hour (likely about $35 per in most markets), 2) What others are charging for similar work (perhaps looking at a "rate sheet" of your competitors, and 3) What the market will bear... Whatever system you set upon, I would make it/this "fair, reasonable and consistent"... and per WWM's articles, in written contractual form to/with all your customers> My next question goes into equipment and how other people do it. <...? Need a truck or other vehicle... the tools of the trade...> The way I want to service an aquarium is to bring in a nice filter system in with me, what I call and "service filter" I have seen one on the net once but cannot find it again. <Can buy or build a "skid unit" likely from a (swimming) pool supply place... but these are bulky, messy... If anything like this I would invest in a few (Vortex Products) Diatom Filters... haul these about "charged", dump, sterilize at the end of the day> But I would start my service by hooking the filter up to the tank I am servicing and just let it run while I siphon gravel and just clean the tank. And keep it going until the tank is done. Does this sound like a good idea? <Mmm, yes> Have you heard of other people doing this? <Oh yes> I want a filter that has the ability to cycle through the water maybe twice while I am there. I know I will need the basics (buckets, nets, etc.) do you have any advice of other equipment that someone just starting not think of? <Yes... this is posted on our business SubWeb: http://wetwebmedia.com/AqBizSubWebIndex/Biz%20Index/Biz%20index.htm> Thanks for your help in advance! Michael <Do study, keep good notes... You will know what is required, how you'll proceed soon. Bob Fenner> Building Aq. Service Clientele Dear WWM Crew, <Michael> I own an aquarium service business in NH and I am hoping that you could  give me some guidance or just point me in the right direction in regards to building up a client base. <Likely so> I formed my LLC in the middle of January of this year and over the past few months I have tried many different ways to try to find customers.  I have listings in a few of the more popular local yellow pages, in most cases my business is the only listing. <Mmm, maybe reasons for this...> I have tried sending out information  packages in a targeted fashion where I call the business ahead of time to see if  they would be interested in receiving the package.  When I call I always  try to get the name of a contact person to send it to and then a week or so  after sending the package I do a follow up call to see if they have any  questions.   <Good technique> My web site is listed on some of the aquarium business link  sites that I have found to come up when a search is done for "aquarium service"  or other related searches.  I plan to build some of what I call Ad Display  Systems, which I will set up and maintain for free at some pertinent local  businesses like furniture stores or banks for example. <Good promo> With these  systems all I will ask is that I am allowed to place a small table next to the  aquarium with business cards and brochures.    So far my efforts have been relatively fruitless, the yellow page ad has produced a call for freshwater crabs, and the information packages have produced one dentist office that already has an aquarium that wants only water changes done.  I feel as though I am missing something and that all the time and money I've spent so far has been a waste. <Is there much existing demand in the area? Are there other folks doing what you do?> I think that the Ad Display  Systems will be the most likely to produce for me, but this will be pricey and  at this point I'm afraid to spend more money. <And take a long while to pay off> Is there something else that's more cost effective or I should say  effective at all that I am not doing? <... Perhaps a few things. One definitely is regularly visiting, perhaps working at the local fish stores. Particularly ones that do larger, "designer" installs.> I have this strange feeling that I  am charging in the wrong direction.  If you have any suggestions on a  better way or if there are any links to information that you could guide me to,  it would be very much appreciated.  And as always, I thank you for such a  fantastic, informative resource. Thank You, Michael. <Much to say Michael... You likely need "exposure"... I would sign up, exhibit in "Home Fairs", "Garden Shows" in your area... expand your services to include pond, even fountain services... Do consider some work at a LFS you admire... very illuminating... and will likely lead to accounts. Bob Fenner> Aq. Svc. Biz    4/6/06 Hey Bob, My names Ben, I recently finished school, and I have been working at an aquarium for the last two years, and I am passionate about the hobby. <Good to find this/these early on> I have decided to take my passion to the next level, and as of the 10th of April I will start my aquarium maintenance service. I am wanting to also service ponds as well as aquariums, <Good> but i am not as experienced in ponds, so am reading up as much as i can!! I purchased the Aqua Serve Info pack last year, when the idea first came to me, and its been great!! Thanks heaps!! If you have any advice or tips, or even words of encouragement!! It would be MOST appreciated!!! Kind Regards Ben Egan <Mmm, have a read and reflection here: http://wetwebmedia.com/AqBizSubWebIndex/Biz%20Index/Biz%20index.htm Much to consider... Go over my "Five Critical Elements"... develop a business, marketing plan... do this... on paper now... and it will help guide, keep you on track. Bob Fenner> Aquarium maintenance business  2/3/06 I am trying to start a part-time aquarium maintenance business, specializing in freshwater fish and live plants. There are several larger maintenance business in the Chicago area, but most specialize in marine aquariums, and much larger tanks than I plan to service.    <Okay>   The type of customers I have in mind are businesses, such as restaurants, hotel lobbies, doctor and dentist offices, hospitals, etc. I would not be opposed to aquariums in private homes, but would prefer public locations. My options would be maintaining existing set-ups, or selling or leasing new set-ups.    <Did this for 19 years in S. Cal...>   What advice can you give me for getting started, how to market the business, what rates to charge, selling vs. leasing equipment, growing my own plants or purchasing them, etc.?      Thanks in advance,      Jim <Ahh... please read, starting here: http://wetwebmedia.com/AqBizSubWebIndex/Biz%20Index/Biz%20index.htm Have you worked in the trade before? I would... for retail and service companies... before committing yourself exclusively. Bob Fenner> Thanks and a favor 11/2/05 Hi Bob. First thanks for the post a couple months back about our new retail store in Tulsa and employment. We received several calls/emails about jobs for fishgeeks. I finally got our new web site up and would really appreciate it if you could give a section of it 30 minutes of your time. You may not remember me [If I said this in my last email to you sorry to waste your time] but we met on a couple of occasions during my employment as sales manager of Seachem and Sera. <Do recall> I have been in this hobby and industry for 20 years and have written lots of stuff I never exposed to anyone other than my Dell.  <A shame... perhaps not too late...> The last 5 years of my life was in Atlanta running a service / custom aquarium business. I finally put thoughts, theories, ideas [what I call maintenance articles] on our new site for the shop in Tulsa. <Outstanding> I have always put hobbyists into 3 categories beginning, intermediate, and expert [the later term used lightly]. These articles were written exclusively for beginning and intermediate hobbyists. Thus the reason for this email. I really enjoy your writing. I am not a writer, according to my wife just a fishgeek. <Both are developmental (disorders...) traits/qualities/talents> In your opinion, am I missing anything for the new guys. The focus of our new business is to encourage more people to get into the hobby [like most retailers]. We have a pretty aggressive marketing campaign scheduled to kick off in about 3 weeks. I wrote this stuff because over the years I heard the same thing... love to have a tank but they are a pain in the a--. I wanted to put a reference guide to the most common questions and problems for beginners and intermediates on our site.  Any thoughts about what we are missing for these folks would be greatly appreciated. Sorry for the extended babble. Very best Scott M. Kosciolek President Premier Aquatics of Oklahoma  By the way I think I have already caught just not updated the misspellings and grammar issues.  <Mmm, where's that URL? Cheers, Bob Fenner> 

Re: thanks and a favor 11/2/05 Sorry, it was late last night www.premieraquaticsok.com  Scott <A very nice site indeed... The best I have seen of its kind/genre. I very much like the looks, the brevity of the articles, the comparison of flea infestations... Cheers, Bob Fenner> 

Stocking SW service company tanks Hello again! <Howdy> I have this customer with very peculiar taste. <Heeee!>   He has a 300g tank, which we are currently upgrading to reef.  I spent 3 hours with him this morning browsing through stocking options online and in books.  We found 6 fish he liked that didn't eat corals or simply die in captivity. These are the desires of his heart:   RS Sailfin Tang Longnose Butterfly Harlequin Tusk Volitans Lionfish Marine Betta Colored Angler I have never kept an aggressive reef tank, and I'm not really sure how this will all pan out.  He wants to keep mostly zoos, Shrooms, and LPS. Obviously there will be no macro-invertebrate life other than corals. All specimens will be medium sized - big enough to not be eaten by one another.  I have slight concerns about the BF's reef compatibility but I think I can make that work.   <Should be fine> I have more slight concerns about the frog. A. Eating the other fish, and B. Getting picked on by the other fish, and C. Being difficult to feed. <The last is most important, trouble>   In this size tank with this relatively small medley how much should I really worry? <Worry? None... plan and be resolved> Ultimately my customer is interested in having a water garden more than having fish.    <That's why... it's their system, you have been hired...> Although isn't necessarily reflected in his final fish choices, he really wants extremely unique fish.  His two favorites are the lion and the frog.  Any other suggestions of fun fish that might fit his arrangement?  He loves boxfish, cowfish, puffers, the Clown Trigger, Dragon Wrasse, Mandarins, Batfish, Filefish, that "type" of fish. <Let him visit shops... look for himself... No triggers, mandarins though> I'm sure my queries have been reflected upon by this point, so I thank you! Scott Johnson Critter Cabana <A good idea (one we used with our service customers) was to make, present a greatly shortened "book" list with pix of organisms available... And allow our customers to pick from this... Bob Fenner>

Aquarium Maintenance Insurance My friend is starting a business - where in the heck can he get insurance? I'm in the insurance business and don't know where to turn. Thanks for your help. Kathy J. Smith <Some small business liability policies will include riders for such "wet work". Bob Fenner, who spent nineteen years in the service side of the industry.>  New Aquarium Service Business Hi Bob <Nate> I have been involved in the aquatics business for about eight years now, the last two of which I have spent running an LFS. I had been considering buying a share of the store with a back end type deal (I don't have much capital to invest with), but the building was sold. It looks as though we will be unable to secure a new lease after the current one is expired, so I am preparing to start my own full-time aquarium maintenance service. I am totally confident in my knowledge and ability to perform the job, but I have a few questions about some particulars. <Go ahead> First, I am unsure if I should market my service toward a particular type of clientele or make a more broad range approach. <At first, take what you can that is profitable> My true passion is planted tanks and customers at my store frequently remark that my display plant tanks are among the most beautiful they've ever seen. That being said, I wonder if should say that I specialize in plant tanks or if that would scare off potential customers who have reef tanks or unplanted freshwater tanks. <All that you are comfortable with providing service for... including ponds, fountains, lakes...> Another question I have is how profitable it would be for me to have holding tanks at my house for high volume livestock. <Some, not much> I am thinking primarily of algae eating shrimp and Otocinclus for freshwater tanks and reef hermits and snails for saltwater tanks. I already have relationships with many wholesalers in the area and can acquire these animals easily. How much of the livestock that I put in my customers' aquariums would be worth me purchasing and reselling?  <In actual practice, not much... Think about this... why it's called "service" business... You are in essence selling your time... as in time is money... The more time you spend "fooling" with livestock, getting it, keeping it... is money not being made by selling your time... You want/need some livestock on hand or readily available, but as little as possible/practical> The timing of my jump into the service sector is also troubling. As soon as I leave my current job the store will likely go out of business, as the owner is absentee and running an LFS in a different state. As such, I will be left with no LFS to refer customers to me; the only other big one around has it's own service department with five full time employees (the market here is HUGE). Do you think it would be worthwhile to try to get the big box stores like Petco and PetSmart, of which there are five within a twenty mile radius of my home, to refer customers to me? <Mmm, no, not likely... They, as companies will not do this for liability reasons... and their employees may run afoul of company business for referring you... or be doing service themselves. Better to "beat the streets" (and soon) and locate existing customers who will look over a competing bid... And start doing installs from the current shop. You do have awareness of the next/upcoming "Yellow Page" ad schedule?> I don't know if their corporate policy allows for these types of things to happen. Also, I would much prefer to cater to the clients who are more upper-end in their taste, although that might be a little judgmental on my part about people who buy their fish from the chain stores. My best scenario that I can think of would be to have my service business ready to go, then work for one month or so at my current job while handing out my own business card and acquiring a good client list. Do you have any ideas that may be superior to this one? <Keep working both... to the point of exhaustion... When the store is gone...> Thanks for taking the time and I appreciate your insight Nate <I'd chat about and see if you can't find an up and going service company to work for, partner up with... Your own will take a few years to develop... really. Bob Fenner> 

Sick eels, please help I have a 300 gallon salt water live reef tank. About two weeks ago my wolf eel (had it for 6 months) started hiding, just laying around in one spot and stop eating. He is sick. <Mmm, not necessarily... and this fish is not a true eel, but a Dottyback family member> I asked the guy that takes care of my tank, what is going on? He does not know too much about eels, just that it happens. When I lived in Hawaii I had a 150 salt water tank with a zebra eel for 8 years, he never got sick. <Gymnomuraena zebra is a great aquarium species> Well, today my snow flake eel (I've had him for 9 months) is lying on it's side, I think he is dead. he was fine yesterday. The odd thing about this is that the snowflake eel is lying on the sand and the wolf eel is lying on top of the snow flake eel. <Coincidence likely> Please tell me what you think is going on. Thank you, Robin <Strange loss... I take it you check your water quality often, feed all well... perhaps something the one ate, or touched... Bob Fenner> 

Re: sick eels, please help... What's really odd is every time the guy who services my tank comes he never checks the quality of the water in the tank. <?!> I questioned him on this and he says, "Oh it's a live reef tank, you do not need to check the water quality." All he does when he comes is refill the back up container with distilled water and cleans the glass. I'm beginning to think I've been put together. <... I beg to differ... most simpler systems can "get by" w/ simple observation of livestock, routine water changes... An expensive, large reef system? I suspect "additives" are being utilized... perhaps a calcium reactor... Everything that is being supplemented must need be tested for... MUST! Else imbalances are a foregone conclusion> The big question..... Does the water quality of a live reef tank need to be balanced and checked. <Uh, yes> One more thing in January I lost 12 beautiful fish to ick. The fish service guy said for me to by some natural stuff (I forget the name) and treat the water. When I could not get or find about 5 of the dead fishes, I asked him to come out and find them in the rocks and remove them, he said, no need they will disintegrate. How true is this. <... if small biomass, this laziness can be tolerated...> Okay, so I just called the fish guy and he is coming out to my house this afternoon, should he be removing the dead eels (I would think so) and checking the water? Please advise. <... I maintained such systems (we had the largest service company on the planet) for about two decades... You should shop around for someone else. Bob Fenner> 

Old NEI/ALS Ops Manual pieces Mr. Fenner- I have seen in several places where you mention that you would, and have put part/all of your employee manual on this site. After several days of looking, I have yet to be able to find it. If it is on your site, could you please direct me to a direct link to it? Thanks for your help and keep up the great work! John Crosby <Yes John... most all is placed on the Aquatics Business SubWeb on WWM. Please use the Index here: http://wetwebmedia.com/AqBizSubWebIndex/Biz%20Index/Biz%20index.htm.  I do hope at sometime in the not-too-distant future to somewhat reproduce all the Operations Manuals we developed... in a more useful/complete manner... with titles, tables of contents, position contracts... Bob Fenner>

- Scuba Trade Show for Service Company Exposure - Hello Crew, <Hi.> I need some advice from people who been around in this business.  I own a aquarium maintenance company which builds and installs aquariums.  I would like to increase my client base and was thinking of purchasing a booth at a local scuba diving trade show.  Would you think this is a good idea? <At a dive show, not really... I'm sure booth space isn't all that cheap for starters, which means you'll have to produce an amount of business equal to your outlay for the time, space, and materials for a booth. Secondly, and this is just a generalization, but very few divers I've met are also involved in the aquarium hobby; in fact many of them can't give a scientific name for a single fish. Success will also depend on the type of show - local or national. For instance, if this were the DEMA show [a large national dive show]... most of the folks in attendance would be from out of town, so your rate of exposure to local folks would be very low. This in itself is not a true indicator of how "your" booth will do, but I do think your advertising monies could be better spent on other avenues.> In general do you think that the trade show route is effective? <Depends on the type of trade show - I'd think you'd get much better exposure to the type of people you want/need as clients by getting space in a Home Show, or similar type of venue where the folks walking by are interested in modifications to their home, or are planning a new home. Most folks at dive shows are going to be interested in new scuba gear, making buys for their dive shops, and/or new dive destinations. On the other hand, occupying space in any trade show is rarely cheap, so you need to spend your money wisely.> Thank you, Melissa <Cheers, J -- > - Starting up a Service Biz - Hello, I am looking into starting an aquarium install and maintenance business.  I would like to set a polypropylene (or other) tank, pump (maybe diaphragm type), and hose reel system on a trailer for service jobs.  Do you have a source for these items? <Currently, these would mostly come from separate sources, easily found by using Google or similar Internet search engine. I've been prodded many times to create a line of items for service professionals to make a one stop shop for such items... perhaps now is the time.> Also, any suggestions for setup? <Setup of what, exactly?> Thanks Chris <Cheers, J -- > Aquarium service business... I think that this should be addressed to Bob Fenner but anyone else can feel free to provide their input! <Okay> Excellent web site! I don't know if this is the right email address to send this query to but my question is related to the business side of aquatics. <Fire away!> I live in Geneva, Switzerland and I think there could be an excellent opportunity in the region for a professional customer orientated aquarium installation and service business here.  I am currently investigating the project and putting together a plan for it. <Sounds good> Myself I have been involved in freshwater aquaria as a hobby for about 20 years now and have a lot of experience in heavily planted show aquariums.  I do not as yet have any hands on experience in marine aquariums. <You will> From a business point of view, I have a lot of experience in an unrelated field (telecommunications).  This experience includes sales, marketing as well as operations of small companies.  I was involved in several start-up ventures as well.  So I have the necessary financial, business, marketing and operational know-how and experience for starting a business. <All very valuable experiences, skill sets to apply to your aquarium service venture> My questions are as follows: -        In this type of business, I assume the principal market is either companies/organizations who want a show tank in their lobby or wealthy individuals.  Is my assumption correct? <Yes... and to a lesser extent, public venues like airports, schools...>   I can't see the majority of individuals willing to pay money for aquarium installation or maintenance. Correct me if I'm wrong.  Would love to hear that the market is actually larger than I'm imagining at the moment! <The market in almost all "advanced" societies, countries I've visited is much larger than is being filled> -        How detrimental is the fact that initially I won't be able to offer services in marine aquaria?  Is it enough that I can start with a thorough knowledge and ability to install beautiful planted freshwater tanks or should I wait and get the marine experience first? <Only you can/will be able to determine this... Perhaps a liaison/partnership with someone who is well-versed in marine will get you by here... or some time spent in a marine retail setting? Some folks just specialize (in marines, freshwater, ponds, lakes, fountains...) but I encourage you to "do" all kinds of aquariums to start> Your input based on your experiences would be of immense help! Many thanks! Regards, Laith Arif <Glad to offer you my input. Bob Fenner>

Aquarium service business... Bob, <Laith> Ok, I've lined up wholesale pricing for aquarium equipment and started to prospect different businesses.  So far, in one week, three companies have asked me to make them proposals; they are very interested in the concept. <Outstanding> In order to have some type of base pricing to work off of, I've done pricing based on several "standard" configurations.  The "standard" offer is two types of systems: what I'm calling "Africa" (African cichlid tank, few or no plants) and "Amazon" (heavily planted tank).  These two systems are offered in three volumes: 200L, 400L and 600L (that would be about 55G, 105G and 160G).  All pricing is based on systems that I install, not existing systems. <Okay> Based on the fact that heavily planted aquariums require more work than an African cichlid tank, I've put together a monthly service fee for each type and size of aquarium which includes everything (travel, all supplies, etc). <Will travel be "equal" for all? Approximately? I mean, are all possible sites about the same time away?> Included in each monthly service fee are a certain number of hours, spread over four visits a month.  I've calculated based on 8, 10 and 12 hours a month respectively for the African systems and 10, 12 and 15 hours a month for the heavily planted systems.  Any extra hours will incur an additional hourly charge. <Sounds good> Given an average hourly price of US$ 44 (normal pricing here for specialized type of services) and including supplies, the monthly price for a 600L planted aquarium works out to US$ 850 a month. <Yikes... does seem a bit high, but... does this include the system, supplies, livestock?> Would just like an opinion: does the above make sense in practice (especially the number of hours per month)?  I'm wondering whether US$ 850 a month may seem steep for a prospective customer at first glance and whether it makes more sense from a sales point of view to just give an hourly price and an estimate of number of hours per month. <Is there a simple way for you to check, see what your competitors are charging? Like appraisals of real estate, there are a few ways to arrive at "the going rate" or what to charge... one is what the "market will bear" in terms of current practices> Once again, many thanks for your help and input!  The feedback from the local market I've gotten so far has been more positive that I had hoped: I really think this type of business can really take off (and so far, I don't see any competition!). Regards, Laith <It may well be that you will find making bimonthly or every two week visits sufficient, more marketable than the current plan... Bob Fenner> Re: Aquarium service business... Bob, <Laith> Thanks for your valuable input.  Now that I've got you, I'm not going to let you go yet! :-) Another couple of questions if I may... <Proceed> Not having ever seen an aquarium install/service contract (do you know where I could take a long at an example?), I've come up with the following possible pricing models: <Best to modify a service "type" contract per your country's laws, trends... from an unrelated field... plumbing, cabinetry, gardening...> - A "rental" model where the entire set-up (including fish and plants) belongs to me and I charge the customer a monthly rent (calculated on my purchase price + 10% divided by 12) with a minimum 12 month rental contract. <Minimums are a good idea> - A purchase model where the customer buys the entire set-up from me. <Yes> What is your opinion on the above? Is one better than the other? <We had both of these... plus "inclusive" and non-inclusive service contracts where we included all... livestock, food, salt mix... versus keeping track and charging the customer for supplies as we went along, monthly> On top of the above models will come an install charge and a monthly "service" charge. <Yes... best to figure out what you want to charge by the hour... and calculate this into your contracts based on the distances to be traveled, time to gather tools and materials... per account, job> What is the best way for the service charge to be calculated?  A fixed monthly amount (plus materials) based on size of tank and complexity of set-up? Or a straight hourly charge, letting the customer know that their tank will need about X hours of maintenance per month? <The best is hourly... some quite small systems are much more trouble than larger ones based on their gear, construction, distance/difficulty to get to, times you can schedule to get into see them... think of aquariums at a restaurant that were poorly set-up let's say and that get a lot of wear and tear to keep clean... compared with a system you engineered and installed.> Your insight much appreciated! Just trying to make sure I don't go off in completely the wrong direction... <Glad to help you in your success. Bob Fenner> Regards, Laith

Re: Aquarium service business... Bob, Thanks for your reply.  Some answers to your questions: - Re travel: yes, I've based it on a number of km that would cover 90% of my initial market.  I would refine it more for specific proposals with a definite location... <Sounds good> - The price includes everything except the system (tank and associated equipment).  That would be an additional US$450 a month.  So the US$ 1,300 (450 plus 850) includes everything except the fish and plants.  This is for a 160G heavily planted "hi tech" aquarium (includes CO2, pH controller, auto feeder, auto fert doser, etc) that I estimate would require 15 hours a month of work to keep it looking very good... <Not unrealistic... considering the time it takes for transit, gathering tools and materials, administrative...> (As a comparison, a 55G "African" tank would be US$ 465 monthly service with 8 hours a month and US$ 135 monthly rental of the system). At first glance the price does seem high but keep in mind that out of the 850, 660 is just the hourly charge (based on 44/hour and 15 hours a month). <Yes... and that gas there is something like $6.40 a gallon, and sixty some dollars a day (plus five dollar a day entry "fee") to park in London... in other words, it's expensive to live, work in the UK> Re competition and market pricing: As far as I have been able to ascertain, the only service of this type is mainly installation of aquariums and that's done by employees of an LFS oh his or her own time at an hourly rate, mainly for private homes.  I have not been able to find a comparable service in the whole region. <Interesting> So, I don't have any "yardstick" to measure my pricing against besides the feedback of customers...  The above pricing is cost based (plus margins) and not market based. <I understand... and strongly suspect you'll soon be gathering more "data points" going forward> I'm hesitant to lower the number of hours because I realize that each aquarium that's installed is a living advertisement for my business.  I want people to say "wow!" when they see it and then ask who did that for the company.  If the tank doesn't look good, that easily turns into negative advertising. <Very good point. The single most important "promotion" for your business period is the work you've done, your customers impressions thereof> A bit long but I wanted to let you know my thinking behind the price structure. <Thank you> It may help me if I had an idea what it would cost a company in the US to have someone maintain a similar system.  Can you give me a ballpark figure? <I'll guess somewhere about half of your stated figures> The other option is to lower margins at least initially in order to get a customer base... <Yes... you'll soon know which path to tend to. Bob Fenner> Thanks! Laith

Re: Aquarium service business... Ok, many thanks for your helpful inputs and comments... your time spent is much appreciated. <Pleasure> I'll let you know how it goes with the first proposals! :-) <Real good> Just a correction: I'm in Geneva, Switzerland, not the UK. <Ah, sorry for the misunderstanding>   And the cost of living is higher here than the UK (except for gas because it's taxed less), with the exception possibly of central London. <Yikes!> Interesting, half the price for a similar service in the US.  I'm just curious, what is the normal hourly rate for this service in the US (just wondering whether it's half of US$ 44)? <We billed our service time at $35 per hour lastly... had "very tight" routes and a good system for planning (account folders, pre-made tool sets, ready-available foods and other supplies and livestock...) for our service tech.s> Regards, Laith <Bob Fenner>

Introduction and input, aquatic startup business Mr. Fenner, hope you are doing well today. I write you to explain my business, who I am and hopefully open up a channel of communication from which I can learn a bit from someone who has owned the type of company I plan to own. <Okay> I am 26, and live in north Dallas. I have about 11 years experience with aquariums and salt water keeping, and have worked for 4 years in the industry both in retail and service. After a brief 5 year break to the computer industry I realized I didn't care for it, and aquatics was my true calling (I love anything to do with water). The only reason I left service was I needed more then $7 an hour! <I understand... Hopefully folks there can charge something closer to a "living wage" now> So here I sit, laid off with no income, and a chance to do what I have been talking about since I was 16, and enter the industry. I plan to incorporate an aquarium service business in the next couple weeks, and have most things laid out and planned I hope. I have 1 customer that is a friend of a friend, whose tank I clean weekly for cost + $5 (need to raise that a little it takes 2-3 hours lol). Hopefully he will be a good source of future customers, he owns a home theatre company that does $60,000 installs...anyways to the point! I finally got a chance to start reading your book! So far so good, though I am only about 60 pages in. I found something that really excited me, as I knew my business idea had potential, and I may of realized a resource for advice if I am lucky. Under Avoiding Electrical Hazards, you say " For 18 years, I was part owner of a company that specialized in ornamental aquatic work. Our service division designed, built, installed, and maintained live holding systems, mainly large marine systems in commercial and wealthy residential settings" <Yes> This niche market is what I have built my business plan around. Though I plan to offer the sales, design and installation, I have only 'done the numbers' for the service aspect. Any new setups will be bonus and hopefully an additional customer. I plan to offer weekly or biweekly (mainly weekly) service that includes 20% water changes each visit. This will include biweekly exchange of filter pads and carbon etc, 20% water change, fish quarantine at my house, skimmer maint. CO2, etc... Full aquarium management, requiring little more then feeding from the owner (and not even that if it can be avoided and use fish that can survive eating once a week when I am there). For a monthly cost of about $400-$500 for a 200 gallon tank. I do not want to go to a tank once a month, for $50 and clean it and go to the next one, and take care of 100 tanks a month. I would much rather take care of 10-12 'elite' tanks for wealthy residents or companies, and do it right and have the most amazing looking aquariums in Texas...(water changes are the best way to do it no?) <As part of regular upkeep, yes> I would like to only do large marine, and freshwater plant tanks. Minimum size of 100 gallons. However in the mean time as I build a customer base, should I look into servicing the 'lower quality' tanks and less wealthy clients on a monthly basis to produce income and history?  <I would, yes> I am sort of torn on this, as at some point I will have to give up these customers to make room for my target market. This seems unethical, people get attached to their aquarium service company and technician, I'm not sure doing temporary service is a good thing... <I encourage you to examine yourself, your market there closely... and consider doing "one-shot" clean-outs, consulting... even on water features (ponds, fountains)... much good work there that ties in with what you are currently interested in, can become proficient at> I would like to hear your input into this venture, and any possible tips or things to watch for or know regarding that niche of the market, and a friendly contact to help lead me down the right path when needed. <Much to discuss... for now, how will you go about soliciting new customers, making potential buyers aware of you, your service?> ...Almost forgot! Most of all do you think this idea has potential? I am in the DFW market, there are a dozen other service companies, but none structured in this way. A good amount of money here in general. <Yes. We were there a couple years back for the MACNA show... a large, burgeoning, dynamic place for sure> Thanks a lot for all you do for the industry and hobby. Mark Wolek ps. post your upcoming red sea pictures when you get back!! <Will be doing so. Be chatting, Bob Fenner>

RE: Introduction and input, aquatic startup business Wow thank you for the fast reply. I'm not sure I follow what you mean by "one-shot" clean-outs? <Oh. One time deals... like cleaning out or re-setting up a system, seasonal one shot jobs> For advertising, I had planned to rely mostly on word of mouth, and handing out cards and brochures to some local shops that do not offer service, and maybe some that do offer service but cannot afford to spend 2-3 hours weekly with 1 client, offering a referral fee to them for customers who use my service for a certain length of time (likely 1 month with weekly service for a $100 referral bonus to the contact). A website of course. Word of mouth of good quality customer service tends to spread fast in affluent cultures, my target goal is only 1 new service account a quarter, I feel I can handle 10 by myself and be profitable. (2 a day). I have not given much thought to soliciting new design setups, other then PetCo / PetSmart type places that do not deal in the types of things my customers would want. Possibly targeted mailings, my step mom has the mailing list of one of Dallas's most expensive jewelry shops for example, or sent to CEOs of larger business with beautiful pictures of aquascapes on the envelope to get them to open it. Perhaps work with other service companies in the area, if they have customers that require weekly attention they cannot handle due to volume (is this even likely?). <All sounds good... keep your passing lanes open as the saying goes in soccer... perhaps visiting dentist, doctor's offices, businesses known to have service, even from existing companies> One service I plan to offer once I have a few accounts is a livestock swapping program, in which frags and plant cuttings are traded and shared amongst my customers all through me, all they know is something grew, I cut it off, and brought back something different! My hope is in time this can grow to a subsidiary of my company dealing in the propagation of corals and FW plants for wholesale and scientific use. Yes I am talking 10+ years out. <A good long time frame. I did service work for nineteen years...> One service I had planned to offer is an "aquarium rebuild". They have a tank, that is old and nasty and ugly and UGH, but they saw finding Nemo and want a reef now. In the end they have a new much larger tank and basically a whole new setup? I once serviced a 50 gallon aquarium that had housed salt water fish I believe. From the looks of the tank, it had 20 fish and was fed a flat a day of food. The tank had been sitting stagnant with pumps running (but not moving water) for days to weeks. The tank had not had a water change or been cleaned ever, in over 2 years. The water was black, the 3" of crushed coral on the bottom was a SOLID brick, it was the most disgusting thing I have ever seen. Could of built a house out of it. In the end I did a water change and cleaned it as best I could and we never heard from her again. <Good riddance> This is NOT at all what I want to do, but rather what I want to avoid. Customers like this should be charged $60-$120 an hour to pay for what they have done to the aquarium IMO, especially if they have no interest in learning or doing it right. Too many people out there like that, I have a friend who has a goldfish tank he cleans every other year!! I can't talk him into doing otherwise cause the fish never die. <Perhaps he'll be reincarnated as a fish in a similar situation, hmmm?> Initial design and install is what I like most, I love drawing out and doing sump / plumping designs etc.. I read Anthony's book and now want a system that would require a bigger filter room then aquarium, but what is the market for that?  <It is huge, but spotty, and takes a while to become known... do apply for jobs in the public sector, including aquariums... and never fail to return a call to a designer, architect, engineer who works on such projects> Not enough to support a business for any length of time I wouldn't think. Typically the cost of setup and install is very low with very little mark up on the dry goods used. People go to aquarium and pet stores to buy tanks when they don't know anything, and are often sold very wrong and poor items, maybe I could do just that but how do you out advertise an aquarium store with a retail front... <Not easily done. I WOULD add consultancy to your ads, biz cards, lists of services provided> again. sorry for the long winded email...I always feel guilty when I write a book of info you really don't need, but I feel you need to know the situations to give good input. A fish died. That doesn't tell you much... That the story of that nasty tank I had to clean is worth sharing. <Yes. When will you visit stores, get going on your promotion of your business. Bob F>

RE: Introduction and input, aquatic startup business "If you're incorporated you'll have to pay someone to file for you AND file again for yourself... don't waste your time, resources" What other options are there? Maybe my bad use of words, I assumed incorporate to mean officially file and start the business with the state and tax id etc...I have been told my options are sole proprietor, LLC, or S type corp.  <Yes... or partnerships of various types... and variations of these. Just go sole proprietor for now> I know I can file online and do all the paper work myself, since I want to protect my house I believe sole prop is out, leaving LLC or S Type corp. Am I wrong? Sounds like I should at least spend the $150 to talk to an accountant for an hour perhaps and go from there. Mark <Mark, please read through the articles posted on www.WetWebMedia.com's Business section... Whether you're incorporated or not, if you damage someone's person or property you're going to pay... Know the job and do it and don't worry. The/A guiding light is whether you sleep well at night. I do. Bob Fenner>

Re: Introduction and input, aquatic startup business "Mark, please read through the articles posted on www.WetWebMedia.com's Business section... Whether you're incorporated or not, if you damage someone's person or property you're going to pay... Know the job and do it and don't worry. The/A guiding light is whether you sleep well at night. I do. Bob Fenner" A very interesting point worth noting. I had always been thinking the what if case, accidents do happen, but I guess that is why I have insurance. It sounds like all I have to do is register the name, and get a tax ID and I'm set to go. Do wholesalers have any issues with selling to a sole proprietor?  <None> I have read through the business section many times, but most of it is geared towards a retail or wholesale store and systems etc, though there is a lot of relevant info there I'm not seeing the specifics I am looking for :( <Mmm, I will look about to see if our old Service Co. Operations Manual is extant and send it along to you for review, use. Bob Fenner>

Re: Introduction and input, aquatic startup business "Oh. One time deals... like cleaning out or re-setting up a system, seasonal one shot jobs. " Hmm not a bad idea really the more I think about it, I am loving your book and though I know most of the info so far, there are always new pieces of info to be gained or reinforced. One thing standing out in my mind is your mention to aquascaping as being your favorite part, I will have to agree there and say it is mine as well. I am really starting to like the idea of design and install. I have had many compliments on the seamlessness of my rock stacks :) <One shots are nice for the money, convenience of scheduling... but the real deal is indeed putting in the "right" stuff such that the accounts are easy to maintain, keep the animals alive w/o fighting other people's mistakes and old gear.> "All sounds good... keep your passing lanes open as the saying goes in soccer... perhaps visiting dentist, doctor's offices, businesses known to have service, even from existing companies" Yes for sure, the vet I take my ferrets to down the road has a 55 in the lobby, it is pretty bleak but the fish look as if they have been there for a few years. ridiculously large fat tetras is always a sign lol. I found out the tank is being cared for by an employee, it will be one of the first places I visit. There are a few local hospitals with large tanks, they all looked very good though so I may not bother. <Do ask who does these tanks, if they'd entertain a bid for switching, upgrading perhaps> "A good long time frame. I did service work for nineteen years..." I think in time it will pay for larger endeavors and support me kindly. The first things I will invest in is 2, ~100 gallon drums for the truck, no lugging water jugs ugh! <I've seen some really neat rigs... my faves as all aluminum trailers with Nalgene tanks, hose reels... and pumps... what a breeze for delivering pre-made water, R.O....> "It is huge, but spotty, and takes a while to become known... do apply for jobs in the public sector, including aquariums... and never fail to return a call to a designer, architect, engineer who works on such projects" Great ideas, had not thought of designers and the like. How to larger companies and corporations usually go about obtaining their aquariums? <A mix... some folks "know somebody", others get someone to search (generally the "Yellow Pages" so you've got to have some coverage there), but big jobs are often "spec.ed" from the get-go in plans (hence the need to be in with designers, architects, engineer firms...) on plans... and VERY often whoever's name is ON the plans (as in YOU) who have helped call out gear et al. get called and DO the install and continue with service> At the moment I am entertaining interviews for technical computer positions (what I did for awhile) due to the money and that I am very broke...I am not sure a startup aquarium design / service company will pay my bills for the first year, if not longer. If I do get it going I may just entertain a job at PetSmart or the like to supplement the income and maybe make new contacts. <Apply, become yourself... a mark of true character is what one does with ones chances, choices, time... Get out there and "kick out the jams" as the saying goes... Do the time in retail, and use the exposure there to generate installs, accounts, one-shots... and build your business> "Not easily done. I WOULD add consultancy to your ads, biz cards, lists of services provided" It already is there, I think I may pursue this aspect further. "Yes. When will you visit stores, get going on your promotion of your business. Bob F"

Licenses Do I need a license to do things like replace receptacles with GFI's, tap into plumbing lines, run things through walls? I'm sure you don't know the Texas specifics, but in general does one need a plumbing, electrician or general contractor type license to perform these minor tasks? Having problems with a pricing plan as well but I'll work on that myself some more :) Mark <You likely do need a subcontractor's license. I had a C-27 which was mostly for landscapers, but allowed us to do bits of carpentry, electrical, plumbing, tile... as long as all was to code, and to hire two other sub-specialties per job. Ask you "Consumer Affairs Board" re contracting in your state. Bob Fenner>

Reef leasing? Hi Bob-  <Chip>  I met you in Raleigh NC at Jeff's store and the subsequent party. I was the guy who thought infrared must produce some thermal effect after passing through a fair amount of seawater...  <Ah, yes>  If that didn't scare you off, I was hoping to get your advice. As this point I am trying to talk myself out of this idea, as there must be something wrong with it I don't see yet.  <Let's hear it>  I have been talking to some business guys around here about starting a commercial Reef Conservancy company that would provide a membership to commercial facilities that purchase reef setups. It appears to me that there is a lack of long-term incentives in the industry for maintaining commercial reef setups; the maintenance is fragmented; the pet shops are dying of too much floor space in the face of the Internet people; and purchasers have no group buying power or influence over total system design.  <Not much margin here...>  Sooo- the Reef Conservancy provides franchises to the pet shops. The pet shop originates what amounts to a lease for a fixed period of time. But what they contract for is a membership; the commercial facility does not own the equipment. They get their usual commercial markup, plus a loan origination fee which is paid out over the term of the membership/lease. the Reef  Conservancy provides the loan; as the loan is capitalized, the members monthly fee stays the same.  The extra funds are used to provide better pay to the maintenance people. Monthly billing for Reef Conservancy tanks are handled by the central office, at a somewhat higher fee than free-lance people. As profits increase, they are shared between the home office and the maintenance people.  The maintenance people would be rolled up into Reef Conservancy representatives. Although they still generate the same profit for the LFS, they can now cover for other Reef Conservancy dealers.  <The vast majority of people in the service sector of our interest are very independent...>  The control office would require captive bred and other reef conservation measures; growing corals would colonize other Reef Conservancy tanks. This is an advantage of not owning one tank, but rather being a member among other commercial establishments. In essence, there would be one tank with many locations.  Providing standardized maintenance, and central buying, would all help the industry.  I have talked this over with people from the furniture rental industry, and the flower rental industry, and some local bankers. I see some potential problems such as tank failures, and repos requiring some risk sharing for the LFS.  I wonder if you could kill this idea for me- or, suggest a group of people who might represent regional folks to get some scale and buying power and elbow grease into this?  -Chip "Darth" Matthews MD   "He gets his self-esteem from the pet industry" Matthews  <It's a worthy idea... though one fraught with a not-too promising outlook (IMO of course). You will find the stores resistant... and a need for a considerable outlay of capital and much TIME... it will take years for this concept to "roll out"... but if you have the time (years, thousands of hours) this could work out well (enough) to provide satisfaction in the realization that you are "adding value" to the trade and the planet. Bob Fenner>

Tank Maintenance, the biz Hi again, my name is Darrin and after much reading on your web site and Bob's book I have decided to proceed with setting up a part time business doing maintenance on Aquariums in the Edmonton, AB, Canada area. I feel there definitely is a market here. <Good> I hope that you can offer some assistance here, I have just set up my web page http://members.shaw.ca/plas7208/ and am now trying to get my site out there in cyberspace and get some people contacting me. <Stop. You will find it much more profitable to be more proactive in seeking customers, new work. Two things I definitely would do: 1) Make up flyers and go to likely businesses (restaurants, doctors and dentists offices...) and ask for work... with a portfolio to share pix, pricing for your work... and your URL on your flyer, business cards of course, 2) Make deals with the local retailers... Especially if they don't do installs, have ongoing maintenance themselves... do this work for them, and in turn either pay them for supplies, livestock, or directly for leads> I'm not sure who would be good when it comes to aquariums (besides yourselves of course) to list my links and how to. You will also notice I put pics of your book on my site and am very willing to put a link to this site also if you let me. <Anyone is welcome to link with us> I am also unsure what the common procedure here is when it comes to maybe getting people to sign waivers etc in case of tank problems or what.. I mean if someone's $300 Trigger dies from natural causes I sure don't want to be paying for it.... <In practice this is done either as "all-inclusive accounts", where you supply all (food, salt mix, livestock...) for a fixed fee per month, or as a no-quarantine sale on the accounts part (within reason)> Any assistance would be GREATLY appreciated and I will owe you big, sorry bigger than I already do for all the knowledge passed on. Regards, Darrin <Press on my friend. We are here to help you. Bob Fenner>

- Starting an Aquarium Service Business - Hope you are all doing well today, I have a few questions regarding starting up a service business. I have about 5 years experience (6 years ago) in the industry, 2 years in service the rest in retail.   I was laid off from work about 3 weeks ago, and there's not much going on in the IT area, and I don't care for it anyways.   I left the aquarium industry to make more money, I believe if I had my own aquarium related company I could make the more money I was missing before.   I seem to remember enjoying my days servicing aquariums... for the most part :-) My question is about estimating revenues.  Without a retail front, getting customer base will be slow, and very word of mouth oriented, I don't see that many ways to advertise other then the yellow pages and maybe some flyers / mail stuffings... Given the different size aquariums, packages, equipment, no 2 customers will be charged the same mount (well I'm sure some will)... so how to you estimate revenues?   With the math did, charging around $50 as a minimum service for aquariums up to a certain size, likely 75 or 90 gallons, and increasing from there. <Actually... this might be how your sliding scale will 'work' but if I were you I'd stick to an hourly rate. Better than that though, is to work backwards - what are your expenses going to be? Work those out first, then you'll know what your revenues NEED to be... start calculating what it will take to produce that amount of work.>  Going off of that, I figure I can handle about 20-25 accounts a month by myself, 5 a day, 5 days a week. <Don't forget travel time in-between.> Trying to be realistic. <Don't think it would be easy to do more than that in a day - average account is about 1.5 hours, extra time to jaw with the customer, not including getting to and from the location.> At that rate, 20 monthly repeating customers with the minimum service fees, will get me around $95,000 in revenues yearly.  I think in service that would be a good sized profit, and can only go up by adding employees. <Something like that... again, without expenses in that equation... no way to know what the profit will actually be.>  Is this a good way to estimate? <Must also calculate expenses.> What about bigger tanks that may cost 100-200 a month to service? <Go hourly... will solve all problems.> Which leads to my next question, do 500 gallon aquariums really cost $400+ to maintain monthly? <Probably... will take much time to check in on, clean, do the water change, have something go wrong, clean up after yourself - how much time would that take you? It all gets back to time and materials.> I guess it depends on the amount of work and number of visits... I have seen service companies advertise $1 / gallon, that would be $500 to clean the tank monthly, that sounds ridiculous to me!! <Don't knock it until you try it... you'll be charging those rates yourself soon enough.> Other outfits I have seen charge hourly, I don't think this fits either, to much room for customer disagreement, etc... <What's to argue? The appointment takes what it takes as long as you don't take time out of the appointment to make popcorn in the customer's microwave.> I feel the only way to fairly charge for service is by quote... base prices based on gallon ranges, addition money for RO water, additional money for salt, if you have 2 overflow boxes, and other equipment... added to the base price of service for a custom price for your aquarium, after all no two are the same are they. <To each their own I think. Do believe that the ala cart system of pricing will inevitably lead to folks saying things like - I don't want to pay for salt this month - which is ridiculous. Make it an hourly rate for your time, perhaps cut a break if you get a weekly commitment rather than every two weeks. Many tanks in the same size range - 55-75 will take the same time to service, time to carry your equipment in the door set-up, tear down, make water, etc... should be the same price if you charge by time.> Also what is a realistic customer base to expect in 1 years time?  I'm sure there's a lot of variables, just looking for an estimate. <That's quite variable and hard to predict. Perhaps more information about your available market, what you can expect to wring out of that...> Lastly, as I said I was laid off, and thusly have no source of income at the moment.   Are there loans that will allow me to pay my cost of living as well? <Would look into small business or personal loans, perhaps something inter-family otherwise.>  i.e. if my bills add up to $20,000 a year, would it be realistic to ask a bank or lender (non private funding) for a loan of $40,000 to startup an aquarium service?  This would include my living costs, as well as money to buy a truck, and other equipment. <Need to work on your business plan some more - is what you would present to a lender to show that you've got a business worth investing in.> Thanks in advance, you guys are always a wealth of information. Mark <Cheers, J -- >

- Fish Expert Maintenance Guy not Working Out... - Hi there, We have a 250 gal marine tank in our offices which is our pride and joy. Although we do what we can day to day, we are pretty much mugs in terms of knowledge, and rely on external contractors for tank maintenance. <A very common scenario with tanks in businesses. It can be very problematic though should something go wrong when the maintenance man can't make it...> On the advice of a self-proclaimed 'expert', we have recently  befitted our 250 gal marine tank with loads of live rock, skimmers, new lighting etc. The guy charged us £3,500 for the gear and his time <Not sure what that is in $, excuse my non-fish real world ignorance!> - then on the first day a 'mysterious one-off problem' with the timers had the halides left on over the weekend, boiling the water to almost 100% and killing 70% of our fish family which we had nurtured over the previous four years. It upset everyone here - but not his doing apparently? <If he set the timers it's his fault...> Things picked up after the disaster and, for about 2 months, we had excellent growth of new soft corals, the fish were thriving and all seemed well. 2 weeks ago, a thick, brownish algae appeared suddenly, which seems to either bubble itself or attract bubbles from the water. <Sounds like dinoflagellates> It goes away over night, only to pick up and bloom again when the halides kick in between 10.15am and 4.30 pm. <Yeah, very likely dino's>  In a matter of days, the tank shifted from a wonderful spectacle, to looking like a stagnant pond. The soft coral which was doing so well has closed, gone chalky or black at the ends. <Black is bad, it's beginning to become necrotic.> The polyps (if that's right?) have died off, the mushrooms don't come out, and all new soft coral growth has ceased. Our expert was supposed to be providing maintenance, but we've seen nothing of him since we paid him for the job, save when he called to drop off some new fish.  He can't offer any advice as to what the problem is, I've surfed to seek info to the extent that I'm now word blind! <I'd drop this maintenance bum like a hot rock, you've got a serious problem going on here. I would also suggest finding out if you and/or your coworkers would like to take it on to yourselves to keep this tank going, great, I'll suggest a few books to build a work-library. I'd pick up The Conscientious Marine Aquarist by our very own Bob Fenner, Aquarium Corals by Eric Borneman, and Reef Invertebrates by Fenner and Calfo.>

Regarding Insurance for service business Hope you all are doing well this afternoon.   I am thinking of starting a small service business out of my house I am purchasing in the next few months, it wasn't a good fit before living in an apartment, but out of a house, starting small on weekends and evenings may pan out. <Yes. This is how I and many others started their service companies>    Anyways I was wondering what sort of company I would have to got for insurance?  What kind of insurance is needed? <Mmm, auto for sure. If/when you can afford it liability>   Is there any sort of specific licensing or bonding I need to do before persuading this? <Often... there's a need to have a business license, likely ahead of this a fictitious name registration and all that entails. Check with your State (and maybe County) re these issues>    I'm sure insurance is a must, accidents do happen....I just don't know where to look really. <Depending on the size of your biz, if/when you might have employees, maybe doing "big" jobs or working directly for the gov't (we all work for them indirectly), you might need more and larger coverage, perhaps bonds of different sorts. This will come later>    Do I need a full business plan to get insurance? <Nope> Any info you have about what I need and where to get it from a license / insurance standpoint would be very appreciated. Thanks, Mark <See your State's website... am very sure they will have some input for you. Bob Fenner>

RE: Regarding Insurance for service business Hmmm, I was thinking along the lines of  "whoops sorry I spilled 50 gallons of water on your nice new carpeting" insurance :)   Who would I call for that, any old company like Allstate or something? <Yes. Very likely the same insurance company you employ for your home, auto also offers business liability insurance.> Thanks as always :) Mark <Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Jobber questions howdy bob- <Greetings Jon>     am a physics student in Nebraska that's been doing aquarium maintenance for the last two years out of a fish store. am one semester from graduation and i plan on heading to a coastal school to do my masters in oceanography. i hear that jobbers can make some good cash if you can hook up enough clients. <Yes... but not easy work... lots of hours, headaches... with flights, pick-ups, collections...> it also sounds like a job that doesn't require the normal 9 to 5 work ethic, which is cool since ill be in school. <More like a open ended 24h/d work ethic... I encourage you to consider your options closely... if you can "get" grants, scholarships... even boot-strap financing... I would work for the school itself if this is what you want your life's work to be about... TA's, IA's... you know (or will soon), the typical "grad. work" jobs> the only trouble is that nobody knows what it takes to be a jobber around here. i hear there are licenses to get. <Mmm, just business license... other work with CITES, what have you is done by others... BUT very important to have VERY good working relations with your suppliers... This pre-requires their knowledge, trust of you. From whom do the folks you work with/for currently buy their livestock? You will want to contact AND visit these people before moving.> can you give me a few leads as to where i need to go and ask my questions? are their state government agencies that would know? <Several... but let's discuss what you are doing re school. What do you hope to do with your advanced degree work? In what particular aspects of physics are you interested? I was a H.S. physics teacher for a while years back. Bob Fenner> Let me know what you think Jon Trowbridge

Starting Aquarium Maintenance Business Hello, <Hi there> My name is Stephen Norton.  I am planning to start an aquarium maintenance business in central New Hampshire.  I have about 15 years experience in the area and think that there is plenty of work to keep me busy.  I only have one real issue.  How do I figure out what to charge for the services.  I want to make money but I also want to be competitive.  Is there any resources that you are aware of that could help me with this. <Yes, principally your competitors. Call and ask the independents and stores that do service what they charge. Really. People in the trade that know what they're doing would prefer (vastly) to have competent competitors that charge a fair price...> Thank you for any help you can give me with this.  Also I love your website, I find it very informative and it has a great interface. Stephen Norton <Thank you. Some folks have told me in recent years that they charge either directly by the hour (at the rate of about $35 per) or indirectly about the same... figuring out about how long their services (counting drive time, admin., tool and material gathering...) will take per account. Some regions (like New York, metropolitan L.A.... charge more, like $50 per hour. Bob Fenner>

Re: new service-guy for reef hello 2 u, I am a new service-guy for reef aquariums. I will thank u for any tips: What 2 do, What not 2 do, And haw to start. Thank u, anat a. <Let's see... study within and without the field... become a good listener, explainer of what you're doing, the reasons for it. Take a long read through our business SubWeb: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/AqBizSubWebIndex/Biz%20Index/Biz%20index.htm Make your specific questions and desires known. Bob Fenner>

New store needing tech Hello there!  We are a new store in the Dallas area.  We are in need of hiring a tech to do maintenance for us. <A very worthwhile gambit for most all retail stores... ready income, best type of promotion overall... just have to "do" good installs, competent, professional upkeep...> We do not want to get slammed by hundreds of phone calls and resumes, but need to get the word out that part time help is needed. <Mmm, this is SO important a slot to fill (this person will BE you, your co. to the customers, public), that I strongly encourage you to have them work with you, likely in store, for a while to make sure you share values, they have "what it takes" personality, knowledge and skill-wise... to do the job/s "like you would" (or better). We used to recruit, train our service technicians (actual title) for our Service Division/s in this way (through our retail outlets). Part of our old Operations Manuals can be found on/as WetWebMedia.com Aquatics Business SubWeb. Do give this a look-see.> We have talked with several vendors and are trying to network through the system without running a classified ad.  Is there any type of "test" that you are aware of that can be given to prospective employees to test knowledge of basic aquarium care? <None that I endorse... have been party to (making, evaluating ones developed by mass merchandisers in the field... but best to ask simple questions, develop your own matrix, including elements to evaluate apparent "appearance", "friendliness", "honesty", as well as tool use, capacity to do the tasks intended... My real advice is to "steal" folks at stores, hobby grp.s... that you admire... few compliments as strong, sincere as being asked "Would you consider working with us"?> We are not a huge store and really try to work with our customers on a first name basis.  We do not want to put our customer's tanks in the hands of someone that is lacking proper knowledge and would break down our good customer service reputation. <Agreed... better to send no one... or just fold ones doors> Also, it seems that there is lots of techs from other LFS that have stolen customers from their past employers.  Any suggestions on how to prevent this? <A few... do develop and implement a "position contract" defining what the tech/s responsibilities and accountabilities are... including a non-compete (in time, space) agreement (have your legal liaison chat w/ you re the applicability in your State re)... and keep what is the tech/s domain just that... We had "service acct. folders (with info. on contacts, what the system was, sources of water, drainage, electricity... What tools to bring per... BUT separately for each account an Accounting Folder... the tech/s don't need, should not be afforded information on charges, who is billed... none of their business> If you think it would help, please post our fax number that prospects could send a resume - (972) 458-2788. Jana Callaway-Coyle <Be chatting... and more. Do you (stakeholder/s) have time to actually go out in the field, do this work yourself? I would... to generate operations plans, routes, marketing... ahead of sending out other/s in your stead. Bob Fenner>

RE: New store needing tech Thanks for the advice.  We really enjoy your site and have found it to be very informative and helpful.  For us novice retailers, having someone as yourself to bounce things off of is a huge benefit. <It is indeed a pleasure to aid you and others in the trade. It is my/our desire to help improve the industry... urge it to be a little more professional, sophisticated...> I guess it is time to visit a few other LFS and see if recruiting is a possibility. <Yes... and local hobby groups... invaluable gathering spots for the best talent> We are also putting the word out with some of the local fish clubs, upon your recommendation, and hoping that this will bring in some qualified personnel. <It will> In the mean time, I guess we will maintain the accounts ourselves. <Yes... and "make" your Op.s manuals... as stated... define what you want done, how you expect to have it done... A personal insight, our businesses included Aquatic Life Services with hundreds of accounts, a dozen vehicles at one point... We devised a win-win-win situation for our customers, fellow employees (corporation) and the business itself... by paying attention to detail... paying our staff as a function of overall performance (as measured by profitability)... putting the onus and responsibility on the tech's to please the customer... Keep this goal in mind (as it seems you do already for your retail)... and arrange your business tactically (with some set aside resource for strategic planning) and you'll do fine> As the old saying goes, "If you want it done right...do it yourself."  Now, how do we add hours to a day? <You come up with a/the answer to this and I'll come join you! Bob Fenner> Jana Callaway-Coyle

Starting my own Setup and maintenance company! Hi guys thanks in advance for your quick response. I was wondering if you all could give me a list of distributors here in Florida that I could use. Me and my staff plan on maintaining around 70-100 tanks monthly and I think wholesale/distributors would be the best place for me to acquire the fish for the setups. Fell free to give me your comments or advice in this matter. Thanks.  Sincerely, James Bolton <James... you can get a massive amount of industry contacts and information by subscribing to the industry trade magazines and getting the indexes. Try Pet Age, Pet Supplies Marketing and Pet Business. Also joining the national trade organization for our industry will help with these same contacts: PIJAC. Do some internet digging bud and best regards! Anthony>

information needed Dear Bob, I have recently started my own business setting up fish tanks and also cleaning them for people. <Good for you, a fun, interesting and worthwhile field. I did the same for a few decades> I have four tanks at home I do really great with and I know a lot about fresh water but I seem to lack knowledge in the salt water tank. Do you know of any books or sights that would be helpful in helping me understand the things I need to know ? There seems to be a lot to watch out for and I need to study up on this. Thank you for your time. <Mmm, yes. Please peruse our site: www.WetWebMedia.com and you will find a good deal of useful information, inspiration having to do with the saltwater parts of the hobby, business... and references there to some of the best of what is currently available in the way of books in the field. Bob Fenner> CLEARWATER BARB'S FISH TANKS

Aquarium Maintenance Business Bob, I am writing a new chapter that will be added to my existing manual regarding starting an aquarium maintenance service (I have been running a service for about 7 years and have been selling the manual for about 5). Anyway, the chapter is about ideas for expanding one's aquarium maintenance service to provide additional services such as aquarium moving, sick fish services, pond maintenance etc.  <Sounds familiar... we used to do such things> I would like to add some mention of fish breeding (fresh) and plant propagation but have not done this myself for purposes of a business.  <We tried importing plants (Anubias, Crypts... from/through Singapore and "hardening them"... the only profitable part turned out to be Aponogeton bulbs... at some few cents net landed cost each... retailing them for 1.99 to 3.99 sprouted... at our retail outlets... all else proved hard to make money at... the cost of power, space, labor in California is too high... Oh, and not since working in the retail end in the sixties (yikes) have I been involved in breeding for profit> As a result, the subject will be added as a suggestion with not as much detail but I would like to be able to add some detail and resources that readers can refer to for more information.  <Good ideas> Would you be able to refer me to some resources <Maybe... can you be more specific?> on the subject as well as possibly write a 4 or 5 page short discussion on the matter? <The matters of breeding, freshwater (pond plants can be very worthwhile) plants?> Knowing that your time is money and that you do this kind of thing professionally, I know you would have to be paid for such text. I almost hesitate to ask this but if you had the time and were willing, what would something like that cost?  <A couple of hundred dollars ($200). About the going rate for pet-fish hobbyist zine and online writing... With some graphics to boot!> In any event, thanks for any information you can give me and I will be sure to list your website as a wonderful resource. Thanks again! <Thanks much. Be chatting, Bob Fenner> Duane Clark AquaServe Aquarium Publications Home of eFishTank www.aquaserve.com www.efishtank.com

Commercial Aquarium Cleaning Gear Bob, Do you know of any companies that manufacture commercial fish tank cleaning equipment?  <A few, though most people in the trade make their own. You can contact Rainbow/Lifegard, Aquanetics, Python Products re their lines, possibilities> I need as portable system for cleaning tanks in office buildings, homes etc. Up to about 1500 litre freshwater systems and possibly saltwater in the future. I also have a petstore so could use the system there also. Any help would be gratefully appreciated. <Do contact other people in the service side... consider fabricating your own gear... it is less costly in general (if you have the time, skills), and will fit your needs better if you DIY. Bob Fenner> Regards Michael. P.S. Love the Wet Web Media website. <Please consider "adding to it" with an article/write-up of your adventures in securing the above gear... Our svc. division built, reconfigured skid units from the pool/spa industry, on dollies, rolling racks... even trailered larger diameter (1 1/2, 2" hose reels) for trash pumps... for cleaning ponds... and we'll place on WWM, help you get published in the print magazine realm.>

Commercial tank maintenance... Bob- I am thinking of setting up a tank at my business, here in San Diego. Though I have had years of experience in maintaining a FOWLR, I'm thinking of installing a reef tank. Is there anyone locally you would recommend to setup and maintain the tank.  <Mmm, I would have this job bid by at least a few folks, and compare what they'd offer you, at what price. Try Ron Elander at Octopus' Garden, Pat Hurley at Aquatic Warehouse, and Dan and Ann Shoemaker at Aquatic Life Services> I'm sure I could do it but, I would rather spend the time running the business. Other than going thru the Yellow Pages and talking to everyone, I thought you might know of someone who has the same philosophy as you. Thanks. <Yes my friend. Thank you for asking. Bob Fenner> Andy

Picture Use for Aquarium Service Business in Sweden Hello! My name is Patrik, and I'm from Sweden. I have I question to you regarding the pictures on your site. But first, I just have to say, what a great site you have done! <Thank you my friend> Right now, I'm restarting my aquarium business again, and your articles about central filtration, has helped me a lot. But it would helped me much more if you could put up some diagraph (I now, not correct spelled, hope you understand anyway). <I understand... and wish I had graphics. Do have some old drawings that perhaps I can scan and place... or better, maybe someone will see your note on WWM and come forward with some> Now, back to the question. I am having big problem to find any good picture of marine fish and corals, to put up on me homepage. So, I wonder if I could take some of yours, until I have taken my own? Or, if I just could link to your site? <The link approach is best at this time. We actually make a good part of our revenue from supplying image-work to commercial interests> The problem with just linking the customer to you page, would be the language as some of them is having problem with "technical" English. Best regards Patrik Karlsson, email:PKarl45@hotmail.com <Please detail what sorts of images you are looking for. We can likely make an arrangement. Bob Fenner>

Re: Picture Hello again! Thank you for the fast reply. I will link my costumer to your site. <And ours to yours> I think it would be pretty good anyway, and I wouldn't need to search after picture of the fish and corals I'm writing about. (It would save me a lot of time, never thought it took so much job, to set up a homepage). Anyway, maybe I have to start studying English again, but did you mean that you sell image to company? <Yes, exactly> If so, I would be interest of buying some in time. Right now, my budget can't afford to much and the Swedish crown, now called pesetas by our Norwegian neighbor, ain't worth much. <I understand.> Finally, about the filtration, I think I know, from your article, how it should look like, but, if you should have some graphics "laying around", I would be very thankful if you could send some by mail or fax. Best regards Patrik Karlsson Email:PKarl45@hotmail.com <Will put on my ever-growing list of projects. Be chatting. Bob Fenner>

aquatic service Hey Bob, <Hello> Merry New Year!!!!! i have a couple questions.. I was researching on starting an LFS business on my spare time while i was in school. <... this is more than two full time propositions...> My future plans was to someday have one, once my family and I was financially stable. <And a family? When will you eat, sleep?> I have just recently graduated and got a degree in computer networking technology. I am from the Bay Area and the job market right in that field is rough. I have been in the hobby since i was young and i have had been through many fresh, brackish, and saltwater setups. I am also on message boards all the time. I guess i am addicted. i did my research through score, SBA, and many other outside sources. <The beginning of interest... do you have business experience?> There is a lot more i still have to learn. Since the economy is tough right now would I be able to start an aquatic service company??? There are also companies that make computer hardware that can make it possible to maintain and monitor aquariums through a PC like the ones Neptune and Aquadyne manufacture.  <Yes... am familiar with the latter folks backgrounds... live in San Diego with them, their company> I was thinking with my networking and aquarium knowledge i can provide hi-tech service to customers. Is there room for me out here in the industry?? to grow??? to provide for my family?? <Perhaps.> I have researched other service co. out here in the Bay and i am wondering if i can get a piece of the action??? make a career out of what I love to do?? Is it worth my time and money??? <Yes, of a certainty... the service side of the industry is wide open> I am currently doing research and working on my business plan. I am in no big rush and I am waiting till my plan is bullet-proof to take action. I will also be posting on the message board to get more help and direction.. All the help is appreciated...... <Please read through the Business Index on WetWebMedia.com We have much to discuss. Bob Fenner> Thanks again for all the input, A.Mac

Re: aquatic service Hi Bob, yeah i maintained a busy schedule. . i went to college and studied technical design, color theory, when my son was born i went the networking route. when i found that there was computer hardware used in the industry I found a way i can use everything i learned and changing career paths wasn't a waste of time. designing ,aquascaping, and networking aquariums to monitor tanks and implement tasks from home. <Reminds one of the ole SDL skits, "How many yobs you got mon?"> i can also collect data to show customers documentation. Well eventually that's the service i can provide. right now i just need the basics to get up and running. I have friends in web design and my mother is an accountant so i have already cut some costs. I have read the aquatic business articles and FAQs religiously It is a lot of work just to put it all down in writing...That's why i wondering if I can make real money doing what I already know how to do???? <Yes, no better time... stipulated you're located in, near a propitious population...> especially here in the Bay Area.??I have 3 friends that started there own business and they seem to be doing good. I have asked some LFS around for some information and i had mixed feelings. some take me as a threat to their business with the idea and the answers they give aren't much help. some see me as young so they don't take me seriously. so i guess am on my own??? <Not necessarily on your own... perhaps the better idea to start own business (sole proprietorship), but maybe better to start from the get-go as a partnership... there is enough ready service business in much of SF... so you can have a more flexible schedule... as in time off... Worthwhile checking with stores you respect re such an enterprise as well...> i am planning to have a website where i can reach a wider range of people and they can learn about the co., make contact. i have done searches on the web and there are only a couple service co. here with a site.. <Umm, nothing will beat (at this point... catch per unit effort) more "conventional" means of reaching real, potential customers... yellow page/phone directory ads, face to face, even letter contacts, proposals... Find out who already has systems (even ponds, lakes if you feel competent, desirous here) and approach them in person... Don't devote that much time to the Net... not now> i have also heard of free ISPs and will be using them as part of my marketing plan. location i am targeting is hopefully the whole bay or at least most of it. where can i go to learn the basics of servicing?? <Working with an existing Service Company is the absolute best, a good LFS twenty percent as much, other industries service sectors five...> such as equipment used??? <About the same, but larger/faster, more professional versions of home tools> is it just like service i do to my tanks at home??? <The end results the same... approach, record-keeping much more regimented> Basically it will be a installation/de-installation, moving, servicing, the works...i have tried seeking pt work at an LFS but its hard. <Not as hard as starting, running your own service business> is there any thing else i can do to learn about the trade?? <My friend... a life-time's worth. Do you have personal business experience? Can, will most likely be learned OTJ... but need to develop and implement a good, consistent/accurate accounting system of your time, billable rates... BUT most important, just seek out customers at this point, and be yourself> experience other than home??? i used to hang out at a buddy of mines LFS so i have an idea of what goes on. how much they make.... <Is this friend still about? In business? Volunteer there... with an understanding that you are willing, wanting to do installs, ongoing maintenance work> I have a lot of ideas and plans that can make the business unique. I am just not sure if it is worth the time??? <Mmm, assuredly yes... a good income can be had> since i am only 22 will people take me seriously?? <I started my/our service business at seventeen> My son just turned 3 and i want to provide him with the best.  <The best what? If by this you mean "simply" things that money seem to be able to purchase, selling commercial property, securities, other avenues you should seek... they, on average, will/do pay much more> i don't want to spend a lot of time learning to fail. I wasted enough time in my life. <Much to say here my friend... you have only your life, your choices> i am glad you are here to help and share your experiences about the industry...is there a future in the business i am interested in??  <Yes> if not is it possible to do it part time?? <Yes> sorry about all the questions but you are the only one i know that will tell it how it is. thanks again <Take some time to think deeply on "who you are", "what you want"... visit with people in the trade there... be with them... you will know whether to devote yourself to one path or the other. There is strength in believing that you are the maker of your destiny (this is so). Bob Fenner>

Hey You !!!!! Howdy Bob; didn't see the e-mail till later about Pete's Party what do you think would be a slightly belated gift for him that he'd really like other than a naked woman ..........  <Mmm, now you've got me thinking> Also would there be any problem posting the daily images from you on SDMAS website with the usual legalize about the images and there ownership; without express written consent of B. Fenner and WetWeb Media ......., <Go ahead and post away. Any/all of my work is available to the hobby groups, non-commercial interests/applications.> and last but not least are you going to be around to go to L.A. this Fri. ????  <Mmm what time? Giving Di a ride to the airport (I think in the AM). Are you shopping? Bob F> Thanx ; Maurice B.

Hey Reply Thanks once again !!!!!!!!!! From Me and the Club, was thinking of going after morning traffic what time do you plan on going to the Air Port ????? Neal was going to pick up a box of live rock he won from Walt Smith's and i was thinking of trying to pick up a few things ( kid in a candy store ) that's if they let me ...... also I'd like to try and set up an Account w/ Sea Dwelling & Walt Smith's so in the future i can supply my company with livestock  <What? Wow! Finally! Taking zee plungee into the biz end?> when needed for setups ( i have 3 pending right now ) . <Will cc Di, find out her plans. Bob F>

Biznessman Well I've been slowly setting up accounts with suppliers PFO lighting , Custom Aquatic, etc...... now i need to be able to do Livestock also ( Full service ) . Everything except the tank !!!!!! Will be very small right now but down the line. Already have my Bus. license, Resellers Permit and a few Business Cards !!!!!! <You forgot an important component, you've got me! Congratulations on your progress. Bob Fenner>

Re: Biznessman >Well I've been slowly setting up accounts with suppliers PFO lighting , Custom Aquatic, etc...... now i need to be able to do Livestock also ( Full service ) . Everything except the tank !!!!!! Will be very small right now but down the line. Already have my Bus. license, Resellers Permit and a few Business Cards !!!!!! ><You forgot an important component, you've got me! Congratulations on your progress. Bob Fenner> >Hey with out you i wouldn't where am at in this Pet Fish Hobby you've opened sooo many doors for me it's unbelievable and you haven't changed a bit the same, approachable, down to earth nice guy >!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Viva La Bob Fenner !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! <We'll see what you say when you're juggling the "real job", family, accounts, and "a life" in addition! Be seeing you. Bob F>

LFS (business, life opportunity in the trade) Bob, was contacted by Misty Johnson concerning the potential sale of a LFS here. May check into it. Would probably prefer just a "service" to forego overhead of operation. <A great opportunity... to co-op with this earnest potential retailer... You could benefit by doing the installs, services out of your/her shop... Consider this> I see a service as an investment in chemicals, tools, transportation and time with a good supplier or two on hand. <Yes, and the accoutrements of enterprise... location, phone, licensing, advertising... all much easier to do with a "store front"> I appreciate the contact. <We'll be chatting, scheming more soon. Bob Fenner> Regards, from David A. Bell

Pet-fish, life in general Dave knows trees.....Bob knows oceans. Dave wants to know oceans...Dave listens to Bob.... <Bob knows little to diddly> Actually, with the intended seriousness above aside, my study of marines has been supremely gratifying at the very least and caused me to consider an ever increasing studious commitment as a life project at the most; whether or not anything ever comes of it but my own satisfaction, increased knowledge and the reward of conversation with new friends, then my goals are complete. <Ah! Wish I were younger, not so lazy... would engage you in a partnership... likely an install and service co.... We'd have "some fun" as the saying goes, putting in systems, stocking and taking care of them... still a profitable, and tremendously gratifying enterprise> For that reason, I certainly appreciate the time that you take to educate, mentor, promote among those as myself who may unwittingly suppress their interest otherwise without enthusiastic example. My regret (interpreted "impatience") is that I have not been able to spend the time I would like...but I will. <Mmm, I understand my friend> Regards, from David A. Bell <Be chatting, Bob Fenner>

Thanks! (Service company branching out from Pools to Fountains) I own a pool cleaning business and many of my customers have big fountains in front of their houses. I am considering offering a weekly fountain cleaning as a new service.  <Good idea. Our old companies used to do this as well... very easy work with the right gear, a routine... If they're big, trash pumps (gas powered are best if noise isn't a concern... Skid units with cartridge filters on a trailer, with a service switch, hose reels are a real plus for where noise is a concern as well as no where to vent waste water...> It seems no one in my area does it and all of the fountains here are full of silt, dirt, and muck. Thanks for the information on your article! <Any time my friend> Are there any other good sources of information of fountains, cleaning, and maintenance? I want to be THE area expert on fountains soon. <You may well have to develop such a collection... Do peruse the bits on our site (www.WetWebMedia.com) on the "Business Index" and "Pond Index"... and contact me if you have specific questions... there are suppliers of gear... Rainbird, Imperial Bronzelite, Thoro... in the trade that you should become familiar with... Bob Fenner> Mike Yancey "The Pool Butler"

Ethics in Aquarium Service Greetings Bob (or is it still Lorenzo manning the ship?): <Am back, but just barely> Here's a question that may be a bit different than most you get... I run an aquarium service business. It's in its infancy, but business is rapidly beginning to pick up. Already I've run into a little problem, and would appreciate your advice/thoughts. One of my commercial clients is pressuring me to *grossly* overstock his tank. I won't get into all the details, suffice it to say that what he wants is a tank *FULL* of fish. We're talking 30 or so fish in a 75g marine tank!! I of course, do not want to do this. Through education, I have been trying to discourage the client, and help him understand why this is such a bad idea. He seems to listen, but I still get the feeling that he's thinking "this is my tank, I pay you, you do what I want". <Really? Then let him overstock and kill the livestock.> Prior to working with this client, I did put together a contract that outlined my services, prices, blah blah blah. In that contract, I specified that I couldn't guarantee "livestock lifespan" (who can guarantee life?). <No one and everyone> I did NOT however, specify that I would be the ultimate decision-maker on exactly WHAT goes in the tank. We discussed his needs in length, and he NEVER brought up this idea to overstock his tank. In fact, we'd outlined several possible stocking plans, all of which he seemed excited about, and he's been pleased with the service so far. I suspect he saw a tank somewhere that had way too many fish in it and decided that was the look he wanted. I suppose that I could just cram this tank full of fish, and replace them as they die off (customer pays for livestock). But I have a fundamental problem with killing fish in such a pointless fashion. My client sees them as "just fish" and doesn't seem to care if his fish die and get replaced. He wants that flashy, overstocked tank (and he can afford it)! I will of course, continue to educate and persuade this person that overstocking is the wrong way to go. In your personal (and professional) opinion, should I just stuff the tank and replace the livestock as it dies off, or should I hold firm and refuse to stock the tank in this manner? (Which means I could/would lose the account). <There are grounds of "reasonableness" in such judgments ("how much overstocking is expedient")... I would shoot for some "middle-ground" here> I need customers. On the other hand, I also feel a strong need to do what is right for the captive fishes. Any opinion? Is there some way to write a better contract the next time so that I don't have to go through this scenario again? Am I "out of bounds" in refusing to do what this customer is asking? Regards, hope you had/are having a great trip to Asia! Jay T. Fishy Business Complete Aquarium Service Commercial & Residential Jay Thompson - Owner/Operator Phone: 602.614.7251 email: FishyBusiness@go.com <Thank you for writing so lucidly. "In the final synthesis each must decide for themself"... Above all be true to yourself. State (in writing and verbally) "I would do so and so, and wouldn't do so and so, and the reasons for it... and if indeed you come across situations that call for you to compromise your values (what you prize as important, valuable, ethical...) choose what you deem to be right... irrespective of apparent "needs" for customers. Don't cheat yourself, this is impossible. Bob Fenner>

Starting a business Bob, After completely falling in love with the saltwater addiction and gaining a better knowledge of it than most, I am considering opening up my own saltwater fish store. If I remember correctly from reading your book, you were a long time owner of one as well.  <Sort of like boats, or dogs... difficult to tell "who owns who"... but did spend fourteen years "on the floor", and yes, our old/extinct corp. did have some retail outlets> My main concern is, can I make a living and provide for a future family?  <Yes, this is STILL a very wide, and rich area to delve into... especially considering the service side/aspects... do consider them in your thoughts, business and marketing plans> I'm not looking to get rich, I just want to do what makes me happy and will provide me with a good lifestyle. Do you have any advice, tips, or pointers for a young entrepreneur?  <A bazillion as usual, and a pledge to share them with you... entirely self-serving: enjoyable and profitable for me... the more good people in the trade... the better> Also, do you know the names of some good suppliers with healthy, well priced livestock and supplies?  <Once again, many. Do consider logging on, looking for the national trade magazines through your search engines... and if at all possible, coming out to the world's biggest, best trade show, the InterZoo in May... in Germany... I and friends will be there... www.interzoo.com... stay in touch, we can meet up there, and chat this possibility up much, much more> The market in my area (Birmingham, Alabama) has only three stores with saltwater fish. One is quite dishonest and sells poor livestock (he's struggling to keep the doors open), and the other two have skyrocket prices because people in the area don't know any better. I'd appreciate your comments and advice. Stanley Douglass >> <A lifetime of fun involvement in the "real" worlds of nature, human nature, business and personal self-discovery await you... Will try to post my "five essential elements of retail" on the www.wetwebmedia.com site for your perusal... and maybe sections of the old Nature Etc, Inc.s Operations Manuals for our Retail and Service Divisions... In the meanwhile... I can't encourage you enough... to make the commitment to finding out what the industry is/might be, by volunteering, working at/for one of the stores you mention... Do this, my best "next step for you" advice. Bob Fenner

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