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Aquarium Service Business

by Bob Fenner

Can I poison your customer's tank?

The concept of running a service company in concert with a retail business is not new to many industries. A survey of periodic literature points up the tremendous growth in the service sectors of employment and the prospectus for more growth. There is a growing trend towards this end in the retail pet trade, in particular in the aquatics areas. And rightly so; good sales are made and augmented by supplying set-up, on-going maintenance and diagnostic services for aquaria and ponds.

This article describes the basics of such a symbiotic relationship. Our own corporation, Nature Etc., Inc. operates such a business in San Diego, California, in concert with our retail outlets, Wet Pets, and other Divisions, making us a turn-key operation in ornamental aquatics. We have made our living providing services and products in this field since 1973.

Critical Elements: 

Are the same as a retail store: Finance, personnel, location, set-up and stock. Let me briefly describe what I mean in each category.

1) Finance. 

Yes, servicing aquatic systems takes money, like all other business endeavors. But not much. As you will find, much resource sharing can be done with your present operation. Small one-shot jobs can be billed and collected for on-completion, on-site. If this is to be a substantial part of your business, I encourage you to establish an entirely seperate system of

accountability for your service operations; requiring those involved to be responsible for billing and collecting accounts receivable and making their own payables. Start-up costs can be minimal, if you are able to lend a service vehicle and some nominal cleaning equipment.

2) Personnel: 

Can run the gamut of shifting or hiring a part-timer to install and keep-up aquaria, to a full-time staff with it's own marketing, engineering/manufacturing, operations, finance and general management. It's fine to send out someone from your regular staff who has been okayed by your insurance company, for time to time work. Another very real possibility is using someone in a sub-contractor basis, or encouraging someone interested in starting a service company and "running it through your store". Whoever does it, the work is enjoyable, the hours flexible, and the pay much better than most any other position in our industry.

3) Location: 

Can be a part of your store for some time for some days of the week. Depending on local laws, a municipal business license may allow an in-home office and some storage. The amount and quality of space is not problematical. A desk space and access to a phone are paramount.

4) Set-up and 5) Stock 

are simple matters: use your store! A simple charge/back-charge system of lined paper to a computerized cross-inventory process may be employed to keep track of who owes who for what and whether money is being made or just shuffled. Other Matters: Marketing: What do you say when a customer asks you if you deliver, set-up, make sick fish house calls, etc.? Yes! This is service! Just think how much more business you'd have if you advertised on your business cards, printed ads, directory advertising, et al., including a sign in your store. Just word of mouth will boost sales and income in and out of your store.

Our own business owns and operates out of a 8,000 square foot building with a freshwater and marine import, acclimation and holding system, facilities for fabricating and showing custom acrylic aquaria, warehouse space for tools and materials and office space for technicians, marketing, administrative functions and other management. There is money to be made in aquarium service.

How does the service and retail business work out together? Excellently! We constantly feed each other leads, exchange materials, share technology and marketing ideas at weekly meetings.

Many retailers have given consideration to starting or expanding a fish service operation at their stores. There is little up-front costs and much of the continuing costs are met with the store's normal operations. What it takes as usual is time, dedication, leadership and organization. If you have little desire or time to devote to running your own service company, you might consider "subbing-out" to an enterprising person in your area or selling your leads directly.

Definitely, a wet service company can bring more money into your shop and help you pick up the slack in any slow periods.

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