Whenever I find myself in a group of industry professionals, be it one-on-one at a local fish store or a panel discussion at an industry trade show, the topic sooner or later migrates to complaining about the sad state of the aquatics hobby. Most of the gripes/observations center around three primary topics:
1) That kids are all involved with computers and cell phones and they no longer care about “nature” and they interface with the world via a computer screen.
2) The big box stores have “dumbed down” keeping fish to a limited number of species and to keeping fish by dumping chemicals into the tank.
3) The Internet has taken a huge portion of the market away from brick-and-mortar stores, especially for high end marine equipment.
My responses to those complaints are:
1) So what, and
2) Why don’t we do something about it?
What follows may be simplistic, and I must admit to being one stage removed from the trenches of dealing with the public every day, but…
There have always been things competing for the attention of kids; back when I had my stores home computers were just becoming popular and that was the bug-bear. This too shall pass—and you can’t do much about it anyway.
Big box stores are a blessing for our industry, and especially for the independent pet store. They are getting thousands of kids started in the hobby. It’s up to you to get them into your store.
People will always be attracted to price alone, and you cannot compete (I’m sorry to say) with the Internet on price only for the latest filter system or the very sophisticated marine lighting system. You have to compete on what you offer best: knowledge and expertise about fish, and quality and selection of livestock that the customer can see in person and select from.
Yes, it is very tough out there today. But I know for a fact that many stores, especially those that are fish-only, are doing very well. It’s up to you to convey your enthusiasm for the hobby and for fish in general to anyone and everyone you see, but especially those who come into your store. Make your store a place where hobbyists will like to hang out—even if much of the time they have their eyes glued to their iPhones.