It still amazes me that together, as an industry, the aquatics business is really terrible at helping hobbyists keep their fish alive and their tanks thriving. Every time a fish dies or a tank totally wipes out, especially with new hobbyists, we get ten times the bad publicity than what we get for a tank that does well.
Therefore, I offer some suggestions about dealing with the worst words that a local fish store can hear from a customer: “My new fish died.”
There are two suggestions I have to limit the number of times you hear those dreaded words.
1. Whenever you sell a new tank, especially to or for a first-time hobbyist, make sure to sell (or give) them some starter bacteria. Understanding the nitrogen cycle (or at least understanding that it exists) is the single most important thing for any new hobbyist. Rather than making sure that you sell them plenty of different kinds of fish foods, you will have a much more successful and happier customer if you make sure you send them home with any of the excellent live bacteria products that are available from a number of manufacturers.
2. Every time you sell fish, it is really important to stress to the customer that they do a 20 percent water change on the existing tank before they add new fish. And whenever a customer brings back a dead fish they just bought, it should be mandatory that they also bring back a water sample for you to test for ammonia, nitrite and nitrates. Just as important as getting customers to understand the nitrogen cycle—and why they should put live bacteria into a new tank to get the cycle started— is getting them to understand the role of nitrates in an established tank.
The phrase that is feared by the local fish store with this problem is: “But all the fish in the tank are fine, while all the new ones I bought from you died.” Somehow we need to get it across to hobbyists that as the nitrate level builds in a tank, primarily because they do not do any water changes or have any live plants, the fish in the tank slowly get used to it. There are many fish tanks out there that look completely fine with nitrates over 100 ppm. You need to explain to your customers that the nitrate levels in the tanks in the store are all pretty low, since you do water changes on a regular basis. Taking fish from low nitrates, say 30 ppm or so (yours may be lower) and plopping them into the established tank with high nitrates is a major shock to the new fish. Some of them may survive. Many of them will not.
I hope I’m not being too “preachy” about the above—but if we could get these two points and these two points alone over to our customers/hobbyists we would all be selling more fish. And we would have more, and happier, customers.