Soapbox: Local Fish Stores

In honor of today’s scheduled post (and some aquaria tweaking which will be detailed later; hard to blog when you’re armpit-deep in water!) I want to stand on a soapbox and declare what I’d like to see in Local Fish Stores (LFS – as distinct from the chain stores like PetSmart and PetCo). These businesses are notorious for failing.

Inventory

No brick-and-mortar store is large enough to hold everything; and people looking for particular items are going to be shopping online. That’s just the way it is nowadays. So, rather than having a smattering of this and a smattering of that, I’d like to see LFSs carry complete product lines from only a few manufacturers (Seachem, ADA, etc.: aka, specialize) and a shelf or so of “cool stuff.” They should have a few complete aquarium kits on display, but not many (they take up too much space), and a list of aquarium setups that can be brought out of storage or ordered and delivered. They should have an extremely limited selection of “need it right now” things – food, common medications. Merchandise displays should be attractive. You’d think a retail business would know about that, but LFSs apparently don’t. Tank decorations that are heavy, such as rocks and substrate, are good things to carry in inventory – they’re so heavy that buying online means high shipping, so this is one area where a large selection would make sense. But it needs to be – see above – attractively arranged. Yes, even the rocks and driftwood!

Livestock

This is where I really have a pet peeve. Is it really worth it to an LFS to carry the same neon tetras and livebearers that the local chain outlet is selling for half the price (and no different quality)? That’s an honest question, by the way. One of the things I’ve seen at the newest LFS in my area is a stock tank full to the brim with zebra danios – it makes an incredible sight and if I were setting up a new tank, I’d be awfully tempted to buy 10+ of those to recreate the school at home. I’d like to see this strategy with all the so-common-you-can-get-them-anywhere fish. A few $3/each neons in a LFS is pathetic, especially since I know full well that the chains regularly sell the same fish for $1 if you hit the sales right. That’s how I got my huge school of them; batches of 10 during sales. (I think I have about 50 by now.)

And fish should be sold by both trade name (neon tetra) and species name (Paracheirodon innesi). Sure, nobody really needs to go by species name of neon tetra, because the trade name is applied to that particular species only, but that’s not true of all trade names. If the supplier can’t or won’t give you a species name and the fish isn’t a wild-caught imported pleco (or from another fish family with many scientifically non-described species), either figure out the species yourself somehow or don’t buy the fish. No more of these “mixed cichid” tanks. Mutts might be lovable in dogs; but in fish, hybridization is at about the same moral level as puppy mills. If the fish are hybridizing, you’re not taking care of them properly. Selling hybrids to unsuspecting customers who don’t know better is dishonorable, if not outright immoral.

How should cichlids be sold instead? By species, of course. And I’d like to see LFSs go on over to places like Cichlid-Forum.com and take a look at the “cookie-cutter” library – and then take every fish species off the “beginner” lists and put together sales tank stocking based on the cookie cutters. A store that did this would not only be selling fish responsibly, they’d soon gain a reputation – let me tell you, hobbyists are always ravenous for a good LFS. And by “good” we mean having the right livestock. You’d get a ton of free online advertising, among the kind of people who spend hundreds of dollars to get the right group of fish mailed in a box overnight to their doors from Florida breeders. From among the Lake Malawi mbuna, that would be perhaps a few of the most popular large species; quite a few of the peacocks and most colorful haps, and definitely as many dwarf mbuna species as possible. There’s one LFS near me that does sell some African cichlids by species – in fact, I just bought three rusties from them – but their livestock section is woefully small. I have go pay ridiculous overnight shipping prices to get the other species that I want. (They’re coming in tomorrow!)

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