How hard can it be to sell a large aquarium setup to a tropical fish enthusiast? Doesn’t almost every one dream of that big tank full of oscars and Jack Dempseys, or saltwater tangs and angels, or lush aquatic plants with a few tetras, or live corals and reef critters? A busy tropical fish department probably sees dozens of hobbyists each day gazing wistfully at a large display tank, imagining just how it would look in the family room or office. Many would be only too happy to plunk down their hard-earned dollars (or the plastic equivalent thereof) and walk out with a great big tank with all the trimmings.


There might be a Serious Objection to the idea of bringing a big tank home – and she might even have come along for the ride! (Before I go any further, I’d like to point out the word “she” in the preceding sentence was chosen entirely at random, and not to perpetuate any gender-based stereotype. Hobbyists and non-hobbyists alike come in a variety of sexes, ages, sizes, IQs and religious denominations.)

An S.O. (Serious Objector) might come in one of several forms: husband or wife, parent or child, roommate, co-worker, or boss. Of course not every hobbyist has an S.O.; some are unencumbered and a few may actually be paired with another tropical fish enthusiast (talk about a match made in heaven).

While the fishkeeping enthusiast is often just looking for the biggest clear tub of water he can get through his doorway, the S.O. is thinking of more practical matters.

Appearance. If the S.O. isn’t really a fish person, he or she (feel better now?) might envision a 120 gallon setup as just an overgrown 10 gallon starter kit, complete with rusty iron stand, chintzy light fixture, buzzing air pump and gurgling filter. It’s important that the dealer stocks – and displays – merchandise of a higher caliber for large tanks, starting with furniture-quality cabinet stands. There are now numerous companies making cabinet stands in styles to match the taste and pocketbook of almost anyone. For lighting, a nice-looking standard cover-and-light combination might be adequate, but covering it with a canopy that matches the stand is even better, or substituting hanging pendant metal fixtures can really add a dramatic touch.

For life support, a pair of power heads with venturi aerators provide a quiet, low-splash alternative to standard air pumps and airstones. Likewise, canister filters can be easily hidden in the cabinet stand and eliminate much of the “waterfall” sounds that standard hang-on power filters make. Canister filters also allow the tank to be placed closer to the wall of the room, since there is no bulky filter box hanging on the back of the tank. For an even cleaner overall appearance, the tank can be ordered with a drilled bottom, and the filter’s inlet and outlet tubes may be mounted completely out of sight.

Don’t forget the tank itself. An aquarium doesn’t have to be a rectangular glass box anymore, even if it’s a big one. Bow fronts, half cylinders, hexagons and flat-back hexes are all readily available in larger standard sizes now, and even more exotic shapes may be custom ordered.

Interestingly, at this point the S.O., who may not have been thrilled about the idea of a large aquarium in he first place, often becomes a salesperson (I’m getting the hang of this now) for some of these upgrades. The hobbyist may well be focused only on how many great fish he could put in the tank, and might have been content with the overgrown 10 gallon economy setup.

Inside Appearance. Likewise, an aquarium enthusiast might look right past a few spots of algae, over a little accumulation of waste and through a hint of cloudy water, while the S.O. sees nothing else but a mess. Encouraging the purchase of good equipment and suggesting effective maintenance techniques can go a long way towards eliminating this worry – especially if the dealer’s tanks look clean and well cared for.

Odors. Many non-hobbyists associate an unpleasant, musty smell with aquariums, and the thought of a huge open sewer in their living room is, well, unappealing to say the least. A properly set-up and well cared-for aquarium should of course have little odor, and if anything should smell more like a sunny beach than a gloomy swamp. Some tanks do sometimes have an odor, and so do some fish departments; if you want to sell more big setups, make sure yours don’t.

Weight. Water itself weighs a little over 8 pounds per gallon, so with gravel and the weight of the tank and cabinetry, a 75 gallon tank might approach 900 lbs or so, and a 180 comes in at nearly a ton! Fortunately, that weight is spread out over a pretty good area of floor space, and most homes and apartments have little problem supporting even the largest standard sized aquarium. If either the hobbyist or S.O. express concerns about the weight, ask them to envision six or eight of their friends playing Twisterâ in the living room. If that combined weight doesn’t alarm them, a tank of similar mass should not be of much concern, and will look a lot less silly.

On the other hand, apartment dwellers sometimes have aquarium size limits spelled out in their rental agreements, and should be encouraged to check before making the purchase. The mutual goal is to get home with as big an aquarium as is possible without actually breaking the lease. Some of these tanks may look big enough to live in, but it’s hard to open the windows.

Work. Both the hobbyist and the S.O. may be concerned about the time and effort required to maintain a larger aquarium: if a ten gallon tank needs 2 hours of attention per month, does a 150 gallon need 30 hours? Generally, the answer is no. Smaller tanks tend to concentrate waste products more quickly by their very nature, and are very often overcrowded and overfed. Larger tanks also have a greater margin for error when mishaps like food spills or overmedication occur.

With proper filtration, safe stocking levels and reasonable care, a 150 gallon tank will probably require about twice as much maintenance time as a 10 gallon unit. And even that can be trimmed down considerably by using more efficient cleaning devices like magnetic scrapers and siphon/fill assemblies that attach to a sink.

Leaks! Even people who have never owned an aquarium of any size have probably heard somebody’s horror story of the big tank that suddenly “sprang a leak”, “popped a seam”, or even “exploded”, and emptied its contents on the new carpeting. Unfortunately, such spectacular events are not urban legends, so there is legitimate room for some concern. The best protection for the buyer and seller is to offer only top quality aquariums in the larger sizes. This usually means thicker glass or acrylic (which adds both strength and bonding surface) and more supportive frames, which in turn lead to higher prices. Quality of workmanship can also be a major factor in leakage; even thick glass with heavy frame stock won’t last long if sealant is not properly applied. On glass aquariums, check all visible seams for gaps or larger bubbles in the sealant, which can slowly expand and eventually provide a route for water to flow through. Acrylic tanks have no sealant, but gaps and bubbles are also sometimes found in the seams as a result of poor cutting and polishing of the acrylic before assembly.

Some brands will have better track records than others, and even some sizes and shapes within a given product line will be more conducive to leaks or pressure cracks. Keep good records of any failed products, and consider comparing notes with some of your friendlier competitors and wholesalers. A leak in a larger tank is still a fairly rare occurrence, and we’d all like to keep it that way.

Almost as important as the tank construction is the quality of the stand it sits on. Some manufacturers have offered extended tank warrantees if one of their stands is purchased at the same time. This is not only a sales gimmick; the tank manufacturer has a vested interest in seeing that their tank is placed on a sturdy, flat, level surface, and have confidence that their stands will properly support their aquariums. Some companies also void their warrantee if the aquarium is placed on anything other than a commercial “aquarium stand”, rather than another piece of furniture or a homemade unit.

Price. Oddly, this doesn’t seem to be a top concern for many hobbyists and their S.O.s, perhaps due in large part to a change in consumer spending habits. It is no longer unusual for someone to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on home entertainment items like big screen televisions, sound systems, personal computers or even game machines. If we can spend that kind of money to watch “Oprah”, listen to “classic rock”, cruise the web or play the latest version of “Pong”, the price of a great aquarium setup should not be a jaw-dropper.

Operating Costs. This also seems to be a lesser concern in recent years, probably for the same sorts of reasons as above. People seem willing to commit a few dollars on a monthly basis for the things they enjoy doing at home. The total monthly cost for a large aquarium, including electricity, food and water, is probably less than a cable TV bill.

Getting it Home. If the S.O asks about this, you’re in the home stretch. Big tanks are heavy, awkward to carry, and do not take well to bumps and bounces. While many families have large enough vehicles and plenty of friends to help move a tank, some will prefer to have professionals do it for them. Dealers should certainly make delivery an option, and often a fee will be charged based on the number of employees needed and the estimated hours (including travel time) they will be away from the shop. Of course, an offer to waive the delivery fee might be just what the buyer and her (there I go again) S.O are waiting for to sign on the dotted line.

Side Bar:

A Big Tank Display on a Budget Displaying a large tank fully decorated and well stocked is the best way to stimulate sales. If the shop has limited space or budget, find a high traffic area and set up just a single knockout tank. Make some nice clean signs showing not only the price of the components, but also the entire package including all fish and décor, including a nice discount if the display setup is purchased. Let it do its job for a few weeks or months – then price it for quick sale! It should not be difficult to get at least the wholesale cost from the sale, which can be invested in a new, but different setup in the same spot. Rotating the setup and it’s décor and livestock will keep it interesting for you and your staff, and even more so for your regular customers.

Side Bar:

What NOT to Do with your Big Display Tanks! Once the excitement of a newly set up display tank wears off, there’s a tendency to treat it like an everyday stock tank, which of course greatly diminishes its value as a sales tool. With big display tanks, this problem is often exaggerated. Since places to put large, but not particularly attractive, fish are often hard to find in the shop, the former eye-catching display often becomes somewhat of an “elephant’s graveyard” for every one-eyed oscar, overgrown plecostomus and banged up tinfoil barb in the joint. A nice collection of larger fish can make a nice display, but rarely does in this situation. The nicest fish get sold, and the average quality of the remaining fish continues to decline. In addition, since fish are occasionally sold from the exhibit, the remaining fish nit, the remaining fish never fully settle in and regain their best color and finnage. Make a concerted effort to keep the displays appealing, and base stocking decisions on what will make the tank look its best, rather than where a fish might fit.

This article originally appeared in

Pet Age Magazine