LFS: “Local Fish Shop” Or “Lying For Sales?!” Is Your Store Legit?

  1. What is the most common reason for giving up the salt water hobby? When you search through the endless listings of reef tanks for sale on Craigslist, the majority of tanks are not exactly top of the line. Someone will label “Full Blown Reef” on a tank that is nothing more than a fraction of what the educated reefer would even consider putting animals in. The lighting is outdated, they are usually not drilled, the ones with sumps have old overflow boxes filled with algae, and the fish have three eyes! Maybe they are not that bad, but the point is that these “Minimal Marine Masterpieces” are a product of bad information or a lack of it which results in the tank’s owner having issues to the point of giving up. A reef tank should never be a short term project. These people did not intend to have so many problems or to ever quit reefing so where do these new hobbyists go for this information that leads to failure? The Pet Store is like a library to the animal hobbyist. We rely on a local source for care and information. If the information is wrong than we will have a horrible time! So how do you know how to look for shams at your local fish store?

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    TEST THEM!

    Test 1: Sell Me Friends or Foes?

    Go check out the fish they have and write down the names. Go to your handy smart phone and check out the compatibility of their livestock on your preferred internet browser. Now rewrite your list so you have fish grouped together that are completely incompatible and go back to the pet store. When they ask you what you want just ask them about your fish list and see what they say.

    A) They should say that the fish are not recommended tank mates and refuse to sell them without knowing you have multiple systems. This is a sign of a good place to shop.

    B) They go ahead and start preparing to catch the fish on your list, no questions asked. This is not acceptable and should be considered animal cruelty, or at least customer cruelty. How many of you have spent hours, days, months even, trying to catch that “nice” Damsel from Snidely Wiplash’s Pet store? If this is the case, learn about the animals before you buy them online. Reef2Reef has all the answers to any fish you want in the FISH FORUM or the FISH COMPATIBILITY CHART

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    Test 2: Set Me Up To Fail or Prevail?

    For a business to run they must make money. The coral business relies on hobbyist’s abilities to keep these animals for long periods of time, and so does the ocean! Without the home aquarium there would not be a need for an aquarium store, so your aquarium is a very important piece in the scheme of things. This test is to determine if the store is going to set you up for success or drain your wallet on things they don’t even use on their own systems. Pick a moderate sized aquarium and have them design the perfect setup. Act clueless, even if you are! These tests are free. Give them the opportunity to take complete advantage of your ignorance. Flash a credit card around every once in a while in attempt to trigger their sales person juices. Make sure to be taking notes, or have them give you a detailed list of all the parts and take it back home. If you have a good knowledge already you may know if you were bamboozled or not. If you are still new to the hobby just log on to Reef2Reef and post your findings. You will quickly get responses and opinions from people who know their stuff. Again, if they are pumping you full of useless equipment and things you will have to upgrade or even delete then it is time to rely on outside sources for your information. If the general consensus is positive then give your store owner a nice big pat on the back.

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    assorted coral image via reef2reef member @blaten

    Test 3: What That Is?

    Ask, ask, ask away! These businesses have the means to know what they are selling. Ask them what that is! Ask them what that is! Hey, that is cool! What is that? A good salesperson will not only know what that is, but also how to care for it and what can and cannot live near or around it. If you have an LFS that has a single tank labeled “Assorted Corals $20” then they probably have more problems on their plate than labeling coral and fish. Most “assorted” pet stores get corals in bulk with no control over what comes in their boxes. Rather than be a trend setter and stocking the flashy stuff, they chose the cheap route and brown out. This makes for a boring reef. The rock should not be more colorful than the corals!

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    Test 4: Hold Me or Hang Me?

    Will your LFS hold livestock for you when you can’t take it home that day? This is often an issue when buying new fish since not everyone has a constantly running quarantine tank. The store should not have an issue holding onto your livestock while you prepare for a new friend. They also should not have a problem replacing your animal-on-hold if it dies in their captivity. It would be wise to investigate the cause of death at this point though. A good LFS still has a decent casualty rate, generally caused by transport. If the place won’t hold things for you then that is another sign of a greedy business.

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    Test 5: Products that Work or Products that Profit?

    Take a few problems with you to the store. Ask them how they would solve them. If you have a light burn out and they recommend a less powerful one then you might not want to copy off their physics homework. If they recommend things like “Reef Safe” Ich cures then you also know they just want your money. There is an endless amount of additives, low quality-high cost, pointless, and even harmful products that are pushed on less informed customers. Always double check what they try to sell you before you actually dump liquid nitrogen into your fish bowl. Not all products work, but not all products wreak of money.

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    Test 6: Choke my Fish!

    Pick up a bag of sand and ask them to get you a fish. If they hesitate and ask what you plan on doing with the sand you can feel at ease. They do care. If they go ahead and start to catch the fish just make them stop. Kindly inform them that you should never add new sand and fish at the same time. In the ocean they have all kinds of sand storms but they are easily avoidable. In a tank, the fish has no choice but to wait it out and breath the dusty water until it finally clears. It may live, but would you want sand in your snorkel?

    Back to the original question, what is the most common reason for giving up the salt water hobby? Greedy Pet Stores!!! The aquarium industry is not like any other type of business. Some places do it purely out of love for the hobby while others will not think twice before sending you home with a dozen shark eggs and a brand new top of the line canister filter for your pico reef. It is up to you to be the judge. Try these tests on a few places around you. Remember, not all employees are experts. Try to limit the criticism to those who claim they are the house guru and see if they are worthy of asking for real help later. If your LFS fails the test that does not necessarily mean you should not buy from them. They may have great prices, healthy livestock, and even a few rarities popping up in their “assorted” tanks, though you may never be able to rely on them for an honest answer. If you know of places that take advantage of people and set them up for failure do your best to make local hobbyists aware of this problem. Reefers have an unnecessarily bad reputation with animal-rights activists. We cannot let greed get in the way of passion. We are also sometimes limited to these places and must learn how to buy from them and not for them. Check out the entirety of Reef2Reef to become the ultimate customer!

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