Keep That Great LFS Afloat!

Discussion in 'Aquatic Creations' started by Myk, Mar 7, 2018.

  1. Myk

    Myk Aquatic Creations www.ReefDelivery.com Platinum Sponsor

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    Just heard recently that another one of the great LFS's in our area is going out of business. That's at least 2 in the last 6 month's. One of the owners I worked with for years installing tanks in and around the Boston area with for Tropic Isle Aquarium.

    We've had some many great places and great people in the industry up here in New England and still do and it pains me to see another awesome shop go down.

    I am certain that this is a trend around the country and that many of the good shops are hanging in there and finding ways to adapt and change with the times as best they can. Kind of a short post here, but just wanted to put it out there as the news had me a little bummed out this morning.

    Support your LFS if you have a good one near you before they are gone. Feel free to chime in here as I would love to hear peoples thoughts on this matter. Maybe make some suggestions that we could all benefit from. The hobbyist in me feels like a good LFS is a treasure and even though I own my own, it breaks my heart to see one go out especially when it is one of my local counterparts and friends.
     
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  2. jmp21677

    jmp21677 Well-Known Member

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    I think there are really two parts working here.

    1) The trend to shop online continues to grow! Even though there typically isn't much of a difference in pricing it seems the avg consumer continues to want delivery to their home. My commute is 2hrs each way to work so I fall into this boat from time to time!

    2) when my local store is $75 for a frag and I can buy it from a supplier in Wisconsin for $30, it's not a hard decision. I end up spending $350 and would be happy to keep that local. But I'll get 10 frags shipped vs 4 frags picked up.

    I work at the corporate level for a major retailer and we see the push to online purchasing. It grows on a weekly basis! I say blame the Millenials!
     
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  3. NeuroticAquatics

    NeuroticAquatics Valuable Member

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    It is a tough industry nowadays. Online giants can sell dry goods for less and offer more variety. Same idea with fish and corals at times.

    It is probably more my location, but in my area there are only three LFS. They have limited selection and prices on fish and corals are what I consider expensive when I can drive 90 minutes away and get much more variety and much lower prices on fish and most corals. I still buy an occasional fish or coral locally but if they had more to offer and better prices, I would not feel the need to buy when I am further away. I guess in the end, I am still supporting a store, I just wish it was more local, as the locals are all very nice people.
     
  4. careefer

    careefer Member R2R Supporter Build Thread Contributor

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    I suspect the LFS is coming under the same pressure from the internet as many other product based local small businesses. As always the internet is a bit of a double edged sword. It has the potential to increase interest in the hobby through blogs, videos, sites like R2R etc and so increase the total size of the market for aquarium supplies, but it also gives those same new customers access to online stores with all kinds of goodies and products that can be shipped to their door in a couple of days. The LFS finds it very hard to compete on price or selection given the cost of a physical storefront. I'm guessing the ones that are doing well are relying on deep product and subject knowledge and providing services like installs and maintenance services that simply can't be provided via the web. I would be super interested to learn more about where people that are involved in the industry think the future of the LFS lies.
     
  5. NeuroticAquatics

    NeuroticAquatics Valuable Member

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    Two of our three stores do installs and home maintenance. I’m not sure how the other one stays open as their dry goods are pretty limited too.
     
  6. Bouncingsoul39

    Bouncingsoul39 Well-Known Member

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    For an LFS to survive these days they need to focus on providing monthly maintenance service to high end customers and focus on catering to new hobbyists and casual hobbyists. When I managed a high volume LFS, one of our best sellers and most profitable lines were Beta fish and their accessories. That also means always having cheap saltwater fish and corals in stock and always having the common beginner stuff. We did very well financially while LFS closed around us. Many LFS owners think they are above selling Betas. Many LFS owners want to focus on SPS and rare fish when the bread and butter of an LFS business is selling GSP, colt corals, firefish gobies, damsels, royal grammas, yellow tangs, hippo tangs, clownfish, etc.

    The hobbyists on the forums do not care about supporting LFS and will gladly order online and buy from each for a discount. And why should they to be frank. It's not the consumer's job to keep businesses afloat. The only job of the consumer is to get the best product at the best price. It's up to the LFS to earn the customer's business by offering that. An LFS near me had small frags of Bubblegum Digi for sale at $70 for a 1" piece. I found a 2" piece from a fellow hobbyist for $40. To buy the frag from the LFS in this case would be plain foolish.
     
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  7. Myk

    Myk Aquatic Creations www.ReefDelivery.com Platinum Sponsor

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    Thanks for all of the input so far guys.

    I agree that for the LFS to survive it is important to stick with our roots of being a gateway to the hobby. Also, a strong focus on installation and maintenance services. My shop started out as just me trying to find a place to operate my service company outside of the home and we started getting walk in traffic and slowly morphed into retail back in 2010. I always tell new customers that we are a service company with a store, not a store that offers service! :)

    A good point is the convenience factor too and this is where I feel like the consumer could possibly change some of their buying habits to support local in some cases. I get that it doesn't apply all the time, but in many cases it does.

    On one hand there are a lot of products now that are MAP enforced like Ecotech, Neptune, Kessil, etc. and folks can buy these from an LFS for the same price as online. Perhaps if the LFS was willing to deliver the product for you or maybe if they are not too far away it could be a trip to the shop for something to do and get out of the house as well as support a local business. On the other hand, although expensive and hard to do sometimes, keeping the products on the shelf for a little more so that you can get it "now" could also benefit the LFS for those that don't want to wait.

    Livestock pricing is a touchy subject for sure and I get that some places can have silly numbers when it comes to high end frags and such, but some places are just marking up from what they are paying for it to try and make a living. If I pay $10.00 for a frag from a local hobbyist and then try to sell it for $19.00 to try and make a profit and the same guy selling it to me is selling it to everyone else for the same $10.00 or just trading I get grief. If I turn hobbyists away and can't take their frags or ask to pay less than the $10.00, I get grief too, LOL!

    This is also an important subject for me as my shop donates 10% of our coral sales back to reef restoration projects and we need our coral sales to be profitable enough to do that. Aquacultured, maricultured or wild collected we do the same 10% back and need to turn at least a little profit. Even just the aquarium/reef industry without donation is a benefit to the environment when done right and kept in balance and I feel is another good reason to support local LFS.
     
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  8. Myk

    Myk Aquatic Creations www.ReefDelivery.com Platinum Sponsor

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    I agree mostly with this, but have to respectfully disagree just slightly on the part of the consumers responsibility. For example, look at the availability of live rock today versus just a decade or so ago. Would hardly call the current offerings "live" by any stretch by comparison. This comes from the demand of lower prices and convenience. I can bust my hump bringing in some gorgeous rock to my shop with some high prices, but certain value and it would still be hard to compete with "Joe Random Box Lots" of live-ish rock for a fraction of the price. If that's what folks want it is what will make it to the market and the other stuff will fade away and in some cases permanently. If there is no market for it then the collectors and exporters will go away too.
     
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  9. Bouncingsoul39

    Bouncingsoul39 Well-Known Member

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    I did say best product at best price. That doesn't equate to consumers knowing what the best is or the best being the cheapest, as your case in point, with live rock. Best is part perception. Live rock is a special case though. The demand for lower prices and convenience did not kill real live ocean rock. It was strong marketing and the trend in the hobby shifting away from it. People were told that it was the same and just as good as live rock. But it isn't. Conveniently, things like longer time to mature, no micro fauna, increase in Dinos due to lack of "balance" were left out of that conversation.
    Look at the prices of reel reef and whatever ugly painted junk is being sold around, the price is the same or higher than what we got legit rock for back in the day. Not to mention dead Pukanit still needs curing! So where's the value and convenience??
    The businesses like BRS and the dead fake rock companies all made a strong effort to market their dead and fake rock and it had a strong effect. The people behind awesome quality live rock stood virtually silent (most importantly, didn't throw marketing money to counter it) while that whole shift took place. With a trendy, niche hobby like ours, the popular people and popular businesses dictate what is selling. I don't recall ever seeing any posts about the need for $1000 LED lights that produced a billion par. But they made it, and the retailers push it. People spend stupid money on lighting and equipment in this hobby and I 100% they would also have no problem dropping that same money on real live ocean rock if it was in style and being pushed by the hobby elites. Or if they really new the true benefits of real ocean live rock and how the pros far outweigh the cons. People on this forum seem to be coming back to this realization. Rev just dumped a ton of gorgeous Fiji Gold live rock into his big tank for example.
    BRS has gone a long way in damaging the LFS and the Hobby with their videos and increase in popularity over the years. Their video on live rock in particular is ridiculously biased against live ocean rock. Same with their ridiculously biased video on LED BB. Those videos are good for BRS. Not good for the hobby as a whole or the customer. Bottom line is that it is easier and cheaper to store, ship and ultimately sell dead rock than it is the real live stuff so that's what they push and LED BB hurt their sales so...yeah.
     
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  10. Myk

    Myk Aquatic Creations www.ReefDelivery.com Platinum Sponsor

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    All very true. Also true that it is tough, if not impossible for small operations like LFS to compete with the trends and what advertised. That's where I feel that the consumer has to make the choice to follow along with that or seek out something more special than what is cheap and convenient. I do think that there is a place for both though.
     
  11. Montiman

    Montiman Active Member

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    The strength of the internet is selection but the weakness is information. The largest seller of aquarium supplies in the country is Amazon. Amazon has no idea what a protein skimmer is but they have virtually every brand there is. Local fish stores often have lots of experience and knowledge but they lack selection. Most of the LFSs in my are do not meet the gold standard for an LFS. My standard is I should be able to walk in and walk out with everything I need for a reef tank.

    The online Buisness that have succeeded are those which play to their weakness like BRS does through their videos. The LFSs that succeed are those where you can walk in and walk out with whatever you want. This requires a greater amount of capital than most stores have.
     
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  12. alton

    alton Well-Known Member R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award

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    If it has map pricing or if you worry about a warranty buy local. I have had several items that went bad, so I took them back to my favorite LFS and the item is replaced fairly quickly. And I didn't have to send an email, get a return number or argue with someone on the phone. Not to knock online stores because I use one quite frequently, but it shouldn't be me calling the manufacture for warranty.
     
  13. puffy127

    puffy127 Well-Known Member

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    For dry goods, one of my LFSes used to have real-time inventory available on their website and you could order online for in-store pickup. That was when I was buying the most from them. I didn't mind paying $5-10 more (plus tax) to get it locally over online. Then they stopped doing that and I didn't feel like calling them everytime I wanted to order something to see if they had it in stock. If they didn't have it in stock, then I had no incentive to pay more and to wait longer than for me to order it online and have it delivered to my house.

    I do buy frozen food from LFSes because I save on shipping costs. But for fish and corals, often the LFS price is more than what I can order online plus overnight shipping. Then there is no incentive as online is cheaper and better variety.

    I do agree that it is not the customer's responsibility to keep LFSes afloat. There is something wrong with the business model if you have to rely on customer's duty/charity to keep it afloat. The LFS needs to adapt by providing added value, either in price, in-stock inventory, service, healthy livestock, etc.
     
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2018
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  14. EddieJ

    EddieJ Active Member R2R Supporter Build Thread Contributor

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    I agree 100 percent with this . Just received a shipment yesterday from Tampa Bay Saltwater of some gorgeous live rock. It was fresh and full of life ! Sure dry rock is much cheaper and throw in a bottle of bacteria .. then get ready for the crazy algae outbreaks and Dinos! I will take a rock or gorilla crab over that any day.. ended up at around 7 bucks a pound after airline cost ..
     
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  15. Myk

    Myk Aquatic Creations www.ReefDelivery.com Platinum Sponsor

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    Haha! I guess in my greater point here I am assuming that the LFS is in fact providing a better service and healthier livestock. :) That may not be the case with every shop though.

    I would say that I also agree that it is not the responsibility of the customer to be charitable, but that there may be a disconnect with the value vs. convenience and selection. Taking myself out of the equation as an LFS owner and looking at it as a hobbyist, I would rather buy from a local shop owner that QT'd their livestock, has years of experience and will go to bat for me to find me quality livestock and products as well as help me out with new products than just browse and endless supply of products and hit a button and have it show up at my door. I get it that this is just my personal preference and my point is more for the folks like me that would want the experience and newcomers to the hobby that would need guidance. That's why I said earlier that I think that there is a place for both kinds of businesses. Yes, I am one of those crazies that will go through the line at the store with a person instead of self check out, the cash lane at the toll booth and yes I shop local whenever I have the choice to in my town. I am fortunate to live in an area where there is still a small hardware store locally owned and many small farm stands to buy locally grown produce in the warmer months.
     
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  16. larangcon

    larangcon Valuable Member

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    What's killing the mom and pop store are the retail company, one basic understanding of business, you need money to back up your overhead, not easy if the funding is not there. Forget the dry goods the big company is cheaper and more selections in their store. Instead concentrate on getting healthy fish and corals, treat the incoming fish so the buyer do not need another quarantine tank, safe healthy fish is what we need. Treat the corals for pest do your job of applying Bayer and strict quarantine procedure on new received corals and please don't sell high and try to copy these big time vendors, drop the prices on these so called high end corals and make enough profit to make the consumer come back again and again. More consumers more money coming in, this is how Walmart is doing it for years by catering to the mass, enough profit to make the public come again, over and over again. The major advantage the mom and pop store has over the big store is no shipping charges and cheaper prices, locals will come and drive far if this happens if the price is lower than the big time vendors, trust me they will. Here's what a mom and pop fish store should do, invest on high end corals the more the better, this is what's sells so buy it and grow it and then sell it for cheap, buyers will come and collectors will buy even if there is a shipping charge just to save money and not buy from these so called big time greedy vendors. Be friendly and offer free frags to off set the shipping cost, any saving a buyer makes will make that person buy again and again. This my friends, is how a mom and pop store can survive. They have the knowledge on reefing, they can be count on to give good advice and they can be trusted, and soon they will have the market and will turn the reefing world upside down, and if this happens high end corals will no longer be high end, expensive named brand vendors cannot control prices any longer and charge what ever they want - yes no longer because the mom and pop store will control the selling market and every reefers out there will get a chance to collect all these wonderful corals and the rich will no longer be the only ones to have these colorful and expensive corals that's flooding the market these days and someday our hobby will be back to where it should be where the mom and pop store will be coming back again prospering to where it was before and the these greedy vendors will be lucky to have buyers knocking on their door for a little 1/4" nub - come on man, we don't need this, let's support the LFS because they do not sell nubs and they are much better not only for reefers but for future generations of reefers and hopefully the mom and pop store will listen and learn what the market dictates and they could make the changes that we are waiting for so long.
    (My .02 cents)
     
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  17. Water Dog

    Water Dog Valuable Member R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award

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    Unfortunately, the death of the independent LFS is not just isolated to the aquarium hobby. With the rise of online sales and corporate big box operations, slowly but surely, the independent retail brick and mortar operations are going extinct. Independent hardware stores, book stores, pharmacies, clothing & shoe stores and the LFS are a thing of the past in most cases. Like it or not, based on the evolution of retail and consumer behavior, this is a trend that is here to stay.
     
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  18. Myk

    Myk Aquatic Creations www.ReefDelivery.com Platinum Sponsor

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    I am hopeful that a few can adapt and overcome. We plan to be one of 'em. :)
     
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  19. larangcon

    larangcon Valuable Member

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    @Water Dog I agree, sad but this is where we are heading, but the mom and pop store or brick and mortar has and need to change, if they do not see the trend or what the market wants they will succumb to the statistics (another one bites the dust)
    This is what I see, LFS has not change for years still same old dusty dark heavy fish smelling store. How can they compete, selling wild acro that's not going to make it or fishes that will develope ick or velvet dry goods that's higher in price than the big store. They need to change their way of business.
     
  20. Water Dog

    Water Dog Valuable Member R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award

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    Oh, I hear ya and totally agree that change must take place in order to adapt and survive. However, the realties of real overhead, growing rent factors, stagnant old inventory and dwindling consumer base as a reasult of on line commerce make effecting the necessary changes easier said than done. :(
     
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