Trust Between Fish Stores and Hobbyists, the Delicate Balance


SPS Dominated Display Reef Aquarium

While perusing the aquarium forums as we usually do each night, we stumbled across a post on Reef Central in which new aquarium hobbyist “JYoung” expressed concerns about a few local fish stores potentially betraying his trust. Being fairly new to the hobby, he relied heavily on the experience and advice of fish store employees, but he eventually became wary of what they were pitching. His concern was that certain establishments, knowing just how new he was to the hobby, were trying to take advantage of his inexperience by selling him things they knew he wasn’t ready for. Having spent tons of time on either side of the hobby, which basically boils down to commercial versus non-commercial, we can certainly sympathize with “JYoung” and wanted to take the opportunity to offer up some advice for both fish store employees and aquarium hobbyists so that they can better preserve the delicate balances of aquarium keeping.

As a brand new member of an excitingly new and frequently overwhelming hobby, it’s very easy to get caught up in the forum talk and get lost in all of the different interpretations of what is required to successfully run a marine or reef aquarium. It’s also quite easy to assume that aquarium stores have all of the answers. In reality, however, there is an overabundance of misinformation at all levels within the aquarium industry, including your friendly neighborhood fish store. Because of this, hobbyists have to carefully wade through the good and the bad information, often implementing things with caution and doing extensive research on their own. Unfortunately, many hobbyists are far too gullible and will take everything the local store has to say as being infallible.

For New Hobbyists:
My only advice for new hobbyists trying to find the correct information is to be skeptical of everything that everyone tells you regarding this hobby. Listen to what people have to say regarding things you have questions about, but don’t act on the advice blindly. Hear what is said, then research it. Find out if if makes sense for your aquarium setup, as good advice for one tank may not translate to good results in another. Fish stores are good source of advice to some extent, as are online forums, blogs, and other random interactions, so don’t lose faith in them. Just don’t get into the trap of following bad advice.

When sifting through the aquarium info, also keep in mind where it’s coming from. Fish stores usually have an objective, and that’s to sell products. Some stores have their customers’ best interests at heart, but not all of them do. So, keep a skeptical mind and don’t act on the advice before fact checking it. And definitely don’t buy a fish you are unfamiliar with, no matter what the guy in the fish room says. Whenever you come across a fish you just have to buy, consult your trusted online friends and local hobbyists, making sure to rely on user experiences instead of the fish store saying “oh, those are easy to care for”.

For Fish Stores:
Just because you can keep fish and corals alive in large aquariums as they quickly cycle through your store doesn’t mean you’re the know it all expert of aquarium keeping. And no matter what you think, a commercial environment is not the same as a hobbyist’s aquarium. They are extremely different from each other and must be approached differently. On top of that, understand that new hobbyists don’t need terrible advice or bad livestock purchases distracting them from a fun and enjoyable hobby. The hobbyist needs something to reinforce his or her hobby and not a way to just blow more money and get frustrated when things go awry. So, approach your advice giving with the attitude that you want a happy customer with healthy livestock that will return to your store to purchase drygoods and more tankmates, not replacement animals that will likely live out the same fate as the ones they are replacing.

While working at a store years ago, I gave out wildly differing advice from the store owner and other employees. I tried to approach it with the idea that I didn’t care if they bought a fish, coral, or invert…I just wanted them to enjoy their hobby and approach it cautiously and with a great deal of respect. Hobbyists look up to fish store employees, and it’s partially their responsibility to not lead them astray. Help correct bad behaviors and curtail bad spending practices, and be an open ear that’s willing to troubleshoot a problem instead of shoving a new product down their throat. In the long run, everyone will be happier.


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