aquarium industry

How to break even in the aquarium industry as a Shark!


There is something undeniably soothing about watching brightly colored fishes splash to the surface while you sit in front of the fish tank. This feeling also accounts for the huge attractions that aquariums pose to millions of people yearly. No doubt, since the aquarium industry originated as early as the 1930s, its popularity has continued to grow with no signs of it waning anytime soon. According to a 2003 UNEP report, the marine ornamental trade industry is valued at more than $330 million, with more than 2 million people worldwide being involved in the private aquarium industry. This includes mostly marine aquarium species consisting of fishes, corals, and seahorses taken from the wild, with the majority finding homes in the United States. It is no wonder that a lot of people are actively considering tapping into the profits in the aquarium industry. Let’s look at what it means to break even in the aquarium industry.


Sectors in the Aquarium Industry

While getting into the aquarium industry is no easy feat as it requires a lot of dedication and time, some sectors rank higher in the quest to break even in this industry.


  • Private aquarium

More and more people are going beyond getting a simple fish tank for their homes. Now, the installations are getting a little bit more complicated. These fishes have wormed their way into our homes and offices, mainly due to the calm it brings to its immediate environment. An aquarium that caters to the needs of children can also involve educating them on aquatic life, providing ornaments that suit the décor of their homes and sale of both saltwater and freshwater fish. When placed at strategic locations, a private aquarium can evoke feelings of positivity as well. Apart from the passion most people share for this aquatic life, a private aquarium is also a great way to break even in the aquarium industry. With periodic tours and even selling fishes to other aquariums, the opportunities here are boundless.


  • Aquarium Tank design and installation

It might seem unbelievable, but this is one of the highest paying sectors in this industry. It has a viable market, as more and more people are installing both public and private aquariums in different locations. If your cards are played right, a single installation could fetch thousands of dollars more than you spend in building the tank itself. Fish tanks have moved beyond the regular rectangle or square shapes we are mostly familiar with. It is now more of engineering marvels that create aesthetically pleasing monuments with a perfect mix of shapes that it’s hard not to stop and stare. You can invest valuable time in learning the processes involved in creating these unbelievable attraction mechanisms for homes and offices.


  • Aquarium equipment supplies

Running an aquarium requires the right equipment and accessories to make it a profitable one. This usually takes a bulk of the investment as only the right environment can make the fishes survive. Therefore, this is one sector that is crucial to the overall success of the aquarium industry. It is a one-time purchase that requires regular maintenance and can form a considerable part of your profits.


You can have an aquarium store where you also deal with supplies needed in this industry. It is an easy aspect to merge in order to maximize your profits.


Starting an Aquarium business

Since the most common choice is to move towards building an aquarium, an important question to answer before making this huge decision is if you are willing to thread the long path to success. Your reason should be more than the fact that you have a friend who is successfully keeping an aquarium together, or you had a goldfish as a child. It should be more about your passion for aquatic life or even animals generally.


The first stage is identifying your target market. Your biggest market is majorly families who have young children and are pet lovers or fish lovers. Other potential customers are fish lovers who would love to beautify their homes with an aquarium, corporate businesses looking to decorate the interior of their offices with an aquarium, and those looking for a low budget pet. Caring for a fish is relatively pocket-friendly, and this makes getting an aquarium high on the list. If your focus is on equipment, your target market is those in need of someone to clean their fish tanks or take care of the overall well-being of their aquarium.


Picking the right location

Choosing the perfect location for your aquarium is a primary key to success. It is always best to go for an urban or suburban region when starting up. This is a better option than the rural area where you won’t have as many clients as you will in the urban areas. After picking the proper location, you need a space with enough room and drainage system. Water is the life force of your aquarium, and you need to be sure that there wouldn’t be issues with your water system. Since aquariums use a lot of electricity, you should also be ready to spend on this aspect. The most common choice for those in the aquarium industry is the sale of ornamental fishes. So, be sure that you have enough space and the right atmosphere that favors the growth of your preferred variety. This atmosphere will also allow clients to see what you offer and be willing to do business with you.


Handling the legalities of trading ornamental fishes

To bring your aquarium business to life, you need to calculate the cost of putting everything together. In general, this could be as much as $100,000. However, there are the legal aspects that you must not ignore. This includes all aspects of legal paperwork, including licenses and permits that will ensure you run your business without constant interference from the law. According to a 2015 paper in Animal Cognition by Dr. Culum Brown of Macquarie University in Australia, as much as 99% of marine fish in the aquarium industry is gotten from the wild while 95% of freshwater fish grow in captivity. Estimations also state that more than 1 billion of both freshwater and marine fishes from more than 5000 species are traded annually. 

Aquarium industry

Most marine fish are exported by countries like Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, Brazil, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. In contrast, significant sources of freshwater fish are Florida and Southeast Asia. However, the United States remains the biggest importer of ornamental fish, closely followed by Japan and the European Union. With more than 10 million ornamental fish imported into the United States in just a year, it is no surprise that there are laws guiding this trade due to its effects on the ecosystem.

Aquarium industry

The images above are according to reports by the UNEP on the growing aquarium industry in 2003, and the figures have risen significantly since then. In 1976, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) was passed. This Act was instituted as a way of governing issues concerning the management of marine fisheries in the United States federal waters. Some of their primary objectives are to ensure that there is a sustainable supply of seafood and prevent overfishing.  Meanwhile, the United States has a hard time enforcing regulation for the importation of ornamental fishes for the aquarium industry. However, there is a database on the species listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, where all fishes listed are closely monitored by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Therefore, you need to be sure that your trade doesn’t infringe on these laws.


Being a responsible aquarium owner

  • Proper research: Before buying the fish for your aquarium, you need to have a good idea of how to care for them and fit them into your tank properly. This is where you learn about raising aquarium fish from different sources and understand how they are harvested.
  • Avoid endangered species: You should check out the conservation status of your fish before getting them. This is to avoid trading in heavily endangered species like the Banggai cardinalfish, a famous marine fish. You can only go ahead when you have verified that the specie has been sustainably harvested. Another way to narrow down your search and get the right information on your fish is to find out where it is being imported from. This will help you know if it was bred in captivity or how it was caught.
  • Don’t release them into the environment: Releasing aquarium fishes into the environment could be disastrous to other species. This could lead to non-native species wreaking havoc or invading your local space. Instead of doing this, find out the proper way to get rid of the aquarium animals when you need to.


Other factors to consider to ensure success

As much as you are tempted to run your aquarium store all by yourself, this is not realistic except you are planning on running the smallest store in the world. You should anticipate that you will need other employees after spending the first set of weeks running it alone. To succeed in the aquarium industry, you need to find the right crop of employees, ensure that they are not too much or too little for your store, and pay them appropriately. While your first choice would be to go for high school kids, you should also add a reasonable number of older employees as well. You need the experience they would bring into the business and their availability when the high school kids need to go to school during the day.


In this scenario, you are not just thinking about their salaries, but you also have to include insurance, taxes, and compensation. All these expenses have to be included in your total estimate for running your aquarium store. This is also in addition to calculating other costs like rent, maintenance costs, vehicle costs, bookkeeping costs, payroll taxes, and utilities. Going into your aquarium business financially prepared saves you a lot of heartaches as you already know what to expect and plan towards it. There is no magic wand that will help you break even in the aquarium business without putting in determination and hard work.


Another great thing to do is to check out your competitors. When you set up your aquarium shop, you will be getting into a business that witnesses a lot of demand, and if you are unable to get a stable source, this could impact your business negatively. Before starting up your business, travel around a bit, and visit successful shops that have been around for a while. Pay attention to little details like their staff and floor plans. Also, look at the species that are common in the store and contribute to the success of the business. If possible, ask the manager or owner questions to get a better feel of the structure of the business. Most times, they will be willing to talk if your store is far from theirs. Here, you would get some pointers that will give you a fair idea of why they are successful. This will most times include details on how much time they invest in the business and level of difficulty, all factors that you need to consider when making your evaluation. The successful ones could have websites and online reviews that talk about their customer experience. Taking a tour of their online footprint will also help in your quest for breaking even in the aquarium industry.


If you are genuinely passionate about the aquatic industry, the tips here will give you a good idea of how to break even in the aquarium industry. The key is being prepared and ready to put in the work. Aquariums are slowly gaining more power in helping us advance in scientific research of the aquatic environment. So, don’t forget to tap into the wonder and excitement that comes with hosting these species. 


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