After a lifetime working in sales, I recently took a job at an upscale aquarium business. Now that I am beginning to experience the aquarium industry from the inside, I have taken on a slightly different view of things. Yet in the process, I’ve become more patient, more engrossed, and more dedicated than ever.
As a die hard aquarium hobbyist, you tend to get a bit jaded- hardened, perhaps, to the foibles of the typical aquarium keeper. Noticed I said aquarium keeper- because not everyone who has an aquarium in his/her home is a hobbyist! In fact, a surprisingly large number of people who keep an aquarium- reef or otherwise- simply enjoy their tank as a display of “kinetic art”, and view it as little more than a piece of furniture- the way you and I might view a chair or table. As a hardcore hobbyist, it was a bit hard to accept this point of view, yet the reality is that if you work in the industry, you need to accept the fact that people have all kinds of reasons to have a home aquarium.
So, does that mean that I now look down on anyone who has an aquarium and is not a hobbyist? Does everyone have to be a reef geek? Of course not, none of use started that way. What it does mean is that you and I feel that I have a responsibility to let these people know that they are keeping an absolutely precious resource, and that they should appreciate the wonders of nature that they are now keeping in the comfort of their own home or office. Getting everyday people excited about the hobby, the science, and the art of aquariums is challenging and rewarding. It’s good “PR” for the trade/hobby, too. And that’s a mission we can all take part in!
I have certainly had to bite my lip on a number of occasions, when a non-hobbyist customer insists that the stocking plan for their 75 gallon aquarium has to incorporate at least “a dozen of those blue fishes from Finding Nemo” (ie; the Blue or “Hippo” Tang), or wants to create a saltwater aquarium with some “coral plants” and get the whole thing fully stocked “before the holiday party”.
Now granted, everyone who is a non-reefer is not necessarily this ignorant with more money than common sense, but you do have to temper your responses sometimes. I’ve learned that you can give the customer what he or she wants without having to compromise your personal ethics and sense of responsibility to the animals. Fish are not just “merchandise” to many of us, and we need to let the customer know this. As in so many endeavors, empathy and communication go a long way. Take the time to share your enthusiasm with an aquarium keeper now and then and see where it goes!
Those of us in the aquarium industry have a really interesting job: We’re charged with helping people enjoy that which they already love, and educating those that don’t understand about the responsibility that goes along with what they are doing. The benefactors of this work are the animals that we cherish, and the hobby/industry as a whole. If we do our jobs, we can help preach the twin merits of responsibility and appreciation for the wonders of nature in a very subtle manner. I can think of a lot more mundane and less enjoyable ways to earn a living!
You’d think that dealing with this kind of stuff every day would burn you out after a time. I don’t know about that! I actually think that my involvement in the industry has given me an even greater urge to lead by example, to practice the hobby at a level that helps inspire others, pushes the envelope, and advances the sate of the art.
To my fellow industry people, I congratulate you for doing what you already do so well, and I challenge you to continue to push yourselves even harder to excite those who we serve. To the dedicated hobbyists out there, you know the mission already. In a very tangible way, we can all help nurture the hobby onto a path that will benefit both the animals and the trade for decades to come.
Until next time…
Photo above from Home Aquarium Store