It may not seem apparent, but the reef aquarium hobby is highly seasonal. Compared to the winter months, there is almost no activity in the spring and summer. The industry as a whole slows down.
I think this phenomenon has to do with the amount of time hobbyists are stuck inside. During the colder months, people spend more time indoors, and just being around the aquarium almost obligates additional maintenance and new additions. In nicer weather, people naturally spend more time outside and the tank gets a bit more neglected—out of sight, out of mind.
Having said that, this theory really doesn’t explain warm-weather states like Texas or California, where it’s generally pleasant outside in December. The summer months slow down there too.
Good deals can be had!
While summer is crummy for those in the industry, it can be a great time for hobbyists looking for good deals. A disproportionate amount of people get out of the hobby in June, July, and August. If you spend any time browsing the “for sale” threads on popular web forums, you can find just about anything for sale. I liken it to buying a snow thrower in June. A deal can be had.
Livestock can be a good purchase because the specimens have been in a tank for a while and do not suffer from some of the issues involved in importing them from overseas. They are also likely less expensive, as the sellers are motivated to move them. After all, unless all the livestock is gone, the system cannot be shut down and sold off.
Equipment can be a good buy, as well, especially used aquariums in good condition. New aquariums can be very expensive, but lightly used ones can be had for a song. If you are looking to buy an aquarium, it is wise to take a flashlight with you to inspect the glass for scratches. In dim lighting, every tank looks pretty good. Once you shine light onto it, the scratches pick up the light and become highly visible.
Things to look out for
The only issue with buying used is, it is hard to gauge how functional the piece of equipment is. Saltwater equipment undergoes some pretty heavy wear and tear. For this reason, I shy away from pumps and heaters. They have relatively short lifespans, and when they fail, they can have disastrous results.
Lighting can be a great deal, but not every lighting setup is. Bulb replacement costs on both metal halide and t5 bulbs can be significant—so significant, in fact, that the cost difference between a brand-new fixture with bulbs and a used fixture requiring bulb replacements may be negligible.
How about used LEDs? The nice thing about LEDs is the longevity of the individual LEDs. They essentially do not require bulb replacements. Unfortunately, the actual LEDs are rarely what fail in an LED lighting fixture. There is a plethora of inexpensive, poorly made units on the market that experience electrical failures after about 12 months of use. I personally would not look to buy a unit used because the sorts of issues that arise can be costly to repair and are practically undetectable until the unit finally breaks.
Summer is a great time to take advantage of the seasonality of the reef aquarium hobby. Many people who are looking to get out of the hobby have used equipment and livestock to sell. If you shop sensibly (caveat emptor!), you might just find a great deal!