Just say “NO!” to cheap fish…

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MiniWaters.fish makes no apologies when I say we are definitely not the least expensive option out there. In fact, my offerings might be the highest priced, and I’m OK with that.

I believe there is far too much “racing to the bottom” in the aquarium industry for my tastes. Certainly, simple supply and demand pays a huge role in that, but often it is the producers who are pinched by downward pricing pressures. The simple economic truths at times mean, for example, that a breeder with a glut of fish in the south might have to take what they feel is an excessive hit on price just to find the fishes new homes.

I would say I’ve been reluctantly dragged back into the trade the way light cannot escape a black hole. So instead of fighting it, I’m going to try to reshape my participation into something different and meaningful to me. If the experiment fails, I’ll rethink it. I have the distinct luxury of livestock sales not being my main source of income at this time, so I don’t have to engage in downward price wars.

Keeping Profits With Producers

When it comes to fishes offered on MiniWaters.fish, a larger than traditional share of the profit stays with the producer whenever reasonably possible. Depending on the sourcing arrangements, a breeder whose fish are retailed here is compensated anywhere from 17% up to 75% the retail sale value (if it’s a fish I produced personally, then 100% is staying with the producer!). Compare this level of compensation to breeders who are forced to make razor thin margins while selling on volume. Think of the Florida fish farmers that have to sell an angelfish to a wholesaler for $0.25, only to see it retailed at $5 or more (the breeder only receiving 5% at that point!).

I have been known to pay a premium to a breeder when others aren’t willing, or when the market prices suggest otherwise, in an effort to support and recognize the accomplishments of these producers. I have been known to buy entire lots of fish at fair pricing even though knowing that moving so many fish would be risky. If I pay a premium, I may have to pass that along to you, or I may reduce a markup on the wholesale value of a fish to allow for a greater share of profits to stay with the breeder, or to market fishes which we otherwise couldn’t (better to find permanent homes for fishes than have them sitting around).

Retail and Wholesale

MiniWaters offers wholesale prices to other retailers because I value the role that local shops play in the aquarium hobby and industry. The last thing I’m going to do is offer the same fish at wholesale to a shop, and then sell directly to their customers online at a price point below where a local fish shop needs their prices to be. In other words, our retail fishes are priced in a manner that should allow our wholesale customers to BEAT our direct-to-consumer online pricing with ease.

Not every fish offered here is available as a wholesale offering; WYSIWYG specimens listed here are generally destined for retail sale exclusively (but not always). Other fishes are purchased at wholesale, simply to make them more widely available, and therefore can only be offered at retail pricing points. Each product listing should include a note regarding wholesale availability. If you see a variety of fish here that you’d like to see in your local aquarium shop, please put them in touch with MiniWaters.fish to set up a wholesale account.

Price War Draft Dodger

Where and how you buy your fish should never hinge on pricing, but it seems that price drives the aquarium livestock industry above everything else. Capitalism at its finest? Perhaps, but while the consumer thinks they’re winning by getting the lowest price, I fear everyone else loses. When a captive-bred version of a difficult-to-care-for species can’t get sold because people prefer buying the even-harder-to-care-for wild-caught version for half the price, gambling on whether the fish will live or not, that tells you how broken this consumer-driven pricing model is.

So instead, I’m going to tell you what the fish is worth to me. You either buy it, or not. I will gladly sit on a fish indefinitely because I only bring in those varieties that have value and interest to me. Sure, I might lower a price, but I might also raise a price. What I won’t do is price a fish in a manner that devalues the fish for everyone else, devalues the work of the producer, or devalues my efforts.

That Cheap Price You Saw Once On The Internet….

Don’t be lured into price shopping on the notion that that “cheap price” you saw it for once is actually the price it should always be. There are any number of reasons that the price you see isn’t “real” or sustainable. That $3 Banggai Cardinalfish on sale? Please, by all means, feel free to shop with that supplier so you can get that “screamin’ deal”…ha!

Case in point, I just got into a discussion with an online retailer who told me he’d ship me a $15 fish from across the country for $25. He was rather insistent he would make money in that transaction. Great for him, but when shipping a 2lb box (0.25 gallons of water) via USPS Express costs around $37 (the public rate for UPS was $67) and the wholesale value of that fish is, at its absolute lowest, $5 (for the smallest, cheapest one out there), there is no way that I could ever do it. It’d be easier for that retailer to just hand me $2 and not waste his time!

Maybe it’s legit, but I sincerely doubt this vendor can actually turn a profit on that example; the math doesn’t add up. Of course, the math didn’t even take into account the vendors time, salaries, overhead, shipping materials etc. Even if the actual shipping, to this vendor, is somehow only $25, that leaves less than $10 profit to pack up a fish and ship it out. And what if it dies? I’m sorry…I sincerely doubt there is any real “profit” there.

Of course, on more than one occasion some vendors have alluded to the notion that selling livestock is a loss-leader for their drygoods business. Or they’re willing to lose money once on the hopes that over the long run, you’ll come back and be profitable. In fact, this could be exactly the thought process behind claiming that it makes sense (and money) to overnight a $15 fish for only $25, halfway across the country at a $2 (or greater) loss.

There are all sorts of ways to run a business, but these are dubious practices in my opinion. These practices don’t build sustainable long-term businesses. Instead, they lead people to cut corners to do things at the rock bottom, always chasing the idea that lower prices = more profits, but never seeing it materialize.

There are the part time vendors out there who justify low balling a fish on the mistaken notion that “everyone should be able to afford them”, and that undercutting legitimate businesses is the right thing to do because in fact all these other businesses are “ripping off their customers”. They use arguments like “if this fish was this much cheaper, this many more people could have them and that’s good for the hobby.” Sorry, WRONG. There are plenty of fish choices available to you, the aquarist, at every price level. If you cannot afford a higher priced fish, no one owes it to you at a cheaper price. Intentionally destroying the market for a species or variety by artificially lowering the price doesn’t serve anyone’s best interests; in fact everyone, even the vendor doing the lowering, loses. This simply cannot last.

Then there are the amateur dumpers; the local aquarists who breed something and then have no place to go with the offspring. All of a sudden, there’s an oversupply, a glut, and the price of whatever it is can only drop like a rock as aquarists scramble to sell potentially dozens or hundreds of fish, one or two at a time, direct to their fellow hobbyists. Sure, it *could* be a great “windfall” to the people lucky enough to stumble into these “buying opportunities”, but this is not a sustainable model. Nor should you suddenly expect that whatever rock bottom price was out there is actually a legitimate price to demand from every other seller in the country.

There will always be a “lowest price” out there somewhere. It is not anyone’s job to intentionally push it lower still. Running a fish business isn’t a charity to the consumer. Still, there will always be someone willing to compete on price…even to the point of quite literally losing money to “earn your business”. If they have to literally take a loss just to get your business, what does that say about a company’s own perception of itself?

And sometimes…maybe more often than you might want to admit…if it’s really that “cheap” that it’s “too good to be true”…well..in the days of the Internet (Facebook & Craigslist), I suppose I’ve never heard of anyone lying or scamming. By all means, if cheap is what you want, shop somewhere else. Oh, and be sure to give them your credit card over the phone while you’re at it.

Values over “Value”

It’s my opinion that many people enter the aquarium trade to do what they love. Unfortunately, rather than value what they do, some people treat their business as a hobby, get involved in chasing prices, and wind up trying to pay themselves “in love”, which doesn’t pay the bills. You, the consumer, are actually quite complicit in this every time you ask for a discount or get caught up in shopping for price to save a small percentage. That said, I recall telling a close retailer friend of mine that there was no way I could justify paying $100 for a refractometer that I could buy online for $40. Businesses aren’t charities of course, but you are voting with your wallet.

I value my time, highly so. To offer a one-on-one direct to retail fish takes much more time than collecting and shipping a large wholesale order, and that’s another reason why I charge a full retail price. I have to weigh the priorities of family and free time against the available time I have to sell a fish to you. If it takes me 4 hours to handle your order and I make only $20 on that, somehow that doesn’t seem appropriate to me or my family. Some will see this point of view as arrogant or selfish; great! I think we all have finite time in our lives; we should value it highly and choose how we spend it carefully. If we are going to take away time from ourselves or our families, it should be financially worthwhile.

As such, it should be clear that I have no interest in making MiniWaters.fish the online retailer to the masses. Exactly the opposite. I would much rather have a handful of very valued and trusted clients with whom I can build solid, mutually beneficial relationships. I’m going to tell it like it is, and be completely transparent about it. If I haven’t scared you away, and you find yourself understanding the MiniWaters.fish viewpoint, you might just be the kind of customer I’ll be happy to serve!

Like Minded Individuals Wanted!

Like what you’re reading, then indeed, vote with your wallet!

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