By Ethan D. Mizer
As with many service-based professions, one of the greatest challenges new aquarium maintenance providers face is finding and acquiring clients. This is why establishing great working relationships with local, independent aquatic retailers is often essential. Few others can offer you greater access to potential clients. While you also need to engage with local aquarium clubs and create a strong social media presence, connecting with a local retailer is your best bet for directly finding clients.
Before suggesting a business relationship with any local fish store, you need to be a regular customer first. Get to know the staff by talking with them, asking for their advice and listening to their opinions. Make a point of purchasing livestock and supplies from them. Prove your interest by finding out when they have livestock shipments coming in, and then show up on those days to check out the new offerings.
Almost all independent pet stores that specialize in fish are run and staffed by dedicated aquarists. They can tell when someone is serious about the hobby. Share your interest to show that you are dedicated hobbyist with the same passion for fish. When it comes to any hobby, people with passion often seek each other out. This provides a great basis for eventually building a business relationship.
Understand the Competition
Many local fish stores no longer solely rely on high-margin dry goods sales; a large percentage now depend on revenue from maintenance clients. As such, some stores might see you and your business as direct competition. However, these same retailers might have various challenges that you can help them resolve.
For starters, their staff size and expertise could limit the number of clients they can serve. Independent pet retailers have to focus on running a brick-and-mortar retail location at the same time they are trying to serve off-site maintenance clients’ needs. This is where your opportunity lies. Let the store owners know that you aren’t their competition. Instead, you can help them solve their problem by providing them with a percentage for every client they refer to you, and also grow store revenue when you refer clients back to them for purchases.
Demonstrate Mutual Benefits
Once you have built a strong relationship, the next step is to provide ongoing cooperation and support. In other words, don’t abandon your local fish store once you’ve acquired several clients. Instead, make a point of referring your clients to the store for purchases—and continue to buy from them directly. Doing so shows you are serious about continuing your relationship. This helps support the store as well as the local hobby, which is good for everyone. Also, staying in your local fish store’s good graces means you are more likely to benefit from continued referrals and positive word-of-mouth.
You should never build a relationship, only to take off with clients once your business is established. This is a good way to engender animosity. Poor reviews from local fish stores might turn hobbyists off of your services, and many of them are also going to be active in the local aquarium scene. By maintaining good relations, you won’t have to worry about this. Instead, you can focus on growing your business and helping your local fish store stay solvent at the same time.
Show Your Dependability
Many local fish stores have a hard time retaining quality, trustworthy service personnel. If you build your reputation for consistent service, you will prove to them that you are reliable and offer ongoing value to everyone you do business with. For a local store owner, this alone can make you far more valuable as a partner. Instead of seeing you as a competitor, help them see that you are actually building the store’s reputation at the same time you are solving its labor problem. Once you do this, you go from being a potential problem for local fish stores to a desirable solution. Store owners are happy, their customers are happy, your clients are happy, and your business continues to grow.