View Full Version : Starting an aquarium maintenance business

07/14/2015, 02:26 PM
I love this hobby, and I mean everything about it. I'm also very realistic in understanding that a brick-and-mortar store is simply too cost prohibitive in order to start from scratch and will bleed me dry financially.

I am sick and tired of the corporate rat race, and I have begun to seriously consider starting an aquarium maintenance business with the primary focus on saltwater/reef tanks however I will handle freshwater as well. I'd like to focus primarily on commercial clients such as doctors offices, etc....but would of course service residential clients also.

I've done general research in understanding what my upfront equipment costs would be along with ongoing expenses such as gas/vehicle maintenance along with liability insurance for the business/vehicle, and they seem fairly minimal compared to other business ventures. My largest expense would of course be a vehicle that can accommodate large water tanks, but outside of that, the costs for equipment are very minimal.

My profit centers would of course be the service itself, but I'd like to also secure wholesale accounts to purchase equipment for new installations and charge markups accordingly. I'd also like to subcontract aquarium builders to build my customers tanks and earn a commission on the referral.

I wanted to gather general input from the Reef Central community just to see if anybody has been specifically involved in this or if you have any advice that you'd like to provide. Again....this would be the maintenance side of the business only, with a side focus on sales of equipment, additives, etc.....I know I'd need a sales tax permit to do so along with a general business license.

07/17/2015, 05:30 PM
How many accounts do you need to clean on a weekly and monthly basis to make the income you want? How fast do you think you can you develop the client base in your area you need to make the amount you want? (What's your competition like?) My guess it will take you at least 2 or 3 years to build your customer base to be self supporting so how are you going to pay your bills until that happens?

07/28/2015, 10:52 PM
I hope you and FretFreak aren't in the same general area, she's planning on doing that too. Maybe reference her thread a bit as well, as there are pretty good answers regarding maintenance in it as well.

No advice here regarding your questions, sorry. I'm just a college student. I'll wish you luck though!

07/30/2015, 01:49 PM
I lived in DeLand from 2000 to 2006. I can't imagine there being enough of a market in the area to keep you above water (pun intended). You think there may be?

Reef Frog
08/07/2015, 04:25 PM
This probably isn't the right forum to get the meaningful responses you're looking for. A few random points:

Making your beloved hobby a full time business is often (but not always) a sure fire recipie for falling out of love with the hobby. I can say this from experience. I've met a few LFS principals where I've seen this happen as well. At my main store, the owner has been in business 30+ years. He hasn't had a fish tank or pet of any kind in decades. He's so bored with it now it's hard to keep a conversation on aquarium keeping going for more than a sentence when I'm in his store. He seems he wants to talk about almost anything else.

I'd be careful with becoming a hardware dealer. Your customers will expect you to provide return and warranty service, take back stuff "they don't like" and will badger you for special "deals". I would have them buy hardware on their own after they do their research, and expect be charged for set up and for facilitating repairs etc.

However, being in the "supplies" business could be worthwhile. Markups are huge on salt, additives, GFO, GAC etc. For example, buy GFO in bulk but charge Phosban or Rowalhos pricing. If a smarty pants dentist tells you he knows it can be had for cheaper, tell him you can also get cheaper dental care during a Medican vacation. Uncortunately there is an extreme cheapness ethic associated with this hobby & others. Know what you need to make, have fair pricing, stick to it and be willing to pass on extreme cheapskates.

These are just a few of the dos and donts. Never expect your best case or even medium case scenario on your pro forma spreadsheet to work out. As noted, new clients will come on board slowly and you need to have an income plan for the transition. Sales & marketing for something like this could be a challenge. Something tells me that just doing a web site and waiting for the phone to ring or an email to chirp isn't all there is to it.

Small business is tough. State & federal compliance can be overwhelming. I've run a few businesses over the years and some times I dream of being a corporate salaryman with the rules, benefits & stability. But when it's good it can be good - don't want to be overly negative, just go in with eyes wide open. Best of luck to you!

08/07/2015, 06:14 PM
If you have enough in the bank to live for four to five years, you may be fine; otherwise I would advise against it.