Critics wanted to see bricks and mortar, so Charterhouse took on two East London railway arches and now they have more bricks and mortar than anyone else! What will they find to complain about next?
I've just got into the office from a 12:30am finish last night and I feel hung over, but not from alcohol — oh no, I was driving. Nope, instead I'm actually hung over from the amount of UK aquatic store happiness I expressed last night at Charterhouse Aquatics' private invite launch party.
Charterhouse is well known on the Internet and rank at the top of the searches for many popular products. Regular customers will have also noted that they hold some pretty premium products in stock too though: the likes of ADA, Elos, and Giesemann, yet short of emailing photos and physically describing over the phone, the PFK readers poll category winners had no way of showing their products off. Until now.
And show products off they definitely do, only unlike anywhere else I’ve ever seen before. The brick arches have been stripped down to their raw elements, and at considerable cost. The directors Paul and Matt Fry then drafted in an architect no less to design the whole place from showroom to dry goods warehouse, even the fishroom, so now it looks like what Apple would create if they ever got into the aquatics market, and I kept looking over my shoulder, half expecting Kevin McCloud to come in, declaring it a Grand Design, or George Clarke, an Amazing Space.
So the tank showroom looks very modern, conceptual and architectural, only the treat for us fishkeepers is that it's then decorated with beautiful, furnished aquariums, many of which just aren’t on display anywhere else, like top of the range Elos and Giesemann tanks coming in at a cool £7K plus.
Seven grand is silly money to most, myself included, but if there’s anywhere in the UK where someone will walk in off the street and pay that kind of money, it's London, home of the mega rich, and currently going through an extraordinary house price boom.
And although I could never afford it, I do maintain that it's nice to be given the opportunity just to see these tanks set up and looking great, so that you then have the opportunity at least to give it first refusal. The more conventional UK aquatic shops are often guilty of holding back such luxury items I feel, yet I know scores of people who will pay over £2000 just for a D-SLR camera body, so won’t be put off paying more for the tank they want to photograph.
Don’t get me wrong, it's not all like that though, and if you want a BiOrb, Peppa Pig tank or a good value Superfish tank, it's there too. And what’s nice, and what myself and most of the reps spent the night doing, was then comparing finishes and specs to the prices, trading ourselves up and down as we walked around the ranges and seeing just what you do get for your money with each tank.
And if none of them suit you, they’ve enrolled the services of who I feel is the UK’s best custom glass tank builder, Aquarium Connections, who won’t bat an eyelid if you try to shock them by giving them an order for a 20’ tank in Optiwhite, and what’s more, it’ll be the best quality tank you’ll have ever owned. But back to the shop.
So you can just walk into the showroom, warehouse or fishhouse and purchase livestock, a pot of fish food or a tank just as you would anywhere else, but Charterhouse being Charterhouse (progressive!) if you’re feeling pretty ultra-modern yourself you can look at the display tank, scan the QR code which takes you to the tank’s details, decide you want to buy it, walk over to one of the many tablet devices and customer card machines, order and pay for it on the spot on the tablet, chill out on a sofa for a few minutes and they’ll bring it out from the warehouse next door — or if you want, deliver it to your home — and if you just want a great looking tank without any hassle, they’ll even install and maintain it for you too. They really have got it all covered.
On our visit the store was pretty reef centric, with the balance of wet displays and livestock definitely leaning towards marine. The fishhouse had just a token display of tropicals and plants, so don’t rock up there quite yet expecting to walk away with an Asian arowana, P14 stingray or a Hypostomus luteus, but anything is possible and I’m sure they will adapt and grow in order to meet specific livestock demands. You would be able to get some nice corals from day one however, and as well as having lots of marine tanks, Charterhouse was also showing off many if not all of the latest LED lights and marine methodologies like Triton.
For the aquascaping community this store has so much potential, and I fully expect to see forum communities using the tank showroom as a place to meet up, socialise and talk tanks, and although there wasn’t a really good planted aquascape on display just yet, James Findley of The Green Machine is rumoured to be coming down to set up a full ADA tank, and I fully expect some highly respected UKAPS members to be queuing up soon to do a wet display and get their work shown off in such superb, and public surroundings.
And to fit in with the look and ethos of the business, even the staff are young, modern, well dressed and mostly good looking. I think I’d struggle to get a job there even with my CV, as I’m the wrong side of 30 and my teeth are too wonky. The staff are genuinely really nice people though, all of them great lads, especially the owners, brothers Paul and Matt, who are great fun, very forward thinking and unusually for aquatic store owners, they’re not full of hate.
So the optimism and all round positive attitude just spread across the room last night, and it was great to see the likes of D-D, Red Sea, New Era, ITC, Reef Eden, Eheim, Reef One and Aquarium Connections all chatting away, all appreciating each other’s work, and all networking for the good of the UK aquatics trade and hobby. I think Charterhouse is light years ahead with their new store, I really do, and I wish them all the luck in the world.
I do feel for them however as every rep in the country will now smell the money trail and will be knocking on their architectural glass doors trying to pedal them all sorts of gear, and I also fully expect every micro blogger/blagger to turn up and try to declare Charterhouse as their very own territory and a place to then make themselves look good. But best of all, the owners will let it all wash over them while enjoying a celebratory beer, and I, like the whole UK aquatic trade, eagerly await the flood of new fishkeepers that the new Charterhouse Aquatics retail store will create.
So if you want to embark on a shop tour with a difference, and visit UK Aquatic store 2.0, make a day of it, arrange to meet other like-minded hobbyists there and go and talk all things aquatic. Who knows, you might even buy something!
The official consumer open day for the showroom is this Saturday, November 2 2013. It even has parking, but only for about eight cars I reckon, and for sat nav owners the postcode is E8 4ED. Enjoy!