Love thy retailer!


Love thy retailer!

Aquatic retail is one of the most challenging jobs there is, says Nathan Hill. Want to know why? Read on...

The reason is actually pretty simple, and a lot of it boils down to this one single point. Aquatic retailers are the only ones on the planet that will tell you that you can’t have what you want. Not because you can’t afford it, but because you can’t have it.

Think about it. You go to an aquatic store to buy a tank and you can spend as much as you like. Glass, cabinet, heater, sand, filter, lighting, décor, plants, supplements, food, nets – the whole shebang. You could literally get a funnel straight from your pocket and plunge it into the till if you wanted, getting a friend to help lift you up and shake the last of the shrapnel out. Spend spend spend! We’re a nation of spenders, and we love it. Impulse buys and unnecessary tat are our specialties. Nobody ever, ever says no to us when we want to part with our money.

But what’s this? Go back the next day and try to spend £100 on livestock and the retailer asks a couple of polite questions. How long has the tank been going, is it matured? Conversation ensues. The kids have already run off to make a list of everything they’ll be taking home. And then the devastating words.


No, you can’t have those fish. The tank isn’t mature enough yet.

This concept of being told no is as alien as any for a paying customer. No butcher ever told me that I couldn’t have a certain cut of meat because I wouldn’t cook it properly. No record shop refused me vinyl because I wouldn’t mix the tune properly (yeah, I buy vinyl, and proud of it.) But here you are, being told you cannot have what you want. That’s going to grate, because you’re certainly not used to being told 'no'.

So let’s take a step back here a moment. What’s the issue with this refusal? Is it the sudden reversal of the hierarchical status? Traditionally, we like our shopkeepers to be below us in status. We’re the privileged ones with the money, and they’re the one that calls us sir. But this one line, this one abrasive conflict turns everything on its head. Suddenly the retailer is in charge. Pure madness.

But woah there one moment. Why would a shopkeeper do this? To emasculate you? To belittle you in front of your kids? Given the sudden tension and hostility that can flare up on the back of that ‘no,’ you’d think that this was exactly the case. But I can assure you it’s not.

The simple fact is that the retailer loves his or her fish. Their fish are cared for, and you might not think it, but they actually develop one hell of a strong bond with the animals they look after. They wait up until the small hours of the morning for them to arrive from faraway places. They turn up on Christmas day and bank holidays to give them food and give them water changes. They are on call at all hours for the first hint of livestock trouble and, most importantly, they develop a sense of intimacy and care for them.

Truth is, retailers don’t really have fish that they don’t like. They love them all, deep down. They appreciate that they’re responsible for them, for their wellbeing, and it’s cutting whenever a fish is lost or dies. But the single, most angering thing that can happen to a retailer is to have gone through all of this with their fish, to have developed that intimacy, only to then see that fish taken away and killed by something like new tank syndrome.

So here’s the deal. As much as you might think it’s personal when you’re told that you can’t have those 50 Neons you had your heart set on, it really is not. What’s happening is that the retailer is putting the livestock in front of a quick buck. And if you knew what they went through to keep those livestock healthy then you would too.

Try arranging a consignment of fish that have been delayed in transit, after a long day of work. Try fumbling around in the dark at two in the morning, increasingly despairing as you see bags of fish that have become cool in transit, with sluggish and struggling fish, knowing that you’ll be expected to be smiles and happy rainbows at opening time the next morning.

Try going home with that relentless anxiety after a shipment has come in, questioning yourself about having done absolutely everything. Will they be alright? Did you close those lids? Did you turn the flows back on? Try gradually nursing those fish back to full health over the next few weeks, finding the time to come in on your days off to make sure they’re getting the right foods, and then you’ll understand the close link that a retailer has between themself and their fish.

No, the retailer is the firewall between livestock and tanks that might kill them. Yeah, errors are made every now and then, and things are lost in translation. But the net gain for this refusal to sell is the safety of countless fish everywhere. It really isn’t personal. It’s a fishy thing, and the tragedy is that for the best part, only the guys and gals in retail will be able to entirely relate to what I’m saying.

To everyone who ever refused to sell a fish, I’ll be raising a toast in your honour tonight. You are my heroes of the trade.

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