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 One of Lisa Bradshaw's fabulous  Betta . Image by Nathan Hill. One of Lisa Bradshaw's fabulous Betta . Image by Nathan Hill.
One of Lisa Bradshaw's fabulous Betta . Image by Nathan Hill.

Nathan Hill considers what could be the rise of the focused fish seller.

How did we reach this point where the general consensus — assuming it is the consensus — was that bricks-and-mortar shops were somehow ‘good’ and ‘right’ while anything else was an abomination? What is this misconception of the online marketplace that people have?
Some of it is obvious stuff, for sure. We’ve probably all had experiences trying to buy something from a self-professed ‘expert’ over the web, only to find that they had all the expertise of a lobotomised chimp.

And there’ll always be that *insert online marketplace* trader who is doing everything below board, trading livestock without a pet shop license, bringing in anything willy-nilly, and ready to go into liquidation at the first sniff of a refund. But there are brick-builds that do that as well. It’s by no means exclusive to online trading. 

Shifting dynamics

I sense a certain elitism attached to bricks-and-mortar. It’s as though they’ve somehow ‘arrived’ at a better place. Well yeah, I guess in some cases that’s quite true. Some companies have built up quite an empire based on their skilled negotiations of the marketplace. Years or decades of hard graft have allowed for expansion, to the point where any outsider must be thinking ‘they’re doing something right!’, and usually they are. Or at the least they were, as it still remains to be seen if all brick build retailers are ready for the ever shifting dynamics of modern trade. Let us not ignore the fact that some brick-builds have not had the mettle, or the evolutionary skills to keep up, and have vanished. 

Then there are the bricks-and-mortar sites that started elsewhere. There are properties I can think of that began online only and now have magnificent physical, cash and carry stores.
But here’s a thing. Online transactions have allowed an entirely new genre of store to appear on the scene that was quite limited before, and I’m fascinated by it. 

Imagine a retailer ten years ago who wanted to stock and sell nothing but their absolute, all time, favourite ever fish species. Base them wherever — Nathanville, say — and stock their shop with nothing but Corydoras. Nothing else, no dry goods and no other fish at all. How long do you imagine they’d last? Would there be enough traffic for them to make a living from that alone? You bet your sweet breeches there wouldn’t. If you tried making a living that way, chances are you’d be getting all Kung Fu with debt collectors on your driveway within a month. 

Now, though, I could easily set up a business importing, breeding, raising and caring for any one of the (reasonably popular) fish varieties available and make a career out of it. I already thought about it as a potential venture, but then I remembered how cushy my job is here. 

Loyal following

Point in case, I went on a recent visit LJB Aquatics, and I was inspired. Now, to clarify, it isn’t exactly pretty inside, but then it doesn’t need to be. Reclaimed fish racks from old retailers line the walls, and warehouse shelving takes care of the rest. It’s rusty, crusty, damp and stuffy, in every way that a retail premises shouldn’t be. But its owner, Lisa, isn’t trying to be high street boutique — it’s not a cash and carry retailer. No, instead, Lisa has cultivated a vast online presence and a loyal following, and simply needs to display her wares via Facebook for people to throw money at her like they’re lobbing rocks at an attacking bear. 

What does she stock? Mainly Betta. There are other fish on the sidelines, but the core of this business revolves around one fish; the humble Fighter. Hundreds and hundreds of them, in every colour and fin shape imaginable. More than I’ve ever seen in one place. 

Given that the fixtures were a little ‘shaky’, would I knock the livestock? Jeepers, no! Those fish were perfect. Could I knock the owner as being not as knowledgeable as a bricks-and-mortar employee? Ha ha! Lawd a mercy, no! Lisa has forgotten more about Betta than I’ll ever know, and she could put many an ‘expert’ straight on their care and upkeep. 

After my visit down there, I came away feeling invigorated, albeit the exhausted, blind-in-one-eye after a day of photography kind of invigorated. 

I know the debates between the fans of the many different camps will go on and on. There’ll be brick-build haters, online-trader haters, lovers, fighters, apathetics and whateverers. 

But for me, the bigger picture is that the hobby could be about to hit a wonderful epoch. As well as having our local stores providing our staples, we’re increasingly seeing the rise of the focused seller. If that means in five years I can get a single fish from someone who has no other distractions but that one species, and is passionate about it beyond compare, then I’m real excited. Bring it on!