First of all, for anyone that don't know Crowders Aquatics, they are a family run business down in Bordon near the south coast of England. Run only Caz & Rocky Crowder, they are very much a husband and wife fishkeeping duo.
Ive been chatting with them about what it is like running your own fish shop and how it all began....
Thanks for agreeing to answer some questions for the Lothian Fishkeeper. For anyone that doesn't know you can you just tell us a little about the both of you?
Ok so we have been together for 17 and half years. We've always loved fish and everything about the hobby from tank maintenance to planning aquaruim layouts. Not to mention all the wonderful different kinds of fish and we have had a wide range of them through the years.
So, who was keeping fish first then? Who should we blame for your both keeping fish?
I would say we both love it so much that we are both to blame for a house full of fishtanks.
What led to you opening your own store then? was a house full just not enough?
We bought a shop system from an aquatics shop that was being renovated. Our plan was to build a marine set-up but when another one became available we began thinking about how we could maybe open our own fish shop.
We soon realised how expensive it would be to move into a shop and with Caz only working part time in the local Sainsburys, having our own shop premises was just out of the question. However still with the dream of running our own shop still going strong, we came up with a plan to open our shop from our very own home.
After three months of phone calls, emails and meetings, we were finally ready for a visit from the council to get our pet shop license.
By then we had both our systems up and running but we had to modify our home quite a bit to meet the regulations of the local council but on July 24th 2014 at around 11.45am we were issued with our pet shop license!!!
You must have been delighted at finally getting what you had worked hard for?
You must have been delighted at finally getting what you had worked hard for?
Things were great. We spent two months salary just stocking our systems and the food needed to meet all the individual diets. We set up our Facebook page and started advertising and the customers started to come in and buy from us - Crowders Aquatics...
We spent the next few months saving. It was difficult at times because I still had my job and we have our kids too but this was our dream and we enjoyed every minute of it.
The next big change happened in November 2014 when we visited our local clothing design company to pick up our new Crowders aquatics hoodies. While collecting the hoodies, the owner asked us if we had ever thought of going into a shop? We both laughed explaining that we had only just began trading a few months ago but He suggested we talk to his dad who owned the building his clothing design company was based in. So we did and to cut a long story short, the very next day we had already fallen in love with an empty shop premises. We signed the paperwork and set a moving in date for January 2015.
|The Crowders Aquatics Team|
One intense week of utter crazyness including another visit from the licensing people, moving our systems, fish and contacting a few dry goods suppliers we were finally ready to open. We had two fish systems, one small basket of drift wood, Vitalis and a some Aquaone stock. Thinking back I can't believe what very little stock we had at the start. Still, with no bank loans or any cash input, the only money we had behind us was what we raised from selling fish at home.
Our open day was both amazing and scary but by far the best part of our journey we had people tell us we were mad and we would never get anywhere but we did it and here we are today now with three units in the building, seven fish systems, some great brands and a really beautiful planted.
That really is an awesome journey indeed! your living your dream and I'm pretty jealous right now. Is running your very own fish shop everything you both hoped it would be?
To be honest we didnt really know what to expect. It's one thing having multiple fishtanks on the go at a hobbyists level but running your own shop and dealing with the public is an about the hobby and industry and we really have so, in a sense, yes it is everything we hoped it would be and more.
We have built up a great bunch of regulars who are visiting all the time and bringing more customers with them which is fantastic. We are also building up a solid list of manufacturers we trust and are proud to sell in our shop.
Loyal customers are important. Building up trust with your customers is what makes the difference. Equally, as a hobbyist, its vital to have trust in your local fish shop.
Absolutely, its what has brought us to where we are today.
One of the main things we love is we are Crowders aquatics and not part of any chain. We can stock what we want without any obligations. Although we are super fussy with our choice of products. Don't get me wrong, we have made a few bad choices of stock in the two and a half years we have been trading. However, you learn fron your mistakes.
Being an independent certainly gives you freedom to go in your own direction. You mention that you have made some mistakes in the past. Any you don't mind sharing?
my mistakes include having bad experience with some companies. One example was when we first opened we bought some led bubble walls. They sold well however most of them came back within a few weeks because the led lights failed on them. We were totally gutted because we had bought all the different sizes and colours ect. I rang the manufacturer directly and honestly they couldnt of cared less. Luckily the wholesaler we bought them from was willing to take all the new ones back so they wouldnt go back on our shelf .
We have found also out a few companies that are happy to undercut high street fish shops online but still want us to stock thier products at the same time.
|Rocky & Kaz with Patrick from Dennerle|
It's all about finding good partnerships that work for you shop. Are the companies you work with just now focussing on one aspect of the hobby more than the others? I.e. Aquascaping, shrimps, Marine?
We are rather big on aquascaping so we have plenty of wood like bogwood, red moor root, sumatra woodfor people to choose from. We also have a decent range of rock and stones. We do love Dennerle so we have our beautiful Aquaone planted tank filled with Dennerle plants as well as a big range of their aquascaping products such as tools, fertiliser, plants Hunter gravels ect.
We always do try and encourage people to go down the more natural route but totally understand some customers either dont want to or cant because of the fish they keep.
Aquascaping is definitely a hobby on the increase. The more interesting hardscape products the shops can display, the more people's mind with tick, new ideas and alternatives to the classic setups. I'm always telling people to use live plants more and more.
I would say its beneficial to the fish to use live plants, its more natural. Its also a lot of fun at the same time. There are just so many different plants and products on the market just now to make setting up and maintaining a nice planted tank so straight forward.
Our biggest selling product right now is the Dennerle Dosator. We are selling loads of them.
Do you have a planted tank at home?
We have six aquariums at home right now. Our River reef with plants and currently gold tetra. Then there is our 20ltr Dennerle with my koi male betta. Our Newa more with a pair of chameleon whip tails which is due to be upgraded. A Rena aquarium with our big fish in including a 20inch clown knife fish that we adopted. Our sons 4ft community tank with plants and our newest baby which is our 850ltr reef acrylic aquarium.
All the freshwater aquariums could be doing with make overs but right now we just don't have the time.
I know you just recently set up your big reef tank, was this planned or something that just came about?
It was a long term dream to have another big reef tank. We did have a big reef tank in the past but ever since we closed the old one down, we have wanted another big one.
It must be good to have a reef again then? I know I gave my one up when my youngest Daughter was born. Where do you find the time to look after all these tanks and run a fish shop? That must be difficult.
We eat, sleep and live for fish keeping. We never have enough time in the day, but wouldn't have it any other way. Our son maintains some of the home aquariums so he helps out too.
A true fishkeeping family.
Having began as a home trader who progressed to owning a shop, Whats you thoughts on shed/home traders now? Do you think they are effecting your business?
We started out as a home trader so we see it from both sides of the argument?
First you have the private breeders that clearly care about the fish they are selling and give all the correct advice. Then you have the 'shed sellers' that in my our eyes are only looking to make money. for example we knew a bloke that was trading from home and sourcing his fish from a wholesaler just like the shops do. This bloke would tell his customers when he was picking the fish up and tell them they had 72 hours to collect This bloke would take order from his customer then place the order accordingly. No quarantine or available display tanks so the fish would remain in their bags until the customer collected them. He was totally unlicensed and all his fish were unhealthy. Needless to say he didn't last very long and disappeared offline,
We think the biggest probelm is the lack of consistency amongst local councils up and down the country. Each council seems to have different rules where pet shop licences are concerned.
It took us three months to prove we knew what we were doing. We had to get full permission from our housing association. Our home required a full fire & safety check. We had to put fire exit along with' mind your head signs. We also had to sit through a very long and intense interview with the licence board.
On the flip side, We know a few shops in other areas who are surrounded by 'shed traders' and their councils are not interested at all.
We will never forget where we started. We were definitely NOT a shed seller we did everything above board. We had to had to prove a lot of things to our council even down to batch numbers of fish.
So shed sellers that are only in it for a quick buck are definitely hurting the trade but thankfully they tend not to last as they sale poor quality fish. Its a very tough area to talk about as it causes a lot of arguments in the trade
We get ignored at lot by other shops because of where we started but like I said we were 100% above board and still have my licence that was dated from when we started as they are renewed each year.
I've heard the councils can be tough down south. They are not so bad up this way. Breeders are 100% behind the hobby, shops are too as most shop owners are hobbyists at heart. The guys that are out to flip fish without quarantine and liscence etc are damaging the industry which in turn effects everyone's experience. Shops simply cannot match hear cheap prices. I do think the wholesale importers need to be tightening up there customer base to prevent the shed sellers getting access to the same stock too.
Lothian Fishkeepers has and always will be right behind the shops.
Everyone needs to support the shops and maybe one day people will understand if you buy from the guy down the road cheap, untreated, badly feed and badly looked after fish then you will end up with poor fish with no comeback.
Support the shops so they can stay around and provide a service that ensures people have happy and healthy fish!!
So back to your shop. Aquascaping is obviously something both you and rocky have a passion for and your shop has a great selection of products to help hobbyists create great scapes.
You must have your regular aquascapers coming in for supplies but in your area are you seeing more and more customers taking up this side if the hobby?
Yes we are !!
We have new people come in store wanting plastic plants and ornaments Their reason is that they think having even a basic planted aquarium is hard work.` but once we have explained the products available to them to help they see its not that hard
We never push people but encourage them whenever possible. We totally understand that people can have what ever look they want as long as its suitable for thier fish.
|Crowders stock Dennerle plants and swear by the high quality|
We took it slowly with her and guided her through every step and she couldnt be happier and her new aquarium looks lovely and she is a huge Dennerle fan now.
Like I said we wont ever push anyone but might admit theres no greater feeling then having a customers tank be transformed with us seeing every step of the way.
I often see members of Lothian Fishkeepers tanks change over time and grow into amazing aquariums. Its one of the best things about being connected with so many fishkeepers.
What would you say the best thing about owning Crowders is?
From opening our doors on the very first day we have and still enjoy every thing about it. From going fish shopping to cleaning the systems we love it all. Seeing happy customers leaving with their fish or products is amazing . I Must say we are rather proud of how we started and where we have got to today.
Whats round the corner for Crowders then?
Well plans are to expand our shop so we can get more products instore. More fish systems are a must, so we can stock plenty more fish, would love another plant tank so we can stock more plants.
Its great to hear about fish shops expanding. There are so many shops going out of business up and down the country. You must be doing something right! What do you think is the key to running a successful aquatics shop?
Not going to lie this trade is a hard one to be in but we believe that making it a success is down to providing a quality service, quality live stock which is why we hand pick our fish, having quality products on the shelf hence why we are rather fussy with what we stock and of course having good customer service is a big factor. Customers want to feel welcome and not feel that we just want their money.
Yes we are a business to make money but we like to think we provide a service that can help people as well as make sales.
We are trying to expand our sales by offering a postal service on all our dry goods so thats another way of providing good customer service.
We feel we give the best advice we can to our customers regarding fish to stock their aquarium with, plants to put in their aquarium and what products to use and how to use them .
Well, Thank you Caz & Rocky for taking the time to share your story with us. Your journey is definitely a great story and worth sharing with everyone. Good luck with your new plans for the shop and if any of the Lothian Fishkeepers are down in your area, I'm sure they will pop in and say hi.
Sharing fish shop stories is important to me because I believe it strengthens the relationship between the fish keeper and the fish shop keeper. If you own an aquatics store and you have a story worth sharing, get in touch as we would love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading guys, remember to subscribe to the blog for more updates.
bye for now