Yeah, running an online aquatics business is an interesting way to make a living! As they say, “There’s no business like show business…”
Even with me out there yammering incessantly almost every day, and with Tannin putting out email blasts, social media posts, etc, customers still have questions…And some of them are things you may have wondered, but haven’t gotten around to personally asking. So, at the risk of looking a bit self-serving to my own company in my own blog on my own web page (Yeah, people have actually criticized me for promoting Tannin on our own page! Has the world gone completely nuts?), I thought I’d share some of the more interesting “IFAQS” (infrequently asked questions) that we’ve received over the past couple of years with you. I've saved the best for some strange purpose, like writing an "FAQ" thingy. So...These are real questions- and the answers are legit. And sometimes intense, too!
Okay, here goes:
What’s your FAX number? Our what?
Are you open on weekends? We are open 24/7, 365…online. We do have to sleep, of course...However, with a global community of customers, we try to be more available. It’s not uncommon to receive a reply to you email some weekend at 5:00AM Pacific Time. I'm always with my damn phone, so jumping in on a conversation on Facebook or Instagram is always part of the game!
Do you have botanicals and stuff that aren’t on your website? Well, with all of the botanical items we've experimented with and offered for sale over the years, there are always a few "one-offs" out there, or items that we have a scant few of, which weren't available in large enough quantities to offer regularly, or which proved unpopular, too hard to ship, etc. Yeah, we have played with a lot of stuff over the years, so if you want something that you don’t see on the site, there is always a chance we have some "mystery stuff" floating around. Ask for something in your next "Enigma Pack", and if we have anything cool, we'll include it.
Do you guys sell fish? Ohh...no. Not...yet, anyways...
What is that wood fiber that you use in your packaging? Can I use it in my aquarium? Okay, we get this a lot! It's a common packing material called "Excelsior", made from shredded wood. We use it 'cause it looks cool and it's kind of better than other materials for our purposes. Yeah, it can be a bit messy to unpack at times but it keeps stuff from moving around in the box and breaking better than anything else we've tried. And you'd be surprised how many people ask about using it as a "botanical" or for a "spawning moss alternative!" My answer is that I've never used it for such a purpose...I don't believe it's treated with any thing but still, it's probably not something I'd use in my tanks!
(The infamous wood "fiber.")
Do you sell water? (asked by a guy who lives in Wisconsin. We are in Los Angeles, remember) You mean, like through the internet? Ship blackwater to you? I love my fellow hobbyists. But... Really?
Can I use "Savu Pods" with my fishes? Priceless. And true (November, 2016). This is when you tell yourself, "I just need to do better..."
Do you miss owning a coral livestock business? Oh sure, as much as I miss acne, migraine headaches, doing my taxes, etc. No, seriously, it was amazing, fascinating, challenging, fun. But it was a different sort of market and a different end of the business. And livestock vendors have a lot more to contend with when shipping live animals across the country-or the world. It requires a lot of dedication, skill, and fortitude- like any other part of business- but it's a bit different. Perhaps, one day, we'll do something with livestock...
Off the deep end, for sure..one of our 30 foot long raceways, "back in the day."
"You guys should offer WYSIWYG Leaves." That wasn’t a question. (but a true statement from 2015!)...Now, I'm just crazy enough to do that. Really. Can you imagine photographing 300 different leaves? If anyone would do something that insane, it would be me. But, who would buy them? That's the more important question!
"Do you offer shipping to my country? I don't see it listed." We ship all over the world, as indicated in our website, but we haven't shipped everywhere yet! Some nations have very strict laws governing bringing plant materials in, and others levy ridiculously high taxes on just about any imported items, so we can certainly TRY to ship you your country in it's not yet on your list..It's just that we cannot guarantee it will be trouble-free. And you are responsible for any taxes or other fees that your government charges on your end. Gee, fun.
How long can does it take to ship my order? Well, usually we're obsessive about getting your order out within the day (weekdays). However, sometimes, because of incoming supplies, heavy demand, or the fact that every single botanical item is selected and packed specifically for your order, there can be delays. We generally try to inform you if there are.
Do you substitute in your variety packs? Typically, if we're out of something in your variety pack, say, a "Teardrop Pod" or whatever, we'll substitute with a botanical of similar "configuration" and value. Our first choice is to wait until we receive a re-supply, but this can often hold up an order longer than we'd all like (the joys of a global supply chain...). We will generally inform you if a substitution needs to be made within a pack. If we don't have an "a la carte" item you order, we'll definitely contact you to discuss options if the delay is more than few days...
How do you have time to run Tannin and still travel, do talks, and visit clubs? I'm just amazing, that’s about it. Seriously- it’s just part of the gig, and everyone who has the honor of working in this industry and getting out there to talk at clubs and events and such figures it out. You find the time.
"Do you have "Designer" Wood Pieces?" (asked March 2017) We’re a bit low on Calvin Klein at the moment, but we have some lovely Prada Mopani Wood, and a few Michael Kors Spider Wood pieces... This must have been asked by a (former) reefer.."designer", huh? Well, to be honest, there are all sorts of cool wood varieties out there, and we certainly would like to procure more of them, but the irony we've found is that the more "crazy" wood pieces you have (and that typically is code for "expensive"), the less you see of it. And the longer it sits in our facility. Wood is one of those things that I agree can be tricky to purchase online. We try to stick to a few varieties that we know sell well at a fair price. Stuff you ask for. That one cool 24-inch piece of wood from the Himalyan Mahalangur HImal region probably cost $80 just to ship to us, so we'd have to charge quite a bit for the piece just to cover this cost, right?
Now, trust me, we try hard to procure new stuff. We even get contacted by some new wood vendors out there...However, some of them are, in my opinion, incredibly "flaky!"They'll often contact us, romance us, send us a few samples at cost, and then promptly...disappear, never to be heard from again when we want to order. I had one would-be supplier stall me repeatedly and then simply vanish, because they were "waiting to set up an LLC and needed to hear back from their lawyer and accountant..." I was like, "YOU'RE SELLING FREAKING COLLECTED DRIFTWOOD! NOT AIRPLANE PARTS OR HEART VALVES!" Urgghh! I mean, it would be cool to find more cool wood varieties (I mean it's in our tagline, right?) , and we'll keep searching, but the market is kind of narrow for us to go really big on some really obscure stuff. It's kind of "when we stumble upon something cool..." We will continue to seek out and offer some new stuff, but the reality is that if YOU don't want to buy it, it's probably not something we'll be buying either! Oh, and seriously, remove the term “designer” wood pieces out of your head. Please. Or "designer corals", for that matter Who actually designs them?
Rant over. Don't get me started.
"Do I need to prepare these botanicals before I add them to my aquarium?" Like any online vendor, I try very hard to convey as much information about our stuff and how to utilize it. Preparation is super important, which is why we have an entire section on our website devoted to "aquatic botanical preparation." And we've talked about it repeatedly here on our blog...so dive deep, it's all there! Of course, if you have a question, feel free to ask, but please be aware that we have a lot to refer to already..
Do you wear long pants to work sometimes? Do I WHAT?
I live in the nation of______. When I received the box of botanicals, the customs guys asked for ________ euro (or whatever local currency you use) to get the package! That's too much!" I feel your pain. Really. Hate it. Shipping and taxes and stuff really sucks. But not much we can do about it, really. It bothers us as much as it bothers you...However, we can't be responsible for the taxes and fees that your local government levies on imported items. We advise that repeatedly in our Shipping and Handling section. Please read this section before you order.
How do I find out when you have sales? Sign up for our newsletter on our home page! It will generally be a great tip-off for when we have those famous sales and events!
Can Scott come out and speak at my club event? Whew...Do you REALLY want that? I'm a total risk... I'm likely to go off into a total tangent... If you dare, however, shoot me an email and we can set up a date!
Do you REALLY want this guy speaking to your club?
Do you do "live" sales? Urrghhh. I think we all have a root canal scheduled that day. Or perhaps we need to go to the DMV…Or call the cable company..Or have our taxes done…or…Maybe one day we'll try a "Facebook Live" sale or something, but I'm old and set in my ways, and....yeah.
Did you know that some guy on EBay is selling botanicals using one of your pics? They even have the watermark! No, and thanks for the tip! He’ll be hearing from us real soon. We love to share pics, and take great pride in them. I'm okay with sharing pics of our stuff, really. If you want to use them in a blog or whatever, just ask us first, and we'll likely say yes! But if you’re going to use them to sell stuff that is not ours…without our permission…It won’t be a good day for you. I love competition. I hate- and destroy-"cheaters." ‘Nuff said.
Does Tannin sponsor clubs? You ‘betcha. Shoot us an email and we can see what you need. We've been involved for years in the aquarium club “scene”, and are huge supporters of clubs! They're so important to the hobby!
Your stuff is so cool that it makes me want to do a "box opening video" of it! Awww...thanks! We love your pics and videos! Feel free to forward it to us so we can share it with "Tint Nation!"
Can you get me “_______ ?” I didn’t see it on your web site. We will sure try to source it for you if we can. Just give us a call, and we’ll do our best! It's often fun to try!
What does “WYSIWYG” mean? "What You See Is What You Get"- basically, used for wood or rock pieces...You'll be purchasing the actual piece shown in the pic when indicated.
Do you still enjoy keeping fish tanks? Hmm, YEAHHH!
Can you guys help me scheme out a botanical/blackwater aquarium? Sure, we can. Call us and we can discuss your idea and figure out what you need!
What's next after you launch "Estuary?" You'll just have to wait and see! Besides, we haven't yet LAUNCHED "Estuary" ("Hurry up, already!"). We'll have lots of tweaks and such coming out in the coming months, including a total website "refresh" and some other cool features...a lot going on!
I haven't heard much about the "Igapo Challenge." Is that still happening, or what? Absolutely! There are a lot of moving parts to planning a legit, transparent, "open-source" contest like this (more than I even figured before I shot my mouth off about wanting to do it!), and we want to get it right. In addition to figuring out the format, we need to make the entry process easy, track stuff, and continue to line up some killer prizes! We've already gotten a few cool things together! In the context of our daily work of running Tannin, by necessity, it has to take a back seat to customer care and some of the changes we've been implementing, so it's going to take a bit longer to get it on...Rest assured, we are doing this. Likely mid-summer to early in the Fall. And it will be cool! I promise an update very soon!
"When you guys started out and came on with the "aquatic botanical thing" , it ticked off some people? You know, you didn't invent this stuff! Other people sold leaves for years before Tannin arrived on the scene! And more people are going to come and do what you're doing!" (from a "not-so-nice" email, September 2016) And your point? First off, when did we claim to "invent this stuff?" Please do show me. What we have done is to curate and hopefully "elevate" the art of creating natural, blackwater/botanical-style aquariums and make the materials to accomplish this more readily available, backed up with lots of good free information, customer support, and a talented global community of people interested in these types of aquariums.
Business isn't all fun and games. Competition is real and intense. And if a few people who were "selling leaves" before we arrived are "mad" that we're in business, should I care? And if more people want to jump in, that's capitalism. They better be innovative, not just "adding on" to this sector... And of course, we don't sit still. We have to keep using our game continuously. It's part of the game. There are always entrenched businesses and competition- in any endeavor. And do you think THEY "care" about us? Doubtful. Was anyone hanging out the "welcome mat" for us when we arrived? Don't think so. Did they identify, shape, and support a target market for their business? Create a "brand?" Were they sending free stuff to clubs for months, donating to charities, fostering a community, writing a daily blog that few people initially read- like we did..or were they just selling stuff on eBay? Hmm. Brr...a cold and mean assessment, I know- but hey, that's business. Any serious aquatics (or other) business owner will tell you the same thing. It's not about being arrogant or whatever. It's reality. Not everyone gets it. You have to Innovate, iterate, improve- or wither away and die...or simply be obscure. They have to. We have to. It's hard. But, it's that simple. When you choose to do this for a living, you need to give it 150%. Every day.
Did you plan on coming out with shirts and more logo wear? Yup! We'll have some new stuff coming up. The key has been to find stuff that fits the "vibe", doesn't "cheapen" the brand, and that you actually want to wear! Stay tuned for more!
Do I have to sign for my package when it arrives? Not typically for domestic shipments. We usually do not ship packages with a signature required unless the situation dictates it. International shipments have different requirements, however, and DHL will typically contact you regarding delivery...so please include that phone number!
How do you think of new stuff to write every day? It's not easy, believe me...but not that hard, either...It's weird. I just relax, close my eyes, and write. Much respect for people like Rachel O'Leary , Joey ("The King of DIY"), Dustin of "Dustin's Fishtanks", and others- all who do You Tube videos. THAT requires some serious talent! I admire all of these people for their dedication, hard work, and inspiration that they provide to the hobby. They do it right!
Does the “____________” pod or leaf look like it does in your picture? We think so. Maybe better. We strive for accuracy.
Do you have a favorite botanical? Nah. Really do like ‘em all.
What’s the biggest mistake you made? Not getting into this business decades ago! It's so fun to work with you people! All the "testosterone" of the business part aside, it's a great thing and a wonderful group of people that we are so fortunate to have as customers, fans, and friends.
Okay, I’ve went on long enough… Some of these were a bit intense, I know. But hey, you asked! There are many more questions we receive, of course, because customers keep asking…And we will keep answering. Wouldn’t have it any other way.
Until next time...Have a good one!
Stay engaged. Stay interested. Stay inquisitive...
And Stay Wet.