The "artisanal" quality of staying focused

Do you ever hear that expression about time flying when you're having fun? 

Yeah, that's been me...Hard to believe that in August it will be a year since Tannin began operations.We've had so much happen; building a concept, awareness, and a following. It's pretty crazy and satisfying. Seems like now day goes by when we don't have some new opportunity or idea staring us in the face.

I was talking with a friend about our business the other day, in particular how we planned to "scale" Tannin as it evolves, and I had to reflect for a moment. Earlier in the year, I sold my ownership interest in my other aquatics industry company, Unique Corals. We started out three years before with an idea and a mission- to import, propagate, and market sustainably sourced corals and other marine livestock the retail consumer. We built it up with a singular focus on quality and service, and an almost militant "manifesto" about sustainability.

And we accomplished that. Unique became a real powerhouse in the reef aquarium world. A destination for reef enthusiasts from all over the world. All of the 'big names" in the hobby were devoted UC fans and customers. People excitedly dropped in to visit when they were in Los Angeles. We were featured in aquatic media worldwide. We built out a 6,000 square foot, more-or-less "state-of-the-art" facility to grow corals, and had a staff of 7 great people. It was a busy, productive, fast-paced, trendy, and "big" environment. We developed a robust wholesale market and helped launch some cool speciality products as well. In short, it was quite the success. And very different from what we do at Tannin.

When I parted ways to focus on my "hyper-niche" with Tannin, I realized that this would be different than my Unique Corals experience. With Tannin, we're dealing with a very tightly targeted concept, aesthetic, and "product line"- which right away limits the market somewhat. We launched with an extreme focus on educating people wrote the idea of "aquatic botanicals", more natural setups, blackwater aquariums, and creating a "one-stop-shop" for aquatic enthusiasts integrated in this different aesthetic and "methodology", if you will, that we were proffering.

I knew that it would take a long time to position ourselves in the market (hell, we were creating one from scratch!), find customers, and win acceptance from the much larger, much more established freshwater community. I was what would be considered a "rock star" in the reef world, speaking at club and conferences worldwide. My name had a lot of credibility that I could draw upon for our business. It was cool. In the freshwater world, I'm a complete unknown; a wildcard, an outsider...Some guy that came in slinging leaves, seed pods, an opinionated blog, and an affection for brown water, detritus, and biofilm!

To my surprise, we gained some fans immediately. Aquarists, who, perhaps like yourself, were looking for something a little different; a bit more "natural" than what is commonplace. Aquarists who dabbled in the same stuff we do, and were hungry for an accessible source for materials, ideas, and inspiration to play with. Happily, we found each other, and the growth has been mutual.


We're slowly and organically building up a strong, friendly community of people with all sorts of creative ideas. A place where we discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly about using our own products! A place to belong. We've learned from each other, and you can almost feel the rumblings of a...movement. What we half-jokingly call the "New Botanical" style aquarium is slowly gaining some traction among adventurous hobbyists. And it's not just "blackwater" fans. It's fish breeders, Apisto lovers, Betta breeders, Frog and vivarium fans, Shrimp enthusiasts...

Back to the whole idea of "scaling" Tannin- it sort of goes without saying that we'll always be a niche marketer. Sorry, Petco. Let's face it, not everyone likes brown water, decaying leaves, and seed pods all over the bottom of their tank. Some think it's crazy, ugly, sloppy. Good. They don't get it. Don't want to get it, and are not who we are trying to reach. A fact. trying to please everyone ultimately means you'll please no one.

We're asked a lot if we'll carry more dry goods like __________. The short answer is that  I don't ever want to be like those "big guys" or "mass market" aquarium supply companies, offering every conceivable aquarium product. Rather, we'll carry dry goods and such that fit the needs of our customers. Some might be the same stuff you see elsewhere, but they are hear because they fit the need of our customers.

We're not intended to be the place you go to find that part for your old canister filter, or a bottle of dechlorinator. You can get that stuff inexpensively from a lot of places- and you should. Rather, we're the place you go for products that can help you create that cool Amazonian Igarape aquarium, or Southeast Asian Betta biotope you're scheming in your head.

Our botanicals are individually hand-picked to order. Every specimen is evaluated before we place it in the package, with the same level of scrutiny that we'd give it if we were using it in our own aquarium. It's slow, tedious process, and fraught with what a lot of business people would call "inefficiencies." Yes. But it's the only way to do this. We've been asked about wholesale, and all sorts of other distribution, and it's tempting, interesting to jump at every opportunity. But it's not the right way for us at this juncture. 

You can buy a cup of coffee from the big chain place on every street corner in the city and get a decent cup of coffee and a predictable experience. Or, you can go into that small, independent, neighborhood coffeehouse, pay about the same, and have a better, more individualized experience, savor the vibe, the passion, and the "craft" of the coffee. The same basic commodity- with two considerably different customer experiences. 

Tannin products are unique, just like the people who use them. They help create experiences, aesthetics, and bring ideas to life. We are hear to take the time to answer questions, work with you at picking the right stuff for your concept aquarium. We get what you're looking for. We're interested and engaged. We're refining, tweaking, enhancing. You are the center of what we do, and we can't create that type of personalized experience if we become a big, scaled-up warehouse-style operation.

 It's more akin to an "artisanal" process than anything else.

Even if it means growing more slowly, limiting the amount of stuff we offer, and the way we offer it, that's okay. What we are trying to offer you here is more than just some cool stuff for your next aquarium project. We're trying to offer you an experience, support, inspiration, a place A canvass for you to express yourself creatively in the aquatic world.

And we can't do that be being an all-encompassing, cater-to-every-need business. 

We do it by focusing on the ideas we've conceived, the processes involved, and most important- YOU- our valued customers and fans. You're at the center of everything we do here, and we're always open to suggestions. As busy as we might be, we're never to busy to kick around some fun ideas with a fellow hobbyist.

And you just can't "scale" that up!

Until next time. 

Stay creative. Stay focused. Stay engaged.

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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