Today's little rant is dedicated to the many, many dedicated mend and women who work in the aquatics industry at every level..and to the hobbyists and non-hobbyists alike home they serve.
A lot of people wonder what it's like to work in the aquatics industry. Of course, my quick and dirty answer would be, 'It's awesome!"
Now, having partnered in one aquatics company (Unique Corals) and founded another in Tannin Aquatics, as well as working in several other aquatics-related businesses over the years, I can look back and sort of "analyze" the whole thing. Today, I'm fortunate enough to be dealing with engaged, dedicated hobbyists, such as yourself. You "get it."
It wasn't always this way...working in the past years with people who, although they liked fishes, really were not about the hobby. Those of you who work at an LFS understand this right away! You have to make this sort of mental adjustment to the fact that, as a hobbyist, you tend to view things differently, right? It's not as easy as one might think.
As a die-hard aquarium hobbyist, you tend to get a bit jaded- hardened, perhaps, to the foibles of the casual "aquarium keeper." Noticed I said "aquarium keeper"- because not everyone who has an aquarium in his/her home is a hobbyist! In fact, a surprisingly large number of people who keep an aquarium simply enjoy their tank as a display of “kinetic art”, and view it as little more than a piece of furniture- the way you and I might view a chair or table. As a hardcore hobbyist, I remember how it was a bit difficult to accept this point of view, yet the reality is that if you work in the industry, you need to accept the fact that people have all kinds of reasons to have a home aquarium. It's not our job to pass judgement.
It IS our job to offer counsel and guidance, however.
So, does that mean that I now look down on anyone who has an aquarium and is not a hobbyist? Does everyone have to be a multi-tank, live-worms-in-the-freezer fish geek? Of course not! What it does mean is that you and I- the industry professionals and hardcore hobbyists- have a responsibility to let these people know that they are purchasing animals which represent and absolutely precious resource, and that they should really appreciate the wonders of nature that they are now keeping in the comfort of their own home or office. Getting everyday people excited about the hobby, the science, and the art of aquariums is challenging and rewarding. It’s good “PR” for the trade/hobby, too. And that’s a mission we can all take part in!
Sure, like many of you who work in the trade, I've certainly had to bite my lip on a number of occasions over the years, like the time when I managed an aquarium design firm, when a non-hobbyist customer insisted that the stocking plan for their 75 gallon aquarium had to incorporate at least “a dozen of those blue fishes from Finding Nemo” (ie; the Blue or “Hippo” Tang). Arghh. And I remember distinctly at least two or three requests to create saltwater aquariums with some “coral plants” (don't start me...) and get the whole thing fully stocked “before the holiday party”. And sharks. Always sharks...
Now granted, everyone who is a non-hobbyist is not necessarily this ignorant- with more money than common sense, but you do have to temper your responses sometimes. I’ve learned that you can give the customer what he or she wants without having to compromise your personal ethics and sense of responsibility to the animals. Fish are not just “merchandise” to many of us, and we need to let the customer know this. As in so many endeavors, empathy and communication go a long way. Take the time to share your enthusiasm with an aquarium keeper now and then and see where it goes!
Sure, you'll deal with the occasional person who simply won't see things your way, and you'll have to make the moral/business choice about dealing with this person or "letting them go..."
However, on occasion...just often enough- you'll ignite some child-like excitement in a "non-believer" and end up creating a genuine, fully-dedicated, lifelong aquarium hobbyist!
Those of us in the aquarium industry do have a really interesting job: We’re charged with helping people enjoy that which they already love, and educating those who don’t understand about the responsibility that goes along with what they are doing. The benefactors of this work are the animals that we cherish, and the hobby/industry as a whole. If we do our jobs well, we can help preach the twin merits of responsibility and appreciation for the wonders of nature in a very subtle, non-preachy manner. The many vendors, local fish store employees, and industry people you might know are doing this every day.
I can think of a lot more mundane and less enjoyable ways to earn a living!
And, you’d think that dealing with this kind of stuff every day would burn you out after a time. I don’t know about that! I actually think that my involvement in the industry has given me an even greater urge to lead by example, to practice the hobby at a level that helps inspire others, pushes the envelope, and advances the sate of the art.
That's what lead to the founding of Tannin Aquatics. And it will lead to the establishment of many other interesting and dynamic aquarium-related businesses by dedicated fish people worldwide.
To my fellow industry people, I congratulate you for doing what you already do so well, and I challenge you to continue to push yourselves even harder to excite those who we serve. To the dedicated hobbyists out there, you know the mission already. In a very tangible way, we can all help nurture the hobby onto a path that will benefit both the animals and the trade for decades to come.
So, to those of you who are already in this industry- and to those of you yet to take the plunge...
Stay bold. Stay innovative. Stay compassionate.
And Stay Wet.