Is it really possible? The rush of the Holidays is over...A new year is upon us. I was just getting used to writing "2019" on stuff, and here we go...It's 2020!- time for our sort of "State of The Tint" report for you!
Okay, it may turn into a "mini-rant" here and there, but I hope it updates you on some stuff; get's you fired up for 2020!
With a new year comes new opportunities, new ideas, and a new focus. All of that cliche stuff! And as we move into this new year, my mind is constantly awash with new and admittedly "weird" ideas for unusual aquariums. Not just for the sake of "being different", mind you- rather, in an attempt to replicate unusual and perhaps under appreciated features that you see in the wild aquatic habitats of the world.
There is so much interesting stuff out there to study and replicate in our aquairums. Not just to "diorama it up" to win a biotope aquarium contest; no- but to replicate the form and function of these unique habitats. To understand why they formed, how they "operate", and what set of unique characteristics they possess which makes them home to our beloved fishes.
Yeah, that's where we are headed in 2020, for sure.
I feel like I have a "duty" to expose the aquarium world to these unusual aspects of Nature, because they just might lead to some "unlocks" about aspects of the aquatic world that will create beneficial outcomes for our captive fishes, too. Not just because they're weird. In fact, not all of these things are "weird." Some are simply ideas that have not been "played out" in the confines of an aquarium, for whatever reason.
These ideas are often overlooked.
These ideas are cool.
Cool, because they force us to look at Nature in a different way. Cool- because they make us consider not only the "appearance", but the (wait for it...) function of these features. Some may be really hard to replicate in the confines of the aquarium. Others may ultimately turn out simply be not all that exciting; perhaps more trouble than they're worth, although I doubt it.
I think most of these ideas will yield interesting insights into Nature, while pushing us along in the evolution of aquarium keeping. It's time to breath life into such ideas. To encourage the hobby to push the boundaries back a bit further. Actually, a lot further.
And sure, because it's cool. 😎
Literally, our mantra in 2020, as articulated to my team is, "Do cool shit."
And that's kind of what we're gonna do.
As the world turns a more interested eye towards the idea of tanks with water in them that's not "crystal clear, blue-white", we at Tannin have an obligation to share some new ideas, to keep pushing the boundary forward. We can't just be content to "popularize" the idea of botanicals, blackwater and brackish aquariums.
So, yeah- we'll push out further.
In 2020, we'll see more representations of unusual "niche" habitats, like vernal pools, flooded rice paddies, blackwater mangrove thickets, muddy streams, etc. We'll see more tangles of roots, tree stumps, sediment-encrusted branches, and all sorts of stuff that we see in various natural habitats. More unusual brackish water stuff is coming...maybe even some marine aquarium work, as we take our "natural" case to the other side of the fence!
Detritus. Bits and pieces of decomposing botanical materials. Mixes of sand, sediments, and leaves, aquatic plants, bark, etc. Oh, and we will likely see more work with rock, too. I'm more and more fascinated about rocky, sediment-and-leaf-strewn habitats- how they form, what influences their water chemistry, and what fishes reside there.
2020 might just be remembered as "The Year of The Substrate", as we introduce long-awaited new substrate additives and mixes, to help you create some of the most interesting "functionally aesthetic" substrates possible! We've been working with our global suppliers to source and create some unusual botanical materials to create fantastic interpretations of Nature- stuff that I'm 100% certain you won't be able to find anywhere else.
I can't stress enough how important I feel that the aquarium version of "active substrates" (borrowing from our herp friends!) may be to aquairums. It's an area of the hobby which I think there will be far more interesting lessons to learn, and things to accomplish than you might think!
You might see some custom-designed gear for the first time, and a few items that will make creating blackwater conditions a bit easier for those who want to breed fishes, etc.
And of course, we will see some cool artistic interpretations of botanical-influenced habitats; ideas that will no doubt inspire other aquarists to put a little "art" into the functional aesthetic game.
The "talent pool" out there is amazing right now!
And as for the customer experience at Tannin?
Well, we're going to double down on what made us what we are: Attention to you, the individual customer, as much as possible. The success of our customized products, like the "Enigma Pack", has proven exactly how important this approach is to you. We'll keep working on this kind of stuff. We'll be improving our website, our packaging, our touch points at all levels, to ensure that you have the best possible experiences with us!
One significant thing is that I've decided that we're NOT going to be a product in every fish store in the country. We are not going to "commoditize" botanicals. It's not what I ever intended to do with Tannin, and it's not how we can serve hobbyists the best. I have given this a ton of thought, because we're asked so often about it.
The reality is that it's simply not who we are.
Sure, you will see some stuff at a few carefully vetted retailers here and there-perhaps even some customized things...but that's it. Oh, and of course, from our official British supplier, Blackwater UK. However, the thought of just packaging up our whole line of stuff and having it sit on shelves amongst the cans of fish food or activated carbon is more than I could handle! Mass-producing what was always intended to be a carefully-curated collection of materials for hobbyists just goes against what I believe in.
So, yeah, we likely won't be at your LFS anytime soon. NOT because these aren't important businesses. I love the LFS. You've read and heard about me extolling its virtues. It's just that I can serve every single one in a way I could be proud of. In the end, it because we realize how we want to run our company; what our values are.
I have an obsession with dealing with the consumer directly, and not becoming a fulfillment house or the "Amazon of Botanicals." While fast shipping is important, and we have always tried to ship your orders as quickly as possible, we're not going to place speed over quality.
Our many loyal customers- YOU- know this, and appreciate this.
It's a "fact of life" when dealing with hand-curated products like we offer- the process is inefficient. It's not some clinical, not hyper-optimized, automated warehouse process. The idea of just grabbing your botanicals, dumping them into a bag and shipping them out 5 hours our less a soulless, spirit-crushing thing for us. It lacks the passion- the commitment to the hobby and craft- and the love. Remember, it's our hobby, too.
Being "generic" for the sake of "efficiency" or "larger market share" or whatever, sucks. We haven't done it that way in the past, and we won't do it that way in the future.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: We kind of think of Tannin as you would a "small-batch" coffee roaster, craft beer brewer, or some other artisanal-type business. Every time we've succumbed to the temptation to make it some big, "manufacturer-leveI", mass-market aquarium brand, it felt...well- shitty. Huge wholesale orders, generic boxes of botanicals. It wasn't worth it.
It was awful. It's not who we are. And embarking on a mass-market approach will simply result in Tannin being the exact opposite of what we are loved for.
Earlier in the year, we looked into some fancy, mass-market-appropriate packaging...Although it looked amazing, in the end, it wasn't quite where we wanted to go. We're going to start over with a more unique packaging approach that fits our vibe and our aesthetic/ethos. We realize who we are, who we want to be-and we'll continue to stay true to it. You can be General Motors, cranking out hundreds of thousands of vehicles annually, or you can be Ferrari, making a handful of handmade, ultra-cool cars each year.
We'd rather be Ferrari.
I don't need to make Tannin a $20 million company. I need to make it a cool company. A trustworthy company. A friendly company. A brand. A source for unusual stuff, backed up by one-on-one service whenever possible, and with information that you won't find anywhere else. Cool.
You can't scale "cool" like we want to by just trying to be huge and be everywhere at once.
Now, one exciting thing that you WILL See is more work with Public Aquariums. We have been vetted by and began working with some of the best-known public aquariums in the world, and we will continue to do more of that. It's very much inline with our values, and educating and sharing the botanical aquarium "movement."
More to come on this!
Some of you have asked if we'll carry______, "like everyone else does", or if we will match "the other guy's prices" or whatever... Now, as you've probably figured out by now, we typically don't carry items "just because everyone is doing it." And no, we don't "price match" or worry about what every other aquatics company charges, because we do things a certain way that we feel makes sense to our customers- and is true to who WE are, and what makes economic sense for us.
A lot of you will contact us now and then after having come across another vendor offering botanicals. I appreciate such "tips" from you; we love the caring. Now, the reality is that I simply can't worry about every vendor out there who offers leaves and seed pods, or some fancy varieties of wood that we don't have. We just do what makes sense for our crowd. Not everyone likes us. And that's fine. Because of some unique circumstances, we can do things that many others simply cannot sustain, and we'll keep doing things that way!
I know some of you like to hear about some of the the "inside stories" of running Tannin- so here ya' go: As you might imagine, there are a few things I can't stand. Yep. One thing I don't like is when people try to rip off our style, images, content, etc. I hate "cheaters" in anything. We've seen a few attempts at this over the years- particularly recently. People who I've helped out as hobbyists, even hooked up with free stuff for their hobby work, or to do "product reviews" or whatever, only to see them rapidly announce themselves as "vendors" and attempt to copy us as closely as they can.
Yeah, sucks, right?
Those sorts of things alternatively amuse me and anger me. I mean, hey- I inspired you! Cool. But man, can't you put your own unique spin on things? Can't YOU do a daily blog, support clubs, charities, get vetted to supply public aquairums, etc? Or, do you just sell stuff? I mean, good for you- do what you can...but please don't use our name to try to leverage your "marketing" opportunities, or tell people you're "...just like Tannin Aquatics" or whatever.
'Cause you're not. 😆
In the end, they simply push us to do better.
And judging from our growth, it seems like you appreciate that effort!
Oh, where were we...?
We offer, and will continue to offer- free shipping on domestic orders, despite the dramatic pricing increases that shippers (USPS, Fed Ex, UPS) have announced. Shipping is a HUGE expense for us, like it is for many online vendors, but we'll hold firm. Free domestic shipping is important to us- as it is for you. It's a great way to provide value for you. And, since you ask: I wish we could do the same internationally- I really do- but it would be financially unfeasible to do so. We'll continue to charge international customers a flat-rate price that is as inexpensive as reasonably possible, and work with our shippers to keep costs down.
We'll contuse to write this blog daily, and produce "The Tint" podcast, too. And we will work on that YouTube presence this year! And look for more exciting work with key hobby personalities, aquarium clubs, public aquariums, educational institutions, and conservation groups.
Lots of exciting stuff!
So, yeah- there's a little update, heart-to-heart chat, and preview of 2020.
We thank you so much for your support, friendship, and interest. We simply could not have accomplished all that we have so far without you- our global community of highly talented, engaged fellow hobbyists. The lines of communication are always open. We enjoy hearing from you, so feel free to reach out whenever you want.
Remember: The future is not just bright. It's tinted!
Stay genuine, Stay honest. Stay bold. Stay excited. Stay creative...
And Stay Wet.