As you know, from time to time, I like to share with you the view from "the other side of the keyboard"- what it's like to be in "the industry." I do this because so many of you tell me that you're thinking of doing some aquarium-related venture, but your a bit uncertain as to what it's like; what you deal with regularly, etc.
And, I love doing this, because I encourage anyone who has the desire, means, and drive- to go for it!
The hobby needs you!
And I admit, I'm no expert; however, I do have some experience, and I am rather opinionated, and...
Of course, I owe it to you to share some of the "interesting" facets of the aquarium industry that you run into from time to time, and the mindset that you need to endure this stuff...One of my fave things to relate is how you need to sort of have a "thick skin" when sharing your product/company/idea with the aquarium world. It's true in the business AND the hobby, right?
We've discussed this a lot here.
However, someone who is trying to start their own cool hobby-related business asked me to talk about this topic the other day, so I'm happy to oblige!
I have no shortage of personal examples, of course, lol! One, in particular, made for a good "learning tool..."
It's a classic example of what you run into as a business; the sort of dichotomy which exists in the aquarium world, and how we in the industry have an obligation to be honest, yet firm in our convictions as hobbyists and industry people.
I was asked to ship some samples to a hobbyist in another country, to share our offerings with his online community. And he did, of course. And I was quite interested- though not at all surprised- with some of the responses from some of the members of said community...
The usual stuff. We've seen it all before:
"They sell _______?" Really we can pick those up off the ground!
"You have to pay for this stuff?"
"They charge international customers shipping? "
"You can get this stuff in lots of different places..."
I mean, yeah. I don't want to sound too flippant, but- no shit.
Like, this is some grand "expose"...Oh no- we're finished! You've cracked the code! We've been called out- exposed for selling materials that you could probably collect yourself... OMG.
Why is this a revelation?
As one of my own marketing people says, only half-jokingly, "You guys sell lawn trash!"
Well, yeah, sort of! And we do it better than anyone, if I say so, myself...
I've said it probably 3,000 times since I started Tannin Aquatics: We did not "invent" botanicals. We did not invent the idea of using botanical materials in aquariums. We don't have some "exclusive deal with Mother Nature" to be the world's only purveyor of leaves, twigs, seed pods, etc...
There's no real mystery that we try to protect.
Like, we give you the scientific names of the majority of the stuff we sell. We don't use absurd, made-up names to describe this stuff. You can research it. You can likely find some of these items near you. You can collect them "from the backyard" as one "consumer advocate" once zealously asserted.
Yeah, you can.
In fact- we wrote a blog or two on this very topic right here, not long ago. Yet, this often gets overlooked in these armchair advocates zealous to try to "call B.S." on stuff.
It's easy, as an aspiring (or even an experienced) business person to go down the proverbial "rabbit hole", arguing publicly and get all worked up every time you run into a criticism of your business...However, it's not really that productive. Besides, you can get some good information from such criticisms, and learn a few things.
Criticism and skepticism about what you do isn't a bad thing, really.
I find it amusing, predictable, and often...uplifiting!
Amusing, because of the tone in which such "exposes" are made- as if we are trying to "dupe" you somehow. It's sort of funny, really. I mean, in our case, I don't think that we've ever hid the fact that you can find most of these things in the natural world around you...if you're willing to source, collect, test, and prepare stuff. You SHOULD, when you can. We encourage it.
Predictable, because you can just see this coming any time you introduce something a bit different.. it's like so many things in the hobby- self appointed "critics" of the hobby/industry always seem to feel as though they're looking out for the good of the hobby by "exposing" some sort of "injustice" being perpetrated upon the hobby...
These are the same people who undoubtedly beat up on the fish food manufacturers because you can make your own, the LFS because you could collect or breed your own fish, or the vendors who sell aquariums because you CAN build your own.
You COULD also get a ride from a friend, or drive yourself instead of taking uber. You could fly your own plane instead of buying that ticket on United. You COULD make your own coffee instead of going to Starbucks. You CAN make your own hamburger, instead of heading to the McDonald's drive through...
You could do all of that stuff yourself. If you have the time, resources, and desire to do so.
And can you collect Yellow Mangrove leaves in Reykjavik? Or Br Acorn Cups in Singapore?
Umm, well..likely not...However, you can purchase them online, right? From Tannin...
So, as business person, you KNOW that this stuff is coming; just use it as an opportunity to educate the public about why they need your product. Why you offer what you do. How it can help them enjoy the hobby more...Some will get it. Others will not.
There will always be that sort of "trash talk."
Need one more example? I have two words: Bottled water.
Uplifting- because it's nice to know that- even if their "methodology" is a bit undisciplined and unfair- some of these "critics/advocates" really care about the hobby and want to see that hobbyists aren't taken advantage of. That's huge! It's important, and it's great!
Yeah- uplifting! The hobby is in good shape when we protect it!
And you as a business have to really own and understand what you do. And sometimes, it goes beyond just selling stuff... I mean, we sell products, sure.
But the most important thing we "sell" is...convenience.
We offer the ability to have all of these things that you might be able to obtain for yourself- if you want to spend the time, money, and effort curating them from dozens of places around the world all by yourself. If you wanted to vet suppliers, deal with customs, sort through the B.S., etc....
So, yeah, we've been aware from day one that what we offer is not some exclusive thing. The difference is HOW we offer it; what value we add to the metaphorical "lawn trash..."
Criticism comes. You have to get used to it in this business. We are used to it. You should be, too. And you should rejoice in the fact that you have someone's most valuable asset- their attention- to the point where they want to engage on it.
I've seen this behavior so many times over the years since we've started. Now, like any human, I'd be lying if I said it didn't get me just a bit perturbed from time to time. Because, after all, it's a labor of love. It's the only thing I do. However, I've learned over the years not to really let it get to me. And certainly not to let it change the way we do business here.
We don't really need to... Because we're true to ourselves...and the hobby.
Because honesty, transparency and the desire to share information and ideas on the applications of what we sell- to advance the hobby- are the overriding, most important goals here. They're "baked in" to our DNA. Sure, I want to make a living, pay my employees and vendors; operate at a profit- that's what a business does.
However, I don't want to compromise our values and ethos by trying to "take advantage" of hobbyists and customers. What kind of person would do that?
There ARE some businesses out there like that. But they don't last too long.
There is a reason we offer a daily free blog, a podcast, articles in magazines, support club raffles, charities, produce videos, etc. It's why we try like hell to answer every email, DM, request for information.
It's to share what we love. To support the growth of the hobby any way we can. Many of you do this in your personal hobby work...if you do it in your business...you will win. Period. It may take a while, but if you can survive- and keep at it- you'll win.
It separates you from the crowds.
And I offer this little blog up to YOU- fellow aquarium industry vendors, local fish stores, and hobbyists who are contemplating launching your own aquarium-focused business. Some of you face these things often. Maybe you're struggling as a result. Hopefully, not. Many of you deal with these types of things. Some of you never have.
Not yet, anyways...
There will always be critics, skeptics, and mean people. That's how it is. It goes with the territory.
The way you deal with them; the underlying values you have- and the value you bring to your customers are what withstand the test of time. Don't forget that, okay?
I hope the above example and the mindset/philosophy behind it gives you some confidence. Courage. An extra kick in the butt to move forward...or NOT.
If you're getting into the aquarium business, you need to state your position clearly- and present your honest self. You need to be consistent, ethical, and available. Get your voice and message out there often and wherever you can. You'll face lots of critiques- just like the ones we do. It's part of the game. If you aren't up to occasionally facing criticism and questions, you need to reconsider your aspirations.
However, if you're up for the task...and unafraid to be unabashedly YOU...
Move forward, post-haste.
YOU CAN DO IT!
Especially if I can do it, right?
I mean...look at us. We sell "lawn trash!"
And we do it really, really well.
And I'm quite proud of that!
Stay excited. Stay bold. Stay diligent. Stay unabashed. Stay YOU!
And Stay Wet.