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I was reading a really old thread (2004) about the state of our hobby (I'd post a link to it but I cannot find it again) and I was wanting to initiate another discussion of the obstacles facing our little niche in the aquarium world as a whole, and seeing what people think now that some time has passed.

I'll start:
I think that our small corner of the hobby has just started to really make its way into the aquarium hobby as a whole. It has always been there in the past (think victorian-era metal and glass watergardens fueled by the sun) but just in the last few years, it is starting to come into the "light" so to speak. Popular magazines like TFH and that UK one (that I cannot remember) have small but regular articles on plants and planted aquairiums. A wider array of plant-orientated equipment and lighting has become more and more available as well as more and more online retailers popping up to take advantage of this coming trend. Additionally, new plants and new species of fish and invertebrates are showing up on the market and inspiring hobbyists new and old to start or return to the hobby. Increasing trend on online forums like... ahem... are bringing a greater number of people together to talk, share, and trade.

However, the LFS and "Big Box" retailers are still ignorant of this growing trend and leave much to be desired in the way of adequately and consistantly supplied aquarium plants and plant products. The unfortunate plants that are regularly supplied are usually unhealthy, algae-covered, grown emersed, not properly acclimated, and are far to expensive, or worse. To top it off, all of the pet shops that I have been to do not have any plant-educated employees, dedicated display tanks to draw in attention, nor even carry the basic plant necessities such as substrates or fertilizers.

I would like to see LFS and "Big Box" retailers having a greater selection of better plants and a complete line of products as well as having plant educated workers or even comprehensive brochures. Dedicated hobbyist in this forum and others have gone through great lengths to aide anyone in the hobby or coming into the hobby about what plants to grow, how to maintain such aquariums, and how to better create the little worlds that we enjoy. My thanks to them all...

That being said, I put it out to us all to think about the state of our hobby and see what needs to be done, and to come up with ideas to help, or at least vent about frustrations... who knows, maybe someone will come up with a business that caters to these needs in a larger theatre...
 

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The biggest obstacle that I can see is that keeping a healthy planted tank requires far more knowledge. Your average hobbyist gives it a half-hearted effort, fails miserably, and moves on. The average LFS guy doesn't have the necessary experience to provide much help. There just isn't enough financial incentive yet (in the US) for LFS's to educate themselves about the hobby.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I definately agree... how could we solve this problem? Perhaps a beginner friendly "kit" for planted tanks? I'm thinking a bunch of vals, easy crypts, anubias with substrate tabs and liquid co2? What does everyone else think about this or anything else related to this or otherwise?
 

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I can remember making a courtesy visit to the local Salt Water group that was run by an MD and watching a young couple, that came to find out how to set up a tank, get glassy eyed after listening to the very technical chatter that went on. While this Hobby is huge and does not get any respect (kind of like Bowling) absolute understanding of the technology required is not really needed in order to have a nice tank in your home. For those of us that are in deep it is easy to miss the forest for the trees even though the average newcomer is not interested in aggravating details.

Money drives everything and having had the opportunity over the years to visit a lot of shops I can say that the turnover is also huge. Someone in the Hobby starts a store with a great deal of enthusiasm and skill and needs to hire help and sometimes the help needs help. Small businesses are difficult and the advent of the big box type retailer is an interesting development that seems to mainly sell dog food...and fish are an after thought.

Patience is important and as any sucessful Aquarist knows is an important requirement but that is easy to say but more difficult to someone who does not have the knowledge just the wherewithal to plunge in and try to get a tank up and running. The urge to populate a tank with a variety of fish that appeals and have it look great ASAP is very strong. In todays world "I want it now!" is normal and accepted but as we know that is not reality just yet for most of us.

This a new Hobby and the technology is very new and like all new technologies it is in constant flux. What we think we know, right now, may not be so a few years from now. The WEB has created a tremendous force for spreading evidence and knowledge but we do not know if it will last as we know it and bad information can get passed along as well as good not to mention misunderstandings. I can remember a lot of "common wisdoms" that were just plain wrong but were put out by the early writers and simply passed along as if it were proven theory rather than someones best thought or unproven hypothesis.

Patience and thoughtfulness are probably two major attributes this Hobby needs and does not have.
 

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Interesting discussion! I would be very surprised if the big chains and discount big box stores ever got into the planted end with anything other than a handlful of common plants. You can find some ferts, but nothing beyond the basic stuff. There's just too much education involved of the employees to make it worth their while, imo. Other than the '...plants make your tank more beautiful and add to the health of the filsh, blah, blah...' you don't get much more from the employees there.

There is one lfs in this area which has some knowledge of plants and does have a display tank set up. But other than the owners, I'm not sure how much knowledge the minimum wage employees have here.

Let's face it, there's probably more profit involved selling a few plants over and over again to folks who just take them home and watch them slowly die, than there might be in selling plants to someone who knows how to grow them, and then never returns because they can grow them and rarely returns for more. I may be way off base with this statement, if there's any lfs owners/managers out there, I'd love to hear your take on it.

IMO, the profit is in the supply side, more than the plants. Supplies need replenishing, new technologies emerge you want to try, etc.

Forums like this are the main source of information on this hobby, and I think do an excellent job disseminating it out. I remember when I first read about using CO2 for plants, I went into an lfs and asked one of the employees about it. They looked at me like I was talking gibberish. If we all had the time and energy to offer our knowledge to one lfs in our towns, assuming they were willing to accept it, we could further the hobby tremendously.

Enough ramblings from me. :)
 

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Forums like this are the main source of information on this hobby, and I think do an excellent job disseminating it out. I remember when I first read about using CO2 for plants, I went into an lfs and asked one of the employees about it. They looked at me like I was talking gibberish. If we all had the time and energy to offer our knowledge to one lfs in our towns, assuming they were willing to accept it, we could further the hobby tremendously.

I encountered this myself the other day. They looked at me like I had grown horns and an extra eye.
 

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I agree that it would be hugely (is that a word?) beneficial to share knowledge to LFS's if they are open to it. It would help new hobbiests if the LFS's would allow us to put up a flyer for this, and other, planted tank website discussion boards. That way, even if the store selling plants doesn't know how to properly care for them, any person will have info on where to go for help with the plants they just bought.

-Dave
 

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The best help still is available to most by joining a local club or starting one on your own. Best advice I ever got from a big box store was by a sales lady that told me about a local fish store that had nice plants and fish.
 

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COST - If I were to guess I would think that the largest group of aquarium owners are young people. College age and into the 20's and 30's. These people don't have enough money to foot the bill for expensive substrates, lights, plants, fertilizer, etc. I know it can be done much cheaper than it often is, but at the very least you're looking at $300+(if you start from scratch and consider the essentials) Too many people want a little fish tank for 50-$100 for the hobby to explode, imo.


I should add that its likely those who think they want a planted tank with $50-100 to spend, end up buying a few plants, poking them in blue gravel and watching them die. The End...for many...not me:)
 

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Patience is important and as any sucessful Aquarist knows is an important requirement but that is easy to say but more difficult to someone who does not have the knowledge just the wherewithal to plunge in and try to get a tank up and running. The urge to populate a tank with a variety of fish that appeals and have it look great ASAP is very strong. In todays world "I want it now!" is normal and accepted but as we know that is not reality just yet for most of us.....Patience and thoughtfulness are probably two major attributes this Hobby needs and does not have.
I agree 100%. Most people who walk into the "big box" stores looking for their first aquarium haven't done any research at all, they just want some pretty fish and a couple of plants. I think the main obstacle is that they treat the aquarium like a decoration, not a mini-ecosystem. When the bog plants die they call it quits and just stick to fish. Another obstacle is that they are not willing to do any research to find out how to keep plants alive. There really are plenty of beginner books out there and with today's technology you don't even have to leave the house, Google is an amazing tool and APC is about guaranteed to pop up. Beginner tutorials and simple setup procedures are provided and honestly it does not take long at all to understand the basic steps. You won't have a forest, but you will have the basic copse of trees, provided that you care enough about your pets to spend time researching instead of having a decoration just handed to you "NOW!".

Another obstacle is that most aquarium keepers are fish only people. I bet planted people are outnumbered at least 10 to 1, why? Probably because of the reasons people already stated, and because they think that all of the high-tech equipment is needed to even think about succeeding. T8s and dirt grow plants just fine, so do simple name brand ferts. A lot of people jump into hot water when they try to walk the line with high-tech tanks before they get the basics down, and when trouble comes they give up! I have never had a high-tech tank yet, someday I will probably try one. The difference is I KNOW what I don't know! Until I do more research and get the basics of ferts and nutrient deficiencies down, I will have no clue what hit me when trouble strikes:rolleyes:!
 

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COST - If I were to guess I would think that the largest group of aquarium owners are young people. College age and into the 20's and 30's. These people don't have enough money to foot the bill for expensive substrates, lights, plants, fertilizer, etc. I know it can be done much cheaper than it often is, but at the very least you're looking at $300+(if you start from scratch and consider the essentials) Too many people want a little fish tank for 50-$100 for the hobby to explode, imo.

I should add that its likely those who think they want a planted tank with $50-100 to spend, end up buying a few plants, poking them in blue gravel and watching them die. The End...for many...not me:)
That pretty much sums it up from my experience. Everyone gets really excited when they see a picture of my beautiful tank, but the moment they hear about the different things they have to buy to set it up they lose interest.

As far as stores go, I don't think it would kill anyone to sell legitimate aquatic plants because they'd make serious money off people buying ferts and CO2 supplies. More stores should carry Compact Fluorescent Lighting, that's another way to make huge money. I think the main obstacle is just getting the interest out there. If each Petsmart/Petco/Petland/Wal-Mart/etc put up a nice planted tank OR if Disney made a movie about a neon tetra living in the Amazon River, we'd see a huge explosion in the hobby.
 

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Bottom line is no, there isn't a huge profit in it, yes, it is expensive to set up for, and no, it doesn't make for repeat customers.

All of our LFS keep CFL, and many T5, in stock. I buy my fixtures online from places that aren't supporting "sticks and bricks" in their pricing. I buy bulbs only if I'm stuck by a sudden bulb death, otherwise I buy replacement bulbs online, too.

I do (well, did, I use very little nowadays thanks to mineralized soil) the same with ferts, as do most of you.

I go to the source for CO2 tanks, no need to pay a re-application of another profit margin to buy it at the LFS, assuming they even got into it.

We go to niche shops, buy two plants, propogate it out, and then we rob the next 20 customers from the LFS as we sell it inside our club. There is no profit in that.

We say their prices are too high on hardware, and shop it online. We complain about their pricing on plants, and order them online. We complain about their pricing on... oh, you get the point.

They have sticks and bricks to pay for. They'll never compete with online pricing on many of those items. Their job is to be profitable in the end, and there is not a lot of profit in selling to our niche - there is actually more in buying from our niche and selling it to those who will kill the plants and come back for more!

This is essentially saltwater reef (lite?) - the freshwater version; with the caveat being that no one can propogate a coral tank like we can a planted tank - and there obviously isn't money return in coral, either, as the big chains would all stock it if there were!


Even if the make a movie about a neon tetra, I think the "explosion" would be short lived - people will do what they do now; buy a couple plants, kill them, replace it with plastic and move on.
 

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The other issue to consider is one of scale.

There just aren't enough dedicated planted tank hobbyists locallized in many locations to make it worth it to set up shop.

GWAPA, my club, is one of the largest in the country I think. You'd think we'd be a home run, set up a shop in DC or Maryland. I don't see it working. I see how we shop things, I see how we buy things, both as a group and as individuals. I can't see how any shop would be able to support an actual site and sell to us profitably.
 

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While cost definitely plays a factor, I don't think you can lay all on it. Reef tanks are not exactly cheap, and I would guess there are more 'reefers' out there than there are 'planters'. So again, if exposure and knowledge were out there for folks to learn and try, I think the hobby would have a lot of room in which to grow.
 

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My experience, in SW Ohio / Northern KY, PetSmart carries plants, a decent beginner variety, and they have started carrying high tech (and overpriced) lighting. They seem to know the market is there, but not how to serve it.
 

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Well, my opinion is that the planted aquarium people have not yet developed the hobby into a thoroughly scientific process.

A lot has been accomplished but wherever you go you get people complaining about various problems and other people saying “try this.” This is not meant as a criticism of the people who are trying to build planted aquaria or those helping them but this is not how to develop the hobby.

If this hobby were well developed scientifically, there would be formulae for building perfect aquarium. They would be detailed like this:

Equipment List:
1 20 gal tank All-Glass Model 108 or equivalent
1 45 gal/hour canister filter Fluval model 105 or equivalent
20 lbs. substrate Eco complete or equivalent
etc.
etc.

Plant list
12 Corkscrew val.
2 Amazon Swards
etc.

Fish list
5 Cardinal Tetra
2 Axelrod’s cats
etc.


Directions:
Wash down tank with 10 % bleach and rinse thoroughly with tap water
Add substrate sloping so that back is higher than front
Etc.
.......
Set lights for 12 hours on and 12 hours off
Etc.
.......
Add 5 ml of fertilizer solution A every day
Etc.
......
Feed fish 1 pinch of dry food A on Monday morning
Feed fish 1/4 cube of frozen brine shrimp on Monday evening
Etc.
......

The idea is to give ENOUGH DETAIL; so that anyone who follows the formula will succeed. This is the essence of science. Everyone who reproduces your experiment should get the same results.

If you think this is ridiculous, you have to understand that there are people around where I live in the New York City area who have such formulae and they make a pretty good living setting up aquaria in offices and homes that never fail. That is the level of science that the hobby needs.

Now I don’t mean that these formulae aquaria are the right aquarium for everyone. I’d surely like to try different plants and fish but the point is these “standard plans” should give you a 99.9% chance of success and making slight changes should not result in an out of control condition.

The idea is to have a well defined and attainable starting point that people can branch off from. This will give new people two things: a path to success and an estimate of the needed time commitment to the project.
 

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The biggest obstacle that I can see is that keeping a healthy planted tank requires far more knowledge. Your average hobbyist gives it a half-hearted effort, fails miserably, and moves on. The average LFS guy doesn't have the necessary experience to provide much help. There just isn't enough financial incentive yet (in the US) for LFS's to educate themselves about the hobby.
Your average hobbyist gives it a half-hearted effort? I've been at this for 10 months now, I've spent in excess of $3,000, and up to this point it is pointing to a miserable failure. I've purchase and read books, I've participated in forum, I'm put forth MUCH more than a half-heart effort. NO ONE seem to be able to help. I get a thousand different pieces of advice all tugging in different directions and there simply is no clear concise advice or help on the problems we encounter in trying to overcome the problems encountered in the planted tank arena. Remove the plants, ferts, co2 and high light and I can be as successful as Petsmart. This business of planted tanks is tough.....but don't say that we fail because it's a half hearted effort. The ability to get people factual information on how to solve their problems , simply isn't available. It's more of...well you might try this, and if that doesn't work, try this, and if that does work, try this....well I've tried it all and the more I try the worse I get!
 

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What you've described is the ADA system in great detail. Amano and his troupe have been very succesful at marketing their particular line of high-quality goods accompanied by a line of fertilizers and accesories that put people on a trajectory for success. In parts of Asia the "planted aquarium" thing is in full swing. The hobby isn't enormous there, but it's a good sight bigger than here in the US. The average person in Japan has probably seen a nice planted tank often enough to know what it is. The average person here has probably never seen one.

Another difference is that hobbyists in Asia seem to tollerate spending more on their setup. There, it is seen as a legitimate hobby. Here, the average person looks at an aquarium as something to house the critters they won at the county fair or as a container for bait.
 

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Your average hobbyist gives it a half-hearted effort? I've been at this for 10 months now, I've spent in excess of $3,000, and up to this point it is pointing to a miserable failure. I've purchase and read books, I've participated in forum, I'm put forth MUCH more than a half-heart effort. NO ONE seem to be able to help. I get a thousand different pieces of advice all tugging in different directions and there simply is no clear concise advice or help on the problems we encounter in trying to overcome the problems encountered in the planted tank arena. Remove the plants, ferts, co2 and high light and I can be as successful as Petsmart. This business of planted tanks is tough.....but don't say that we fail because it's a half hearted effort. The ability to get people factual information on how to solve their problems , simply isn't available. It's more of...well you might try this, and if that doesn't work, try this, and if that does work, try this....well I've tried it all and the more I try the worse I get!
Maybe you are making this more complicated than it has to be. When I set up a new tank I toss in a half inch of mud, cover it with gravel, stick the plants in, and turn on the lights. The next day I add some fish. In a few weeks I have to start pruning. And I am far from being an "expert."

Have you tried to get help here? Even if you get conflicting advice (which is to be expected because there is no "one way") it should help you to solve your problems.

Good luck!

Bill
 

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I have tried and tried to get the only LFS here into plants. They have one shoddy looking plant tank that everything rots in and they wonder why nobody wants to buy plants. I have even volunteered on my own time to help them set up and maintain a nice planted display tank. They wont do it. Yet they just really upgraded their SW reefs.

They chide me about buying stuff online, yet they never carry the stuff I am looking for. I do try to give them business whenever possible. I even take by trimmings as a gift when I can. I would love it if they would take even a small step towards plants.

Oh, and as a side note for manwithnofish, I know where you are at. I have been there. If there is one failing of online info it is that there are often too many opinions and ways of doing things. When I strugged, I too would often seek advice on the boards (and still do), but sometimes things would conflict. It seems if you can pick a single person whose advice (and tanks) you admire and rely on their help it gets easier. Especially if you can develop a relationship with them. I really respect everyones advice and opinion on the boards. But without naming names, there is one person who is my "go to guy" when things get rough. He has always had good advice and has a similar setup to mine. Trying to follow everyone's advice at the same time, as some will conflict, can be a recipe for disaster.
 
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