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Where do you think this hobby is going?

3056 Views 15 Replies 14 Participants Last post by  gnatster
Jeff's post got my thinking,

Anything we want done we are going to have to do ourselves initially- get it going, build a scene, generate interest on the right levels- all of this takes time- and I am working on it!

I've always had the dream to open a little aquarium shop that would deal with high end aquarium products. It would have three big show tanks, like what you would see at ADA HQ. Those tanks would look great enough, that anyone that saw them would get infected, and just have to figure out how to accomplish the same effect.

I wonder if our hobby has any chance of growing in the US. The tanks that I like, take a lot of money and effort. The INTERNET has helped the hobby by getting out the information to succeed with planted tanks. But do you think we could ever be competitive with the reef niche? Where do you think this hobby is going?
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Well can see how well the plant stores are doing in the Bay area. Then you can try a larger one like the BAC in Baltimore.

It's a tough business and labor of love.
The Photo's/mainteanace approaches are perhaps better in many respects.

The more folks have exmaples of nice tanks, the better this hobby will become. The more teachers will be around to help others, the more accepted the reality of it being possible.

Tom Barr
From what I've seen over the last year, it would seem to be growing. Look at the way this & other forum's subscribership has increased. Look at the increased #s in aquascaping competitions recently.

I hope you achieve your dream. There is no reason why it is not possible.

We're dealing with a very different culture in the United States from, say, Japan, Taiwan and China. In those places, art and nature are viewed in different ways and there are long traditions of nature presented in various art forms, including gardening and painting.

The "dumb it down" TV-effect prevalent here is not helpful.

Examples of planted aquaria in public places help. Unfortunately, very few of the botanic gardens in the USA have examples of aquarium gardens or nature aquariums with a focus on plants.

With regard to making quality items available, it can be done. You did it with the custom glass filter intake and outflow pipes.

Reading Takashi Amano's first (possibly the best) book should remind us that he had to work for a long time to attract attention to the art. It takes persistence.

You should try and get the time to travel to Japan and take a personal closer look. That is easier to do from the West Coast.

Andrew Cribb
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I have worked and lived in the aquarium hobby / industry my whole life .No time for a bio now .I am confident the planted aquarium will be the next reef tank . ADG is the host for the local reef society meetings . I like to think we have some nice reef displays but the majority of interest is the planted aquariums on display,especially the ADA set up .many of the members have started planted aquariums and even paludariums . I have several DIY clients that look to us for there installations that have had reef tanks and they are converting to planted aquariums . Aquarium stores must wake up and educate themselves on marketing the planted aquarium . This is ultimately the problem with the "hobby" . There are some stores that are doing this but they are few .This is how the American market is gauged and why we are"behind "other countries such as Europe and Asia . Independent store owners for the most part have not focused on planted aquariums . Why ? because it is challenging .It is much less challenging to have brilliant colored Marine life and create the WOW factor and get the consumer hooked on the reef bug . I am extremely confident the "hobby" / industry is moving toward the planted aquarium . The planted aquarium has blossomed in recent years thanks to the APC and the AGA . I and my brother are fortunate to make a living in the custom aquarium business . We both feel a commitment to the "hobby". We host all the local club meetings here at ADG .This is hopefully to help educate the hobbyist and if things go as planned they are hooked on planted aquariums. We do allot of work for the Houston school district to donate aquariums and volunteer for after school science programs .You never know when you can inspire a young person to embrace a hobby or career . If the person who has a voice in the decision process for the school district had his way ,all the aquariums we do for them would be planted aquariums .Thats cool.It is the passion for this hobby that will keep the hobby and the industry progressing .I am confident that is occurring.
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It sounds like you guys at ADG are really benefitting your local planted aquarium community.

When it comes to the lack of good LFS in a lot of areas of the country I have to wonder if it has less to do with interest in the hobby here in the US, and more to do with the recent american advent of the big box store. In my town in the late 80's and early 90's there were a total of 8 small locally owned, good quality fish stores, with good plant selections, for a town of 36,000. Now, with a population of over 80,000 in the area, we have two big box pet stores and 2 local fish store's. There is plenty of interest in the area, but the little guy is having loads of trouble competting with the big box. I think there is deffinately a niche that the LFS can fill even with the big box's around, but I think it takes a lot of work.

Anyway, my two cent's
What I think the key is to perpetuating the growth of this hobby in the US is exposure. Most people haven't even seen a picture of a planted tank, much less one of them in person. I've cracked open Amano's books for people for whom aquarium=smelly, dirty cesspool in which fish just die, and their reactions are always positive.

What this comes to next is the fact that most LFSs (the only real source of your average American's fish hobby exposure) don't display in any capacity the potential for planted tanks. They would rather use up their display slots on reefs and african cichlids--things that in truth rake in far more money than a planted tank ever would (especially with the absence of ADA products).

I know that display tanks work. A while ago, I worked for a ma & pa LFS, and I finally convinced the owner to let me convert a 40 gallon long into a planted tank. It was a simple setup--soil under gravel and 2 or 3 wpg in the Walstad style. I grew a carpet of chain sword and a wall of Vallisneria, and a thicket of stem plants on either side. Add a group of adult Boseman's rainbowfish and a school of rasboras, and bingo, it was done, at minimal cost to the store (the fish were mine, and I didn't change the water).

Over the next five months of my employment I sold more plants and informed more people about planted tanks than the store as a whole had done over the last year. I *KNOW* some people who were not interested before are interested now, and that's what I took pride in.

When I was later forced to quit (long story), none of the employees knew how to care for the tank and it soon went kaput. On my last visit it was housing some very sick-looking stingrays.

My point is that it's going to take some grassroots initiative on our parts to get this show on the road, so to speak. We need examples and pictures in ever LFS from Maine to California, and I guarantee you that this hobby will take off.
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I see where that 'discussion' thread has been removed. I must say it had gotten ugly.

You make a good point KMurphy. Where I live, we now have 3 chain pet stores which have opened up in the last 5 years, where there were none before. One lfs closed up shop in November saying she couldn't compete with them anymore. One of the 2 remaining, one actually has a couple of planted display tanks, but they are all low lights basic set-ups. So basically, noone is showing beautiful planted display tanks.

When we have company, I always get comments/compliments on how my tanks are looking. Too many people have the 'goldfish in a bowl' syndrome. Namely, that's what they think of when they think of aquariums.

I've kept aquariums for more years than I want to remember, but planted tanks had always just been an unreachable goal until I discovered the web about 3 years ago. Noone at an lfs could ever give me any sound advice on how to grow healthy plants.

From a cultural point of view, I'd say that Asian culture has always had a penchant for making beautiful small places. Look at Zen gardens, little rock gardens, etc. In the US, we have the Texas large ranch mentality. I don't know that this hobby of ours will ever become what it appears to be overseas, but I feel it has grown tremendously in the last few years. And forums like APC are a major reason why.

IUnknown, follow that dream. There will always be a market for high end, you just have to work harder to set it up.
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Another problem we face here in the US, the reason we can't get plants from places like Tropica, is that the US is pretty cautious about what kinds of plants it allows into the states, and how imported plants are packaged. For example, importers are only allowed to ship bare root plants into the states, this means that the little spongy material packed around the roots of Tropica plants won't fly.

Working for my state deptartment of Agriculture, and knowing what unwanted invaders can do to both the native ecosystem, and the agricultural community, I understand the reason for this.

I guess were I am going with this is, that if the hobby is really going to take off here in the US, it would probably help to have a US based aquatic plant nusery, like Tropica, that could offer virtually any aquatic plant for sale. And from my experience it just doesn't exits yet. If it does, please tell me were it is.
This question is asked every year, it seems. The hobby in this country has progressed so much since I first entered it about five years ago (just five!). We learned that we needed to dose nitrates, then the revolutionary idea to add phosphate to a planted aquarium. I feel that the US hobby is now very proficient on water column fertilization. A lot of companies followed this trend, such as Seachem and Kent Botanica which are not offering macronutrients instead of advertising on the bottle the _lack_ of PO4 and NO3 as a good thing.

The AGA contest has progressed in quality and quantity by leaps and bounds. Ever year, the ADA contest grows by about 100-200 entries. Every year, about a dozen new plants of various kinds gets introduced into the hobby -- we're adding more plant species to the aquarium hobby now than ever before.

Clubs and forums are springing up everywhere. Just in the past two months, one in Houston, one in New England, and one in South Florida have sprung up... that's about a 30% increase in the number of clubs in the entire United States. It's really exciting that as we get more interconnected locally, we are also becoming more interconnected with those out of state or even out of the country more than ever.

And now ADA is returning into the country, and may perhaps be a success! To me, this is a big sign that the hobby is growing -- there are enough hobbyists wanting higher end equipment to actually support such a business, if still on a minimal scale.

Everything points toward a steadily growing hobby.

Forming your own club, helping on a forum, opening a store with plenty of planted aquarium supplies, having display tanks in high profile places... these are just a few pro-active ways to get people interested.

In my dorms, everyone is always amazed at the photography and aquaria in the Aquajournals and Nature Aquarium World. However, they are afraid to start because they just don't know how to take care it or make it look that way... this has been an observation.

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The problem I see with the hobby is a lack of time. Most of my friends love my tanks, but the few who try their own can't devote steady blocks of time to them. I tell them to call any time for advise, but the tanks deteriorate over time and if I get a call it is too late to turn it around. I was thinking a tank maintenance/ small size high end fish & plant store might work. A commitment from commercial display tanks (doctors offices,bars? etc.) might be limited, and I am unsure that private parties would either pay for or allow work on tanks to be done in the home. The other option is a strictly mail-order company, which could expose you to more sales, but could be limiting in delicate species, and weather concerns impacting shipping. I guess a plus with mail order is that you don't need great people skills if you can type politely. The fish stores in and around Philly seem to cater to the feeder fish/ south American cichlid, and African cichlid crowds pretty well. The best stores for plants still suffer from inadequate holding tanks, so there is a steady decline in quality from initial stocking.My guess is that the hobby will continue to grow, but will never replace the reef/salt water portion as the accepted high end niche.
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The internet comunity has grown in the last few years. More forums have grown, and yes more clubs have formed, but this is all driven by the internet and is still a very small market. The hobby itself is not going to grow substantially until it grows in the retail pet trade, and it is growing much more slowly there than on the internet.

Magazines and books widen the scope of our hobby more than anything else. It is what brings people to search on the internet for more information. Amanos' books continue to inspire people to the hobby. Just last week I got a call from someone who told me he just happened to run into one of Amano's books at a library that blew him away and inspired him to get into the hobby for the first time. When Karen Randall had a column for all those years it drew people to the hobby. At any time when TFH magazine has featured photo spreads of Amano or had feature articles on planted aquaria, there has been an upsurge in online plant sales.

The AGA only has 800 and some odd worldwide members. Thats only about half as many members of this forum, and less than a third the membership of my forum. The largest reef tank forums have more members than all the plant forums on the internet put together! If the leading hobbyists, AGA and club members want to significantly help our hobby to grow, then they should think outside the box and think of ways to promote the hobby to the general public. Having close knit buddy clubs is a nice experience for those involved, but does not nessasarily reach out to the public.

I know a lot of "hobbyists" do not like the sales and marketing aspects of the hobby, but that is what drives any's commercial appeal. Think of it as public relations if that is a term you are more comfortable with.
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I've only been in the hobby for a little over half a year and already have a sense that it is growing. I think the visceral appeal of actually seeing my first well-done planted tank is what hooked me. In order for its appeal to spread, our hobby needs to, as Robert stated, be properly marketed. Planted tanks need to be placed in locations where they can be seen by non-hobbyists and attract attention. So many people I know are not even aware that our hobby exists, and I see exposure as the best way to grow it. I liken seeing my first planted tank to the first time I saw a truly impressive reef tank. I think planted tanks and reef tanks appeal to the same creative instinct. Taking the success of the reef tank community as an example to build from would not be a bad idea.
I my humble opinion the growth of planted tanks has grown considerably over the years due to many factors, the amano influence through his books made aquarists think they could create something more in their tanks, the internet gave people the chance to learn alot more about growing plants successfully, both created the demand for stores to stock more plant related equipment. However for the hobby to grow further there needs a better information flow to potential new aquarists, can you imagine someone with no experience walking in to a shop buying all this equipment and plants for a aquarium it's either going to get packed away/sold or a very steep learning curve, it needs to more realistic or easier for them. The hobby has changed i mean i remember having tanks 15-20 years ago with no plants at all in them and the shops may have had one tank of plants, now i can go to a store with 20-30 plant tanks and find all sorts of interesting bits and peices, the hobby is changing, not as fast as some would like, but look how much its changed and you'd be surprised. Sorry for the rant i do that sometimes.
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My guess is that the hobby will continue to grow, but will never replace the reef/salt water portion as the accepted high end niche.
And I guess thats is because you can dump a lot of money into reef tanks but not have to put the work into it? I don't know much about reef tanks, but from my understanding, their appeal is the low maintenance? You use equipment to keep the water clean rather than having to do water changes, and you rarely have to prune corals. I just don't think the general population is willing to prune and do water changes every week. Maybe I haven't found the right balance in my own tanks, I'm working harder than I should be. I guess we need more success stories so that people can emulate the results.
I keep seeing comparisons of Planted vs Reef and how do we get the traction they have. It is said to be careful what you wish for, as it may come true.

I started my first reef way back in the dark ages of the late 80's. The Internet was only gleam in Al Gore's eye at that time and reef keeping was in the dark, literaly. MH lighting was just being experimented with and it was mostly HPS from indoor plant crowd, wet dry filters were the rage and Albert Theil had just published The Marine Fish and Invert Reef Aquarium. IF you could find any products at the time they were usually German made and very expensive. Livestock was expensive, hard to find and quality was horrid by todays standards. Theil effectively paved the way for the hobby to grow. The Internet was a boon. Mail lists sprung up, flame wars came and went, News groups were started and soon flamed themselves out too. A few vendors listed products on-line and few folks started subscription based sites or newsletters. The bug caught on, more and more books were published, more products were on the market, much of it considered junk by todays standard and some local clubs were started. Fast forward a scant 15 years and you can see how reefs dominate the market of high end aquaria. There are a few very good free websites and some serious research. You can now take on-line classes on advanced reef keeping topics lead by some very respected people in both the industry and the science community.

Where does all this fit in the Planted scheme?

I'm starting to see some of the same growing pains. To me, seeing how information is becoming segregated to only those with the ability to pay reminds me of the early years of reef keeping where if you spent to much on other stuff and could not dig up another 20 for a Theil, Sprung or Moe book you were pretty much left out in the cold. Now if you don't pony up for BarrReport or WetThumb or TAG you will miss the insights of some of the most acclaimed people writing today. SO now to stay "in the loop" you not only need to subscribe to one, but to at least 3 different media. The forums such as APC or PT still hold a wealth of knowledge but you are seeing fewer and fewer posts by principles that at one time would spread info like manna. Now it's being bottled and sold.

How will this increase the base of the hobby?

Look again at the reef model. Not only does ReefCentral and other sites hold a wealth of knowledge, there are other avenues that are directly comparable. ReefKeeping and Advanced Aquarist on-line magazines for one. Both are available to anyone with an Internet connection and contain vast amounts of in depth information. The likes of BarrReport or WetThumb, articles are penned by some of the foremost authorities on the subject matter and are openly discussed and debated on the various forums. In turn this lifts the community as a whole. .

I for one would like to see the hobby move in that direction, knowledge shared for all and by all. With open knowledge growth will come, and with growth vendors will jump in. More vendors equals better products with more accessibility for all. It's an upward spiral we can all appreciate.
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