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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I am ready to start introducing some new critters into my reef. As a business owner myself, I am well aware of the importance of supporting local business. However, I am really struggling with the thought of paying, in most cases, double, what I would from reputable online sources, buy sticking with my LFS.

I know that there are store owners within this group, and I don't want to offend anyone or start a flame war by bringing up unsavory topics like this one. But is the overhead of a LFS such that they need to charge such steep prices, or am I being gouged? (For example, $39 for a small yellow tang at the LFS - $15 from liveaquaria.com)

Also, for those that do use online resources for live aquaria, what has been your level of satisfaction?

Thanks
Brad
 

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Don't forget shipping costs. You can't get a tang into your tank from an online store for $15. Overnight shipping isn't cheap.
 

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LFS should look toward their vendors to help keep them competitive. Consumers always will, And should look to get more bang for the buck. Service and walk in convenience is Only worth so much. I use our TRT sponsor often and I don't have one complaint and they are always helpfully. One thing I found buying on line is a live guarantee that LFS do not offer. A down fall is you do not get to view first.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Hi Greg,

That is a consideration, and I wouldn't purchase just purchase one item if I go the online route. But many of the online stores offer free shipping once you reach a minimum purchase range of say, $150.

Another consideration is that you get to see what you are buying at your LFS. But again, the question remains, is it worth the extra cash?

Thanks,
Brad
 

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For me, the bottom line is (FME) that to get it cheaper from on-line, you have to buy more to spread the shipping costs. You can't see it first (though I've only had small problems with that) Seems that sometimes I don't really see it when I buy it at an lfs (I didn't notice that bubble algae, aiptasia, etc. in the store!)
and it's not instant gratification. I can resist impulse buying on-line, which I can't at the lfs.
Sometimes I can get it cheaper at the lfs (lifestock-wise) but you have to go in there frequently. Drygoods, hands down is better on-line)
 

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I agree with the livstock and cant see what your getting but what about dry goods.

My LFS sells a 150W Vistherm heater for $35.99plus tax. I can get it online for $15 plus $5 for shipping saving $20.

I know their has to be a markup for the LFS to make a profit and to stay in business but is a 150% markup really necessary? Just wondering? I would rather support the local guy but the saving over 50% online - Thats an easy call.
 

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Rob_Reef_Keeper said:
I know their has to be a markup for the LFS to make a profit and to stay in business but is a 150% markup really necessary? Just wondering?
Unfortunately yes, for most small businesses 150% mark-up is necessary. The cost of business is great, and we are a "small demographic" business here. Gas stations don't mark-up their gas much, just a few cents here and there (uncle sam takes care of the real mark-ups), but a gas station is dealing with a much larger demographic than an LFS, and even at the gas station you might see 100% mark-up (can you say fountain drinks?).

Furniture stores work with a 300-500% mark-up on pieces, and don't even get me started about jewelry! It is all dependant on what it takes in your field to sustain the business, and make a living, and unfortunately many of the LFS's stuggle with the former, and even more the latter.

Having said that I don't always "support" my LFS. I like to buy my fish locally. I have had better luck with it, and most have a return policy if the fish doesn't do well. I will also use the LFS to "observe" the fish for a few days before buying. If its eating ok, its coming home with me. For this service I don't mind paying 2x what I could pay online.

Drygoods get purchased local if they are heavy to ship, or needed in a pinch, else I might shop around. Equipment is purchased almost soley online. The LFS just can't compete, and I just can't afford them. The up side of this is that for every light bulb I bought off Marinedepot, that is another 15-35 dollars that I spent at my lfs on Polyprocks, or Chromis.

Point being its not BAD to save online. My online purchases have made my LFS a fortune, I say that because my online purchases made it possible for me to afford the hobby, and I have spent a ton at the LFS!

Dave
 

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Rob another thing to consider is a lot of these online venders are selling at or below what a lfs can buy the product for. If your own industry sells from beneath you what can a lfs do?
I rely on given the best advise I know and try to carry good live stock. But you cannot compete with a big als or other big online guys.
Randy
 

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Ranran,

Ever considered having both an online business and a LFS? With both combined you ought to be able to get enough volume to have good enough prices to put the other LFS in your area out of business.

I've noticed alot of vendors around here popping up that are online, yet you can (or must) pick the stuff up locally.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
a lot of these online venders are selling at or below what a lfs can buy the product for. If your own industry sells from beneath you what can a lfs do?
That's really what I'm asking when I say "am I getting gouged, or is this the cost of doing business for the lfs"?.

I certainly don't want to loose my lfs, and I really do want to support him. But man, there comes a point when one has to step back and reevaluate. I would think that you guys that are store owners have to be doing the same thing. If this is what the online competition is doing to you, eventually it has to take its toll.

-Brad
 

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This question really piqued my interest.

As a businessman, and an avowed capitalist the question puts me in a quandry.

The capitalist in me tells me to buy whatever I need at the lowest price.

The businesslman in me knows that I have to make a profit to stay in business.

I also believe that small businesses are the best thing for our economic system here in the US.

It's the conflict between the little hardware store the probably USED to be around the corner from where you live .....the store where you could get helpful advice, and maybe just purchase ONE brass screw you needed ... rather than the packet of TEN you have to buy at Loews, Home Depot or Orchard Supply Hardware.

It's the reason you don't have lmany small local hardware stores anymore ... just Loews and Home Depot.

And why when you go to Home Depot and try to get an answer on a plumbing question, the pimply-faced teenager looks at you like you're from another planet .... that is IF he didn't see you first .... and made a fast EXIT around Aisle 121 to avoid you.

It's the reason you don't find those small retail bike stores anymore. Because the big box Walmart sells bikes there for less than the local guy could buy them.

Sure ... I know .... the prices at Walmart are low .... But did you ever REALLY get any USEFUL information from one of the Walmart Clerks .... unless you were only asking "Where do they keep the hand - operated bicycle pumps?"

Huh?

Oh, don't get me wrong. I do admit that I shop at Walmart and Loews on occasion. But I'll be honest. I will frequent the little shops also, even if it means paying a bit more. I want the local guy to stay in business.

I believe in the business concept of "Value Added." If I buy something and I also receive something of value ... I don't mind paying a bit more. Advice and experience is important to me.

I'm lucky. I have three LFS within about 30 minutes. The closest one is the one I trust to steer me right.

The jury's still out on the other two LFS. The other two have bigger stores .... and a larger inventory .... at this point. But I don't know the owners as well yet as I do with LFS #1.

Two weeks ago my close LFS #1 owner told me his landlord sold the building where he's been for seven years .... and the new landlord told him he was raising his monthly rent from $1800. per month to $3900. per month.

My LFS owner luckily found another place ... about a mile away ... at a rent of $1800. for TWICE the space.

He and his wife are now planning to expand their shop ... put in more reef tanks ... and add new coral tanks. They are VERY excited about moving .... and being able to build out a facility that they want, not only because they love the business, but because they know and help the local hobbyists who come in and ask all those questions we have when we started.

I admit. I'm a newbie. I had several FW tanks when I was a kid, but no experience in SW or reefs. When my son expressed an interest in the hobby we visited LFS #1, and the owner couldn't have been nicer.

He was patient and explained to me and my teenage son about the hobby and answered all out questions we had at the time. He told us to read about the hobby first ... and recommended some books.

He told me about some of his philosophies and practices.

He wants happy hobbyists. and customers of course.

He won't sell you a fish until he sees that the fish is eating at his shop.

He won't sell you (newbies) a fish or animal until you bring him a water sample first ... unless you're a regular.

He really knows all his "regulars" and pretty much remembers what animals they have in their tanks.

He will only buy his livestock from wholesalers he knows, and only when he knows from where the stock originated.

He won't buy from those wholesalers who buy from those places we all hear about ... those who use chemicals or dynamite to catch livestock. No cyanide caught fish in his store.

He's the kind of guy I want around when I have questions.

He was nice enough to find my son used set up at a reasonable cost. A 40g tank set up with a built in wet/dry, with a protein skimmer. Plus a stand and canopy. All for $199.

He gave us a discount on a heater and pump ... and showed my son how to hook everything up ... and when we couldn't get it running ... he drew us a diagram. It's now set up and running fine.

We were in there the other night, and he asked my son how the tank was going. He tested the water for us.

We're at the stage where we need lights. Sure we've (well, mostly ME ) read all about NO, VHO, PC and MH ...

I can tell you the basic differences ...

But what does my son really NEED for his tank for what he eventually wants to keep in the tank ? What's best for HIS system at this stage? As a new guy on the reef ... I really don't know. Oh maybe in a few years I'll know ...but know I don't.

But my LFS guy Joe does.

So when Joe suggested PC because "it'd work best for my son" and when I asked him the price range ... and he said he'd get us up and running with a lighting system for between $200 and $250 ...... We asked him to order it.

Sure .... I probably could save $50 or $75 or maybe even a bit more ... . by buying on line .... (assuming I knew what I was buying )... but was it really worth it to us?

The on line store will charge me S&H (their added profit) and won't help my son set it up properly. I know Joe and his wife will.

Joe is "added value" to me ... and worth every penny.

Sure he's making a profit ... maybe even 100% .... But I want him to stay in business ... and to prosper at his new, larger location ... I know he'll help me in the future on any question I or my son will have ...

But let me ask you?

I would really like to know ....

Q. If you were in my shoes .... From whom would YOU buy the lighting system? ......

(A) Joe at my #1 LFS ... or

(B) drsfosterandsmith or marinedepot.com or some other on line website/store/business or conglomerate?

I'd be interested in knowing?

Please tell me.

Thanks ... I'll get off the soap box now.

Sincerely,

PJ
2/20/04
4:30pm
PST

p.s. ...I really enjoy TRT and all you experienced reefers who have helped me so far, and who have welcomed this new guy on the reef ...
 

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pj, you have some very good points, and I think there is a place in this world for both outlets. I thgink it's the bad lfs's who make them all look bad. Truth is, the smaller lfs's (your "mom&pop") always give me good service, and I will frequent them at every opportunity. The lfs in my town who is a dud turns out to be a semi-big chain, covering North Florida, which isn't very local, is it?
I'd like to ask you about your statement: "I also believe that small businesses are the best thing for our economic system here in the US." I don't disagree with your statement, I'm just not sure I believe it, even though I want to. I know they employee more people than the big companies, overall, but it seems that the economy really took off in this country with the advent of people like Ford, etc. Please tell me I'm wrong.
One thing I do differ with you on though. On-line does not necessarily mean "big". Andy at MRC and Doug at Aquatico are, I think, small companies and mostly on-line, and they are as helpful as any lfs. The fact is, Marine Depot may be the largest company in the world, I don't know, but I've gotten lots more help from them (on the phone) than from nearly any lfs. and logic would tell you, and my experience backs it up, that because they are so big, their systems will be big, and as a result more stable. The quality of stuff I've gotten from them is better than most lfs's. Now understand, that's my experience. They are certainly more helpful than the "pimply faced youth" at Lowe's. Of course, knowing this, I don't go into Lowe's looking for help, I'm looking for supplies.
Bottom line is I order from everywhere. Lfs's, even the worst one in town, if I get by there when an order comes in, I will snatch stuff out of their acclimation buckets! Better that way than to let them sit for any length of time in their cess-pools called tanks.
 

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"economy really took off in this country with the advent of people like Ford" true but the Ford plants output was just a small part. Think about gas stations, auto repair shops, custom parts, books, drive thrus, car washes, and used car dealers. If you stretch the analogy a bit its like your reef tank. The big fish wouln't last a day without the bacteria in the rocks converting waste to useful material.
 

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Hey PJ, great post.

I'd say, as a person who participates in my local reef club, has bought/read several hundred dollars worth of books, reads these forums regularly, subscribes to fish related magazines, and does an insane amount of research before buying anything, that I don't value the advice of my LFS as much as I would otherwise.

I'm not saying their advice is not good/worthwhile. Just saying I take their advice as merely one peice of the puzzle, and for that, I don't think the mark-up is warranted.

Now, when I truely need their advice on something I do buy it there. I would never go to a store, have them demo or otherwise give me an informational session on something, and then go buy it online. I think that's just wrong.

I still buy all my livestock locally, and I always ask my LFS about what they know about the fish/coral. I value that advice highly.

Typically I go to the store for drygoods having already researched what I want, or I'm looking for the usual food, filter media, or whatever. So, the toughest question I ask them is "do you carry XYZ, and where is it located?".

Nearly all my LFS owners read this forum, so I'm probably blackballed from their stores now. :eek: I wish there was a happy medium. Like, I might pay 10%-15% over mailorder, just so I could get it locally. But 100% or more mark-up from other available outlets? This seems almost arrogant to me... as though they have no respect at all for their customers. I view it as preying on the ill-informed (who we all see shopping at the LFS when we visit, spending bucketloads of $$ on snake-oil and gadgets they don't need).
 

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Hmmm where to begin?

For anyone who does not know, I am a LFS owner, and therefore I am biased, so take that as you will. However I am also a hobbyist, and did try ordering online before I got into the industry, and had 2 negative experiences with larger mail order houses.

My statements are *general* and I won't defend bad LFS, however I'll give the benefit of the doubt that most LFS are decent and worthy of hobbyists' dollars. If a LFS is bad, it shouldn't be patronized at all, and I don't blame people for not spending in stores that are ***genuinely*** gouging. However I think that some folks' idea of price gouging is not a real reflection of what really is going on.

PJ: EXCELLENT POST!!! :beer: Customers like YOU are who pay the bills in a LFS, and we appreciate the customers who appreciate us, and value our time and committment to the success of the hobbyists. It is truly a give and take on both sides, and it is win/win in the long run for hobbyists and owners/employees to develop a relationship with one another. I'd like to meet your LFS owner, he sounds very much like Scott and me. For what it is worth, the majority of LFS customers are like PJ, and for that I'm eternally grateful :)

There are a few "angles" about this thread... cost, versus markup, versus profit, and etc.

First off, what the hobbyist pays **should be** what is being referenced here, and not be confused with "cost/wholesale", "markup" and "profit"... let me explain.

As a consumer, I absolutely understand the simple economics of buying from retailer.com versus brick and mortar, because it's $6 at retailer.com (including shipping!) and $10 at brick and mortar. When it comes to dry goods, it's only common sense to find the best price IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU NEED/WANT. PJ gave a good example with his lighting conundrum - he found value in the avise from the store in choosing his equipment (provided that his store is a good one, and it sounds like it's an excellent one.). No sensible business person would begrudge anybody for saving a dollar here or there, and to be truthful, *some* items are sold by the big etailers for less than most brick and mortars could buy it for. Etailer.com might sell 1000 widgets per year, and therefore be able to buy directly from the manufacturer at a deeply discounted price. Mom and Pop LFS might sell 5 widgets per year, purchased through a distributor, so they pay full wholesale list price. The actual percentage of markup that each seller sells for might be the same, but the etailer is able to buy cheaper and sell cheaper. Still nobody can stay in business if they aren't marking merchandise. Again, simple economics.

If it's about ***PROFIT***, well I can absolutely guarantee you that the good Doctors, the Depot and etc., are making BAGS of money, and I'm not so if you're wanting to suck profit out of people, you're barking up the wrong tree with LFS. Although I don't know why online hobbyists begrudge the LFS for making a dollar... after all, if the company YOU work for is not profitable, you're soon out of a job. LFS are no different. The work you do every day to earn your living is of value, and you expect to earn a fair wage. LFS is no different. The employee needs/wants to be paid appropriately for his/her work, and the LFS owner needs to pay the bills. Marking up inventory accordingly is the way to accomplish this. LFS are no different than grocery stores, clothing stores, auto parts stores or any other RETAIL establishment. You can find all kinds of things "cheaper" online/ebay etc. If you're going to rip apart LFS for their prices, then it's only fair to rip apart every retailer who sells at a higher price than etail.

Somebody mentioned MRC or AquaticCo - yes they are online etailers, but I wouldn't consider their products "cheap" in fact they aren't distributed in retail outlets except perhaps by special order and at that, only locally... they are both catering to a niche market, and only a small percentage of hobbyists in the aquarium hobby will likely aspire to a level in which they will consider purchasing their products. I'm not diminishing their products/service or quality (in fact I have had dealings with both companies, and continue to deal with one of them), but by and large, their products appeal to a small number of people when you look at it on a local level, therefore in order to reach the numbers of people needed to sustain somebody in that kind of niche market, online is the most conducive, because it reaches a wider geographical area. I'm sure both Andy and Doug will attest that they ship their wares all over the country and even beyond. The "L" in LFS stands for "local". 'nuff said.

Markup... this is another sticky wicket. Many of you ****/u/me* ;) that LFS mark stuff up so many times, etc. Not necessarily so. Depends on the item, the market conditions, desirability, availability, etc. Some items are marked up more than others, usually the higher the ticket, the lower the margin.

I buy fish for $X and sell them for $Y. The difference between X and Y pays for rent, utilities, and other expenses, mortality, and etc. Most other places pay for salaries too ;) (I work for free!) By and large, Indo and Phillippine fish are cheaper than say, Australian or Hawaiian fish. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which, that Australians and Hawaiians are paid more for their catch. Of course many Phillippine and Indonesian fishes are caught with cyanide.... not all of them, but a significant enough number that *I* stay away from most of them, except from about 3 small wholesalers whom I trust, and whose suppliers are reputable. Since there's no testing to verify whether chemicals are used, I take it on faith, but my mortality figures support the notion that the fish I am bringing in are net-caught. Yes, I pay MORE for those from the smaller importers, (and I guess I charge more? Maybe, maybe not...I don't really compare - I charge what's fair based on my purchase price.) than I would pay from any of the myriad of suppliers on 104th street in Los Angles, however the QUALITY of the livestock just runs circles around others I've tried.

Now... back to etail for livestock... *some* online sellers also have brick and mortar store fronts, and honestly I don't really have a problem with them, because they have the same overhead that any other LFS does, and IMO they are simply branching out into other markets - and chances are their prices are not too far off the local store, perhaps a bit better because their increased market share gives them more buying power at wholesale.

HOWEVER... some of those BIG online livestock sellers don't handle their livestock at all. Your call/email/fax order goes to a processing center, where they take your money (do they even ask if you have a saltwater tank?!) and your order, and that order is then forwarded to one of those big box 104th Street wholesalers (another reason why I don't buy from them! They are effectively underselling me).

Do you think that the person who took your order hand-picks the fish and packs it for you? Not at the big online seller's. The person who picks and packs your order is just a warehouse worker or a jobber with no vested interest in your satisfaction as a customer. You might get excellent quality, or you might get the last one of the batch that every other cherry picker or jobber passed over. Since you didn't see it for yourself, you pay your money and take your chances. At the LFS, you can watch it, ask them to feed it, most good LFS will even hold a creature for you for a period of time, for a deposit, or sometimes just for your promise to buy.

Yes, there is a place for both online and local retailers in the big scheme of things, however the local guy won't be around if everybody spends their money on etail. That day when your pump goes out and you need a new one within the hour, etail won't be able to help you, and neither will the local if he went out of business because nobody patronized his store. :(

I don't know a soul who got into the hobby because of a great website they found - no it was either a hobbyist's tank or a store that they visited, or a public aquarium, that sparked the interest. LFS are the backbone of the hobby, like it or not.

Respectfully,

Your friendly neighbourhood LFS owner...

Jenn
 

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Told you my LFS stores were reading :eek:

Jenn, with your busy schedule you probably don't get to get into many other LFS stores in the area much. I was in yours last week, and I did buy some dry goods. So count me in as someone who helps "pay the bills" as well.

I don't get up to Canton much, so I did a small mental "survey" of your prices, and I can't say that they are terrible at all, which is ultimately why I purchased some things there. But some of your cohorts around town are a little steep.

Examples (LFS example is NOT Jenn's):

Natural Wave wavemaker:
Online (premiumaquatics) 49.99
LFS 99.99

Maxijet 1200
Online (marinedepot.com) 18.95
LFS 49.99

Personally, I don't think a price > 100% over what I'd pay online is a "fair" price to expect me to pay.

I have 8 maxijet 1200s, some in tanks, others for pumping water in and out of buckets. At LFS prices that is: $399.92. If I buy them online, $151.

What I've learned from this discussion is that maybe the LFS's aren't gorging us. Maybe that is what is needed to pay the rent. But, as a price conscious consumer, I am not going to throw $ down the toilet for the sake of keeping a LFS in business. And no one is going to lay a guilt trip on me to do so.

Rent high? Don't have a store in a high rent location.
Overhead high? Maybe the LFS needs to cut down on the fancy stuff, and go back to basics.
 

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hey PJ

PJ--

The LFS store you go to... the owner Joe. Is this place in San Bruno?

If it's the same LFS you are talking about, believe me, I'd been going there for a couple of years.. and he's a great guy. He is very patient and has an interest in sharing the joys of the hobby with his customers. heck, i actually moved down to Los Angeles now, but when im back in the bay area, i'd always go for a visit. I personally believe that 'customer service' makes a world of a difference. If you think of it this way... the extra cost is worthwhile for the service and expertise you can get from the LFS (If they are good.) compared to some online services. Thats just my take.

Jerry
 

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I'm glad I didn't diss my lfs too hard this morning when I wrote my first post because of what happened this afternoon.
I bought my rock on-line simply because nobody had any decent rock around here, and it was expensive to boot. Local store wanted 6.50/# and it didn't have any coralline on it. I got sucked in by DrMac's wesite, promising beautiful rock, so I ordered a hundred #'s. When I got it a week later, it didn't look like the pictures but it looked better than any lfs and I paid 4.15/#. It's cycled now and I'm ready to scape it.
I'd had my eye on a coral (some type of plating with fluorescent green polyps) for literally a year in the lfs. (the good one) He'd gotten the coral frag from a freind and didn't want to sell it. One day on oneof my many visits he up and offered it to me, but then when we tried to remove it, it had grown to the large liverock it was restingon. Oh well, no sale. So today I go in and offer to buy the rock and coral. Well, the rock weighed 11#'s! Ouch. The clerk, who is very eager and learning all the time, called the owner and the owner (Eric is his name) told the clerk to sell me the rock for $6/# and to give me the coral for free!
I frequent this lfs often anyway, and buy quite a bit of livestock from him. No small lfs has all the equipment options I want anyway, so I'll still buy online, but Eric and his crew will certainly get plenty of my business too! Thanks again dude!
Shameless plug: That's Poseidon's Reef, on Thomas Drive.
 

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georgiajams said:


Natural Wave wavemaker:
Online (premiumaquatics) 49.99
LFS 99.99

Maxijet 1200
Online (marinedepot.com) 18.95
LFS 49.99

Lets not forget purchasing power.

LFS orders 4

Humungo.com orders 3000.

Who's going to get the better price?
 
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