When you start to travel the country and visit various aquarium clubs, it is inevitable that you run into someone that wants to start their own small business. Many of these individuals are enamored with the idea of having their own fish shop. They usually voice complaints that there is no “good” LFS in the area and the market really deserves one. Admittedly, I have heard this comment slightly less frequently lately due to the economic downturn and the harsh realities of retail sales for the past few years, but it is an idea that is still around.
I completely understand it. I too was just a hobbyist years ago and have been able to make a living doing what I love for quite a while now. With that in mind, I want to offer a little advice for those contemplating making the jump.
If you have never worked in a LFS before, you have absolutely no business starting your own. Being a hobbyist does not prepare you for starting your own company. I understand you have been in many fish stores and spent many hours wandering down aisles and aisles of aquariums, but that does not give you the experience you need to open one. Think about it this way, I don’t care how many times you have shopped in a LFS, it likely pales in comparison to how many times you have shopped a grocery store or a gas station (unless you are truly sick and then you might want to find some help for your aquairum addiction ).
I am 38 years old and I have probably been shopping in a grocery store or gas station once a week for my entire life, including the years my mother pushed me around in the basket. Just because I have been a lifelong shopper does not mean I am qualified to purchase produce or meat for the cases of a grocery store or know who has the best prices for Twinkies for a gas station.
Successful franchise companies like McDonald’s make people work in a McDonald’s before they can buy one. This gives the potential purchaser real-world experience that is invaluable prior to investing their money. I would strongly urge anyone considering starting a LFS to go to work in one first.
When selecting a LFS to attempt employment, look for one that has been in business for a long time. One that has well stocked shelves of dry-goods and aquariums with a decent amount of livestock in them. The easiest way to tell when a store is doing badly is when you walk in and see half empty shelves. That is a huge red flag.
Remember, you are there to learn about the business of running a LFS. The store you select does not have to practice the best husbandry. If you are an accomplished hobbyist considering opening their own store, I am assuming you are already good at the husbandry aspect. You are there to learn about ordering product and what is a good discount from dry-goods wholesalers, learn about profit margins and turns on products, discovering what kind of rent, utilities, insurance, and other bills you can expect, and learn how to interview, manage, and retain good employees. These, and others, are the kinds of skills the average hobbyist opening their first LFS is woefully unprepared for.