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Many people enjoy having fish, as they’re a relaxing and peaceful pet. People don’t always, however, have the time or inclination to properly look after a fish tank. An aquarium maintenance business cleans and maintains aquariums, usually serving both businesses and individuals. These businesses let people have beautiful, healthy aquariums without personally cleaning them.
Who is this business right for?
Anyone who is passionate about fish and aquatic life may be well-suited for running an aquarium maintenance business. It’s helpful to be both self-motivated and a people person, as business owners often work alone but frequently interact with clients.
This is a type of business that can be started part-time, while working another job full-time. Until a business is established, a business owner can schedule their service calls for evenings and weekends—or whenever they aren’t working elsewhere.
What happens during a typical day at an aquarium maintenance business?
An aquarium maintenance business owner spends much of their day driving to clients’ sites and cleaning their aquariums. Cleaning an aquarium can involve:
- testing water for proper chemical balances
- checking and changing filters
- wiping algae off of the aquarium glass
- assessing the health of fish
- addressing any other issues that arise
- other tasks related to keeping the aquarium clean and healthy
At the end of a service, business owners typically review what was done with the aquarium owner and make any recommendations that are appropriate.
When not actively servicing aquariums, business owners spend time cleaning their equipment, maintaining their own stock of fish and plants, ordering supplies, billing clients and seeking new clients.
What is the target market?
An aquarium maintenance business’ ideal client is a pet store that sells fish. Pet stores not only have multiple aquariums that need to be cleaned, but they’re also where people go to purchase fish and fish tanks. These stores can be a source of both ongoing work and other potential clients.
How does an aquarium maintenance business make money?
An aquarium business makes money by charging clients for aquarium maintenance and cleaning services. While fees are usually based on the service provided, they may be calculated from a desired hourly rate. For instance, a business owner that wants to earn $60 per hour might charge $45 for a service that they expect will take 45 minutes to do.
What is the growth potential for an aquarium maintenance business?
Most aquarium maintenance businesses service a single region. They’re generally located in cities, where there are more businesses and people who may want aquariums. Fish Geeks and Aquarium Design and Maintenance are two examples of businesses that service a single area.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful aquarium maintenance business?
An aquarium business owner should be extremely familiar with freshwater and saltwater aquariums, and the fish, plants and other creatures that inhabit them. If business owners don’t have an in-depth knowledge, clients may assume they’re paying a lot of money for someone who has a few buckets and brushes.
Businesses owners who don’t already possess this knowledge have a variety of resources available to them. The Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association offers a certificate and an advanced diploma, and ACS Distance Education has a 100-hour Aquarium Management program. Just a few of the many books written on aquarium maintenance include Freshwater Aquariums for Dummies, Saltwater Aquariums for Dummies, the Aquariums series (which covers freshwater, saltwater and reef aquariums), Aquarium Plants and Aquarium Corals.
In addition to taking a course and reading about aquariums, it’s also a good idea for new business owners to get some hands-on experience. Working for another aquarium maintenance business gives business owners a chance to learn about aquariums and the industry.
What are the costs involved in opening an aquarium maintenance business?
The startup costs for an aquarium maintenance business are minimal.
The largest expenses are a vehicle for getting to clients’ sites and an office/storage space, but many business owners keep these costs low by using a room in their home and their personal vehicle. A business owner can invest in an outfitted vehicle and office space after their business is established, but in the beginning these things likely won’t be necessary.
Other startup expenses include insurance premiums, advertising fees, and equipment and supplies. Advanced Aquarium Concepts has an in-depth list of supplies that business owners may want. The list includes, among other things:
- 5-gallon buckets
- towels (of various sizes)
- algae pads (with and without handles)
- razors and an X-acto knife
- specimen containers
- water changers
- other supplies
What are the steps to start an aquarium maintenance business?
Once you're ready to start your aquarium maintenance business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your aquarium maintenance business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your aquarium maintenance business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers. Save 15% when you create a business website with Weebly.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
What are some insider tips for jump starting an aquarium maintenance business?
While business owners may care for fish and other aquatic creatures, it’s people that pay for their service. How business owners interact with their clients is extremely important.
When seeing a new client’s aquarium for the first time, business owners should find something to compliment. Business owners can complement clients on the cleanliness of their aquarium, the health of their fish, a well-conceived set-up, or any other thing they think of. Complimenting clients puts them at ease and helps them feel accomplished, and it will also help them receive whatever constructive feedback you may want to offer them in terms of how they are caring for their aquatic pets.
How to promote & market an aquarium maintenance business
One of the best places to put up advertisements is in pet stores. Business owners may even want to purchase a small office space within a pet store where they can store their supplies. Those who don’t want to pay for an office or storage space can ask what a store would charge to put up a couple of posters or leave brochures in the store.
Providing complimentary service for store employees may also help business owners find new clients. While this can take some time, employees will be able to personally attest to a business owner’s expertise and level of service.
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How to keep customers coming back
Business owners can differentiate their aquarium maintenance businesses from others in their area by providing excellent service at an affordable price. This doesn’t mean business owners need to set their rates extremely low, but that they should always make recommendations that are in their clients’ best interests—even if that means earning a little less on a single service. As long as clients are always getting quality service and products they actually need, the cost of aquarium maintenance shouldn’t become too high.
How and when to build a team
Most aquarium maintenance businesses can be run as a one-person operation. If a business gets more clients than a single person is able to service, an employee may need to be hired. Additionally, very large tanks may sometimes require two people to clean, but it is unlikely that newer businesses will service tanks like this.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate an aquarium maintenance business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
Aquarium maintenance businesses may also wish to look into applying for a resale certificate, which allows retailers to purchase goods intended for resale without paying sales tax. This is especially useful as many aquarium maintenance business owners sell products used to maintain aquariums between cleanings.
In addition, certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply. For more information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
In businesses where services are provided on an extended basis, a services contract is often put in place outlining terms and conditions of service.
Aquarium maintenance businesses should require clients to sign a services agreement before engaging in a long-term cleaning project. This agreement should clarify client expectations and minimize risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions and service level expectations. Here is an example of one such services agreement.
How much can you charge customers?
Many aquarium maintenance businesses charge about $1 per gallon for service calls. Some businesses, however, charge significantly less, but choose to only service larger aquariums. For example, Clear Aquarium charges as little as $0.55 per gallon, but they won’t service aquariums under 100 gallons.
In addition to regular service charges, most businesses also charge for emergency calls. These calls are usually priced by the hour. Clear Aquarium assess a $50 per hour fee for emergency calls during business hours and $75 per hour during off hours.
What are the ongoing expenses for an aquarium maintenance business?
The ongoing expenses for an aquarium business are relatively low. They include vehicle maintenance costs, fuel, insurance premiums, advertising fees and supply costs. Supply costs are minimal in the industry, as just a small amount of a supply can usually treat a lot of water.
How much profit can an aquarium maintenance business make?
With a full list of clients, an aquarium maintenance business can make a significant revenue. A business owner who charged $50 per hour would earn around $1,000 - $1,500 per week working full-time hours, not counting travel and transition time. Even after expenses are subtracted, this is still a respectable income.
How can you make your business more profitable?
An aquarium maintenance business can increase its revenue by also offering tank installations, and selling fish and other supplies.