How to Start a Pet Fish Store

Pet Fish Store Image

As the proud owner of a pet fish store you not only will sell goldfish to young fish fanatics, you also have the opportunity to build a large commercial customer base tending to those interested in large aquariums in doctors offices, restaurants, and other public spaces. A wide range of accessories such as gravel, plants, and filters are offered to keep your customers' tanks clean, healthy, and unique looking. It can be a challenging business to open, but if you are passionate about fish, it can be a creative, rewarding, and profitable venture involved in customer service, design, and animal care.

Learn how to start your own Pet Fish Store and whether it is the right fit for you.

Start a pet fish store by following these 9 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple step guide to starting your pet fish store. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

STEP 1: Plan your Business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

  • What are the startup and ongoing costs?
  • Who is your target market?
  • How long it will take you to break even?
  • What will you name your business?

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.

What are the costs involved in opening a pet fish store?

For a small store front, you will need $50,000 to $100,000 for the initial investment, depending on the type of fish you intend to stock. Salt-water and exotic species exponentially increase the cost of livestock. Expect to have two years of capital available while you build your customer base.

What are the ongoing expenses for a pet fish store?

Your largest constant expenses will be water and electricity. When looking for a location, keep local rates in mind. Shipping can be significant for live fish deliveries.  Otherwise, standard business costs such as the lease, payroll, and the cost of inventory will be your main concerns.

Who is the target market?

Your clients will most often be of three types: families looking for inexpensive, low-maintenance fish, lifetime fish hobbyists, and commercial clients looking to fill large aquariums. The fish hobbyist and the commercial client will provide you with the most profit per purchase, and they are also highly likely to become regular clients. Hobbyists will return on a steady basis to replenish their supply of tank maintenance products, and commercial clients will be in need of someone to perform regular maintenance duties on their aquariums.

How does a pet fish store make money?

While you can see a retail markup of 100% over wholesale on a single fish, the costs of water, electricity, loss of other livestock, and time can quickly lower that margin. The largest profit is found in in-home services supporting large commercial clients. These services can include tank cleaning, water testing, water treatment, etc. Accessories such as gravel, plants, and decorations offer the most consistent income with a general profit margin of 10-30%.

How much can you charge customers?

Most of your standard consumable supplies such as food and gravel will retail from about $5 to $40. This price applies to small live fish popular for home aquariums, as well. Special order exotic species can retail for $100 to $1000, but may not require you to stock them.  For out-of-store services, regular tank cleaning can be priced starting at $60 and rise from there according to aquarium size and any additional tasks completed for the client.

How much profit can a pet fish store make?

Your numbers can vary significantly, but a successful local pet fish store can expect to profit $100,000 to $180,000 from net sales of up to $400,000 a year with a solid customer base.

How can you make your business more profitable?

Service, knowledge, and cleanliness are the hallmarks of a successful aquarium store. While selling a new customer's first fish is exciting, it's the return trips for food and filters that will keep your business profitable. Providing exceptional customer service along with free and accurate advice will encourage your customers to keep coming back.

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your pet fish store is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.

You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

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For most small businesses forming an LLC is a great option, but if you still want to weigh all your options check our our article, What Structure Should I Choose for My Business?

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!

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You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

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.

STEP 5: 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.

STEP 6: 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.

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

In most states, it is necessary to obtain a pet store license. Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a pet fish 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.

Certificate of Occupancy

A pet fish business is generally run out of a storefront. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO).  A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

  • If you plan to lease a location:
    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a pet fish business.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • If you plan to purchase or build a location:
    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your pet fish business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

STEP 7: 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.

STEP 8: 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.

How to promote & market a pet fish store

Since you have a live product to sell, you must focus on your local customer base. Consider placing ads on billboards and at local sporting venues. Reach out to popular radio stations and connect with other fish fanatics through social media networks. Commit yourself to saturating your neighborhood with your marketing materials for a whole year to raise awareness of your new location.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

While a grand opening campaign with balloons and buy-one-get-one coupons will attract curious customers in your door, it will be your gleaming tanks full of healthy fish and your complete understanding of fish keeping that will keep those customers coming back. Your customers will be less focused on bargain fish food when they know the quality of your product is only surpassed by your care for their aquariums.

STEP 9: Establish your 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.

Start A Pet Fish Store In Your State

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Is this Business Right For You?

Opening up an aquarium store is perfect for the entrepreneur looking to support their passion for keeping beautiful and healthy aquascapes filled with exotic and common fish. Owning a pet fish store also allows owners to share such passion with their fellow aquarium enthusiasts. It's encyclopedic knowledge regarding water quality maintenance and fish health that will separate a local fish store guy from a valued member of the fish hobbyist community. Attention to detail and a commitment to maintaining a pristine, yet attractive storefront is also crucial in building a customer base that will return. Of course, the successful pet fish store owner will also have a solid understanding of good business practices.

What happens during a typical day at a pet fish store?

When you run your own fish store, on any given day you might need to:

  • Feed and care for the fish, plants, and tanks in order to maintain attractive sales displays
  • Receive shipments of new livestock/acclimate new fish to your display tanks
  • Maintain inventory of new tanks, accessories, and food
  • Provide friendly and helpful service to any walk-in clients
  • Reconcile daily sales receipts and invoices
  • Offer in-home services for large customers with fresh or saltwater aquariums
  • Research custom orders for exotic fish and new aquascape designs
  • Maintain and train your staff

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful pet fish store?

These skills are helpful to develop in order to build a successful pet fish store:

  • Extensive knowledge and experience in the care of aquariums and fish
  • Basic accounting skills
  • Excellent customer service
  • Good housekeeping standards
  • Strong organizational and leadership skills
  • Ability to build relationships with vendors and repeat clients

What is the growth potential for a pet fish store?

It is possible to expand from a small storefront on Main St. into a larger location as you build a dedicated pool of customers. Larger metropolitan areas will be better able to support a busy location as you can offer more services for high-end clients.  Some startups have expanded into multiple locations as they built a solid reputation for healthy fish and happy customers.

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Take the Next Step

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 a pet fish store?

First determine that your neighborhood needs a local fish store and select a high-profile location that is exposed to heavy foot-traffic. Your local hobbyists will enthusiastically tell their friends about your business, but you'll need to actively work all your connections through social media, printed, radio, and television ads to expose potential customers to your new business. A direct marketing campaign can help reach new lucrative commercial clients.

How and when to build a team

A small local storefront will still need more than just you to get the ball rolling. You'll want to hire a small team of clerks to help clean the tanks, keep the store neat, and check out customers while you're working on orders. Make sure your staff members enjoy working with live animals and that they want to learn all they can about your fish and your products. If you anticipate a large commercial client base, make sure your technicians have sufficient education and transportation.

Next Steps

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