Start a pet fish store by following these 10 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 guide to starting your pet fish store. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Check out our How to Start a Business page.
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 much can you charge customers?
- 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 important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Pet Fish Store Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your pet fish store is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
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!
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?.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
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.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
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.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.
Open net-30 accounts
When it comes to establishing your business credit, net-30 vendors are considered the way to go. The term "net-30," which is popular among vendors, refers to a business credit arrangement where the company pays the vendor within 30 days of receiving goods or services.
Net-30 credit terms are often used for businesses that need to obtain inventory quickly but do not have the cash on hand.
Besides establishing business relationships with vendors, net-30 credit accounts get reported to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.
Recommended: Read our guide on the best net-30 vendors so you can start building business credit now, so you never have to worry about cash flow in the future. Keep in mind that poor cash flow is the #1 reason businesses fail!
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.
For 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.
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
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
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.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
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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.
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: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use.
Recommended: Find the best phone system for your business; check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2021.
Start A Pet Fish Store In Your State
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.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
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.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
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.