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How to Start an Aquarium Business

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

Edited by:

David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.

How to Start an Aquarium Business

Fast Facts

Investment range

$58,300 - $97,300

Revenue potential

$288,000 - $432,000 p.a.

Time to build

3-6 months

Profit potential

$72,000 - $108,000 p.a.

Industry trend

Growing

Commitment

Full-time

Aquariums can be found in homes across the country, offering a relaxing visual accessory as well as a home for fish or reptiles. An aquarium business can be an aquarium shop or an aquarium maintenance business, or both. In any case, aquariums and their accessories are a more than $6 billion global industry.

If you have a passion for aquariums, you could start your own aquarium business and get a share of that market.

But first, you need to understand the business. Luckily, this step-by-step guide offers all the information you need to launch a successful aquarium business. 

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

Pros and cons

Pros

  • Follow your passion
  • Growing market
  • Good profit potential

Cons

  • High startup costs for an aquarium shop
  • Knowledge of aquariums and their maintenance needed

Aquarium industry trends

Industry size and growth

Aquarium industry size and growth

Trends and challenges

Aquarium Business Trends and Challenges

Trends

  • Eco-friendly aquariums that use LED lighting and energy efficient equipment are growing in popularity.
  • Smart aquariums have been developed that offer automatic feeders and remote monitoring.

Challenges

  • Some animal rights groups have rallied against keeping fish and other animals in tanks, creating negative press for aquarium businesses.
  • Some have proposed limiting the number of saltwater fish that can be kept in home aquariums, which may negatively impact the revenue of aquarium businesses. 

How much does it cost to start an aquarium business?

Startup costs for an aquarium business range from $60,000 to $100,000. Costs include shop rental and preparation, inventory, and an operating budget.

Alternatively, you could start an aquarium maintenance business for far less.

You’ll need a handful of items to successfully launch your aquarium business, including: 

  • Shelving
  • Fish tank equipment if you going to sell fish
  • POS system
Start-up CostsBallpark RangeAverage
Setting up a business name and corporation$100 - $500$300
Business licenses and permits$100 - $300$200
Insurance$100-$500$300
Website$500 - $1,000$750
Shop space rental$2,000 - $4,000$3,000
Space preparation with shelving$5,000 - $10,000$7,500
Inventory$30,000 - $50,000$40,000
Sales and marketing budget$500 - $1,000$750
Operating budget$20,000 - $30,000$25,000
Total$58,300 - $97,300$77, 800

How much can you earn from an aquarium business?

Aquarium Business earning forecast

What you charge for aquariums, accessories, and fish will vary. These calculations will assume an average sale per customer who buys a tank, equipment, and fish will be about $400, although you’ll have many customers that come in to buy just accessories and fish, which might have an average sale of $50. We’ll assume an overall average of $100. Your profit margin after all costs should be about 25%. 

In your first year or two, you might have eight customers a day, 360 days a year, bringing in $288,000 in revenue. This would mean $72,000 in profit, assuming that 25% margin. 

As you gain traction, you might have 12 customers a day. With annual revenue of $432,000, you’d make a tidy profit of $108,000.

You can earn additional revenue by offering in-home aquarium maintenance. 

What barriers to entry are there?

There are a few barriers to entry for an aquarium business. Your biggest challenges will be:

  • Funding the startup costs
  • Having the required knowledge and skills

Related Business Ideas

If you’re still not sure whether this business idea is the right choice for you, here are some related business opportunities to help you on your path to entrepreneurial success.
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Step 2: Hone Your Idea

develop a business idea

Now that you know what’s involved in starting an aquarium business, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market. 

Market research could give you the upper hand even if you’ve got the perfect product. Conducting robust market research is crucial, as it will help you better understand your customers, your competitors, and the broader business landscape.

Analyze your competitors 

Research aquarium businesses in your area to examine their products, price points, and customer reviews.

  • Make a list of aquarium businesses that offer similar products and services. 
  • Review your competitors’ products – their features, pricing, and quality – and marketing strategies
  • Check out their online reviews and ratings on Google, Yelp, and Facebook to get an idea of what their customers like and dislike.
  • Identify your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. 

This should identify areas where you can strengthen your business and gain a competitive edge to make better business decisions.

Why? Identify an opportunity

You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the local market is missing an aquarium shop that offers unusual aquarium fish, or that offers custom aquarium design.

You might consider targeting a niche, such as saltwater tanks.

This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away. 

What? Determine your products

In addition to freshwater and saltwater tanks, you could sell aquarium supplies, equipment, accessories, and fish food, as well as fish including:

  • Freshwater fish
  • Tropical fish
  • Saltwater fish
  • Exotic fish

How much should you charge for aquarium products?

Prices should be based on market prices in your area, as well as on your costs, including your cost to acquire the products, and labor and overhead costs.

Once you know your costs, use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.

Who? Identify your target market

Your target market could be any age group, so you should spread out your marketing to include TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. You could even try LinkedIn, since aquariums are often found in offices.

Where? Choose an aquarium shop location

You’ll need to rent out a storefront.  You can find commercial space to rent in your area on sites such as Craigslist, Crexi, and Instant Offices.

When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:

  • Central location accessible via public transport
  • Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
  • Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
  • Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
Aquarium Business idea rating

Step 3: Brainstorm an Aquarium Shop Name

Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:

  • Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
  • Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better 
  • Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
  • Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
  • Including keywords, such as “aquarium shop” or “aquarium store”, boosts SEO
  • Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “EcoAquarium Collective”” over “Coral Reef Emporium”
  • A location-based name can help establish a strong connection with your local community and help with the SEO but might hinder future expansion

Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these. 

Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead and reserve your business name with your state, start the trademark registration process, and complete your domain registration and social media account creation. 

Your business name is one of the key differentiators that sets your business apart. Once you pick a name, reserve it and start with the branding, it’s hard to switch to a new name. So be sure to carefully consider your choice before moving forward. 

Step 4: Create an Aquarium Shop Business Plan

Here are the key components of a business plan:

what to include in a business plan
  • Executive Summary: Provide a brief summary of your business plan, highlighting your vision, target market, and unique selling points.
  • Business Overview: Describe the nature of your aquarium shop, its location, and the products and services it will offer, such as fish, tanks, and maintenance.
  • Product and Services: Detail the specific products you’ll sell, including various types of fish, aquatic plants, aquarium equipment, and maintenance services.
  • Market Analysis: Analyze the demand for aquarium-related products and services in your area, considering factors like hobbyist demographics and trends.
  • Competitive Analysis: Evaluate your competitors in the aquarium industry, emphasizing what makes your shop stand out, such as rare fish species or exceptional customer service.
  • Sales and Marketing: Explain your sales and marketing strategies, including promotions, online presence, partnerships with local pet stores, and customer engagement.
  • Management Team: Introduce the key members of your team, highlighting their expertise in aquatics, retail, and business management.
  • Operations Plan: Outline how your aquarium shop will operate, covering aspects like inventory management, staff responsibilities, store hours, and maintenance of aquatic environments.
  • Financial Plan: Present financial projections, including startup costs, pricing strategies, revenue forecasts, and a break-even analysis.
  • Appendix: Include any additional materials, such as supplier agreements, images of your shop’s layout, or customer testimonials, to support your business plan.

If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist to create a top-notch business plan for you.

Step 5: Register Your Business

Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.

Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business! 

Choose where to register your company

Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you are planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to aquarium businesses. 

If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state. 

Choose your business structure

Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your aquarium business will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely. 

Here are the main options:

types of business structures
  • Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
  • General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts. Here’s how to form an LLC.
  • C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation. Read how to start a corporation here.
  • S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.

We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using an online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have. 

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Step 6: Register for Taxes

The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN. 

Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.

The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online.

It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you are completing them correctly.

Step 7: Fund your Business

Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:

types of business financing
  • Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
  • SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
  • Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
  • Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
  • Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
  • Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.

Bank and SBA loans are probably the best option, other than friends and family, for funding an aquarium business. You might also try crowdfunding if you have an innovative concept.  

Step 8: Apply for Aquarium Business Licenses and Permits

Business Licenses and Permits

Starting an aquarium business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments.

Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits. 

You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more. 

You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.

This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties.

If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.

Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account

Before you start making money, you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account.

Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your aquarium business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.

Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account. 

Step 10: Get Business Insurance

Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

types of business insurance
  • General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
  • Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
  • Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
  • Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
  • Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
  • Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
  • Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of the above insurance types.

Step 11: Prepare to Launch

Launching a Business

As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business. 

Essential software and tools

Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks.  

You may want to use industry-specific software, such as NetSuite or Zoho, to manage your inventory, purchases, and sales. 

Accounting

  • Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero
  • If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.

Create a website

Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism. You can create your own website using services like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.

Your customers are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. SEO will help your website appear closer to the top in relevant search results, a crucial element for increasing sales. 

Make sure that you optimize calls to action on your website. Experiment with text, color, size, and position of calls to action such as “Schedule Maintenance Now” or “Order Ahead”. This can sharply increase purchases. 

Marketing

Here are some powerful marketing strategies for your future business:

  1. Engaging Social Media Content: Leverage visually appealing content on platforms like Instagram and TikTok to showcase your aquarium’s beauty, diverse species, and behind-the-scenes aspects, creating a digital community around your business.
  2. Local SEO — Regularly update your Google My Business and Yelp profiles to strengthen your local search presence.
  3. Interactive Workshops and Demonstrations: Host regular workshops, demonstrations, or virtual events where visitors can learn about aquarium maintenance, fish care, and unique aquatic ecosystems, fostering a sense of education and community engagement.
  4. Membership Programs: Introduce membership programs that offer exclusive perks, such as early access to new exhibits, discounts on merchandise, or members-only events, encouraging customer loyalty and repeat visits.
  5. Collaborate with Influencers: Partner with social media influencers or bloggers in the niche to reach a broader audience, gaining credibility and tapping into their followers’ interest in aquariums.
  6. Themed Nights and Special Events: Organize themed nights or special events, like underwater photography contests, to draw in diverse crowds and create memorable experiences, encouraging word-of-mouth promotion.
  7. Educational Partnerships with Schools: Establish partnerships with local schools to provide educational tours and programs, emphasizing the importance of marine conservation and biology, fostering a positive image for your aquarium.
  8. Gift Cards and Referral Programs: Implement gift card promotions and referral programs to incentivize current customers to bring in new visitors, creating a dynamic where your existing customer base becomes advocates for your business.
  9. Aquarium Mobile App: Develop a mobile app that offers features like virtual tours, educational content, and loyalty rewards, enhancing the overall customer experience and keeping your aquarium top-of-mind.
  10. Collaborate with Local Businesses: Forge partnerships with nearby hotels, restaurants, or travel agencies to create joint promotions or packages, enticing tourists and locals alike to include a visit to your aquarium in their plans.
  11. Regularly Updated Exhibits: Keep exhibits fresh and exciting by regularly introducing new species or themed displays, encouraging repeat visits from both enthusiasts and casual visitors.

Focus on USPs

unique selling proposition

Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your aquarium business meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire. 

Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your aquarium business could be: 

  • One stop shop for all your aquarium needs
  • Build your dream saltwater ecosystem
  • Eco-friendly full service aquarium store

Networking

You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running an aquarium business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in aquarium stores for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections. 

The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in aquarium businesses. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership. 

Step 12: Build Your Team

Building a Team for a New Business

If you’re starting out small from a home office, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for an aquarium business include:

  • Store Clerks – customer service, make sales
  • Aquarium Maintenance Techs – go on aquarium maintenance calls
  • Marketing Lead – create and implement marketing strategies
  • General Manager – scheduling, accounting, inventory management

At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need. 

Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent. 

Step 13: Run an Aquarium Shop – Start Making Money!

Running a Business

Owning an aquarium business would allow you to have fun, help people design their aquariums, and meet lots of like-minded aquarium aficionados. You’d also be tapping into a $6 billion market and making a healthy living. You could even eventually grow your business to multiple locations. 

You’ve got the business know-how now, so you’re ready to start on your path to aquarium success!

Aquarium Business FAQs

Is an aquarium business profitable?

An aquarium business can be profitable, but it depends on various factors such as location, target market, competition, and operational efficiency.

What is the growth potential of an aquarium business?

The growth potential of an aquarium business can vary. It may be influenced by factors like market demand, the uniqueness of offerings, effective marketing strategies, and the ability to provide exceptional customer experiences.

What type of business is an aquarium business?

An aquarium business is a niche within the pet industry. It involves the sale of fish, aquatic plants, aquarium equipment, and related products. It may also include aquarium installation, maintenance services, and educational components.

Can you start an aquarium business on the side?

You could start an aquarium maintenance business as a side hustle. However, starting an aquarium store would take considerable time and should be a full-time business.

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How to Start an Aquarium Business