How To Start And Run A Successful Aquarium Maintenance Business

Bellow, you'll find a collection of old articles about starting a fish tank maintenance company or aquarium installation and maintenance business. Hopefully, you find some useful information in them.

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Aquarium Maintenance Service Business… Who Should Start One?

Starting up your own business offering aquarium maintenance services is easier than you might think. For many avid aquarium hobbyists, starting a fish tank maintenance business is within reach.

It's funny how once someone really becomes involved in the aquarium hobby it almost always 'snowballs' into something bigger. One tank turns into two and two to three and so on. Sometimes, the following question comes to mind: "How can this hobby help pay for itself?" or even better, provide an income? Two common ideas are breeding fish or starting an aquarium maintenance service. Breeding fish can certainly help pay for your hobby but running an aquarium maintenance service can actually generate profit. However, before you run off to start your own service, you must consider a few things.

Determine Your Motivation To Start Your New Aquarium Cleaning Company

What is your motivation for starting an aquarium maintenance service? Do you want to simply pay for your hobby or do you want to make a profit? How much time are you willing to dedicate to this venture? If your intent is only to make a few bucks and you can only devote a small number of hours per week, then running a part time maintenance service would the best choice. However, if your part-time service is successful and you are willing to take the risk of starting your own business, then running a maintenance service full time would be a perfectly good choice. Stephen Allen of Aquatic Creations, located in Mobile, Alabama, has done the later. Steve currently operates a very successful, full time maintenance service that specializes in Live Reef aquariums. Steve started his business as a college student to help pay his bills. Aquatic Creations is now a flourishing business that services the Mobile Bay area. How do he and others do it?

Research Your Local Market and the Competition

Is there a need for an aquarium maintenance service in your area? Visit with local business owners, doctors' offices, etc. How many have aquariums and does anyone currently maintain them? If they don't have an aquarium, would they be interested in having one installed?

During the research process, it is important to identify potential competitors. Do not be deterred by the apparent success of other service providers. They may be successful because they don't have any competitors. If they can have success, so can you. If they don't appear to be thriving, that shouldn't be a discouragement either. Their services may be mismanaged or they may not be aggressively looking for new clients.

One of the most often asked questions is "Should local aquarium stores be considered competition?". The answer is…it depends. If the local stores in your area provide maintenance services, then they should be viewed as competitors. If they know you are running a service that may be competing for the same customers, don't think for a minute that they won't consider you as the competition. However, many local stores have no desire to get into the aquarium maintenance business. Rather than being a competitor, a shop of this kind can actually be a business ally.

Getting Started…the Necessities

Registering your fish tank cleaning business

The first thing you will need to get started is a business license. Unless you plan to sell merchandise from a retail location, the cost of the license is miniscule…around $2 to $5 per year in most areas. You will not need a special tax identification number for sales tax, etc, unless you plan to sell actual products. In that case, you will need to contact your local and state governments to set up a sales tax account.

Equipment for starting an aquarium maintenance company

Gathering all of the necessary equipment that will be needed to run your service is simple. Most of the equipment needed can probably be found in your personal "stash" of equipment that you have acquired through the years. Things such as buckets, hoses, algae scrapers, testing kits, brushes, towels, etc will be needed. In addition to these items, it is also a good idea to invest in a good canister filter that can be taken from site to site. You may also want to consider purchasing a portable diatom filter for 'polishing' your client's aquarium water. If you are starting from scratch with absolutely no equipment, you can plan to spend $500 to $1000.

Marketing Materials

The largest investment you will put into your new business will be in the form of what I call 'business essentials'. This includes business cards, brochures, letterhead stationary and advertising. Some of these are optional although highly recommended. Business cards, on the other hand, are an absolute must. For around $25, it is possible to print 500, one color, business cards. If more colors are desired, then the price will increase but it cannot be overstated that a professional looking business card will often be the most important factor in gaining a potential customer's attention.

Obtaining professional looking letterhead is almost as important as the business cards. You will use your letterhead for sales letters, business correspondence, sales promotions, etc. It is important that professionalism is conveyed to all potential customers. You don't want to give the impression that you are just a guy or gal with a bucket and hose. This is a business and should be marketed as such. The other business essentials such as brochures and advertisements are not required but they go a long way in getting your name out to the public. Plan on spending anywhere from $50 to $500 depending on whether or not you make your own brochures and advertisements or have a professional take care of it for you.

Aquarium Technician Uniform

Your personal appearance and that of your employees is a very important detail that should not be overlooked. I certainly would not suggest a coat and tie, but some sort of T-shirt or preferably a golf shirt with your company name and or logo should be worn. T-shirts with simple pocket embroidery will cost between $20 and $30 per shirt. Embroidered golf shirts will cost around $25 to $40 per shirt. The rest of the "uniform" is up to you but try to stay away from the fish-print Bermudas…those never go over well.

Liability and Insurance for Aquarium Service Technicians

Finally, before you ever enter a client's facility, do not step in the door without some type of liability or damaged property insurance. No matter how careful one may be while servicing an aquarium, accidents can happen. Nothing will end your business endeavor more quickly than a lawsuit for damaged property. It should be noted that insurance is not required but as with all things, it is better to be safe than sorry. It is hard to say what you can expect to pay for your insurance because the policy prices vary with different insurance providers.

Liability. Since we are on the subject, you may be wondering what type of liability you would be responsible for that would require an insurance policy. First, it is important to know that it is just good business practice to have some type of basic liability insurance. It gives the customer and you a sense of security. It also adds credibility to your business. Having said that, always include some form of liability disclaimer against fish and livestock deaths as well as aquarium leaks and other collateral damage caused by leaks. This is not to say you should not take responsibility for any damage you may directly cause but fish will die and leaks will occur that will not be caused by anything you do.

Marketing: Getting Your First Aquarium Service Clients

The greatest challenge in starting an aquarium maintenance service is finding clients. The business essentials mentioned earlier will help but another point should be made. Steve at Aquatic Creations started his service by allowing a local pet store to pass out his business cards. He also gave a stack of cards to each of his friends. What did this accomplish? By finding different outlets to distribute his cards, he essentially turned his friends and the local pet store into free sales reps. As a result of passing out his cards, each person was endorsing his service. There is no greater sales tool than that. Anyone trying to find new customers for their new aquarium maintenance service should remember this…personal contact is the best way to market a business like this. Positive contact made between a potential customer and others that recommend your service is truly a priceless commodity.

Customer Service

If finding new clients is the most challenging aspect of this business, keeping them is a close second. Depending on your local area, business can become very competitive if you are not the only service provider. Keeping your clients happy involves much more than simply cleaning their aquariums. It is important to go "that extra mile" as I tell others, when discussing how to maintain their existing client base. To go that extra mile, good aquarium service providers must make concessions for their customers. This involves flexible service hours and "on call" availability. For example, restaurants often close at extremely late hours. They don't want someone pulling hoses or buckets through the dining room when their customers are eating. As a result, they will often request late or "off hour" times for their aquariums to be serviced. Full time aquarium maintenance services may not have a difficult time accommodating this type of request but part timers may have some problems. In this case, weekends are often scheduled when other jobs or responsibilities are not as great an issue. I also mentioned "on call" availability. By this I mean…buy a beeper! Customers can and will call at the strangest times. Not to schedule appointments but to ask questions or report some type of emergency. From leaking tanks to major fish kills, you will be the first one your customers will call if there is a problem with their aquarium. If you are not available, they will find someone else…guaranteed!

Pricing Your Aquarium Services

Establishing an appropriate price for your services can be fairly subjective. A couple of factors come into play that will influence your prices. Your competitors' prices will help set the base line for what others will pay for your services. In addition, the image you present to potential customers will also influence what others will be willing to pay. For example, suppose you were shopping for a new car. You find two identical cars that are both mechanically sound. However, one has a huge dent in the hood. Which of the two cars would you is more likely purchase and possibly pay more money? Unless you are a cheapskate, you would probably select the car without the huge dent. The same principle is true for your aquarium service.

The price of a first visit to a new customer should be based on an hourly rate. The rate you charge is up to you but, as a rule, don't charge less than $50 an hour. Once the customer decides to use your service on a continued basis, the rates change. It is recommended that you switch from an hourly rate to a 'volume rate'. The standard charge is $1-$2 per gallon with a minimum of $75. Rates may also vary depending on any maintenance programs you wish to start. For example, you may offer a monthly service agreement that includes weekly maintenance visits that would cost less per visit than if the client hired you on a per-needed basis. The specific details of how to come up with a monthly maintenance program is not within the scope of this article but this should give you an idea of some of the various pricing options.

Selling Fish Tank Supplies To Your Service Clients: Or Not

At some point, most people will ask "should I sell aquarium supplies and fish as part of my business?" The answer is a definite maybe. Without a doubt, extreme caution should be exercised when first starting out. Large sums of money are required to properly purchase enough merchandise and fish to supply potential customers. In addition, you will be forced to spend much of your time trying to sell all of livestock and merchandise you bought. However, if you can afford the added cost and risk, the potential for greater income and profit increases.

You will find that as your service grows, some of your customers may request supplies and livestock from you rather than the local pet shop. It becomes an issue trust for them. It's safer for them to get all of their aquarium supplies from the person maintaining their aquarium than from the store down the street. If this happens to you, you may want to consider expanding your business.

Many aquarium services, such as Aquatic Creations, operate from an aquarium storefront. This certainly makes it easier to sell aquarium products. It also adds many more responsibilities that otherwise would not exist. Responsibilities such as other employees, store maintenance, hours of operation, etc. all become daily issues. In Steve Allen's words, "Things have become much more complicated since I opened the store."

The Best Advice For Starting Your New Fish Tank Cleaning and Maintenance Service Business

This article is not meant to be "the only source of information you'll ever need to start an aquarium maintenance service," but it is meant to give some valuable advice that will help you decide if this is something you might want to do. The best advice I or anyone can give is this: ask yourself if you want to turn your hobby into a business and are you willing to dedicate a little money and a lot of time to make it work. If the answer is no or I'm not sure, you probably should take some time and enjoy your hobby. Who knows, you might decide to try it later when the time is right. If the answer is yes, however, then jump in with both feet and go for it. If you are excited about the idea of your business and are willing to put forth the effort, then you are on your way to an exciting and profitable journey into yet another aspect of this wonderful hobby.

Setting up an Aquarium Maintenance Business

The aquarium service business is a very interesting one. You meet lots of people and get to learn how the average fish keeper thinks. On occasion, I find some very interesting situations!!

So you're thinking of running a maintenance service? It's not as easy as you may think. There is a lot of planning and organization involved. The first requirement is a good understanding of water chemistry and fish habitat. You don't need to have a master's degree….just a good understanding. The fact that you are considering this trade must mean that you are already above average in aquarium skills.

Aquarium Service Offerings

You must decide what kind of service you want to offer:

- Do you want to sell complete set-ups or just service existing tanks? - If you decide on selling complete set-ups, what kind of systems and equipment will you use? These are very important decisions.

I put aquarium systems in two categories: pet store set-ups and commercial set-ups:

- Pet store set-ups are your basic aquaria. These systems run on simple filters, which are clumsy, messy and a pain to service. The filter systems tend to be small and limit you to lower stocking densities. Pet store tanks tend to be small in size and only found in common shapes.

- Your other choice, which is more practical, is to use a commercial system. This may be a little more difficult to set-up initially but will benefit you over the long run. You will need to find a supplier who can provide you with custom tanks and the ability to drill glass. You will also need to build custom cabinets, which will accommodate the different style tanks. Most tank suppliers also offer this service. If you can tackle these two problems…'re off to the races!!

I have chosen to use commercial style systems because of their natural look and maintenance efficiency. I can also pack my clients' tanks full of fish and have few worries about water quality. The beauty of commercial systems is that they are custom made to suit your clients and their rooms.

To design custom filtration for your tanks, you need imagination and some engineering abilities. Not everyone uses the same ideas. I then expanded on their ideas and have improved my systems. Another beauty of creating you own systems is that you can expand and improve them at a later date, if need be.

Pumps for aquarium service companies

The list could go on and on!! If you have decided to use a closed system, a magnetic drive pump is your best choice. Little Giant carries a great series of in-line magnetic drive pumps. They are service free and of great quality.

The size of your pump is very important. You must consider how much water you want to pump (turn over) and where you need to pump it (head). Remember that water lines and elbows can reduce your flow rates.

Once you have chosen your pump, you need to decide where it will fit into the system. Be sure to follow the manufacturers' recommendations. A common rule is not to restrict inflow with valves and abrupt elbows.

Filters for fish tank maintenance service business

For filtration, you first need to figure out what principles you will apply (mechanical, chemical, biological). I use 100% biological. It keeps operating costs down and is much easier to maintain.

Once again, there are many choices. It basically comes down to which filters are easiest to maintain and service. I have chosen Ocean Clear canister filters by Red Sea. The best feature is that they are clear. This allows you to see inside the filter without actually dismantling it - big bonus!! They are also very user friendly and I have yet to encounter a problem.

It is important to not cheap out on your filter system. This is the heart of your entire set-up, even though it is hidden from view!! Be sure that it has a good sealing mechanism and is made of good quality materials. Your client is depending on you!!

Choosing heaters for your aquarium maintenance clients

Your pump will supply most of your heat. You may need to add supplementary heat if your client wants fish that require higher heating levels. Room temperature, tank size and location may also dictate your heat requirements.

It is advisable to work an in-line heater into your design. Rainbow Lifeguard carries in-line heaters.

Choosing lighting for your service customer's fish tanks

Lighting very much depends on what your clients want in their tank. If you're in control, you will need to plan for what the plants and fish will require. I always like to overkill on the lighting. This allows for expansion if things change in the future.

One little tip on lighting!! Invest in a timer - your client doesn't want to be bothered with trying to remember to turn lights on and off. Also be sure that your lighting ballast can accommodate a timer!!

Stands and Canopies for commercial aquarium installations

You can save yourself a lot of time and money if you learn to build stands and canopies yourself. You will also benefit because your design is your own style and you can improve on it over time. Most custom tank suppliers recommend you use their stands, and it may be fine to use their frames (unfinished). This will give you a warranty on the tank in case it leaks. You can then finish the tank whichever way suits your client.

If you do decide to build stands from scratch, be sure to look at a few other designs first. This will give you a better idea of what is required to support the weight of the tank.

Considerations about Tanks for your aquarium service company installations

There are many styles of tanks to choose from, and many sizes. The size and style will depend on the room it's going into. The most common and popular size is about 90 gallons. These are good tanks to work with and can make very nice community set-ups.

Your clients' budgets will dictate the type of set-up they get. There are many tank manufactures out there. I rank Hagen as one of the best-made tanks but they are quite costly and don't have much of a shape selection. Oceanic also carry nice tanks. They have a little more shape selection. They make a very nice bow front tank! My local supplier, Seastar, has a good selection of tanks and can make just about anything you need. This is the kind of service you will need to run a good aquarium service business.

Tools required to start a fish tank cleaning and maintenance company

You're going to need some equipment in order to do your cleaning. You may find over time that you might even make your own. The most common tool is some sort of algae remover. I use razors, magnets and scrub brushes, depending on the situation. You will also need something with which to clean and root around the gravel. It would be wise to invest in a good carrying case.

Here is a list of a few things you may wish to carry with you: Water test kits, paper towels, glass cleaner, plant fertiliser and water conditioners, fish nets, bags and elastics, fish food, pipe wrench, notebook.

You will of course find your own way through all of this. I have not listed every single component or piece of equipment you may need. I have only touched lightly on each subject, because everyone is different in what they prefer to use. You will also pick up information and improve your business as you expand.

Marketing your aquarium maintenance company


One of the unique aspects of the aquarium service business is that your creation is your advertising. Almost all of your new clients will contact you because of a tank they saw elsewhere, that you did the work on. So rule number one, always display your name and number somewhere on or around the tank. Always ask your client first, if it's ok to display your name, then offer them a free month's service or some fish…. It's well worth it for you!! Invest in some business cards, which you can leave on or around your tanks. As for running ads….I don't think it's worth it. You're better off to develop a catalogue or brochure, which you can personally drop off at potential businesses.

Aquarium Service Offerings

Most people associate a spotless tank with a healthy environment. Don't try to argue this point….just keep their tank spotless!!! You will be doing yourself a favour and you'll be promoting yourself as a clean running service.

Aquarium maintenance service packages

You're going to need to come up with a sound maintenance package. Draft something up and make changes as you encounter problems. You want to include your hourly rate and what you require to do your tasks. Do not get into drawing up contracts or agreements. You will scare off a lot of clients if they need to start signing stuff.

You will find over time, certain rules which the clients must follow. These rules will protect you and your client's investment. Here are a few: To decrease health risks on your client's fish, have them resist from adding fish without your consent. Also perform your maintenance tasks at off peak business hours. This will protect you and your client's customers from potential accidents. I have about ten rules, which I like to discuss with a client before installing a new tank. I can't stress enough, that you must work together in protecting their investment!!

Offer your clients a change of atmosphere once in a while. Let them know there are many different fish available and that you can change the look of the tank. Most clients become attached to their fish….this is ok, don't try to change that. If your client is open to change, this is a great opportunity to attract new customers with a new and different tank décor.

Spin off Services

I have been amazed at how owning an active fish room and maintenance service, interact. I find that I can convince most of my clients to buy fish from my room. I try to breed popular common community fish. Swordtails, Platys and Tetras are all great fish to produce. You can offer large numbers of fish at low prices, (I can't imagine what a school of Boesemani Rainbows is worth from a pet store). You will also be assured that your fish are healthy and will not cause any problems in an established tank. The fish room also provides you a quarantine area in which you can place new pet store arrivals. I always keep clients' fish for at least two weeks in my tanks; just to be sure they are healthy.

I find that at the businesses where I install tanks, I always get one employee who I make into a home fish tank owner. This gives you the opportunity to sell another tank set-up and fish. I have also sold a lot of tank cleaning equipment. Employees and customers see you using tools which they may not use at home, and become interested in that product.

Making house calls is also something I encounter. It may be real urgent or just a minor problem. It does give you the opportunity to talk to other fish owners. If you know your stuff, they really appreciate your help and tell all there friends about the "Fish Whisperer" or may even call you "The Fish Man", but only if you're lucky!!!

Maintenance Schedule

This is another small but not minor detail. You should inform your clients about the tasks you will be performing. Estimate how much time you need to do your work, and how often. Tasks will change in the first few months, but once the tank has settled, it will stabilise. You won't have too much algae in the beginning but may have in later months. Monitor the tank quite closely for the first few months. Run water tests and catch problems before they happen. After a few months you will settle into a routine and things will run quite smoothly. Whatever you decide as a schedule, make sure it works for you and your customers. Try to avoid busy times and after hours. After hours service involves keys to doors and alarm codes. The less extra responsibility the better!

Selecting What's Right for Your Client

There are many things to consider when you evaluate the installation of a system at a place of business. Don't be afraid to trade ideas with your client and be sure to always keep your client's interests at heart….not yours!!

Selecting a Location for an aquarium installation

This very important and must not be taken lightly. You must examine all the possibilities and decide on the best location for the tank. Always keep natural light, traffic, viewability, tank weight and ease of maintenance in consideration. Be sure that the location you choose is also acceptable to the client. Check the location to make sure it's level and that you have access to power. Some rooms are very difficult to work with and may need some prior prepping.


Some tanks just do not belong in some rooms. You must take the room's shape and furniture into consideration when selecting a tank. If your customers have a particular tank in mind, explain your ideas, they may like them! Avoid odd shaped tanks. Irregular shapes do not look good free-standing in a room. If the tank will stand against a wall, you have more choices of tank style.


This can be a tricky one. Most "non" fish hobbyists struggle with fish selection and compatibility. They don't understand that all fish do not live happily together and that water conditions can be different for each fish. ("Water is just water….isn't it?!"). This is your time to do your favourite part of the job…the explaining. Try to listen to your customers to get a general idea of size and colours they are looking for. It's always a good idea to carry a book with fish pictures, or make your own with commonly found fish, so that they can see the different varieties of fish. Try to suggest a few ideas and guide them through fish selection. Once you have a good idea of what they want, do some homework. Put together a list of compatible and available fish. You should also list an estimated price per fish. This will give your clients an idea on fish costs, which may influence fish chosen. Have your clients choose suitable fish with your guidance.

Aquarium Décor

Now this may go hand in hand with the fish chosen or it may not. You'll need to explain live plants vs. plastic or silk. You may decide to use both. You will also need to discuss rockwork or wood. You will find most of the time that your customer will leave this up to you and will have very little input ("just make it pretty!"). I find décor design to be one of the best parts about this work. You can use your imagination and create a living piece of art! I always try to keep designs different. If customers have chosen a similar tank style and décor as the guy down the road, I tell them. I will bet 100% that they want something better created than that of the guy down the road. This will also expand your horizons, and give potential future clients ideas on what they might like.


How you run your business is totally up to you. Try to become as organised as possible. The more tanks you look after the more things you need to keep track of. When you arrive at your clients' businesses, the more organised you look, the better they will feel. Try to keep things simple for yourself and your client!!

Tips and Tidbits

Well, if you've read the first three instalments of this series, you should be off to a good start. Nothing is ever carved in stone. You will find your own way to conduct business and develop you own systems and fish tank maintenance schedules. These are a few handy tips and suggestions that may make things a little easier.

  • If you have a computer, make use of it. Most of your customers will have a computer and it makes for a great way to communicate. E-mail is a wonderful way to contact your customers, send them invoices, and allow them to ask questions when you're not in their area.

  • Set-up each of your aquarium service clients with their own maintenance tools. It's much easier and healthier to supply each system with its own equipment. Some clients may want to do a little touch up in between visits. Just be sure to instruct them properly on tool usage.

  • Teach your clients and their employees about feeding and the aquarium's filter system. Show them what to do in an emergency and teach them to recognise problems before they get out of hand. Always train at least two employees on feeding methods.

  • Keep your customers up to date on the system and any changes you make. Never allow things to become a surprise. Clients tend to frown on sudden changes made without their consent.

  • Invest in quality aquarium maintenance tools that are easy to use and which do not create a mess. Water changes with a 5-gallon bucket are an accident waiting to happen! Find methods which are user friendly and clean.

  • Control algae. It is your clients' number one concern. A dirty tank delivers the wrong message to your clients' customers. Use fish species, lighting control, feeding programs and good removal tools. Algae is your number one enemy. (Say it over and over in your head!).

  • Be patient! Not everyone will have the understanding of aquatics that you do. Things that are simple to you may be more difficult for others to understand. Try to become well versed in basic principles; you will be explaining them over and over. Treat everyone with respect; you may be talking to one of your client's valued customers!!

  • Fish deaths are a part of this business. Learn to be sympathetic but firm. Some fish deaths are unforeseeable, while others are preventable. Work out a fish replacement system and stick to it. Replacing a few fish for free is no big deal, replacing a whole tank's worth is!!

  • Try to keep up to date on new products and fish species. Don't be afraid to try new things, it's the only way you will advance your skills. Invest in some good books and magazines; they will become useful for reference.

  • Please do not take the aquarium maintenance business lightly and don't undersell your skills. I still consider myself a novice but command $60 per hour, which is a competitive rate compared to other services in town.

"Your judgements and decisions will dictate your success."

I have a new client who recently went through some rough times with his tanks. I spent about three hours of my own time trying to figure things out and get all the systems up and running. I did not create these systems and I found them very frustrating to work with. I wanted nothing more than to get rid of the existing mess and start over. If I had done this, I may have worked myself out of a job. Instead, I made improvements on the system, replaced old equipment and restored the tanks to a healthy state. My client was very grateful and I earned the respect of a new client. Sometimes you may need to bend a little to gain more business.

I hope you have enjoyed this series and that it will help you develop your own maintenance business.

Aquarium Store Owner's Guide To Offering Aquarium Maintenace Services

by Robert Fenner

Reprinted with permission, from Bob's website in San Diego:

The concept of running a service company in concert with a retail business is not new to many industries. A survey of periodic literature points up the tremendous growth in the service sectors of employment and the prospectus for more growth. There is a growing trend towards this end in the retail pet trade, in particular in the aquatics areas. And rightly so; good sales are made and augmented by supplying set-up, on-going maintenance and diagnostic services for aquaria and ponds.

This article describes the basics of such a symbiotic relationship. Our own corporation, Nature Etc., Inc. operates such a business in San Diego, California, in concert with our retail outlets, Wet Pets, and other Divisions, making us a turn-key operation in ornamental aquatics. We have made our living providing services and products in this field since 1973.

Critical Elements:

Are the same as a retail store: Finance, personnel, location, set-up and stock. Let me briefly describe what I mean in each category.

1) Financing your new aquarium maintenance company

Yes, servicing aquatic systems takes money, like all other business endeavors. But not much. As you will find, much resource sharing can be done with your present operation. Small one-shot jobs can be billed and collected for on-completion, on-site. If this is to be a substantial part of your business, I encourage you to establish an entirely separate system of accountability for your service operations; requiring those involved to be responsible for billing and collecting accounts receivable and making their own payables. Start-up costs can be minimal, if you are able to lend a service vehicle and some nominal cleaning equipment.

2) Hiring help for your aquarium service business

Can run the gamut of shifting or hiring a part-timer to install and keep-up aquaria, to a full-time staff with it's own marketing, engineering/manufacturing, operations, finance and general management. It's fine to send out someone from your regular staff who has been okayed by your insurance company, for time to time work. Another very real possibility is using someone in a sub-contractor basis, or encouraging someone interested in starting a service company and "running it through your store". Whoever does it, the work is enjoyable, the hours flexible, and the pay much better than most any other position in our industry.

3) Location:

Can be a part of your store for some time for some days of the week. Depending on local laws, a municipal business license may allow an in-home office and some storage. The amount and quality of space is not problematical. A desk space and access to a phone are paramount.

4) Set-up and 5) Stock

are simple matters: use your store! A simple charge/back-charge system of lined paper to a computerized cross-inventory process may be employed to keep track of who owes who for what and whether money is being made or just shuffled.

6) Marketing:

What do you say when a customer asks you if you deliver, set-up, make sick fish house calls, etc.? Yes! This is service! Just think how much more business you'd have if you advertised on your business cards, printed ads, directory advertising, et al., including a sign in your store. Just word of mouth will boost sales and income in and out of your store.

Our own business owns and operates out of an 8,000 square foot building with a freshwater and marine import, acclimation and holding system, facilities for fabricating and showing custom acrylic aquaria, warehouse space for tools and materials and office space for technicians, marketing, administrative functions and other management. There is money to be made in aquarium service.

How does the service and retail business work out together? Excellently! We constantly feed each other leads, exchange materials, share technology and marketing ideas at weekly meetings.

Many retailers have given consideration to starting or expanding a fish service operation at their stores. There is little up-front costs and much of the continuing costs are met with the store's normal operations. What it takes as usual is time, dedication, leadership and organization. If you have little desire or time to devote to running your own service company, you might consider "subbing-out" to an enterprising person in your area or selling your leads directly.

Definitely, a wet service company can bring more money into your shop and help you pick up the slack in any slow periods.

Starting an aquarium maintenance company?

Take these tips from the Aquarium Service Pros!

by staffReprinted with permission

You work in an aquarium store and/or own an aquarium, and you've heard about aquarium maintenance companies that are charging $40.00 to $75.00 an hour, plus materials. You think to yourself: "Hmmm . . . I could do that!" Maybe you ordered and read one of those brochures that teach you how to start an aquarium service business, and it sure sounds easy enough. You think you have what it takes to clean aquariums, you have a little money saved, and you're ready to begin. All we ask is that you know a little about the business end first.

Read this page. We're not going to teach you how, but we will describe many of the pitfalls you probably haven't considered. You may change your mind, which just might save you a lot of money and aggravation.

Don't believe the hype about working as an aquarist!

It's not all peaches and cream! Aquarium maintenance can seem like a gold mine, but it's important to remember that all businesses face daily and on-going problems that cost time and money to solve. An aquarium business can face the same problems, only worse, because we deal with living aquatic animals that are easily damaged or killed. This is not a business of cleaning aquariums but a business of managing aquariums. This means you need a good working knowledge of everything there is to know about aquaria. To complicate matters, you have to depend on the aquarium owner to not do anything wrong - and not to blame you for something they did.

Think about the problems you've had with your aquarium. Now think about how you're going to solve fifty other people's aquarium problems, usually at no charge. Yes, that's right! We said "at no charge." Remember that as someone else's aquarium caretaker, you will usually be held responsible if a problem occurs. No one's going to pay you to solve a problem that they think you caused. Aquarium maintenance clients are not fish hobbyists, and many are not willing to educate themselves. You have to know the answers for them.

Fish tank maintenance is not easy work!

The hours are long. The work is difficult because each aquarium is equipped differently. Water sources are often a long way away from the fish tank. Aquarium emergencies can happen at any time of the day or night. If you have too many clients, the odds are that sooner or later, two of them will make an immediate demand on you at the same time. Our advice: Don't try it alone. Have a partner! Better to split profits than to have splitting headaches.

Operate your aquarium cleaning company legitimately.

If you start an aquarium maintenance business, the first thing you'll learn is that you'll have little or no support from the aquarium industry. You'll be in a business that is not truly recognized officially by the industry at large, unless you start out on a very large scale from the beginning. Aquarium retail stores will resent you and may even try to sabotage you or get you black-listed with suppliers. Aquarium supply and livestock distributors will not want to sell to you, sometimes even if you have the proper licenses. They risk alienating the retail stores that make up the bulk of their income.

Remember that you're small potatoes. The more legal you make your business, the more respect you'll get, but you'll also face more problems. Starting a small business used to be easy, but federal, state and local government have gone out of their way to make it difficult. The laws governing business are complicated, and professional help is expensive. Sales tax needs to be collected and paid. Business bank accounts require a federal tax identification number. Incorporating may help protect you from lawsuits, but this requires expensive legal help. The list goes on.

Fish tank service company insurance requirements

Don't rely on incorporation, get insurance!

This is the biggest mistake made by amateurs that start an aquarium maintenance business. Remember that you'll be working with large volumes of water owned by people wealthy enough to pay you for your services. All you need to do is make one mistake that floods someone's expensive Parquet floor, and you'll get sued out of business so fast it'll make you dizzy! If the damage is bad enough, you may wind up paying for the rest of your life. And now for the kicker . . . good luck getting insurance!

Only a handful of carriers will cover aquarium maintenance companies, and they're going to ask lots of questions about your level of experience and how you'll operate your business. You can't blame them. Water damage is expensive to repair, and claims could be enormous. New to the aquarium industry with only your hobby as experience? Expect outrageously high premiums! Oh, and by the way, don't forget to tell your automobile insurance company you'll be using your vehicle for a business which relies on transportation. If you don't and they find out, they'll drop you like a stone. If you do, they'll more than double your rates. Either way, you'll lose.

Financing your aquarium maintenance start-up

No matter what you've heard or read, you will need money to start up your business. Even if you're working out of your home, you'll still have equipment and inventory to buy. Insurance, legal fees, accounting fees, advertising, phone book listings, and other startup expenses all cost money. Remember that most new businesses don't make a profit for the first four to five years, and you can't do aquarium maintenance for more than six accounts on a part-time basis and work another job. The demand on you will be too great, and what if you get a call for an aquarium emergency while you're at work? Clients won't accept the excuse that you were working. Our recommendation: Don't even try it without at least $10,000.00 to $20,000.00 in your bank account. Bank or small business loans? You can try, but your ears will soon be ringing with the laughter you hear as they escort you out the door!

Research the competing aquarium service companies in your market

If there are already plenty of aquarium stores and/or maintenance companies in your area, can you compete? What can you offer that they don't? Do you know more than they do? As a new business, you need to offer competitive rates and guarantees. If you offer guarantees, can you back them up? If you offer the lowest prices, you'll only attract clients who couldn't afford the service if they paid full price. They'll expect more for their money, and if you don't charge enough, you won't make anything.

If you'll be the only game in town, find out why!

You've done some market research, and checked out your competition. There's obviously a lot of wealth in the area, as many of the houses are worth millions. The area is developing rapidly, with lots of new subdivisions filled with huge, expensive homes. You've made a rough approximation of per-capita income, and have found a potentially large market of high-end customers. All of the aquarium stores in your area are all smaller ma & pa operations. Their fish and knowledge are average, or below average. They don't sell state-of-the-art equipment or acrylic aquariums. None of them offer aquarium maintenance services, or what they offer is limited. You've pumped them for information, and to your surprise, you know far more than any of them. Wow! The future looks rosy. Or does it?

If a city seems to have a fair population with a level of high income, and is rapidly developing, why isn't there at least one quality aquarium business? Not necessarily a large store, but at least one with a knowledgeable staff, saltwater livestock, nice-looking tanks, and some newer protein skimmers and wet-dry filters in stock. FIND OUT WHY! The reason may be as simple as no one's ever thought of it before, and in that case, go for it! However, experience has taught us that there's usually a very good reason why certain specialty businesses don't exist in a larger city.

Some areas may look like a gold mine, until you discover they really aren't. This must be determined before opening a business, not after. Areas with high populations of wealthy people who are very politically-conservative; or are deeply-religious; or are from certain ethnic groups and backgrounds, may not prove to be that profitable for an aquarium business. "Old money" by the way, got to be "old" through saving and careful investment, not by spending left and right on what some people consider to be frivolities.

How can you tell? Explore the types of specialty stores in the area. What kind of furniture do the furniture stores carry. A lot of modern, vogue styles, or lots of traditional pieces. What kind of car-dealerships do you see, and what are they selling? How many new-age, or yuppified restaurants are there? Got sushi? Health-food stores? If they exist, how successful are these businesses? By now, you should be getting the idea.

Think you'll make a lot of money running a fish tank service business?

Don't bank on it! As we said, most new businesses do not make a profit in their first four to five years of business. You'll be shocked at how quickly the money you make disappears. Most new aquarium clients won't pay you up front. The more business you have, the more expenses you'll have and the more inventory you'll need. One good vehicle repair bill can set you back for all the profit you've made in a month. Without the vehicle, you're out of business. One mistake which forces you to replace a tank full of saltwater fish, and you could get set back even further. Retail stores can make more profit on maintenance than a maintenance company. Why? Because to them, it's gravy. Their entire overhead is paid for by profit made from walk-in business, and the employees they use for aquarium service can also work in the store.

Streamed live on Nov 11, 2020 - Love aquariums and working on them? Have you ever considered turning your fishkeeping passion into a business? Today we join Chris from as we discuss turning aquarium your hobby into an aquarium maintenance business!


by Howard Norfolk

First published in the newsletter of The Vancouver Aquatic Hobbyist Club

For some years during my regular visits to Big Al’s, the largest aquarium store in Vancouver Canada, I was impressed by the landscaping of some of the tanks, particularly in the African Cichlid section. Although these tanks only contained regular stock for sale, the rocks and gravel in them were arranged in a most attractive way. Eventually I came to notice that one young man in particular often seemed to be working on them, and the name on his lapel was Sean.

I met Sean Holland at the store again recently, and he told me that he is now spending most of his time building up a business of his own: “SHINY FISH Aquarium Services”, a company devoted to residential and commercial aquarium set-up, maintenance and holiday care, both fresh and salt water…..

Sean’s early interest in fish was sparked by his Dad’s ten gallon community aquarium. He soon outdid his Dad however, and by the age of fifteen had nine aquariums in the basement of the family house, in which he bred angels and livebearers, and kept goldfish and other fish.

He started working at Big Al’s part time in 1995, and then worked there full time for nearly two years. He left to become manager of the fish room in a large general pet store for one year, and then went back to Big Al’s part time.

Sean always knew, however, that he really wanted a business of his own of some kind, and to this end he took a business programme at college. After graduating he had to decide what kind of business to go into, or whether to pursue further studies at university.

For some years he had also been doing tank maintenance to earn extra cash. He did this in his spare time, getting customers by word of mouth, and was so busy that he sometimes had to turn down new clients. He began to think that this in fact could be the business he was looking for, and urged on by family and friends, Sean took the plunge and committed himself to “Shiny Fish”.

Sean is using the principles and concepts that he learnt in his college course to build up his business in a professional manner. He intends it to become his lifetime career, and the biggest such business in town. He has a brochure and printed cards, wears a uniform at work, and is about to have lettering and his own logo put on the sides of his smart looking van. When he starts with a new client he gives them a printed binder, in which he notes what was done on each of his visits, and records the water chemistry. He recently persuaded his local community newspaper to write an article about him in their business section. He has ambitious plans for the future, which include hiring full time employees, re-packaging fish food with his company name, and keeping a stock of well-fed healthy fish on hand to supply to clients.

Sean currently maintains about twenty tanks, in both private houses and commercial settings, and visits them on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis. He will go anywhere he is needed, and often drives two hundred kilometres per day, but hopes this will lessen as he gets more customers and can group his visits more efficiently. He is happy to help with any tank from ten gallons upwards, and is preparing himself to deal with much larger projects by making contact with custom tank builders (including a specialist in California), pond builders, and keeping in touch with the experts at Big Al’s. He has even taken up scuba diving for maintaining extra large tanks!

* * *

When landscaping a tank, Sean wants it to look natural. He likes to use lots of rock, but all of one type, except perhaps for one other feature piece of wood or rock. He positions the rocks in the way they might naturally occur, and creates different levels in the tank using fairly large gravel for stability. Plants are grouped together in a natural way, and the whole landscape slopes from back to front, which gives more depth.

When he visits a client’s tank, Sean first tests the pH and nitrate levels. This gives him an idea of how much water to change, and generally he likes to make quite large water changes. He is particularly concerned about nitrate levels, since nitrates cause stress and make fish susceptible to bacterial infections and parasites. He uses Hagen and Tetra test kits, and renews them every six months, since he feels they can go stale after that time.

He treats plants drastically too, pulling them monthly to trim them and their roots, after which he finds their growth and health improves. He uses Kent plant fertiliser weekly.

Having worked in aquarium stores, Sean has firm views on equipment, which can be summed up by saying “buy the best” (and most expensive). He much prefers canister filters, and strongly recommends Eheim as being the best and easiest to maintain. He likes Ebo-Jager heaters. Good lighting is important, and Sean advises that expensive specialist aquarium bulbs are worth using. They should be changed every 9-12 months. Sean recommends Hagen aquariums.

Sean actively encourages businesses to have aquariums in their reception or waiting areas. When maintaining such tanks he finds the public are often very interested in the aquarium and its occupants. After all, if you had to wait at somewhere with a beautiful aquarium or at one without, which would you choose? Thanks to Sean, customers will have that option in many more places soon!

Update January 2004: Sean told me that his business is still going well and that he now has his own web page, at:

Update March 2022: Sean's business has continued to grow and it is now the leading aquarium service provider in the area. Sean has also, recently opened an aquarium retail store.

The Pet Business - Is It For You?

by Robert Fenner

Reprinted with permission, from Bob's website in San Diego: www.wetwebmedia.comm


To Be Or Not To Be, That's the Question;

The pet business; is it for you? The pet industry is, indeed, a tough boat to row. On the positive end; it is exciting and enjoyable to interact with pets and people; it can even be profitable! On the downside, there are many, long hours (endless) to be put in, several aspects of finance and marketing that few folks are well-versed in to develop and implement, and hassles galore, both large and small.

This article is intended to present an overview of the pros and cons of retailing in the "nature racket". I hope it will serve to stimulate more critical thinking for those considering making the plunge.


Everyone ought to try it out at least once; especially civil servants! As they (?) say, small business is the backbone of the economy. However; being a small business owner/manager is not for everyone.

Do you take on responsibility readily? Do you realize that Accountability with the big "A" is manifest with having your own business? Many persons state their primary desire in self-employ is being "in charge"; not having to answer to the boss. Ho-boy; you've only just begun... The government, insurance, banking, accounting and legal matters are soon to be your new overseers; not to mention pleasing your customers.

Money Matters:

How much do you really "have"? That is, how much money can you get in a short while in cash? How long can you, are you willing to go without income? How about your significant others?

The costs for site selection, financing, staffing, setting up, stocking and running a retail business have sky-rocketed in the last twenty years. Leases now often include minimum square footage rents plus triple net plus a percentage of your gross sales; & the landlord is serious about you sticking to the terms and conditions you personally guaranteed.

Costs before opening run about $60.00 per foot for a full-line or pet-specialty retail shop; or approximately $90,000.00 for a fifteen hundred square foot store. When prospective retailers contact us regarding aiding in design, construction and initial help in running a new operation, we suggest they also have readily available another 20-50K for operating expenses. This is done in recognition that their business may run in the red for the first year (or two).

These are figures are realistic guesstimates!

Believe me, it is very easy to spend more. There are examples of shoe-string financed start-ups that have gone big time but these are the extreme minority. There has been and is a trend for fewer and smaller stores nation-wide these last two decades.

Other Hassles:

So; you've been successful keeping and reproducing aquatic life. Well, being a good hobbyist should easily translate into being a good retailer, right? Or perhaps a brain surgeon! Actually, the knowledge, skills, methods and attitudes of being a good pet-keeper are vital to successful retailing; but they are just a beginning to being a pet business person. Another, roughly two-thirds of your business falls outside this tactical, "doing" work. As illustrated:

Retail Management

Marketing, Operations, Finance

Marketing is basically "getting the work". i.e. advertising, promotions...

Finance is collecting and doling out the proceeds of the business including payrolls, handling credits and payments for materials

and livestock purveyors, payroll, business and resale taxes, liability & Worker's Compensation Insurance, rent, utilities, bank deposits and statements, loans... you get the idea.

& Operations: You say you've never had livestock die (?) or get sick (?). Welcome to never, never land! What is this stuff? Oh no!

And now for some uplifting notes:

Help is available! Please, please, puhleeease take my advice on this: Do your homework: use this 1-2 punch:

1) Work in the industry, in the retail, in a similar setting to what you intend to have for a few months. Something like taking care of someone else's children for a while before deciding to have your own. At the same time or before...

2) Study all you can get your hands on about retailing, livestock and inventory control, personnel management, locating a small business, blah, blah, blah ad nausea in the areas you feel weak in; and you are going to feel weak. Where can you find all this information?

A) In hobbyist and trade magazines. They are the best source of up to date advice.

B) The Small Business Administration: Thank goodness for the SBA! Yay! Write them for a list of free and for sale publications at Small Business Administration, Washington, D.C. 20416. Order their publications, read them, believe them, live them. If possible, visit one of their Regional Offices and pick up this info in person. Also through the SBA, look into SCORE, The Service Corps of Retired Executives: a free source of fantastic help from people who have been there and want to help you make it.

C) Go to the nearest large local library: if possible in a metropolitan center or college and ask a Reference Librarian for directions for locating the above documents and more on the science, hobby and business of pets/your specialty.

D) Get help from the Industry; you and their future are one! Ask the more local manufacturers, distributors/wholesalers/jobbers, collectors/breeders/cultivators for help. Do they suggest anyone going into the business as you've planned? Will they help you? you bet.

So; having said all this, should you go into the retail pet industry, along with the 10,000 or so other outlets in the U.S. ? If you really like people & you really like the livestock and the systems and you have your eyes open regarding the long hours, low equivalent pay and potential & probable hassles; the answer is... maybe.

Robert Fenner was President of Nature Etc., Inc., a California Employee-Owned Corporation engaged in aquatics; design, construction, service and retail. He may be contacted through his website

Aquarium Maintenance Service - Business Plan

Coming soon

Start an aquarium maintenance business and get paid to clean fish tanks for businesses like spas and dentist offices

Start an aquarium maintenance business and get paid to clean fish tanks for businesses like spas and dentist offices
Woman Looking At Aquarium In Spa - Photo 243834612 © Svitlana Ponurkina |



By: Chris Wade


You may thing that turning your fishkeeping hobby into a new aquarium maintenance company is as simple as just picking up a hose and bucket and start scrubbing algae for paying clients. You’d be Incorrect. There is a little bit more to it than that!... [read more]

Start an aquarium maintenance business by following these 10 steps:

  1. Plan your Aquarium Maintenance Business

  2. Form your Aquarium Maintenance Business into a Legal Entity

  3. Register your Aquarium Maintenance Business for Taxes

  4. Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card

  5. Set up Accounting for your Aquarium Maintenance Business

  6. Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Aquarium Maintenance Business

  7. Get Aquarium Maintenance Business Insurance

  8. Define your Aquarium Maintenance Business Brand

  9. Create your Aquarium Maintenance Business Website

  10. Set up your Business Phone System... [read more]

How to Start an Aquarium Maintenance Company

By Megan Martin

If you're a fish hobbyist with experience in maintaining and starting new tanks, the aquarium maintenance business may be for you. This business is easy to start on your own or with a partner, can be run from home and requires few supplies. Many aquarium maintenance services offer to set up tanks for clients and then maintain them. The aquarium maintenance business requires expertise, so successfully running your own aquarium before going into business is a necessity. Before you start visiting clients, make sure you have the proper registration, insurance and supplies.

1 - Write a business plan for your aquarium maintenance company. Decide what your business will focus on: maintaining existing aquariums, installing and maintaining new aquariums, and saltwater or freshwater aquariums. Determine your target market, whether it is businesses, homeowners or a broad market of fish enthusiasts. Research existing aquarium maintenance companies and evaluate how well they’re meeting the needs of your target market. Define ways that you can set yourself apart from the competition by offering [read more]

How to Start an Aquarium Maintenance Company

I have been asked a few times about my aquarium maintenance company. Starting your own business can be very overwhelming so I would like to do what I can to help people get into this industry.

Starting an aquarium maintenance company is a huge undertaking, like starting any business. Some people think it is a dream job getting to work on great setups and working with what you love. This is not the reality much of the time.

Before you try to start your own aquarium service company, I highly suggest you work for someone else first. This will give you first-hand experience with what it is really like. It will also give you an inside perspective on a working service company. You will learn things to do that you would have never thought of, and hopefully a lot of things not to do. I say hopefully because learning the hard way is the most important learning of all. Those are the hardest lessons to learn and learning them while working for someone else is the best way... [read more]

Starting an Aquarium Maintenance Business


Some fish owners hire aquarium maintenance professionals to clean their aquariums, making aquarium maintenance a potentially profitable business idea. There are several different ways to run such a business, including working from home or renting space in a pet store. The important thing is to network with as many people with aquariums as possible and establish yourself as an expert who can help them maintain healthy, thriving tanks... [read more]

Aquarium Services Business Plan


EcoAquatics will manage saltwater aquariums for its clients. We will help every step of the way, from setting up the aquarium, to cleaning it, maintaining it, and feeding the fish. Depending on the client, they can go step by step along with us, or simply enjoy the finished product.

We will help clients make choices that will not harm the environment in any way. We understand that sometimes this hobby can be damaging to the reefs we are trying to simulate. One of our main goals is to help our clients understand this, and choose reef friendly inhabitants.

The client must pay for equipment, supplies, and inhabitants, directly through the supplier, using their credit cards or accounts with local retailers. We are not going to buy and resell, just direct purchases.

We will focus on saltwater tanks only. Freshwater tanks are easier and require less maintenance. Saltwater takes advantage of what we know how to do. Furthermore, saltwater tanks are more likely to have features, colors, and visuals that enhance an office appearance.

We will customize the aquarium to match the client’s budget. We will help our clients decide whether they want a fish-only or a reef tank, while we have an emphasis on reef aquariums, we can do both. We will also make sure that all the inhabitants... [read more]

How to Start Aquarium Maintenance Business

The aquarium maintenance business is providing services of cleaning and maintaining aquariums of the client who doesn’t have time for it. It is absolutely an ideal business for entrepreneurs who are pet lovers by nature and want to turn their hobby into a successful side business venture.

A clean aquarium is required for healthy fish and it is recommended after every 10 days the tank should get cleaned. A beautifully organized aquarium with colorful fishes is always very soothing and relaxing. One can initiate this venture from a home location with low capital investment.

As your fish tank business grows you can expand by...[read more]