This will only be my own opinion of course. Then again, I’m always right. Excuse me, what’s that noise – oh, not to worry, it’s only my wife falling about laughing!
The local fish shop is usually referred to as the LFS. The size of it depends a great deal on where the aquarist lives, as near a city they are likely to be small ‘supermarkets’ and in less populated areas they could be quite small standard shops. I live in a small coastal town, and the one close to me is very small. If I want to wander around a much bigger establishment the car needs to come out for a trip to the city.
There isn’t much doubt that the big stores hold a lot more live and shelf stock, it stands to reason. There’s far more to ogle at and sometimes, but not always, the prices are cheaper as some larger establishments also sell on the internet. They are likely to be busier and it is possible the staff may not be able to spend as much time with each customer. This applies most at the weekend, so those who have the option to call in at a quieter time usually find things better.
The small store is sometimes a one man band, perhaps with an assistant at the weekend when things are busier. There isn’t the large choice of live and shelf stock, and often the prices are a bit higher than the larger establishments.
Before buying everything over the internet based on price alone a little consideration is needed. There isn’t anything wrong with buying over the internet, nothing at all, provided the supplier is reputable. However, there are little things that matter a lot.
If an aquarist has a LFS, big or small, then the first thing to do is check it over. Without any intention of buying, wander around and observe. Note one or two prices of commonly available equipment and later check them against the cost on the internet. Are they very much more expensive in the LFS? Have a good look at the display aquariums – are they well maintained and clean, with apparently healthy livestock swimming about? Is there a reasonable choice? Can the shop obtain livestock on request, and who supplies it? Often the establishment that supplies the LFS is known and has a reputation for quality (or otherwise). Some shops are keen to sell whatever to whoever I’m sorry to say, but fortunately they are a minority. The best and most suitable equipment in those shops is always the one they happen to have in stock, even if it isn’t. Quality advice is in very short supply and there isn’t any interest in having a chat. I’ve met the odd shop assistant who hasn’t a clue.
On the other hand there are those LFS’s that, within reason (they’re not rushed on Saturday afternoon) are willing to chat. They will answer questions if they can, and won’t blag on if they don’t know. They’ll be interested in the aquarium the aquarist has, and what’s in it. If the aquarist’s LFS is one of these, then the aquarist’s luck is in.
If the LFS is a big one, then the equipment choice could be extensive and also the livestock. Prices could be very competitive. Becoming a regular customer is well worth while and it is likely the aquarist will become known as a regular – eventually a cup of coffee could appear and a chat in general become usual.
If the LFS is small, then of course equipment and livestock choices will be less extensive. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile purchasing as much as possible within reason. If the shop is a ‘one man band’ then the aquarist will become known more personally to the shopkeeper and that cup of coffee will be a regular occurrence when at the same time the world is put to rights. There could even be a conversation about marine matters! Small establishments are usually well aware that their prices for major items are not particularly competitive, and they accept this. This is so because they cannot bulk buy as the larger establishments can. They sell in quantity items such as additives, dry sea salt mixes, food etc, as well as livestock that usually can be ordered.
If the aquarist is known to the LFS there is another advantage that could be useful. It may or may not apply, it depends how well known to the LFS the aquarist is. If something is to go wrong with aquarium equipment it could happen on a day when everything is closed. Maybe this doesn’t matter, but what if it was the heater? A phone call to the LFS proprietor and hey, no problem.
I recall my LFS proprietor saying that he would be willing to nip and get some piece of needed equipment provided it wasn’t 2am in the morning. He also said he would be willing to repair equipment if necessary and possible but again only for known customers. This applied even to equipment obtained over the internet, if not under guarantee. He would not, however, do it for someone who didn’t visit the shop regularly and buy smaller items as needed. Fair enough I say.
The cost of marine equipment can be quite high, and it is very reasonable to search for a good price and then order it over the internet if the LFS is too expensive. As said most small LFS proprietors understand this. If the aquarist is lucky and has a knowledgeable and helpful LFS then regularly calling in for just a chat (and hopefully a coffee) and purchasing those smaller items as required is well worthwhile.