The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping - Aquarium Forum
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post #1 of 30 (permalink) Old 01-22-2011, 09:38 AM Thread Starter
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The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

We all know that, with the exception of buying from dedicated breeders and reputable importers, an LFS (Local Fish Store) is one of the best places to purchase livestock. Find a good LFS in your area, and you'll reap the rewards of knowledgeable sales people, healthy livestock, and overall a healthy aquarium and appreciation of the hobby. Nothing is more discouraging to someone new to the hobby or to a particular species than having their livestock die due to poor advice, or just plain poor health of the animal from the start. As someone who just celebrated their 10th year anniversary both in the hobby and in the business, I decided to sit down and make a list of the Do's and Don'ts of shopping at your LFS. I see a lot of people come through my doors every day, and I see trends and patterns of behavior that, if slowly and gently corrected, will benefit everyone involved, most importantly your fish. They never asked to be put into an aquarium, so it behooves us to give them the best care possible!

Finding a good LFS


The first step is in finding a good local fish store, and this can sometimes be a daunting task depending on where you live in the country. Some places are absolutely rife with independent shops, while others have nothing at all and a small road trip to the nearest store is required. It becomes even more imperative in both of these extremes to be picky and choose the proper shop; in the first example, there's a higher chance of inadvertently using a bad LFS, and in the second you want to maximize your time. Driving an hour to get fish at a shop that knows little and does nothing to help their customers is a recipe for disaster.
How do you find a reputable LFS? Here's a few things to look for:
  • Are the tanks clean and well maintained? Clean tanks signify that the store cares about the appearance of their displays, as well as the well-being of the livestock. This is the first thing I look for when visiting a new store.
  • Does it smell? This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. Every LFS has a smell; it's a universal amalgamation of water, fish, food, and everything else in there. It should be earthy and maybe slightly wet smelling. What you don't want to smell is dead and rotting livestock/food, and that's a very different and easily identified smell.
  • How does the rest of the store look? Are products displayed clearly and logically on the shelves? Or are they thrown on there just to get them out of the box they arrived in? Is everything clean? I like to ask random employees where I can find the heaters/filters/food/lighting supplies, to see if they immediately know where everything is. Don't discount them if it takes them a moment; they may be new. But if they tell you 'I don't know' and make no attempt to help you find it, use caution in purchasing livestock. If they can't be arsed to help you find the heaters, then they likely can't be arsed to learn about the animals they sell.
  • Are the employees friendly and outgoing? They don't have to give you a hot chocolate and a foot rub, but it's always a good sign to be greeted when you walk through the door, or when you enter a defined section of the store. Do you see smiles (both on the employees and on the customers)? That's a sign that they're happy to be there, which means they're more likely to give you dedicated attention, and dedicated attention to the livestock as well.
  • Have you stopped at the Austin Hair Care Salon Tire Center and Aquarium Extravaganza Emporium? Shopping at a local pet store that also sells fish is fine, but try to avoid buying fish at a location that also sells a majority of items that have no relevance to the aquarium hobby. I have seen a scant few stores like this that actually have good livestock and knowledgeable employees, but I've also seen gobs of them that do not.
  • Ask some random questions! How big does this fish get? What does this fish eat? Can I be successful breeding this fish? Pick the brains of the employees; this can be an excellent way to test their knowledge. Trust me, we know when someone is asking questions to test our knowledge, and we don't mind. We enjoy proving that we know our stuff!
  • Is the store busy? I realize that (especially in this economic environment) a store may not be bustling constantly, but during peak hours (evenings and weekends) there should be a constant flow of consumer traffic through the store, whether it's slow or fast. A lack of customers can mean many, many things, but it can also signify that the store has a reputation for being unreliable or lacks knowledge.
  • And most importantly: How does the livestock look? This is very, very important. Everything else can be in order, but if the stock tanks are full of dead/dying/emaciated/sick fish, then avoid the place like it's full of the plague. Good stores will quickly remove what fish die (there's a certain amount of inevitable loss, no matter the quality of care) and make sure that any problems, like ich etc., are taken care of in a timely manner. Fish are our business, and fish are our livelihood, and displaying poor quality livestock is a surefire way to lose business. If that particular store is showing off poor livestock...find someplace else to spend your money, even if it's a longer drive. It will pay off in the long-run.
Now you've found the perfect LFS! The employees are helpful, the fish look great, they have all the products you could possible need and then some. Great! Now what? How do you go about purchasing things and getting the greatest bang for your buck and time? Here's a few pointers that will help maximize your time spent there, and foster a healthy, friendly relationship between you and your LFS sales people.

The Do's

Know what you want. You don't need to know the exact fish you want, or even the exact species, but at least have a general idea what you came into the store for. Do you want a livebearer? Tetra? Something a little more showy? Aggressive? A red color? Having a good general idea of what you want will help you focus on what you need, and allow you to avoid those things that have no relevance to your aquarium.

Know your tank. We don't care how many pieces of gravel your aquarium has, but we may ask you what filter you have on it, or what size filter or light. We may ask you what your pH is typically at, as well as what you currently have for fish in there at the moment. What temperature is your aquarium kept at? How big is it? All of this information may seem like a lot to remember, but trust me, it's easy to keep it on a mental note card. Knowing about your aquarium helps us help you, and will get you the detailed care and information you require.

Come prepared. Bring an ID book with you (if you don't have one, get one! 'What Fish?' is an excellent, basic ID book. It's small, and gives concise information. If you'd like something a little more in-depth and with more species/techniques, pick up the Encyclopedia of Aquarium Fish. Look for The PocketExpert Guide to Marine Fishes if you're shopping for marine fish. Do you have a long trip? Is the weather outside particularly hot or cold? Bring a cooler! You may think you'd look odd walking into a pet store with a cooler, but trust me, we understand completely. Are you the type of person to take notes? Bring a small notepad and pen to do so.

Go straight home with your fish. No shopping! Make your purchase the last thing you need to do before heading home; fish only have a certain amount of time in their bags, and the less stress you can put them through the better.

Listen to the employees. Typically without exception, the employees in an LFS are there because they enjoy the hobby and have a good amount of knowledge about it and the things involved. Even the most seasoned old-timer can learn new things in the hobby if they take the time to listen.

Be tactful. Be respectful of existing customers. We typically try to give our current customer our undivided attention, and being interrupted by another customer with a bevy of questions throws us off, and is just generally rude. Most employees don't mind answering a quick question (Where are the platies?), but be respectful of the person who was there first and wait your turn or find another employee if you have a more detailed question/problem.

Get to know the employees. You don't need to know about their formulative years at Yale, but it's always a good idea to get to know the people who are helping you, especially if you're going to be shopping there often. Get to know our names; offer us yours! We're always more than happy to converse with you on a personal level, rather than a business level. We'll still sell you fish, but conversations are easier when both people are more comfortable with each other. You don't have to invite them over for dinner, but make an attempt to become professional friends.

Ask questions. Never hesitate to ask a question that you don't know the answer to. We're there to teach first, sell fish second, and any good LFS employee worth his saltautolinker.com autolinking image will be more than willing to answer any questions you might have. We can't answer them if you don't ask, though, so ask away! David Lass delivered fish to my store yesterday, and a customer asked him for help. He couldn't get fish for them, but he was absolutely willing to answer any of their questions. That's the mark of a good hobbyist!

Be willing to learn! This goes hand in hand with 'listen to the employees'. Keep an open mind and respect the fact that you do not know everything there is to know about the aquarium hobby, and we'll do the same. There's plenty we can teach you, and just as much that you can teach us, as long as we're both willing to let it happen.

The Don'ts

Be rude or otherwise obnoxious. We realize you have a busy schedule, but we're dedicated to helping every single customer to the best of our abilities, and we will not sacrifice the care of one customer to satisfy the impatient nature of another. If all available employees are busy, wait patiently for one to become free. Take that time to read up on interesting fish you encounter, or observe the livestock. Don't be obnoxious; it's counterintuitive to us helping you. Don't knock on the tanks, sigh, tap your foot impatiently, talk loudly on your cell phone, or otherwise annoy us and the other customers. If your children are not well-behaved, perhaps leave them at home. We love seeing children come in and light up when they see the fish, and one of my biggest joys is introducing a child to the hobby and seeing them be successful at it, but I'm not a babysitter, and if your child is running wild and sticking their hands into tanks, I will not balk at sternly telling them to knock it off and go find their parent.

Openly disregard opinions/info. We hate this, with the burning passion of a thousand suns. Don't ask us 'will this fish be compatible with what I have in my aquarium?' or 'willt his out-grow my aquarium?' or other similar questions, allow us to go through the whole explanation, and then do it anyway when we tell you it's not a good idea because it's not the response you wanted. We are nothing if not honest, and we will tell you in polite terms that what you're planning is a bad idea. Please respect that.

Waste time. As the saying goes, 'Time is money'. Don't waste the time of other customers or the employees. We are more than happy to help you, but be respectful of the fact that you're often times not the only person in a store. Being greedy in regards to the time of an employee is rude, and not fair to anyone else involved. Do not ask an employee to get you a fish, and then not know what you want; this is one of my biggest pet peeves. You don't have to know the exact fish in a tank that you want, but at least know that you want gold dust mollies, or glow tetras. Don't expect us to pick a fish for you, either. We'll pick the healthiest fish out of a group for you, but asking us to choose a tetra or livebearer for you, or a type of rainbow, without giving us information on your aquarium, is a bad idea. We don't know your tastes; choosing a fish should be a personal decision, not one made by an arbitrary employee in an LFS.



Ask for THAT FISH. THAT ONE RIGHT THERE. NO, BEHIND THE OTHER 400 FISH THAT LOOK EXACTLY LIKE IT. After 10 years, I'd roughly calculate that I've netted around 200,000 fish. I'd say that, at this point, I'm damn good at it; I can snag a neon tetra out of a moving group in under 5 seconds. However, not everyone is as good at catching fish as I am. Asking for that one molly in a group of ten is more than reasonable, but asking for that single neon out of a group of fifty is not. We have no problem catching specific fish for you, so long as it's within reason.


If you can follow these guidelines, and use common sense, your shopping experience in an LFS can be very, very rewarding. You might even make a friend or two along the way. As David Lass says, your LFS is the Heart of the Hobby; support them and you'll reap the benefits!


Good fishing!

Edited 1/24/2011: Added a link to another freshwaterautolinker.com autolinking image ID book.


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Last edited by Scuff; 04-15-2011 at 08:01 AM.
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post #2 of 30 (permalink) Old 01-22-2011, 12:25 PM
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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

This should become a sticky.

I've got a situation where I've got a great LFS (Fish-4-U) and a PetsMart LPS equidistant from my house and I find I'll go to one or the other depending on my needs. I've got a dog as well, so I'm in PetsMart very often, and I'm at Fish-4-U on a regular basis checking out the new livestock. Some things I like about each:

LFS:
Sells things you couldn't dream of getting at an LPS, like RO/DI water at $0.20/gallon, which for a small- to medium-sized tank owner far outweighs the capital investment in an RO/DI unit. They also have great staff, as listed above, and have quite a few aquarium supplies in much greater variety than an LPS. I enjoy going in there to admire their show-only tanks (which take up half the tank space in the store). The downside of my LFS is that they are very pricey (sometimes even 2x the price for the same product at an LPS), and their fish are more often than not fish for use by the very advanced fish keeper (which I am not). Examples include discusautolinker.com autolinking image, rasboras, endlers, killifish, and a slew of others. With that being said, they have some decidedly cool critters in there (like clams and shrimp) which complement a planted tank, and their plant selection blows my LPS out of the water.

LPS:
I love the prices, and the friendliness of the staff. They may not know as much as my LFS store, but they're always willing to help and as it turns out half are aquarium keepers as well, albeit not the guru aquarium keepers at the LFS. I've corrected them more than once on their knowledge base (as in, the thought pattern that says PC is more effective than T5HO because of the higher Wattage), but I've heard them straight up suggesting to customers to shop on Craigslist for their basic setup, and come back for the stuff their purchase may be lacking. They're looking to build a customer base, not make a quick sale. Now I know this is uncommon (especially for WalMarts, *sigh*), but I also know there are some LPS's out there that are equally great. The downside, as mentioned above, is that they are not an aquarium-specific store. Their selection of supplies is limited, the fish I have brought home from them are diseased 50% of the time, they have snail problems in their tanks, and there is that unique smell of dead matter. You can even see the fish that are not long for the world swimming listlessly. What I like about the LPS's fish selection is that they are all freshwaterautolinker.com autolinking image, have a great tetra, danio, barb, platy, molly, and guppy selection (better than the LFS), simply due to the fact they don't have half their tanks as show-only, and are freshwater-specific.

I end up buying fish from PetsMart simply because I know what I want, can often times effectively handle disease and other maladies that they might come into my tanks with, and the majority of the time either Fish-4-U is sold out of the species or they don't even carry it. I've made conversation with the PetsMart employees but I rarely ask their advice, whereas I go to Fish-4-U specifically for asking them questions and buying specialized equipment, such as a UV filter or bubble convection filter, along with some great pre-filter foam and a great T5HO light fixture. However, things that both stores carry, like plant-specific substrate, raw filter material & media bags, fish meds, etc. I will buy from PetsMart without question. I buy plants from PetsMart, whereas I buy driftwood and lace rock from Fish-4-U.

I could ramble on forever, but I'll stop here. Thanks a ton for the post Scuff

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post #3 of 30 (permalink) Old 01-22-2011, 12:45 PM
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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

That is a great write up. Here we have several stores, including petsmart (3) Petco (3) and several lfs. I have one lfs that is perfect for me and in most situations are just like you describe as a good one. Most of our lps have clean tanks and all but the selections are normal where as I usually go for higher end fish and things. My lfs will try and order any fish that I want. Plants are always healthy. They may cost a little more than the typical lfs or lps but I get quality service and product. The even made arraignment for me to purchase my 220, stand and canopy thru the distributor in order to save me money then delivered it to me for free. They always give me a good price on fish that I take them, but most of the time I just run up my credits till there is something I want. I even take them some fish they decide not to sell and keep for themselves. Those I usually just give them some. I've been a customer there since they opened and will remain one until they decide to give it up.

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post #4 of 30 (permalink) Old 01-22-2011, 12:49 PM
 
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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

LFS are becoming a thing of the past, Aquarium Adventure on Carle Place in long island New York, was one of the biggest and best in new york. They closed down, ive turned to getting my equiptment online at like big als or petco, which ever is cheaper and my livestock i get from breeders i meet on forums. I think economic times have hit all hobbys hard but this one especially. I like going to LFS and picking out exactly which fish or plant i get but those days are gone.
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post #5 of 30 (permalink) Old 01-22-2011, 12:58 PM
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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

Oh, one other thing I like about my LFS vs. my LPS - if I made a mistake on a fish purchase and have to return him/her, my LFS will take them on donation, where as my LPS won't.

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post #6 of 30 (permalink) Old 01-22-2011, 01:49 PM
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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

I agree,its a very well written article.I also second the sticky,because for new members who are looking for advice,they should read this to get some pointers.

When i lived in Lawton,there was two LPS.One was M&M,the other Fins and Critters.he latter was a very good store,and though the employees didnt know a whole lot about certain fish or plants,they were open to advice by people,and would always have freshautolinker.com autolinking image foods and healthy pets.Sadly,where i am now,theres two as well, but neither knows what they are doing.I asked for a canister filter from one and they thought i was crazy.The other had some very nice plants,but were not for sale.And now they are planning to do away with the fish dept and specialize in pet grooming.

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If i drew it it'd look like a monkey eating a horsradish on the moon or something
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post #7 of 30 (permalink) Old 01-23-2011, 06:40 AM Thread Starter
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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

Wow guys, thanks for the praise! I'm also open to suggestions for things to add to the list, so don't be afraid to speak up if you think something should be on there.


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post #8 of 30 (permalink) Old 01-23-2011, 01:46 PM
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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

To make this a more effective sticky, you could try and consolidate additional comments that might be relevant into the main post, then copy and re-post and make that the sticky. Just my thoughts, though.

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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

now is it a DON'T if you are looking at fish and you LFS gives out wrong info and you correct them. Like say a pleco is perfect for a brand new 10g tank...My favorite is when my LFS told me a common pleco was full grown at 3".
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post #10 of 30 (permalink) Old 01-23-2011, 06:02 PM Thread Starter
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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

I think that's less of a 'don't' and more of a 'find a new LFS', Adam. As for it being a sticky, well...that's up to the powers that be. I'm a power that isn't.


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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

I went ahead and made a sticky of this. It can be added to as seen fit.

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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

Thanks Susan!


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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

The only local fish shop in my area closed down recently!! I got my black ghost and angels from there, and for a long while I decided I wasn't buying from anywhere BUT there. But I went to the store a few days ago, there was a sign on the door that said closed, during regular open hours, and another that said the dog and cat store next store was going to start selling crickets, and that was that.

So now, I have the choice of going to the Petco that is less than a mile from my house, or the PetSmart that is about five miles away. For products like food and water conditioner, etc. I go to petco, they're cheaper. But for fish, I go to Petsmart. They are generally a little more expensive (although I did get some rams there today that were not only less expensive, but a lot healthier than petco's!) , but none of their fish are floating at the surface, having been dead for two weeks, like the ones at petco. Petco is the only place I go for my bettaautolinker.com autolinking image, though. Even my LFS kept them in half-cup death traps that were never cleaned.

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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

The closest fish store to me shut down a few years ago, and for good reason. While they were knowledgeable, their prices were extremely high and their staff often rude and condescending. I remember going in there as a 10 or 11 year old, by myself, and being treated like an idiot because I didn't know things; when all I wanted to do was learn. Petsmart became my place to go and they were always willing to help.

When I recently started back up, I went to the new Petsmart right down the road. I always go straight to the fish section and ask a lot of questions to test the knowledge of the person working there. I've discovered a couple of them know a ton about the hobby, and others are just working there for the money. I sometimes go so far as to asking when the employee will be working next and scheduling my stop-ins by when they will be on shift (slightly awkward because the person who seems most knowledgeable happens to be extremely young and attractive, so she might confuse my intentions). I suggest giving both your LFS and your LPS a try and finding out for yourself where you think you should go.

I am planning an hour trip to a fish store a couple of the people at Petsmart told me was extremely good (had some of the fish I wanted and that Petsmart didn't have, also had the refrigerated bacteria, and a few other things). I don't know of another pet store within half an hour drive unfortunately.

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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

Thanks for the advice
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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

Do carry a smart phone with you and google everything your not 100% sure of.
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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

mk4gti ive always got my phone in my hand double checking theve labled the fish right or if i cant pronounce the name ill show the employee!

over here most fish shops are garden centres too, ive never seen an independently owned fish shop!! i have a range of shops i go to;
there’s a pets at home (i think its like your petsmart) i go to if i need water conditioner if ive run out and am about to do a water change but thats it, the people working there know diddly squat about fish and there are many many dead/ decaying fish in the tanks. there plants are quite cheep but all the ones ive brought have died!
a shop i go to often is called world of water which i quite like, it does fish (freshautolinker.com autolinking image water, marine and cold water) and reptiles. ive been going there for years for my lizards stuff and as its close ive been going there for fish before i found out about another place, what i like most about it tho is all the fish are healthy, they have quarantine tanks and if you ask them a question they dont know they'll go and get another employee who does know. there selection isnt amazing but has the standard community fish, cold water, cichlid and standard marine fish. There great for plants so i get mine there.
Then theres maidenhead aquatics, a chain store thats been going since the 80’s and has grown massive! they only sell fish and the selection is outstanding, the employees are very knowledgeable and always have really good deals on random tanks and you can go into their breeding room and look about. This is my new favourite shop and ill be getting most if not all of my fish from here in the future.
And one more i go to every now and then is a garden centre/fish shop, there community fish selection is great but cichlids...ive only every seen about 3 in there! There good for food tho as its all a lot cheaper than everywhere else i go.
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post #18 of 30 (permalink) Old 02-21-2013, 01:49 PM
 
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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

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post #19 of 30 (permalink) Old 05-08-2013, 05:41 PM
 
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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

Yeah here is a DON'T

..... Do not for any reason buy fish from Walmart..... if you do... just hit yourself in the head. They will be dead in a day
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post #20 of 30 (permalink) Old 05-08-2013, 05:53 PM
 
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Re: The Do's and Don'ts of LFS Shopping

thats a really good report. some really good reading.im glad I got a really good lfs in my area. I been dealing with them from the 90s and really like going in there
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