Customer service is key to the success of The Aquatic Warehouse in Hertfordshire. Here, Glen Bird, a partner in the business, reveals how this specialty outlet has grown over the past three decades
Three business partners and five team members focus on excellent customer service
Can you tell us the story of The Aquatic Warehouse?
The Aquatic Warehouse was formed in December 1993 when our three partners bought the premises in Cole Green just outside Hertford, Hertfordshire. Shortly after, the renovation began in earnest!
In March 1994 we opened the doors to the public, showcasing our cold water section, and while trading we also built our tropical fish house and opened it in October 1994. Fast forward eight years , where the business continued to thrive, we opened our second store in Crews Hill.
Later that same year, however, tragedy struck. In November 2002, an electrical fire engulfed the entire Cole Green site. A truly terrible period, but one that taught us the art of resilience and cemented our ambitions even more. As we waited for planning permission to be approved and our new building to be erected, we endeavored to open a third store in Harlow in 2003, marking our 10th anniversary in business.
The store works with leading suppliers
January 2004 saw the reopening of the Cole Green store and the three stores came together. However, our management team continued to assess the success of our stores and after a period of reflection felt that three stores spread the team too thin and, not wanting to see customer service standards slip, the decision was been taken to close the Harlow store. In 2015 the team also made the decision to focus on the Cole Green store, making it the flagship store for The Aquatic Warehouse. The store has been completely renovated to mark this exciting chapter and has been designed to be the best aquatic outlet in the region.
In 2016, responding to the demand of our customers, we diversified by launching our pond and aquarium maintenance activity, which continues to grow. We have since closed our Crews Hill branch and moved our staff to the Cole Green site to ensure they are as good as possible.
How big is the store and how many employees?
The Aquatic Warehouse sits on a 6,500 foot site with ample parking, supported by three partners – myself, Paul Sharpner and June Sharpner – and five incredibly dedicated and passionate team members.
What sets The Aquatic Warehouse apart from other stores and why do your customers like you so much?
We believe that our exemplary customer service is what sets us apart! We pride ourselves on providing a superior level of service to all of our customers, many of whom we have known for years.
We also believe in providing truly personalized service, hence the customer loyalty and retention that we are so proud to have achieved. Simple things like meeting and greeting all of our customers can make such a difference in the customer experience and we are delighted to share our advice, knowledge and support with both new and seasoned fish keepers. We are also flexible and will always go the extra mile to help our customers, as demonstrated during the Covid lockdown, when we provided a free delivery service to our most vulnerable customers.
We offer all our customers a privilege card which gives them a 10% discount on all fish and plants – this gives us the opportunity to engage with new faces and introduce ourselves to customers.
Our excellent staff certainly sets us apart from other stores. They enjoy being “part of the family” and understand the importance of customer loyalty. We are fortunate to have low staff turnover and our loyal staff have been with us for many years, and we know that our customers appreciate being served by a familiar face.
All this has allowed us to create a friendly store that has a pleasant and fun atmosphere.
What have been your biggest “victories” as a company?
Our main objective is to remain a “brick and mortar” company supported by a solid management structure that sees at least one partner present in the store seven days a week. We also pride ourselves on providing professional after-sales and maintenance service. and to have a knowledgeable team with an unparalleled understanding of the products we offer. It is this knowledge that we want to pass on to our customers, taking the time to educate them on the best way to manage their pond and aquarium. These are the values that underpin everything we do.
We have also completely redesigned our store and cold water area to enable us to house a wide variety of livestock and an impressive range of brand name products – together creating one of the best aquarium stores in the UK. We are exceptionally proud of what we have accomplished.
It would be remiss of us not to mention our involvement with the BBC DIY SOS ‘Big Build’ program in 2016, which was a favorite memory for many of us. Filmed in Welwyn Garden City, we were able to contribute to this incredible and humbling experience, installing an OASE biOrb Life 30 aquarium (courtesy of the OASE team) in a special dialysis room being built in the home of a lovely local lady.
What is your long-term vision for the business?
Our long-term vision is simple: to continue to meet the standards we have already set for ourselves. We want to continually improve our store to ensure it is a fun and enjoyable environment to shop and to ensure that we stock everything a customer expects to find here.
We will also continue to develop our pond and aquarium maintenance business, which is growing exponentially from year to year. This value-added service not only expands our customer base, but we know it also leads to increased in-store sales.
What brands do you like to work with?
We have always had, and hope to continue to have, a great relationship with OASE. They helped us create a fantastic in-store display of aquariums and dry goods; products that we know drive sales and build customer loyalty through the quality and breadth of products offered.
We also particularly enjoy working with biOrb, Den Marketing, Hagen, Hikari, Hozelock, Interpet/Blagdon, JUWEL, Red Sea and Tetra.
Product ranges you couldn’t live without?
Quite simply, OASE. Their quality products never fail to satisfy, all backed by eye-catching packaging that looks great on the shelf, selling effectively.
How are consumer demands/trends changing?
The Aquatic Warehouse does not currently have an online presence, although we appreciate customers purchasing products in this manner. While it’s easy to be drawn to an online store, we strongly believe in educating our customers about specific products through friendly and frequent in-store interaction. In our experience, customers are keen to get the best for their livestock and often feel let down by online stores that don’t provide comprehensive after-sales service and advice. For us, nothing replaces this precious face-to-face interaction.
Additionally, for us, the excellent relationships we have built with our suppliers and wholesalers over the past 28 years of trading means that we can be very responsive to customer requests. Even when the product is not in stock, we can order and receive specialized products at very short notice.
How do you see the difference between the pool and indoor pool markets and which brands do you work with in these product areas?
The pond and indoor aquarium markets see continued sales throughout the year, although we see a drop in cold water livestock sales for a period of three to four months each year during the winter.
The trend towards year-round pond maintenance is gaining momentum and we are delighted that this is happening. Customers are beginning to understand that in order to keep their ponds in top condition at all times, regular pond maintenance is essential.