-SPONSOR- Is MiniWaters "More Expensive"?

Discussion in 'MiniWaters' started by MiniWaters, Oct 24, 2016.

  1. MiniWaters

    MiniWaters Junior Member

    Feb 1, 2016
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    Duluth, MN
    Angie called me on it:

    Here's my response!

    So is MiniWaters “Expensive”?

    We must be rolling in it! Image by Tracy O. - CC BY-SA 2.0

    Right off the bat, straight up, while I don't ever want to be "cheap", I don't believe for a moment that MiniWaters.FISH is "expensive".

    And I can prove it.

    Rumors, rumors, rumors.

    It was recently put to me by a good trustworthy friend (^Angie^), that among some, the general consensus is that retail pricing at MiniWaters.FISH is "more expensive." Hmm.

    I've certainly professed my disdain for downward price wars and razor thin margins, and make no apologies that I *might* be the most expensive option. But does this make MiniWaters.fish "more expensive", as in to say we are simply asking "too much" for our fish?

    It this just an impression, or are we really "overpriced"? Either way, it would seem we have a PR problem. I had to find out.

    Informal Pricing Study

    On Saturday, 10/22/16, I surveyed 4 online vendors of freshwater fish, and on Sunday, 10/23/16, I did the same with 4 saltwater vendors. It's worth noting that two vendors were included in both FW and SW lineups, as they simply carry both. The survey compiled my overall retail online price list, both in and out of stock, and used the same with online retailers. With regards to "sale" pricing, transient sale prices (sales that are generally 1 week or less) were disregarded and normal retail prices were used. But vendors that make use of "lot" item sale pricing (like I do here on MiniWaters - the sale price remains until I sell out, and the next price could remain on sale, or not) or "permanent" sale pricing (the fish are simply always "on sale"), their sale prices were used.

    We Have Things Other's Don't

    On average, roughly 70% of the fish offered on MiniWaters.fish (69.5% FW, 68.4% SW) had no comparison at any particular online vendor surveyed. That's hardly surprising on some levels; offerings like captive-bred Yellow Tangs or large captive-bred Maze Angelfish, or locally raised Ultra Lightning Maroon Clownfish, simply are so exclusive that you're not going to see them often in the first place, and of course these ultra-rare offerings carry high price tags.

    I can't help but wonder...when you see captive-bred Yellow Tangs for $199.99, does that make you think we're expensive? I realized that's significantly "spendy", to use a Northern Minnesota phrase, when compared to a wild-caught Yellow Tang. But I also know what the captive-bred Yellow Tangs sold for, and know that we were one of the few retailers anywhere to get to offer them. That is the price (and in reality I tried to accomodate everything, grading them into $99 and $299 price points as well).

    Does being the first to offer something for sale, or to offer something you can't get anywhere else, make MiniWaters.fish "expensive"?

    Are You Comparing the Same Things?

    Even as I ran my comparisons and surveyed my competitors, one thing that can be difficult to discern is whether you're really comparing comparable fish. One of the biggest misunderstandings is also one of the most obvious - are you comparing captive-bred fish to wild-caught fish?

    Without a doubt, often times, wild-caught fish are less expensive. Sometimes they're not, but honestly, many times the difference can be dramatic, as much as 50% less. Of course, the losses you might incur could be significantly different too. Does selling mainly captive-bred marine fish make us "expensive"?

    (I can certainly tell you what I think deciding to buy cheaper wild-caught fish, solely because they're cheaper, makes you...)

    Sizes and Grades Dramatically Affect Pricing

    Another way some vendors, at least online, are able to offer prices that at first glance appear "cheaper" than a MiniWaters.fish price, is to offer fish at a very small size. "Tiny" fish might cost less, but a 0.5 to 0.75" clownfish is just that...so small that it has a good chance of being sucked straight into your filtration. I'm not going to bother offering super-tiny fish (unless that's how they normally are...eg. Micro Rasboras), just so I can list a "cheaper" lowest price on my website.

    But you also have to pay attention to the grading of fishes, specifically in the designer clownfishes. At MiniWaters.fish, I tend to avoid buying fish that don't interest me. A classic example is the Frostbite Clownfish. I only bring in the most heavily patterned, profusely-spotted individuals I can buy. These are also generally considered the most desirable, and cost the most. If you simply compare my "Frostbite" to anyone else's "Frostbite" without considering the grade, you'd think MiniWaters.fish was outrageously overpriced. I'm not going to bother carrying the low grade Frostbite (eg. "Flurry") because it's basically just a solid white fish, not unlike Wyoming Whites. So the only Frostbite Clownfish you'll see on our website, unless I have a special order for cheaper grades, are going to be the best of the best, with their commensurate price. Does only carrying fish that are really exceptional make MiniWaters.fish more expensive?

    It Turns Out MiniWaters.FISH IS More Expensive?

    $0.36 more on the average on the freshwater side of things. Yes, 36 cents per fish.

    I can see you now, about to proclaim how right you were...we're the more expensive option! Well darnit, someone has to be, right? By Hans Splinter - CC BY-ND 2.0

    When you look at the individual freshwater price matches line by line, MiniWaters WAS more expensive 53% of the time. We were the same price, or less, 47% of the time. The cummulative average - if you bought one of ours for every one of our competitors, overall, you'd spend a whopping 36 cents more per fish. Consider that the average price of our freshwater fish, across all our offerings, was $12.46. That's a 3% difference in price. $3 more on every $100 vs. my competitors.

    Someone haul us off for price gouging!

    What about Saltwater Fish Pricing?

    Line by line, MiniWaters.FISH was priced higher 61% of the time, and the same or less 39% of the time, on saltwater fish where fair comparisons could be made. But here's the kicker:

    In the aggregate average of all individual price matchups, MiniWaters.fish was $6.08....LOWER.

    Robert Couse-Baker, CC BY 2.0

    Line up the pitchforks, light the torches, get out the tar and feathers...it's time we showed MiniWa....wait...what?

    $6.08 cheaper per fish?!

    How does that happen - you were usually "more expensive" line by line, right?

    Well to dramatically oversimplify, If I'm more expensive by $5 each on two line items , but cheaper by $20 on a third, what's the average? That's right, I'd be $3.33 cheaper on average.

    Is Price REALLY what matters to you?

    Well...as I see it, you can continue to think MiniWaters is "expensive" and go spend apparently more money elsewhere (at least on the saltwater side of things)...and along the way you've missed the entire message.

    First, if you're shopping for fish solely on price, you're not considering anything about the fish themselves. The quality, the care they've been afforded before being sold to you, and the people standing behind them.

    Second, if you're relying on your "perceptions" of price, apparently you're going to fully miss out on the actual value in a vendor, and in fact, you could wind up paying more when you don't have to. Or you could even be casting the wrong vote with your wallet, because you weren't fully informed on what you were really voting for.

    Oh...but I didn't include shipping costs you say?!

    That's right, I'm not talking about shipping costs here. Sure, there are vendors who'll give you free shipping after spending a couple hundred dollars. If lower than their free shipping thresshold, they might give you some flat-rate subsidized shipping. They may even have lower minimum orders that MiniWaters.

    First, irony of ironies, this notion that we're "more expensive" actually grew out of the region in the world where I can generally ship a 20 lb. box of live fish, overnight, for under $10. The people who came back and told me I was "expensive" are in fact the same people who have the luxury of having some of the cheapest overnight shipping available to any aquarium shopper anywhere?

    Just think about that for a second. I can put a $500 Nebula Percula, quadrupled bagged in over a gallon of water, and ship it regionally for like $9. Or...or...if you could even find that fish somewhere else, you could have it crammed into a small box with maybe 1/4 gallon and hopes that it's still happy when it arrives to you...but *that* was "free" shipping, right? So really, you got the "better deal", right?

    Let's talk about being treated fairly for a moment.

    Do you believe that "free shipping" is really free? Of course not. It could well be that the reason we're on average $6.08 cheaper than our competitors per marine fish is because they're just rolling the costs of shipping into the fish themselves. Could be, I don't know. But if your shipping costs less, they keep that extra profit. Oh, but flat rate and free shipping was totally a great deal, right?

    Do you believe that you should pay for someone else's shipping? Sure...it's nice, right? You pay your flat rate $50 shipping, where it might cost $10 or $90 if you come to us. You feel great that you paid $50...it was a steal. No one ever tells you it cost $25. No one from one of the other guys came to you and said "Hey...we owe you $25..here it is...we charged you too much for shipping".

    I believe fair doesn't have to be EQUAL. I believe that if it costs me $90 to ship to you, that's what you should pay, and if it costs only $10 to ship to you, that's fair too. I believe if I charge you too much, that extra isn't mine to keep. Nor it is mine to give to someone else.

    Hey, I'm a Bernie Sanders supporter...but this isn't socialized medicine. Pay for what you use, and not a penny more. To me, that's about as fair and honest as it gets.

    Let's talk about DOAs for a moment.

    There's one other area of "fairness" that I'd really like to talk about. Fairness to the fish. Playing a shipping by the numbers game, where everyone pays equally and the vendor hopes to break even, encourages the minimum packing for livestock. I've seen it firsthand...some of my favorite vendors truly cram the fish into bags by the dozens, rolling the dice that they make it here alive. Most of the time they do, but it also requires that I'm here, ready to deal with them the moment they arrive, and often they are stressed.

    In 2015 I had TWO fish arrive DOA. So far for 2016, I've had one cherry shrimp arrive DOA. Less than 0.1%. Less than 1 out of 1000.

    I stand behind every fish I send out with a live arrival guarantee because I pack the fish not to maximize the "value" of shipping, but to maximize the chances that you get a healthy, vibrant, stress free fish when you open up the box. Sometimes that could cost more, other times not. It all depends on where you live. Does that make MiniWaters.fish "expensive"?

    MiniWaters.FISH Must Do Better!!!

    As one vendor friend of mine suggested, "I wonder if the fact that your company is so professional and you have such nice stuff people just assume you are high priced?"

    Clearly, we have a PR problem. I'd like to think my friend is onto something!

    So...people think we're "expensive". Well...since I know that 1500 words proving to the contrary will never get read, might as well raise all our prices by 20%, effective immediately. Right? Might as well actually be "expensive!" It clearly works for APPLE!

    Please keep an eye out for our new storefront, opening early 2017 in downtown Duluth, MN.

    The new MiniWaters storefront, "Expensive Aquatics" is currently under development in downtown Duluth, MN. Anticipated opening date early 2017. Satire with elements from WolfmanSF, Aquarium of the Pacific, and Per Palmkvist Knudsen.

    Har har har...

    If you still believe MiniWaters.fish is "expensive", well, you might be right.

    If price is the only driving force behind your purchase decisions, if a price difference of 2 or 3% is what makes the difference between "too expensive" and "a good price" (hell, gas prices fluctuate more than that even at the same shop every week), we're probably not the right place to give your business.

    There are several great companies to shop at, many of which I've used myself over the years. Some of which might have even been part the companies I surveyed for price comparisons (and some not). Some of which might be cheaper (or not ;) ). Here's some of my perennial favorites and recommendations below. Tell them www.MiniWaters.FISH sent you!


    Originally posted at http://www.miniwaters.fish/2016/10/24/so-is-miniwaters-expensive/ - here with slight modifications.
    #1 MiniWaters, Oct 24, 2016
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2016
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  2. capman

    capman I contributed!
    Lifetime Member

    May 30, 2007
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    I've only skimmed your post above (so perhaps I'm repeating some things), but...

    While I've not purchased fish from you (yet... ), my impression, based on your previous posts, is that you frequently have fish that one doesn't often find elsewhere, and even for more common species it seems the fish you sell have been settled in to your tanks for a while, well fed, and well cared for otherwise. The fish in your photos always look like fish photographed in a home aquarium - that is, they seem very settled in. There is a lot to be said for that.

    In addition to being well conditioned, I would imagine that in many cases parasites, if they were going to show up on new fish, would already have shown themselves and been dealt with. I don't know whether or not you consider the fish you sell fully quarantined, but I'd think they would tend to be safer bets than many fish in shops, simply because you've had them in your tanks a little while.

    These are all huge things, in my opinion.

    Years ago (nearly 20 years ago), when first starting up our reef systems at Augsburg, I was buying some stuff from local wholesalers (some would sell to me because I was buying for a school). I don't remember the names of the places with certainty now. One seemed great. The livestock seemed well cared for, and the owner seemed really responsible and knowledgeable. The other place was simply atrocious. Appalling really.

    Guess which one sold me fish and other livestock that did really well? Guess which one sold me livestock that caused me problems? (Unfortunately, the better of these two places went out of business a number of years later.)

    So many problems can be avoided by buying fish that have been better cared for and are in better condition. Buying less expensive fish is not always a cost saving in the end.

    And... it sounds like your fish (saltwater anyway) are NOT typically more expensive (and the freshwater only trivially more expensive)!

    (Look forward to hearing from me as our aquaria in our new building get up and running (late 2017, early 2018...) )
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  3. RSnodgrass

    RSnodgrass TCMAS President
    BOD Lifetime Member Event Committee Meeting Host 2018

    Apr 7, 2007
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    Lynd, MN, United States
    It's hard not to have passion when being asked to respond to a hard question which I can always respect. Thank you for pointing some competitive differences.
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  4. OP

    MiniWaters Junior Member

    Feb 1, 2016
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    Duluth, MN
    I hope you enjoyed my attempts at some snarky humor too Turf - thanks!
  5. JELP

    JELP Senior Member
    TCMAS Member

    Jun 30, 2009
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    Let me start by saying that I used to sell cars. Those that I have purchased things from around here can attest that I always hit them up on price. It's kinda ingrained in me to get an extra special deal or something (which is of course abstract). Last month I saw miniwaters post on being out 4 g's and figured I'd make an order - even if it cost more it was worth it to support the local guy who just got screwed! Right away i was impressed by the customer service. Matt was honest and upfront. He certainly wasn't trying to push some used car on me - so to speak.

    I made the order. A couple days later however, I got the itch... how badly did I over pay to help this guy out - it doesn't matter but I just wanna know I told my self. I dialed up liveaquaria and you know what I found - I didn't. Did I pay extra for getting a captive bred fish, yep but no more than they charge. Oh and I paid a wopping $10 for shipping... he refunded me a $1 cause it only came to $9. Does a $1 matter? No, but it shows a lot of honesty and integrity on his part! So... whats the catch?

    Fast forward to getting the fish. Angie's post nicely demonstrated how well everything is packed. I put everything up in a QT tank and watched every fish eat by the end of the day (I ordered 8 fish). One was so fat you might think he had McD's drive thru in his tank. The only "unhealthy" looking fish, cause he was really skinny, was sent free of charge. He sent an email saying that he didn't like how he looked and while he felt he would do just fine he wanted to send him on the house.

    Fast forward to now - I had the easiest QT ever and every one of the fish he sent not only arrived alive, but also is still alive in my DT. So what is the catch? There is none. Premium fish sold at a fair price with cheap shipping. If you are on the fence about ordering from Matt, don't be. Even if you do spend a little extra, a single dead fish could quickly make up for it. In the nearly 10 years I've been in this hobby I can honestly say I've not bought better fish, or as good of for that matter.
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  6. OP

    MiniWaters Junior Member

    Feb 1, 2016
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    Duluth, MN

    Well...golly shucks...thanks for those kind words Jesse5.0!

    From reading this, it sounds like the Canary is doing well. Just happens sometimes...individual fish get into a holding situation and can't seem to get a finhold. I could have continued to move him around here in various tanks on the system, or send him along to where he'd get even better attention than I could afford to offer. I really think hobbyists often make the best caretakers, and it sounds like I made the right call on that fish! Very, very happy to hear that! Everyone wins. And yes, in fact, "bonus fish" are part of our regular offerings...if you're pleasant to deal with and I see an opportunity like this that makes sense.

    And I should point out - a lot of the fish Jesse ordered would also be available to any retailer sponsor working out of the Twin Cities on our wholesale list. I started MiniWaters as wholesale long before we opted to add retail, and I still like to support your LFS with the same quality fish that Jesse just got direct. So in reality, I'm just as happy to have you ask your LFS to reach out to us...sure you can buy an Ultra Lightning from us, but we DO sell those wholesale too..and your LFS is welcome to undercut our retail price. We still find the fish a home, we still make some money, but your LFS gets some of your cash support too, and you still get the same quality fish (albeit, it would have to make an extra "stop" at your LFS). So it's still a win-win-win as I see it.

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