Hi Reddit! As the title says, six months ago I quit my job (abruptly) to follow my dream of owning an aquarium store. Since I was in my early 20's I had wanted to run a fish store. When the opportunity came up I jumped on it, and now run the business of my dreams before I turned 30.

Our website is www.riverstoreef.com where I'll post a confirmation. I will also post one here:www.facebook.com/riverstoreef.

I do everything in the store from fish care, to the business side, to even working on our website (please go easy, I barely know what I am doing with the site and work on it when I have time).

Go ahead reddit and AMA!

Comments: 411 • Responses: 52  • Date: 

nofuture09377 karma

Your website looks like it is from 2001. If you want I could make you a better one for free. Would look minimalistic but way better than this one. This def does not attract new young customers. Im always eager to help other redditors out.

cooltom200698 karma

Looks more like it's from 1991, sorry OP.

congofeet88 karma

No, this is what I meant when I said 2001 seems too recent. I learned html back in the 90s.

congofeet28 karma

Haha, yeah. 2001 seems newer than when I learned remedial html. I would definitely be interested in getting a new vibe on our site. Are there sites that you've built that I can see?

supraspinatus41 karma

I have Cichlids and this one big ass one that I call Barn Boss keeps fucking up the other ones. Just the other day I found a beautiful blue cichlid that I named Blue Balls all chewed up and destroyed. I know Barn Boss did it. How do I get her to stop? EDIT: thanks for the advice everyone! I'm gonna have a hard time giving up Barn Boss. She is the oldest in the tank and I bought her when my wife and I were still married so there is some sentiment with her. I just wish she wouldn't mess with my other babies. I have an orange Cichild named Orangey and today he showed signsofabuse. Why Barn Boss?? WHY??

congofeet51 karma

I am not sure if Barn Boss or Blue Balls are African or South American Cichlids so it is more difficult to make a recommendation. In general Cichlids are better off in a crowded Cichlid tanks. The reason for this is that it is harder to establish a territory if there are constantly fish every where. Another thing you can do is make a visual separation in the tank. You can do this by getting some plastic plants and placing them in the middle of the tank so it creates a visual block from one side to the other. Hope this helps.

supraspinatus21 karma

Thanks for the reply. They are all African. Barn Boss is the matriarch of the tank (55 gal) and she will hunker down in the middle of the tank and make a little crater for her to sit in to monitor the other fish. I have 13-15 of them in there right now minus Blue. I got some nice slate rocks that offer good outcroppings to hide in so they are able to avoid her most of the time.

congofeet39 karma

Consider moving the decor in the tank around to force new territories to be established. Or make a nice cave for Barn Boss on one end of the tank so that others can enjoy the glory that is the remaining 40 gallons.

FroggerFan33 karma

Reposted from r/aquariums:

HI! I've been to your store and I love it! I am just curious if you all do trades for things - like if a fish gets too big for a tank, could I trade it for a little guy? On a more related note, what are the most popularly purchased fish in your experience? Was there a huge startup cost to get the business going? HOW DID YOU GET THE 600 GALLON TANK INSIDE THE STORE?

congofeet36 karma

THANKS! I appreciate all the positive comments I receive. It makes me feel great to run a store that other enthusiasts appreciate. My business partner and I are hobbyists and we treat the fish in store the way we treat our own fish.

I am just curious if you all do trades for things - like if a fish gets too big for a tank, could I trade it for a little guy?

You can bring in almost any fish and we will trade it for a smaller one. Make sure to call in first though. Of course the fish needs to be happy and healthy.

The most popular fish?

Probably fancy guppies. We do sell a fair amount of other tetra though, such as pristella and cardinal. We also sell a fair amount of cichlids, I feel our selection is decent so it helps facilitate this.

Was there a huge startup cost to get the business going?

I wouldn't say huge, but it was substantial. I am sure places like restaurants have a higher startup cost. Keep in mind I had been saving stuff for years that I could use in the store.


Our 600 gallon tank fit through the door, it was a tight squeeze, but it made it. We had 8 people here to help lift it onto the stand. It probably weighs 1200 pounds empty.

jdv_lv25 karma

I've been thinking about something similar...

How did you fund getting started? How much was it? Do you have a reserve account, or do you pay food and personal rent from actual store income?

congofeet24 karma

Savings and investors are how we started. I'd say get about 100K together and you should be good. The store does not pay for my food and living yet, but we are just three months in. I think we might get to that point soon though.

Shaunatron21 karma

How's the business going?

congofeet32 karma

It could be better. I made some projections when I did the business plan, and we are ahead of where I thought we would be, but we also started further in the hole than I thought. So to answer your question: meh.

gmanucia16 karma

Someone already posted the idea of supplementing your business by running a service that does in-home or institutional tank upkeep. In my city, one LFS dominates that business, and they maintain tanks in many offices, hospitals, and nursing homes.

I would love it if my LFS staged the occasional workshop on topics such as intro to saltwater, lighting, low-tech options, SA cichlids, etc. You could run it like a Home Depot or Lowe's workshop, and it could help drive sales. I'm sure your shop doesn't have a lot of floor space, but a cozy seminar might fit just fine.

I don't know if your store has any relationship whatsoever to the vet school, but there and at its clinics might be a good place to advertise. I'd love to go to a fishkeeping social that attracted a friendly crowd and served wine.

congofeet15 karma

We were thinking of starting up a local aquarium society. There is one in Sacramento that is great, but many students don't have the means of transport. We can do classes, presentations, auctions, and the like. I just need to find time.

Shaunatron11 karma

That's the spirit! I hope things get better for you.

congofeet13 karma


brad21820 karma

Have you considered a supplementary service-based income cleaning fish tanks? It was my idea that if i ever started a fish store I would do that as some extra money.

congofeet30 karma

Yes! Right now I don't have that kind of financial backing, but I was thinking about subcontracting. If you are in the area and want to start a tank cleaning business come talk to me! I get the tank cleaning question several times a week.

Aiden_51415 karma

Is it true that a fish might not be dead but constipated?

congofeet25 karma

Sometimes a fish can be constipated, this would cause it to either float to the top uncontrollably or sink to the bottom. The stress of not having the proper buoyancy will stress the fish as it tries to fix the problem by swimming as hard as it can to where it wants to be (bottom or top). Often times this leaves the fish exhausted and lying on the top or bottom of the tank. Your best bet is to look for signs of breathing to tell if a fish is dead or not.

tl;dr: yes.

GibeMeDat14 karma

Do you consider fish pets or ornaments?

congofeet34 karma

Fish are pets and need to be treated as such.

UltimateBilf14 karma

First of all props to you for following the dream. I admire that. Secondly, I want an aquarium in order to raise largemouth bass. Any suggestions on size or where to get these fish as babies (basslets?) since it's illegal to keep small ones from the wild.

congofeet15 karma

My first suggestion would be to check your local regulations on keeping and transporting bass (you might need permits). My second would be to get a big tank. LMB are very aggressive towards one another. To raise any decent amount you would probably need at least a 200-300 gallon tank. As with cichlids (LMB are actually N. Americas version of cichlids) you need to crowd them for best results. There are aquaculture facilities that produce LMB, I would google search your area to find the ones near you and give them a call.

corpusjuris11 karma

Thank you for doing this! I'm a dedicated fishkeeper with more than a few years in the hobby. A few years ago I received a fellowship from my university to be a backpacking bum in SE Asia after graduation (amazing experience), which I used to casually explore the locations and cultures where much of the ornamental fish industry is based. I've always been curious about the supply chain and back-of-house of the industry and the ethics involved. I was wondering where you make your contacts for livestock suppliers, and what kind of relationship/vetting you have with them. I personally won't keep marine tanks due to the percentage of deaths that occur in transit, and the relative rarity of a number of species kept in the hobby. Meanwhile, I try to only use species I know have a higher chance of being farm-raised. I was wondering if these considerations impact your stocking choices? Also, I was wondering if you might have any knowledge of current industry trends regarding sustainable harvesting / farming practices, and how widespread their adoption are in the industry? Thanks!

congofeet6 karma

There are two schools of thought on this. One is to never buy wild caught fish, and the other is that wild caught are okay. I tend to side with wild caught being okay, and let me explain why. That clown loach that is wild caught is helping pay for some ones dinner. It puts people to work in impoverished areas where they might be selling drugs or doing other nefarious things.

There are lots of restrictions nowadays on fish collection. Collectors know that if they want fish next year to not harvest fish of certain size or only harvest in selected areas. Yes, there are those that break these rules, but you can't fault a whole industry for the actions of a few.

That being said, I tend to buy tank raised fish because they are healthier and more robust. They don't have parasites that I need to take care of, and they wont die when they enter a less than perfect permanent home. Many fish, inverts, and plants are now cultured, but there are still fish collected responsibly from the wild.

what_is_this_for10 karma

How would you stock a 125 gallon freshwater tank?

congofeet18 karma

I would do a well planted community tank. Some of the fish would be: Congo tetra (for obvious reasons), Roseline Sharks, Cardinal Tetra, Lemon Tetra, Pristella Tetra, Sterbai Cory, and maybe some Panda Cory. 125 gallons is a lot of space so there is a ton you can do. I miss my community tanks at home, all I have is big fish.

utardjazz10 karma

I'm wondering what makes the most money for a LFS. Is it the livestock, dry goods, or services? Or is it just a little bit of everything?

congofeet12 karma

Livestock. No question. The least money is fish tanks if you were wondering.

11something2 karma

I have been in the marine aquarium hoby since 2001. What kind of livestock specifically?

I have heard from a lot of sources, including LFS owners that services contracts are the only way for a LFS to maintain any longevity. Are you finding otherwise?

What do you think the opportunity cost of not running a digital storefront is?

congofeet5 karma

Freshwater livestock right now is our bread and butter. Saltwater fish are in second, with plants in a close third. Corals are a tough sell to the general public because of the costs associated with initial setup. We will eventually do a digital storefront, but right now I spend all my time running the store. There are risks associated with shipping live goods which I really don't want to have to deal with right now.

iamaredditer10 karma

Do you sleep with the fishes?

congofeet39 karma

Only if I can't pay the bills.

Though I have a dozen tanks at home, so I guess you can say I sleep near the fishes.

sgtblast9 karma

What kind of start-up costs were you looking at? It seems like an AWESOME career but it also seems hard to get into because tanks cost so much.

congofeet16 karma

Trust me, tanks are the least of your worries. Wholesale tanks are not so bad. I found stocking the store to be the biggest expenditure by far.

DaysJustGoBy8 karma

Do you do any ripariums? I just love the way they look and I can't wait until I have the time and finances to do one proper.

congofeet7 karma

We have a customer that has an absolutely amazing riparium. I don't have any in store, but I can definitely help get all the supplies you need.

Dreadlocktopuss8 karma

Ive noticed that in most fresh water tanks people use plastic plants and inorganic structures, do you prefer a live plant setup rather than plastic. I have 300 gallon salt water tank and I want a Fresh water tank as well, what would you suggest for structuring a freshwater tank?

congofeet11 karma

Live plants are the best. I have a planted tank here at the store that is very low maintenance and is growing plants very well. I don't even have CO2 running on it. I wanted to make our planted tank accessible for everyone.

Make sure you have a good planted tank substrate to start, I recommend eco complete. Then get good lighting. Don't skimp on either of these or you and your plants will be sad.

OlSlendy8 karma

What are your water bills like?

Whats your favorite fish? (I really like corydoras but hatchet fish and silver dollars are cool too)

congofeet19 karma

We actually use less water than the average household. While we do have to do water changes frequently we don't have people showering, cooking, doing laundry, watering the garden, etc.

My favorite fish are the prehistoric looking fish: Bichirs, Knife fish, Arrowana, etc.

jonr77778 karma


congofeet24 karma

We have a 600 gallon tank filled with almost 200 cichlids, I'll name one Jon.

mullerjones8 karma

What did you work with before you quit to pursue you dream and why did you dream of owning a fish shop?

congofeet24 karma

What did you work with before you quit to pursue you dream?

After graduating college I went on to work in a water toxicology lab for about three years. After that I went on and worked in a research lab where I bred tilapia for research. I ended up working at a local fish store to learn the ropes when the lab I worked at lost funding.

Why did you dream of owning a fish shop?

I am not too sure why I wanted to own a fish store. I had a passion for fish since I was a kid. I think I want people to love fish; to have some of the passion I have. I feel the best way to do that, other than become a teacher, is to have this store. It gives me an outlet to talk to people about fish in a public setting without seeming like I am a crazy person that needs an aluminum hat.

SadlyNaiveGirl7 karma

Which fish is your favorite? Does he/she have a name?

congofeet14 karma

At home I have a fish named George. He's a two and a half foot long clown knife that lives in my 300 gallon tank.

lackofbrain6 karma

I just want to wish you luck. I know how bloody hard it is to start a business, but I wouldn't do anything else! On that front:

How tricky did you think it would be to get this off the ground, and were you right?

What has surprised you most about the whole process?

congofeet9 karma

How tricky did you think it would be to get this off the ground, and were you right?

I thought it would be very difficult, and it turns out I was mistaken... it is extremely difficult. I have never been this poor in my life, and I was a poor college student.

What has surprised you most about the whole process?

I am surprised how much people listen when you give them advice. We still get in people who "know everything", and refuse to listen. They are by far in the minority though. This pleases me. Also having lots of repeat customers just three months in. That was a pleasant surprise.

NietOnReddit4 karma

Greetings from /r/aquariums and the trenches (though chain with far less to care for than you have). Couple short questions:

How many hours a day do you and your crew put into your tank maintenance?
How many fish shipments do you receive per week? How many hardgood shipments?
If you could get one or two fish to emerge or reemerge in the hobby, what would you choose?

congofeet11 karma

How many hours a day do you and your crew put into your tank maintenance?

Hah, crew. That's a good one. I change some tanks through out the week. We have about 100, so not a day passes that I am not changing water.

How many fish shipments do you receive per week?

I hand pick all of our live goods myself. Typically this is twice a week from two wholesalers.

How many hardgood shipments? Hard goods arrive once a week. However, if there are special orders I might have shipments 3 or 4 times a week. I have even driven to go pick stuff up for customers so they can have it the next day.

If you could get one or two fish to emerge or reemerge in the hobby, what would you choose?

This is a great question. There is one fish in particular that I would love to be able to own, but it was put on the endangered species list in the USA, even though they are captive bred now. I am speaking of the Asian Arrowana. They are absolutely beautiful, and are legal in most countries since they are tank (pond) bred, but the USA is dumb in matters such as these.

NietOnReddit1 karma

Hah, crew. That's a good one.

Does that mean its a one man operation or do you have one or two other people involved? My best LFS is run by a couple (I think they're married), and the fishguy said he does a minimum of 6 hours tank maintenance a day.

Asian Arrowanas

Almost every one that I've tagged for a good reason loves the Arrowanas, I think their gorgeous but I'd rather see them at zoos and aquariums than in hobby houses.

congofeet4 karma

It's me and my business partner. Mostly it's just me here from opening until about 6pm during the week. He and I are both here on the weekends. My fiancee helps with betta maintenance, she loves those guys (and gals).

Arrowana need a big tank to be beautiful. No smaller than a 300 gallon. I enjoy a silver or black as much as the next fish enthusiast, but the Asian Arrow is the most beautiful by far.

Racepace4 karma

How do you find suppliers and handling fish being shipped to you?

congofeet8 karma

It takes a while to build up suppliers. You need to know about them in order to find them, and the only way to know about them is to be in the industry.

StayMotivated3 karma

Hey I just wanted to say thank you for starting an aquarium store in Davis! I've been there once or twice and I really like the setup. Would you mind if I suggest you having more lighting for your 3-4 rooms of tanks? (The rooms with the tanks were dark and it didn't "look" right) My question is : Do you ever plan on importing fish/invertebrates from outside of the US?

congofeet3 karma

Thanks for the complements. Yeah, I agree we need better lighting. Funds are in short supply, but we will definitely upgrade the lighting as soon as money is available. The wholesalers get many fish from outside the US, as for drop shipping them ourselves? We can once we start getting more business. However when you import there are many agencies that can make your life a living hell.

dahilsaiyoe2 karma

What sort of costs were involved? I have 7 reef tanks and thus is also a dream of mine. What's the profitability like?

congofeet10 karma

Costs are high initially. Profits are nice, we are getting close to breaking even and we have been open only 3 months. It's super stressful though, I'm not going to lie.

aaronsxl2 karma

How did you become so interested in fish that you wanted to own an aquarium store?

congofeet9 karma

If I had to pick a point in my life it was going over to my uncle's house and seeing all his saltwater fish. That and my grandma's influence with the discovery channel. I ended up going to college and studying fish, and just want to tell everyone about them.

cattaur2 karma

Did you buy an existing store, or start it from scratch?

congofeet5 karma

From scratch!

whosthetroll2 karma

My Question is thus. If someone came to you and said that they breed (guppies for example) and showed you their breeding stock, would you be interested in making purchases from them rather then a wholesaler? Has anyone offered to breed specific fish for you? Thanks. Best of luck in being profitable.

congofeet2 karma

Most local breeders are scared off by how much I would be willing to pay them. At the wholesaler I can get guppies for pretty cheap. I would be more than willing to take in locally bred fish, in fact I'd prefer it, but you need to be willing to take store credit. Most of the fish we get in from around town are fish that are too big, we don't have a large list of local breeders yet.

yil2 karma

Do you still work 9-5?

congofeet7 karma

No I am at the store from about 8am to 8pm; 7 days a week.

yil4 karma

Geeze, your boss must be a real slave driver.

congofeet15 karma

My boss is a total ass, but at least he lets me reddit during work.

coyotetrickster2 karma


congofeet13 karma

"I used to love fish...then I opened a fish store"

My business partner and I say this to each other all the time.

shinyheadman1 karma

Can I have a fish?

congofeet10 karma

As long as you pay for it, you can whatever you'd like.

Stonna1 karma

Do you watch ufc

congofeet2 karma

I used to, but not much since I graduated college.

ReducedProduction1 karma

Do you get a lot of people asking you for tips on raising tilapia? Also can you give out some tips, thinking about saving up for the next 2ish years and building 2-3 ponds to raise them.

congofeet10 karma

Not really, I used to get about 1,000 fry a month from a small setup. It became so much that I had to start separating males and females. I eventually got laid off because they thought it was easy. After their cultures crashed they called for advice... I was bitter and didn't answer the phone.

Jon_Dowd1 karma

Oh hey, Davis. Go Ags!

congofeet2 karma

Class of 2006!

mightbebacon1 karma

I live in Sacramento and have been interested in freshwater planted aquariums for years and hope to make it over the causeway soon to see your shop. Are you worried about the closures and troubles of some of the Sacramento aquarium stores, such as Capital Aquarium, and what seems like a loss of interest from the community for dedicated aquarium stores?

congofeet6 karma

Capitol closed in my opinion due to a lack of customer service and high prices. My business partner and I agreed that our service would be second to none, and our prices will be competitive with anything you see in Sacramento. An aquarium store is a niche, but we are going to fill it like no other store. We are not aiming to just be a store, we want to be an institution of learning, and a fixture in the community.

coopatac1 karma


congofeet11 karma

No, I got shorted on the facial hair gene.

CoughingZombie4 karma

Do you have a mustache catfish ? (hemisynodontis membranaceus)

congofeet4 karma

That is an interesting fish, I have not seen that on our supply list though. Sorry.

JonPootawn1 karma

What's the daily cost of operation for your facility?

congofeet3 karma

Not including pay for myself probably about $200.

notkristof1 karma

does this include rent?

congofeet5 karma

He inquired about the "daily cost of operation", so my answer was in "daily" units. Yes it did include rent.

Gonzo17041 karma

Ive been running a pet store for 11 years now. Our aquarium dept offers everything from fresh to salt water, as well as service/maintenance. I know for that aquarium business is down across the country as not many people have an extra $200-$5000 to get started. I guess I'm wondering why you opened this store now?

congofeet6 karma

There were really no LFS in the area, so I saw the niche and jumped in. I'm not going to lie though, it's scary.

Astaris1 karma

I pity-bought a Betta fish after seeing them stacked up in rows in the pet store. I'm trying to give him the best fishy life I can! I wanted to get him a tank buddy or two, but wasn't sure on which. My brother has guppies but I've heard Betta can react badly to them. My friend has ghost shrimp with hers. Any recommendations??

congofeet2 karma

It depends on the bowl/tank you are keeping him in. I've had great luck with White Clouds because they are not messy and are super peaceful so they wont nip at betta fins. Also Glow Light Tetra and Pristella Tetra are great if you have a bit of a larger tank with filter.

bhalp10 karma

What are your work hours now? 9:30 to 5:30?

congofeet3 karma

8am to 8pm. 7 days a week.

Khyrdantai-1 karma

Wow a store in California! Honestly, I imagine this working out better than expected. I wish you luck with your business! Don't forget, the government supposedly loves small businesses and will pay you for starting one. If you haven't looked into it, I definitely would! If you already did, then sorry for bugging you about it.

My question is simple: What's your favorite color?

congofeet2 karma

Thanks for the advice! Blue is my color, but as I have aged my taste in colors have broadened. I am beginning to be quite fond of red and orange now.

French87-13 karma

How much do you want to pay me to make you a less suck-ass site?

congofeet7 karma

Can't get blood from a turnip.