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1/3/04 - LFS' - What Do You Look For?


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#1
caja

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We all have stories about how terrible our local fish store is or we know someone who deals with a less than perfect local fish store. We have discussed the dealings of LFS' here on nano-reef many times and the general concensus is, "Don't listen to your LFS." By now many of you should be able to recognize a reputable fish store when you find one, which is what this week's topic is all about.

How do you know the LFS you are dealing with is trustworthy and is providing you with the best possible livestock and advice? Give us some tips on asking the kinds of questions that will let you know if the employees know their stuff. What do you look for when viewing the livestock? Tank conditions? Overall livestock health? How about prices compared to online shopping.

So what do you look for in a LFS?

#2
tylernt

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Well, if you were to boycott every place that had poor conditions for livestock or gave bad advice, you wouldn't be able to shop anywhere.

For me, LFS A keeps Tangs in 10g, so I don't buy fish there, but I do buy their corals. LFS B has crappy livestock but has a great selection of equipment, so I buy my pieces and parts there. And so on. It's not ideal, but I don't want to have to mail order everything.

Also, I never ask for advice at ~any~ LFS, or if I do, I assume it has a 50% chance of being wrong.

#3
tinyreef

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i've found that even if a lfs is reputable (because of the owner or resident expert) it doesn't mean it's always reputable. other employees and mis-interpretations (lfs AND customer). it isn't always the lfs that's the problem but their inherent profit-motive does make it a difficult situation.

whenever i see where the lfs is selling an all-inclusive 'startup kit' that raises a red-flag for me. or when i see a customer loaded up with everything on their initial trip. (sometimes this is the dumb shopper tho)

livestock conditions also point to the training and suppliers of the lfs, quality and care. a store that allows 'buy now, pickup later' gets bonus points with me.

a critical piece i always look for is reading material. if they don't carry books or trade mags i relegate them to a lower/middle tier automatically. the ones that know what they're doing aren't afraid to have the books out there to let the customer buy and double-check the lfs's spoutings of 'wisdom'. altho i understand the hesitancy of putting the mags out tho. (competition from ols and their much cheaper pricings)

go multiple times to the store. the answer you receive from different people there should match, if they're trained correctly or know what they're talking about. double-check their answers with others (stores, online, print, other shoppers/hobbyists, etc.). hth

#4
Spencerx

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I think that places that quarantine new arrivals, dont order "unkeepable" stuff (goniopora, BRO, etc..), have frags, and books are good signs. I generally take their advice as a grain of salt and prefer books/internet for info. If possible, i think that going multiple times over a period will give you and idea of how their livestock does (stress-wise) and when they get their new shipments. Personally, I hate stores that are dark, dirty, and dusty too.

#5
ninhsavestheday

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yeah it does depend on the employee and such. i know a place called Aquatic Warehouse and they are always praised for having great selection, but the other day i was by there and i saw in every tank a dead fish. it was depressing. i would of done something because first timers would see that and might not return.

i always research from nano-reef.com or reefcentral.com before buying stuff at LFS. i never go to a LFS unprepared. the best sources are from forums like these.

#6
Nina

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Looking for dead fish in the tank is good, just because I feel like if its dead and the workers are paying attention to the tanks they would remove it. If they have good frags and in what condition do they sell there live rock. I'm not about to pay $7.99 a lb for something that had obviously been sitting on a doc for 1/2 a day in the sun. I went to a new Lfs today and was suprised when I asked about zoos and his color selection he said to come in on thursday because he should have some nano sized pieces with better color for the same price as the blah ones he had in the tank today.

#7
Reefer_Buddha

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I try to avoid any lfs until i absolutely have to go there. Maybe for simple things like salt and snails but other than that i either order it online or diy it myself. Ive found the best service and corals from a local guy that runs it from his house and his corals/fish and rock blow away any lfs plus he's been doing it for years. I dont like dealing with kids at petco that i see load up newbs with unnecessary junk that they can do without.

If i were to watch for signs of a good/bad lfs i would say watch for their advice and if it conflicts with what's said on here then take it with a grain of salt.

Look for dead fish in a tank , if so, dont even touch the sand in that tank.

Make them feed a fish you want before you buy it.

Ask about their return policy.

Ask if they acclimate new fish and corals, if not ask them why not.

Ask them if a discus does well at 1.025 gravity , if they say either "yes" or "i duno" guess what..time to find a new lfs.

#8
horsehunter

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Ask a lot of questions that you know the answers to.

#9
kennerd

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I always ask if the employee has a tank and, if so, what type of setup, livestock, age, etc.


I will typically ask a few loaded questions about some of the livestock without trying to sound like a complete idiot. (IE: ask about the dendroneptheya, not about a tang in a nano).

#10
FlyGTI

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All of the above, plus a professional appearance. There's one shop here in DSM that's got it nailed. Great looking store, great looking tanks, and the owner knows her stuff really well. She's very conscientious about what she's selling to whom.

As a result, the rest of the reefers in town visit her store on a very regular basis. I feel I can trust what I buy in her store. Don't get the same feeling in other stores here in town.

#11
Dingo

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The store must have clean tanks and healthy livestock. They must have reasonable prices. They must use MH lighting to show that they know what good lighting is. They must show basic understanding of the hobby by supplying cleanup crew other than Astreas.

I will not ask advice of an employee unless he/she also owns their own reef. Usually I ask if they have a picture of their tank and they pull it out for bragging rights. I ask that employee if they sell their own frags at the store, and when they walk me over to it and start telling my its life story, I will trust that person's recommendations.

#12
TJG

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Originally posted by horsehunter
Ask a lot of questions that you know the answers to.



After wroking in the in diffrent parts of the fish industry for almost 10 years I have to say that doing that will make who every is helping you not want to.

What I look for are tanks that are "clean" but not purfect. For exmaple all of us have tanks and home and you know that there is not such thing as a algee free tank. If thier tanks seem to good to be true, its like every thing else that is too good to be true-- ITS NOT. What I am trying to say is I want to see functioning eco systems. Alot of your larger stores ( I mean in #'s sold ) realy don't have to do water changes-- the're done every time some thing is sold.

As for hard goods I almost always use online/mail order. Not so much for price but for selection and the # they have in stock.

#13
Crakeur

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for me it's appearance of the tanks first and foremost. Any fish store with half eaten fish in the tanks is a store where the fish are being left unattended. a dead fish is not the worst thing in the world. it happens to us all. Leaving it in the tank for an extended period of time is like leaving a pile of crap on the floor of a car in the showroom floor.

I also talk to the sales help or the owner if they are around. Nice to get a feel for the store, the help and the quality of help being offered.

#14
kennerd

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Pet peeve: mis-labeled and mis-spelled ID's, unless the items are mis-marked with a ridculously low price (ie: premium croce clams for $24.95).

Inconsistency in pricing with good livestock means you have the opportunity to get a deal, but chances are, the thing youwant is the thing that is most grossly overpriced.

#15
drdrew

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i agree with tiny. every store is going to have good and bad employees. i look for the most knowledgeable and fair person to deal with. if you can forge a good relationship with a local fish vendor than that will be worthwhile in many ways...heads up on new livestock, specials, getting in on the ordering, holding specimens...etc.

#16
tinyreef

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Originally posted by Dingo
They must have reasonable prices.  They must use MH lighting to show that they know what good lighting is.  

while i like reasonable prices, they don't always point to a 'good' lfs ime. and the best lfs i've seen (on average, good days and bad) runs only vho lighting.

#17
mattie

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don't judge the LFS on one visit if you do you are just limiting yourself to a first impression or just the impression recieved by the person or people you spoke w/

things i like is a fish Guarantee. that right there tells me they are proud of what they sell

i like a wide variety of dry goods like a choice of salt brands or filter brands or even light manufacures as well as chemicals

do they even have in stock or sell the lights that are required for reef tanks

a good selection of fresh water and marine fish

do they buy back fish even if they don't pay much but they take em in and give store credit w/o reciept

food what selection of live or frozen foods agian a varity of brands not just foods

and if you ask an advanced question and they person is unsure or dosen't know tells you they don't and offers some other means to get that info sell you a book or refer you to come back on a day when the expert is in.

and when the feel of the store is quality not quantity

i personally do not mind paying 10-20% more to get what i want the first time or to know what i am buying is healthy

lastly if i want something and i ask for and they don't have it do they have the ability to specially order in something within reason

#18
kennerd

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Originally posted by mattie

and if you ask an advanced question and they person is unsure or dosen't know tells you they don't and offers some other means to get that info sell you a book or refer you to come back on a day when the expert is in.



The smartest person one can deal with is not just the one who admits their knowledge limitation, but takes initiative in pointing you in the right direction.

#19
BLowell

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For beginners: Staff that can accurately explain the nitro cycle, test your water and explain the results. Sounds too simple, but so many places get it wrong and it's key for beginners to understand this.

For advanced hobbyists: Being able to special order and answer advanced questions.

ANY lfs: A reasonable selection of *quality* books. An associate who answers a question should not be afraid to show you which book to double check their info in. Stores who acclimate their livestock well. Stores that are fine having you come when they get their fish load. Will let you cherry pick their salt bags but for most things would prefer you wait a couple days until they have any travel mortalities (we all know it happens). And if the associate doesn't know the answer they can tell you who does or how to find it.

#20
reefermadness

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I look for knowledge and morality. If I see a salesperson selling a fish dusted with ick or a clam to a guy without even asking about the lighting, I question their ethics. Good stores will put up signs about the husbandry requirements of a species. One of the local guys who sold me my first marine tank fifteen years ago was the Dr. Phil of fish and reefkeeping. He would keep a mental tally of the fish I had already bought and keep me from overstocking. He would chastise me when I told him about my lax maintenance, etc. I still buy livestock from him and he still questions my decisions (mostly to find out what I'm up to now).

All stores will have problems from time to time even if they quarantine and new guys that don't know whats going on (there just aren't many knowledgeable folks out there). You have to talk to everyone you can and find out who "your guy" is. I am lucky in that there are a number of "good guys". All of them have slightly different philosophies and recommendations, but there are just a couple who fit my personality. It's hard to trust someone you just don't like. Arrogance will get you nowhere with me. Neither will ignorance..... "I don't know" is not a good answer. I'd much rather hear "I'm not positive, but I'll find out."

I try to buy as much as I can from the stores I like because I want them to be around years from now. If I pay more for the items I buy, I can justify it. Mail ordering livestock is hit and miss for me. I want to observe the animal before I buy it.

As an ancillary side note: If people get interested in the hobby from looking at my tanks (especially those with some money to burn) I don't hesitate in sending them to one of the stores I know will take care of them. Later, when I drop the name of the rich guy that just boiught a huge setup and pays the store a nice residual to maintain it, I usually get the red carpet treatment from them.

#21
LIVEROCKER

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price/quality/selection/customer service.

#22
lil_clownfish13

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Well, Ive worked in petstores for 6 year-- and worked mainly in reptiles and aquariums, and when i go into a new petstore, the first thing i look at is the tanks-- mostly at the fish and plants, then the decor-- if the fish are bright,alert and smiling at me--lol -- well almost, and the plants are in good shape.. Im happy-- The staff should be friendly--not pushy-- and I usually ask my new "helper" a medium strength question that i already know the answer to-- so that i get an idea of their knowledge, and willingness to admit "I dunno", as opposed to making something up-- which Pj's Pets staff are famous for! My Two Cents!!

Thanks!

Tina:P

#23
Dingo

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Originally posted by tinyreef
while i like reasonable prices, they don't always point to a 'good' lfs ime.  and the best lfs i've seen (on average, good days and bad) runs only vho lighting.



Ok. I'll concede VHO lighting. However, pricing is a prime component of whether I should bother going in the door. If I won't buy anything there, why bother? That doesn't mean that a cheap store is good, it means that a rip off is bad.

#24
Jean-yus

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Staff that is knowledgeable, and nice. A Display Tank. Selection. And the ablility to walk you through the steps of acclimating a Coral. When you buy a Coral/Fish whatever, They ask what its for (how many gallons tank is, whats the chemistry, whats already in there ETC...)

#25
tinyreef

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actually, in my example the vho store and the high price store is the same one. the guy isn't afraid of the tough corals and inverts and successfully keeps them (not just until the next transship but until sold).

i don't usually buy his corals unless i see a choice piece (smallish). i just go in to look at how certain corals should be. i'm a mooch. :P

unfortunately, he charges high because he knows his quality's the best and the ol' fugger just squats on the corals instead of going wal-mart.

my problem are the other lfs that charge high prices and have crap or don't know squat. some poor newb goes in and buys a rare white anemone. X) high prices aren't bad if you get what you pay for (high quality, good product, and ethical service).