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Fish store review

Recently I rambled about a few fish store thoughts. At least two people 
responded with a comment about small local fish stores being better to 
support then the big pet store discount chains. This is convential "wisdom" 
which I often hear but is it good advice?

During the last few weeks I have visited five stores with the intention of 
writing a review of the stores when I was done. Some stores in the list had 
a follow-up visit by some friends to get their impressions.

Here are the stores (not in ranked order). I'll follow the list with my 
impressions from each store and then wrap up the review with a conclusion.

1) Aquarium Services - London
2) Aquarium Services - Brampton
3) Pets Mart - London (Masonville area)
4) Smart Pet - Hamilton (near IKEA)
5) Smart Pet - London

1) Aquarium Services - London

Many years ago I worked in this store. I now have no ties to this store and 
I left on good terms but it never hurts to mention these kind of things when 
doing a review.

This store is located in South London. They have a reasonably good selection 
of filters including Eheim, Fluval, Trickle, Aquaclear, Penquin, Whisper, 
and Magnum. Even though Eheim filters were stocked many of the accessories 
or even regular maintenance equipment was not. I was specifically looking 
for items like the surface extractor, prefilter, 2215 gaskets etc.

Special equipment like CO2 is not available. pH monitors can be ordered. 
Tanks are available from 5.5 Gallons up to 180 Gallons. Some pricey 
driftwood, rocks and ornaments are available. Plant fertilizers including 
Tropica Master Grow are available although they don't seem to stock Laterite 
or small gravel which would be useful as a plant tank substrate. Test kits 
are available for most tests but on the day when I visited the store a test 
kit for Nitrate was not available. A selection of books is available 
including Barron's Plant Books but more advanced books such as Amano and The 
Optimum Aquarium are not. They also stock several magazines.

There is a plant display in the fish room. Unfortunately most fish room 
staff do not appear to have a lot of plant related knowledge although I 
overheard several conversations between customers and staff where very good 
fish advice was given.

2) Aquarium Services - Brampton

Very similar to the London store in terms of stock. There was a much larger 
selection of plants in the store. Again C02 injection equipment was not 
available but laterite, numerous fertilizers and test kits were available.

This store did carry some plant books including Amano's three volume set.

A better selection of spare parts and Eheim equipment was available. Same 
level of plant advice.

Personally I found the store messy and poorly organized. My sister mentioned 
on her visit that she found the staff rude but that only occured on her 

3) Pets Mart - London (Masonville area)

A large discount pet store. Limited plant knowledge and limited fish 
knowledge. What this store has is an interest in learning (one particular 
staff member). Limited selection of books and filters (Aquaclear, Penquin, 
Magnum). Limited selection of fish and plants although this store has had 
false SAE and Otto cats many times. They have also stocked the Chinese 
variety as well so be careful.

4) Smart Pet - Hamilton (near IKEA)

This store has a very good selection of books and magazines (the best of any 
store I reviewed, they carry the Amano books too). A wide selection of test 
kits are available (including the new Hagan model). Even though the overall 
number of tanks is smaller then either Aquarium Services store they appear 
to have a much larger percentage of tanks devoted to Plants. Nice selection 
of fish including Clown loaches. All of the fish appeared to be extremely 
healthy. With the exception of one temporary tank the plants were all placed 
in well lit tanks. The one exception was extremely temporary. The store 
staff actually started moving the plants in the time I was there to a tank 
with better lighting.

Each of the fish stocking tanks are aquascaped making for a very pleasant 
shopping experience. The knowledge of the staff in this store was quite 
impressive. This was the only store which even mentioned the use of C02 
injection and they mentioned using both Yeast and pressurized tanks. Advice 
to customers was quite good from multiple fish store staff. When asked where 
more information could be found internet sites like the Krib, FINS and TAG 
were all mentioned in addition to magazines and books.

They also had a tank of lovely discus for sale at a reasonable price ($39.99 
each). These discus were larger then normal with good colouration, solid 
eating habits and were purchased from a local breeder. Once my tank is setup 
to handle discus properly I intend to go back and purchase them there.

A good selection of filters, filterilizers and test kits were available as 
well. Unfortunately they don't carry Eheim filters.

As another interesting comment, I visited this store during the afternoon on 
December 23 (Canada's busiest retail shopping day according to the radio). 
Despite the crowds of people they still took the time to talk with their 
customers (they were unaware that I was doing a review).

5) Smart Pet - London

This store unfortunately is more like your standard fish store. Nice tanks 
but not aquascaped. Good selection of filters etc but smaller selection of 
plants and fish then the other Smart Pet. Staff were knowledgeable but 
didn't compare to the other Smart Pet.


In terms of ranking, the Smart Pet store located in the same mall as IKEA in 
Hamilton is definately the best store. They featured good equipment 
selection, strong fish representation and a large selection of plants. Fish 
and Plant knowledge from multiple staff members was very good with a solid 
recommendation of some further internet based resources to look into. The 
store was clean and the fish were very healthy looking (I tried hard to find 
a dead fish in any of the tanks and was unable to. No tanks were being 
medicated either). I strongly recommend that you visit this store if you 
have the opportunity.

Sharing second place are the two Aquarium Services stores. The Brampton 
store features better plant selection and marginally better fertilizer and 
test kit selection while the London store is a more pleasant shopping 
experience in terms of cleanliness and staff attitude. Additionally both 
stores carry Eheim filters which is a major selling point for me (in case 
you hadn't noticied).

What I find interesting is that in most cases the advice to patronize a LFS 
is based upon the need to help keep your LFS in business. I think the true 
measure of when to support a store should happen when you reflect on the 
value of the advice you are receiving along with the economic cost of that 

From my review there is alot of separation between the second and third 
place stores especially when it comes to product knowledge. This is an 
important reason why it's worth mentioning that stores with demonstratibly 
good advice should continue to be supported. However the huge difference in 
quality between the first and second place store also shows that the 
discount status of a store is also not a reasonable criteria to judge a 
store by. The Smart Pet store in Hamilton is a good solid store which 
couples good prices with excellent product knowledge. Someone with 
preconceived notions of support your LFS over the chains would have missed 
this store and IMHO it is truly a gem.

~Jamie N
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