Aug 27, 2014 Allie Wenner Uncategorized
Many people believe that every kid should have a dog. Chris Fowler, co-owner of Fish FINatics pet store in East Syracuse, believes that every kid should have a fish.
“I don’t disagree with the dog statement, and I even have my own dog, but with dogs there’s more responsibility, more potential for harm if the kids are too young,” he said. “With fish, there’s a wide variety that can fit anybody. You can have a small fish bowl with one fish in it, or a 100 gallon tank with lots of big fish in it. There are so many options that there’s really something for everyone. And I’ve yet to meet a 5 year old that doesn’t like fish.”
Fowler was born in Florida but relocated to the Central New York area at an early age. He returned to Florida somewhat regularly to visit family, which is where his interest in fish was spurred.
“Reptiles were one of my first passions because they’re all around down there,” Fowler said. “And I would go snorkeling and go to the beach all the time, which is where I was first introduced to all different types of fish.”
And although Fowler has had pet fish for most of his life, he didn’t keep them seriously until he was about 20, when he purchased his own tank for his cichlid fish. “I became obsessed – I learned as much as I could and read every book I could,” he said.
Fowler started working at Petland in Cicero when he was 24, where he would work for the next seven years, running the fish department. He loved the job – Fowler said he learned more about fish care every day from the work he did cleaning and setting up tanks for customers.
During this time, he had one customer who encouraged him to go out on his own and start his own fish store, and when the time was right, he did. Last summer, Fowler left his job at Petland to open Fish FINatics, which he co-owns with fellow ex-Petland employee and fish enthusiast Tom O’Connor.
Fish FINatics is a bit different from most of the other local pet store because it caters solely to fish – big fish, small fish, salt water fish, fresh water fish – you name the fish, and they can probably get it. In fact, Fowler requires all employees to keep their own saltwater and freshwater fish tanks at home because Fish FINatics prides itself on being informative.
“When our employees start, they may not be experts yet, but they only way they’re going to get better is by actually having fish,” he said. “It’s like being a mechanic and not driving a car… A lot of our customers will still shop at the competitors, but not everyone who works at these places really knows [a lot about fish,] and sometimes people will go home and do the research and find out, ‘Oh my fish eats other fish,’ or ‘Oh, my fish is too big for this tank.’ When people come to us, we tell them about what the fish’s care is so that they can make an informed decision.”
While about one third of Fish FINatics’ freshwater fish are locally-raised, some of the saltwater and freshwater fish come from as far away as Bali, Indonesia, Australia, or domestically from places like California and Florida. Typically, a freshwater fish ranges in price from $5 to $10 and saltwater fish average about $20 to $30.
“We always ask people, ‘What do you like?’ and go from there, but nine times out of ten, they’ll choose saltwater fish if it’s not a monetary issue,” Fowler said. “It’s mainly because of the color – saltwater fish can be vibrant reds, yellows and pinks. Freshwater fish are more subdued – tan and brown.”
When Fowler was working at Petland, he created classes for people to learn more about fish care, which is something he brought to the new store. Fish FINatics offers a beginner class for anyone interested in learning more about setting up and maintaining tanks, how to stock fish, different tank options, fish that work for different tanks and more. There is also an intermediate class, which is open to people who have had fish for weeks, months, or years, and is more of an open forum-style class.
Since opening last November, Fish FINatics has established a regular customer base of more than 150 people who visit the store on a bi-weekly basis. “You could come in every day and see something new,” Fowler said.
Another thing that makes Fish FINatics unique is its fish trade-in policy. Anyone may trade in a fish if it gets too big for the tank or if they just want to get a different kind.
“We have some fish that would normally go for $100 or more, but we sell them for $30 if they’ve been traded back in,” he said.
Fish FINatics is located at 7037 Manlius Center Road and sells coral, supplements, tank lights, filters and heaters and more in addition to the fish and tanks. For more information, call 627-0661.
“I think that we’re passionate and that’s the biggest thing,” Fowler said. “We want people to feel our passion and continue that passion in their tanks too. But we feel like we’re part of a community with our customers, and much more than just a place to sell them things.”