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Pet fish shops struggling to hook customers

LUOHAN CRAZE: The local aquarium shops hit their peak numbers of 300 in 2002, when pet fish owners went crazy over the luohan or flower horn fish as it is said to bring the owners good luck. ST FILE


    Jun 16, 2015

    Pet fish shops struggling to hook customers

    THAT local tropical fish shop in your neighbourhood may soon become a rarity.

    There were about 300 licensed aquarium shops in 2002, at the peak of the craze over luohan or flower horn fish, said to bring good luck to owners.

    But latest figures from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore show there were just 120 licensed aquarium shops at the start of the year, down from 140 in 2012.

    Industry players say many shops have been hit by falling interest in rearing fish and direct Internet sales.

    Among the casualties is Soon Heng Aquarium in Yishun. Owner K. H. Koh, 60, said he closed shop last year because "business was so poor".

    Meanwhile, the remaining players are feeling the heat.

    At Pet Mart in Serangoon North, ornamental fish sales have fallen by 20 per cent in the past year. Managing director Benjamin Wee, 40, said: "A lot of effort is needed to rear fish and there are so many competing hobbies now.

    "Kids watch television shows, have an iPad. The interest in fish isn't there any more," he said, adding that the business will be shuttered after he retires.

    "Even if my children want to take over, I will tell them no. Honestly, you cannot earn much and it's really hard work." He pays himself $3,000 a month.

    Over in Serangoon North, M. C. Li, the owner of Heisenberg Pet and Aquarium Centre, is thinking of closing when her lease is up in two years' time.

    The 60-year-old said the shop barely breaks even each month. Two years ago, it used to earn several thousand dollars a month. "It's hard for us to continue," she said, adding that ornamental fish are sold online.

    "Nowadays, the tropical fish farms here can sell directly to customers too," she said.

    Andy Yap, the deputy chief executive of Qian Hu Corporation, the leading supplier to local fish shops, said customers often buy fish from the farm after visiting. However, he added that the company makes sure its prices do not undercut those at the shops it supplies fish to.

    Mr Yap pointed to other reasons for the falling number of fish shops. "During the flower horn fish craze, there were so many new players who opened up to tap on it. After the craze, they shut down because they did not have the know-how to continue," he said, adding that Qian Hu's sales to retailers here have remained stable over the past decade.

    "Shops are also closing because children are not taking over the business from the older generation," he said, adding that there was no new trend after the luohan craze.