It’s 7 a.m. when I unlock the door to the back of the shop. The filter room/break area/office/stock room/fish care area is waist deep in dry goods. The truck arrived around 4 yesterday- just before the after-work rush. Nothing has been entered into inventory or tagged. I left around 6 yesterday evening. Fourteen hour days had taken their toll and rather than fire everyone and shut down the store, I decided it would be best to go home. According to the register receipts, it was pretty busy. Andrea sold a turtle set-up with all the necessary supplies. Andrea is a reptile person and is subsequently wired a little differently than the average person. According to her, there is only one right way of doing things, and if the customer decides not to abide by the way she suggests, they probably won’t leave with what they were looking to buy. While this may work off of the sales floor, generally if a customer is refused business, they’ll refuse to return- even if they find out they were in the wrong. Travis and Clint bagged fish most of the night. Travis is a good kid- young, 16, loves to read and has a mild obsession with tropical fish. The guy is like a sponge when it comes to fish care and stays happy and helpful with customers. He can only work two weekday afternoons and every other weekend, but he’s a valuable asset, despite the fact that many adults don’t seem to trust someone so young. Clint is in his mid-20’s and is a nice enough guy, but would rather hold down the counter than work. He’s about what you can expect out of someone making less than $7.00 an hour at his age. He shows up every day though, and many customers won’t deal with anyone but him, so I keep him around. He is also one of three full-time employees out of a company of 9. He has also worked for me the longest- hired opening day when someone didn’t show up. A quick walk-through the shop shows me that things have held over pretty well. Dead losses were minimal and the guys still managed to feed the reptiles, check the tanks, mix saltwater for water changes, close out the register, feed and water the birds, spot-clean the small animal cages as well as feed and water, sweep (God, there is so much sweeping), take out the trash, and straighten up the front desk after the store closed at 8. They failed to dust or straighten the shelves, but this is almost expected. Try finding someone that enjoys dusting or aligning cans of fish food. This is a pretty good shop- about 1700 square feet carrying mostly fish- 2,000 gallons of freshwater and about 1,000 gallons of marine as well as reptiles, some small animals, a few birds and full-line dry goods. By 9 in the morning my list of things to do will have most of the day spoken for. I’ve finished about a third of the dry goods that need to go out. Fish are scheduled to arrive at 2 in the afternoon at the airport. With a little luck, they’ll be stocked by five o’clock. A reptile order still needs to be placed. Bird cages need to be brought in. Small animals are looking a little low and more people have asked for Chinchillas than I can count, so those have to be hunted down. I also have a meeting with a customer who claims “sick live rock” killed off his reef tank and wants us to pay for it. I’ll end up getting him replacement fish at cost despite the fact that he bought uncured rock and put it into what I can only assume is an established tank. Pat, our morning fish-care guy has been changing water for an hour. It’s kind of funny. People complain about the “work” that goes into changing water in their 29 gallon tank. Try changing water in 100 of them every week. The angelfish aren’t looking so hot and the Bala sharks have a touch of Ich. Quite frankly, I’d rather not carry Bala sharks altogether, but they’re a staple in the industry and people expect to see them in the stores. If I stop carrying fish like these, people will stop shopping in my store. I won’t miss one sale; I’ll miss several sales as well as the return business to the store down the road. Occasionally someone will complain, but they’re not the ones selling these fish trying to keep a roof over their head or feed their family by it. Pat has let me know that we need a few more gallons of dechlorinator. Our municipalities company switched from Chlorine to Chloramine without letting anyone know. Our dechlorinator no longer works. When they made the switch, no one was notified and we killed almost half of our freshwater stock. It looked like Jonestown back there. In the end, it’s just one more expense, one more issue that needs to be addressed every day. Everything has gotten more expensive. Since 9/11, shipping has increased incredibly. Fish prices have risen considerably as well. A price increase is imminent, but I’m holding back as much as I can. Until my competition budges, there isn’t a lot I can do for fear of losing business. Our margins aren’t that big to begin with when you take into consideration how much it costs to pay your employees, pay rent for the store, pay insurance, pay for the electricity and water required to run 3,000 gallons of water, as well as save for whatever disaster may be on the horizon. If I run the basic small business formula of how much money I need to make per square foot of store to stay afloat, I want to go back to selling insurance. In the end though, it’s a very poignant reminder that every customer counts. Three o’clock in the afternoon has come and gone without a call from the airlines. It looks like the flight has been bumped and my fish will show up whenever they show up. Unfortunately, these things happen semi-regularly and little, if anything can be done about it. With a little luck, my boxes are sitting somewhere climate-controlled rather than on a blacktop cooking or freezing. I’m lucky though. Our cargo office is open until 10 in the evening, so I should be able to pick fish up and get them into tanks tonight instead of tomorrow morning. Pat was supposed to leave at three, but Christine, his replacement hasn’t shown up yet. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t mind if Christine doesn’t show up ever again. Her attitude isn’t the best on earth, and while she knows quite a bit about breeding guppies, she doesn’t know a whole lot about anything else and won’t even look at the saltwater section. She was already reprimanded for leaving a dead Hippo Tang in a tank for an hour and a half after a customer complained to me directly. By four o’clock Christine hasn’t shown up, so it looks like she’s either never coming back or fired, so I’m manning the fish department. One guy walked around the fish room twice without taking me up on my offer for service. He finally approached me and asked how many Pacus and Oscars he could keep in his tank. After telling me he had a 30 gallon aquarium, I told him they would get too big and he may want to consider some other fish. He then asked if he could keep six goldfish in his 30. At this point, I know his game. This guy is a hobbyist that knows the answers to the questions before he asks them. This crowd has been coming around more and more- hobbyists that “interview” their fish store before making purchases. This doesn’t bother me one bit. It does bother me when they corner someone and ask questions until they get an answer they’re not satisfied with or point out one tank of fish out of 100 that have Ich or a fungus or a bacterial infection and find some place to complain. This is the same crowd that will ask questions about products, take filters out of boxes, give them a good look over, and then order them online. One of my employees has spent 30 minutes of their time answering questions and wasting their time on someone that has no intentions of buying anything. All I have left is a frustrated employee and an expensive filter that has been opened. The packaging ends up crumpled and the product is almost not sellable. They’ll be back though with questions about disease or treatment. Under many circumstances, I’ll give medications away to good customers. These guys will pay full-price though, ever time, on every item. In the end though, this guy was alright. He bought a Gold Nugget Pleco and a few tablespoons of live black worms. The next few customers were the average Neon Tetra, Swordtail, Guppy crowd until Phil showed up. Phil is a rabid cichlid keeper and knows that he may be getting a few of the firecracker Tropheus he’s been looking for on this week’s shipment. He wants to come back to the store tonight when the fish arrive, but I told him he’ll have to wait until tomorrow. It’s 9 o’clock now and the store is almost cleaned up when the airline calls my cell phone to let me know the fish are in. It’s a 45 minute drive to the airport without traffic, 20 minutes to pick up the fish, and 45 minutes back. If I left now, that will put me back at the store around 11 p.m. If I can get someone to go with me and help unload, putting fish away will only take about an hour and a half, maybe two hours. I should be out of the store by 1 in the morning. I’ll be able to get 4 or so hours of sleep and things should run smooth tomorrow. ------------------------ Please keep this in mind the next time you see a dead fish or two in your favorite LFS. These guys work more hours, take care of more fish, and get paid less than most people on these forums. If you don't believe me, volunteer to clean tanks for a day and see exactly how much goes into taking care of a pet store.