Building a Bridge Between Clients and Their Natural World

Patrick Donston, owner of West Clifton, N.J.-based Absolutely Fish—the 2013 Global Pet Expo Best Live-Animal Retailer—says winning the award was a team effort. So, when I followed up to learn more about the store, Donston responded by polling his team of 31 employees to dish about the store’s winning strategy. The following answers were compiled from the Absolutely Fish staff and Donston himself.


Congratulations on the Best Live-Animal Retailer Excellence Award at Global Pet Expo! What does the win mean to you and your staff?
– “It means we’re part of a great organization!”

– “We are being recognized for all the hard work we put into our animals.”

– “It means we are ahead of the curve – it reflects on our pride, we’re taken seriously.”

– “It’s a source of pride and humility.”

– “It reinforces our pride and reminds us we have the ability to achieve greatness!”

– “Seems like we’re doing something right, achieving goals that we’ve set for ourselves and our clients.”




Absolutely Fish's staff celebrates the Retailer Excellence Award win in the store.



How do you define a winning retail strategy that includes livestock?

– “You have to have great care for the animals and great education for your clients.”

– “Organized and documented husbandry practices.”

– “You must educate customers properly.”

– “You should have a dry goods selection that compliments your livestock’s needs. In other words, everything needs something to keep it alive, and you should sell it!”

– “We do not just sell animals as pets. We act as a bridge between our clients and their natural world. We do this through education, husbandry and great livestock.”

– “Having an outstanding training manual and policies/procedures.”

– “Having the ability to educate your clients to help them become successful hobbyists.”



What advice would you give others looking to carry livestock, particularly a large aquatics section?

– “Have the right people, who have compassion.”

– “Get the right stock, and have good vendors.”

– “Implement proper procedures, and have the right people managing the department.”

– “Perform good husbandry, that’s how you sell good fish. Bad looking tanks are like a sore that won’t heal. Great looking tanks are the best marketing idea EVER!”

– “Understand your client base and have the best selection you can afford.”

– “Display your systems properly.”

– “Be organized and document everything: know where you buy and what comes from where.”

– “Number all aquariums and systems – and document everything!”




Absolutely Fish proudly dispalys its award in a tank.




How involved are you with your community?
Donston: We are extremely involved in our global community. We promote education and conservation in our store to both our employees and our clients. We are very mindful to do our part to preserve the environments of the animals we love, in every way we can. From little things like recycling within the store and encouraging the use of re-usable bags to our huge Earth Week project we undertake every year, we are always looking for ways we can help. Last year alone, we donated almost $20,000 to a reef restoration project that is taking place in the Caribbean with the help of our loyal clients!




What is your favorite part about being in the pet industry?

– “Looking at the animals.”

– “Knowing our community relies on us to take better care of their pets. It gives us a sense of importance.”

– “We’re hobbyists, first and foremost. It’s nice to work in an industry we are passionate about!”

– “Being around the animals and seeing new ones arrive every day!”

– “Seeing all the species that scientists and other husbandry professionals never get the chances to see.”

– “I love to see the reaction people have when they get to see something they’ve never seen before.”

– “I love being around pets all day, every day!”

– “I love animals, being around them and taking care of them.”

– “Seeing the reactions of children and adults when they learn something new.”