Industry Profile Mermaid Fish Imports

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Industry Profile: Mermaid Fish Imports
14th June 2017

By Sandra Pearce

Mermaid Fish Imports is a wholesaler of tropical and coldwater fish, animals and plants and prides itself on its traditional values and service. We visit to learn more about the Midlands-based supplier

This is the age of ‘shrinkflation’ – where human food manufacturers and supermarkets cut the weight of a product, but keep prices the same. It’s rampant across the grocery sector, from Toblerone to Birds Eye fish fingers, from sausages to WKD bottles. And yes, shrinkflation has also hit a few in the pet food sector. But not at Mermaid Fish Imports, a wholesaler based in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, which prides itself on ‘traditional service and traditional sizes’.


Mark Davies (left) and Richard Edge refuse to sell direct to the public

Manager Mark Davies said: “We are traditional with our sizing. Take our mollies – while others may sell them as ‘medium’, we label them as ‘small’. We sell according to how it used to be 20 years ago. It’s the same with our plants, we sell decent bunches. Many will sell some plants with just three strands, but ours are all good-sizes bunches.”

Mermaid Fish Imports is a wholesaler of a huge variety of tropical and coldwater fish and plants, and has its own fleet and uses a courier for overnight deliveries when needed. With two large tropical rooms and an equal amount of space for coldwater, stock lists change on a weekly basis.

Everything from bread-and-butter community fish to the more specialist such as wild-caught hatchetfish from Colombia, elephantnose from Nigeria and South American plecs, to shrimps, crabs, snails, newts, freshwater and coldwater mussels, musk turtles and frogs, a strong offering of British coldwater fish, including golden orfe and tench, as well as Israel koi Stock comes from all over the world, including Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Israel, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Nigeria and the Czech Republic. Richard has visited a number of Far East suppliers and been to their farms.

The company has been trading since 1991 but its owner, Richard Edge, started in the trade when he was just 14. He said: “A friend from school gave me a couple of green swords… and they bred. I ended up with eight tanks in my bedroom and 40 tanks in my garage, breeding and selling different species. My parents got involved with deliveries because, well, obviously, I couldn’t drive!”


Tropical fish

Aquatics is in his blood and he never left the trade. Over the years he’s had an aquatics retail business and was behind Midland Waterlife, which had up to 11 franchises at one point, before starting Mermaid Fish Imports. Following in his footsteps, Mark at 13 years old started helping Richard on Saturdays – and also never left! 

Richard owns the Bromsgrove premises – the front part of the building dates from 1650, while the rear goes back to 1720 – and is located in a conservation area. Everything is fit for purpose, though Mark says they are in the process of refitting the tanks as some date back to when Mermaid first started, and are also moving over to LED lighting. They have planning permission to convert an outdoor area into another tropical room.

Although social media is ‘not relevant to a wholesaler’, Mark and Richard use Whatsapp to communicate with their customers rather than using a trade website. Mark explained: “Using Whatsapp, we can control who sees our messages and prices.”

Mermaid has about 500 tanks of fish; all new stock is strictly quarantined for a week, though some species need up to two weeks to settle. That’s ok, they say, as the quality of their fish is a prime concern. Fish are also inspected daily for disease; Mark makes his rounds with a torchlight, hunting out any signs of disease.


Fish are inspected every day for signs of disease

Mermaid uses recirculated systems, with germicidal UV and sand filters. Each tank can be switched off individually and temperature controlled. All systems are connected to an alarm – Richard lives on site, while Mark is about a mile away, so response times are very, very fast if something goes wrong!

Fish are selected and packed on their day of delivery, and two people check the condition of the fish to ensure they are in prime condition before being sent out.

Interestingly enough, Mermaid will accept returns of fish if a retailer cannot sell them and they’ve grown big.

Mark said: “If it is tying up a tank for them, we will take them back because we always have customers who want bigger fish.”

Challenging times
The aquatics industry has had a hard slog the last few years, said Richard, but he believes things have levelled out. Trade has, however, definitely changed. So many factors have contributed to this changing landscape. For one, equipment and food is better, so fish stay alive longer and are not replaced as often as before. He also thinks the number of hobbyists has gone down, perhaps because of less disposable income, but also because houses are now smaller and so there is not the space for aquariums like there used to be. It’s also possible that many families may have kept tanks for their children, who now have different interests.


Outdoor vats brim with coldwater fish

“Look at how many people are closing their ponds down,” he said, but notes they’ve seen a slight pick-up in the pond sector.

Another challenge is the increasing numbers of retailers who are going the route of buying their fish through consolidators.

Richard said: “Many people are consolidating their fish. They will use a company to bring in a box of fish, which has maybe eight types of fish. They may get their fish cheaper, but there are fewer varieties.”

Using such a service means retailers are severely restricted as to the number of varieties they can offer their customers, and there is no recourse if something goes wrong and there are fatalities. With wholesalers, at least one can choose a wide variety of fish, which provides more interest in-store and might encourage hobbyists to try something new. Besides, said Mark: “If there is a problem, we will always rectify it and will replace as a dead fish is an expensive fish.”


Mermaid Fish Imports receives weekly deliveries of tropical and coldwater fish from around the world, from popular community fish to the more exotic species

Richard said: “They’re saving pennies on their end, but think of the impact to the trade. It’s short-sighted. The amount of money that has been taken out of the trade for that one little box.”

Both say the aquatics trade has had more than its fair share of red tape. Richard said: “EU rules do not look at the individual country. Why impose a blanket rule when it only applies to two or three countries?”

He referred to the water hyacinth and apple snails ban – they used to sell a box or two a week. “Water hyacinth doesn’t survive our winters,” he said. “We don’t need someone in EU telling us how to run our business. We need all the regulations that have been made since the EU to be revoked.”

Despite many challenges, Mark and Richard will not compromise on their values and remain fiercely loyal and protective of their retailers by providing top quality. 


The more variety retailers can offer, the better