Shop Talk Salty Revolution

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Shop Talk: Salty Revolution
2nd January 2018

By Sandra Pearce



James (left) and Dale have big plans for the future of their business

Dale Frankland and James Goodchild are determined to advance the marine-keeping hobby and have opened their dream shop in Suffolk. They talk about their journey and plans for the future

Sometimes two is better than one, and for Dale Frankland and James Goodchild, this is certainly the case. With more than 50 years’ marine-keeping experience between them, Dale and James each owned an aquatics shop and would visit wholesalers together to purchase livestock. It was inevitable that the two struck up a friendship, cemented by their common viewpoints and shared viewpoints on issues like captive breeding.

Both wanted to open a bigger, better shop and to move the marine hobby forward. They decided the best way to do this was to pool their resources and open a shop together – not just an aquatics shop, said Dale, a destination shop.

The result is Salty Revolution, in Mildenhall, Suffolk, which opened early this year and which they say is the biggest marine specialist in the country. James recalled how in the early planning stages, they visited all the big shops in the UK and discovered that the biggest coral bay to be found was 96sq ft. So they decided that Salty Revolution would have 144sq ft of coral bays offering hundreds of corals, with a further 144sq ft on their coral farm managed by Dale, which they say is the biggest in Europe. The store has 40,000 litres of marine systems (including the corals fixture)  divided into four systems of 42 tanks, which carry 300-500 marine fish from more than 100 species, as well as 30-50 species of  inverts. Oh, and there’s also a nine-foot 7,500-litre round shark pool and a 14ft small polyped stony corals display tank.


Incredible attention to detail has gone into the planning of the interior

To create ambiance, they designed the interior so it resembles the buildings, structure and atmosphere of places where coral reefs are located – the mix of coconut leaf thatching, raw timber and strategically-placed statues transports one easily to somewhere in the Caribbean or South-East Asia, while piped music completes the illusion that you are on holiday. It cost £300,000 to outfit, which they financed from the sale of their previous shops.

At the heart of Salty Revolution is a burning desire to make a difference to the marine hobby in the UK. Dale explained: “The reason we wanted to start the Revolution is because we were concerned about the future of the hobby. In a world where sustainability is becoming a more pressing issue, particularly threats to natural habitats, we could see that unless something was proactively done, the hobby could be in jeopardy.
“We therefore thought it was important to push the hobby forward, and through the creation of in-store farms for corals and local breeding networks for fish, create a sustainable future.”


Salty Revolution says its coral bay is the largest in the country

They have pledged that by 2020, 50% of all the shop’s corals will be grown in-store, and that 25% of all fish will be captive bred. At the moment, 8% of their fish are captive bred, 1% are captive reared. “We are the first people in the UK to have captive-reared regal tangs and fox faces,” said James.

Quarantine, quarantine, quarantine!
This year, Salty Revolution will receive approximately 400 boxes of livestock, and everything is put into quarantine. James said: “Absolutely everything goes into quarantine for five days, and anything that we use to move fish between the tanks, for example nets, is binned. Not sterilised, binned. We also bleach all equipment between use. If we are unhappy with any one fish for any reason, we hold the entire system for another five days.”

Quarantine protocols at the shop are stringent and strip down to the absolute minutest of details such as their refusing to mix different shipments from different countries  – each is kept in its own quarantine section.

Attention to detail is meticulous: they check on the sea temperature of where the livestock is coming from, and match the temperature in quarantine to that temperature and then slowly adjust it to the shop’s normal parameters. The applies to salinity levels.


White dwarf moray eel, Pseudoechidna brummeri

After five days, if there are no issues, livestock goes on sale, which is why the shop is closed on Mondays to Wednesdays as that is when the shipments arrive. Thursday night trading is busiest for corals and fish sales are manic on Sundays – customers have been known to wait for two hours to be served on Sunday!

James said: “We are just about the only shop in East Anglia that quarantines marine fish. Yes, it is expensive and time consuming, but if you do not do it, you will have losses.”
The fish are fed nine times every day, on flake and frozen, and nitrate is kept under 1ppm. Water changes usually mean between 3,000 and 5,000 litres at a time, which is made up on the premises in 1,000-litre batches using 500kg of salt a month.


Mustard tang, Acanthurus guttatus

Sustainable practices
Dale and James have a list of about 10 species that they refuse to stock because they consider the species to be at risk or being collected using unsustainable methods. For example, they will not source Banggai cardinalfish from Banggai but from Bali, which has a breeding, viable population, and will only buy percula clowns from the Philippines, not Bali. They have not sold yellow tang from Hawaii for about four years (Hawaii has recently revoked all licences for the collection of yellow tang pending environmental assessment). James said: “I could see what was happening with yellow tang stocks in Hawaii…they were taking too many. In 2014 and 2016, we ran a campaign on Facebook about the yellow tang.

“Yellow tangs take five years to reach sexual maturity, but by then, 50% are in captivity so they are not reproducing in the wild. Which means it’s not sustainable. Although there’s no danger of extinction now, if nothing is done, there will be a population crash at some point like with the cod in Canada (see below). The bottom line is that 20 to 30 years ago, the majority of yellow tangs caught in the wild were adults, now the majority are juveniles because the fish are not maturing.”

The situation is compounded because yellow tangs tend to be bought by people new to the hobby, attracted by their size, price point and bright colouring, but these newcomers are more prone to beginner’s mistakes and therefore more likely to see fatalities. Which is why education is such a huge priority at Salty Revolution. They have uploaded in the region of 150 videos including how-to guides to YouTube, along with a 40-minute video explaining the implication of the Hawaiian ban on yellow tangs. In August, they uploaded a video every day, detailing a two- to three-minute job to do to improve a tank and make it look better.



Saying it as it is
“The main reason we do so well,” said James, “is that we do not sell people stuff that is not suitable for them. For example, if they have the wrong tank, we will not sell them the fish they want – we turn away more people wanting to buy fish than we sell. We also ask, what else have you in your tank, how big is the tank, questions like that. We are very strict on that. We assume everyone knows nothing at the start, so we do all their water testing, stock planning…we do as much as we can and slowly phase this help out until they are at a standard that they should be to keep what they want to keep.
“Likewise, if someone is trying to buy equipment, we tell them if it’s not necessary. We will always put the hobby first over sales.”



Looking across the corals to the fish and invert tanks

Many of their customers (some of whom travel more than an hour to get to them) have arrived based on recommendation. Many come because they have a disease outbreak and need help.

Salty Revolution has a large following on social media and all marketing and promotional activity is on platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. Having a reputation for stocking unusual and rare fish helps attract customers – gems they have had include Ptereleotris grammica (they were the first in Europe to stock the species), a white dwarf moray, the Pictichromis dinar (dottyback) and the humpback unicorn tang.


Dinar dottyback, Pictichromis dinar

Not just livestock
Dale and James have a simple attitude when it comes to stocking products. Only the best, and only one of each, keeping the product range as tight and as simple as possible. James explained: “At the moment our philosophy is to stock only one product of anything, so we’ll have one phosphate remover, but the best there is. We test everything and if it goes on the shelf, it will replace something that is there already. We do not want people to come in and see we carry five different carbon products and we say they are all great.”


Statues are dotted around the shop, and are also for sale

So they have their own brand, Salty Revolution, which they guarantee is the best on the market. Take their carbon product. Dale said: “We took samples from eight suppliers, and then went to a carbon wholesaler and tested the grades. When we got the results, we brought in one grade higher for our own product.”
They now order in carbon by the tonne, which he packs into 500ml tubs in their ‘little warehouse’ in Norwich (it is 700sq ft!) which also stores all their salt, rocks and bulky products. In total, they have 32 own-label products, of which nine are water treatments (both liquid and powder), five are filtration media and there are eight coral foods. James said: “We try our food on our coral farm and customers’ corals. Our mushroom recipe was the most difficult, it took the 42nd try before it was spot on, whereas normally we get it right within four or five attempts.”

One popular product is Revolution, a nitrate and phosphate remover that ‘literally eats the nitrate, phosphate, organics without the risk of stealing the oxygen like carbon dosing’. Also popular is the Salty Revolution Bio Hula, a ceramic media that complements Revolution and increases the surface area for bacteria to colonise.


Product range is dominated by own-label offering – only one product of anything is stocked, keeping things simple for the customer

Their products are also available to buy online from their e-site, which at the present has 40 skus. However, there are big plans for the website and next year they intend to carry 3,000 skus, from which they will offer click-and-collect for the store. The Salty Revolution website will also be joined by sister site, Tropical Revolution.

James said: “Online will have a different approach than the store because although we can recommend a brand or product, online customers will be searching for a particular brand and have their favourites.”
Both work seven days a week, chalking up 90-100 hours each easily. Holidays? What’s that? They have nine part-timers, each of whom does a job they either like or are good at, so for example one person cleans glass (there’s a lot of this) while another handles the design and packaging of the own-brand range.

Salty Revolution also offers a tank set-up and maintenance service, and has recently completed a £27,000, seven-foot tank for a customer. There are further plans to open a second shop next year, with the eventual aim of running a chain of 10 stores.
“It’s all good,” says Dale. “It’s all about pushing the hobby forward.”
Vive la revolution!

Fighting disease
James says Salty Revolution gets contacted five to 10 times each week by people who are battling disease in their fish. Whereas in the past whitespot was the most common, today he sees more and more cases of brooklynella or clownfish disease.

Brooklynella is a type of saltwater parasite and closely associated with clownfish, though ‘anything wet can carry the parasite’, he said.
It is incredibly aggressive and can kill fish within days, even hours upon recognition. It attacks the gills first. As it progresses, a heavy amount of slime is produced and a thick, whitish mucus covers the body.
It is not uncommon to see mortality rates of 95% in 24 hours.

James said: “85% of cases we see are this, it’s become the most common disease. A fish can go from showing no symptoms to being dead in 20 minutes. As soon as fish die, the parasite lets go and the spores move to other fish.”


Signage outside the shop, located on an industrial estate, is subtle!

What happened to Canada’s cod stocks?

In 1992, the world’s most productive cod fishing grounds in Canada ran dry due to years of overfishing and incompetent fisheries management – the collapse of the Newfoundland Grand Banks cod fishery put 40,000 people out of work.

In 1968, cod catch peaked at 800,000 tonnes. By 1975, the annual catch plunged by more than 60%. As catches declined, factory trawlers used more powerful sonar and satellite navigation to target what was left. The government (most members of whom owned shares in industrial fishing companies) ignored scientific warnings that cod was in crisis. 

By 1992, the population was decimated to an estimated 1% of 1980s’ levels and the government was forced to close the fishery, initially for two years. In 1993, the moratorium was extended indefinitely. Ten years later, the two main populations of Atlantic cod were added to Canada’s list of endangered species. The moratorium is still in force today, though in June 2017, cod stock was said to be at about 25% of levels from the 1980s.