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Shop Talk: Tri-mar Aquaria and Reptiles
15th December 2014

By Sandra Pearce

A new lease of life

When aquatics retailer Trimar had to find new premises, this gave it the perfect opportunity to venture into a partnership scheme with wholesaler ALF to implement an easier, more efficient way of managing stock

Trimar is a bit of a Cornish institution, and has an island-wide reputation for its range of fish, reptiles and dry goods.

Previously located in Tuckingmill, near Camborne, the 48-year-old aquatics retailer had to recently find new premises when its lease came up.

Thankfully owner Monty Ray was given 12 months’ notice, which gave him time to locate new premises about a mile away on Pool Industrial Estate, with around 2,500sq ft of space – slightly bigger than at Tuckingmill. Being an industrial site, he had to apply for a retail permit, but a big advantage of its new location is that parking is dead easy. “It was a big job trying to find the right place to go to,” he says, but this one ticks all the boxes and his customers have had no difficulty finding it; business is at about the same level as before the relocation.

However, no move comes easy, and Monty and his seven staff had a period of two weeks where both shops were running (with fish in each), in an attempt to keep disruption to customers and livestock to a minimum. The team had only a half-day in which to close the old shop and finish the final preparations to the new. “It was hectic,” he says.

Monty has been at Trimar since 1987. A former customer, he liked the shop so much he bought it.





The shop has an enviable reputation for its tropical, marine and coldwater fish, such that it was voted UK Retailer of the Year for four consecutive years in consumer magazine Practical Fishkeeping.

The new premises are clearly laid out, with bespoke display areas for tropical, marine and coldwater, dry goods, and two reptile rooms. The fish rooms have over 100 tanks, with 30 marines, 70sq ft coral tables, 85 tropical and 15 coldwater tanks, not to mention the plant tanks. There are no display tanks at the moment as everyone has been so busy with the August move – not unless you count the dry goods displays that have been set up with ornaments and the such!

New beginnings
The new premises offer a chance to grow the business, in which wholesaler ALF has been instrumental. Monty says: “They designed all the graphics, they merchandised the shop and have had a lot of input.”



Trimar has been using ALF for a number of years, and was willing to trial a new ‘partnership scheme’ that the wholesaler has introduced for retailers. Monty explains: “Strictly speaking it’s not a partnership; it’s my business totally. Through it, they supply the vast majority of our stock, which is treated as stock on consignment. So although it’s in our store, it belongs to them.”

Trimar uses a bespoke EPoS system, through which ALF monitors the shop’s stock levels. “It tells them when a product has been sold, they restock, and we pay them only when it’s sold.”

“Our actual operation is so much easier because we do not have to monitor stock levels or order in anything. Whatever we sell gets replaced automatically. And all the price tickets are printed from our computer.”



If there is a new product he wants to try, he can place online orders. “It’s all so much easier,” he says. “The idea of running a shop with a stock on consignment dry goods section was something that immediately appealed to me when considering a shop move. What it meant was that we were able to set up the new place with all the dry goods section whilst still running the old shop.”

ALF’s Tania Barton said: “The upsides of the relationship are that Monty can now enjoy the benefits of less administration as he no longer needs anyone to spend hours going round the shelves and seeing what needs to be ordered, he no longer needs to price gun every product, and we can see at a glance which products are not selling and work out reasons why.



“Monty receives price changes immediately and simply prints a new label for the store and benefits from any new lines that are taken on, being instantly available to him as consignment stock.”

Developing your speciality
Trimar imports a lot of its fish direct, so can offer more unusual and rarer fish than one might normally find in an aquatics shop. Some of the livestock on offer include the Red Spotted Fire Eel, Cameroon Fan Shrimp, the cichlid Geophagus altifrons (Surinamensis), the catfish Synodontis granulosa and the Vampire plec.

Trimar offers a mail-order fish and reptiles service and was, in fact, a pioneer in this sector. Though mail order is a small percentage of his total business turnover, it means he can now reach the whole of the UK.



With reptiles, Monty has visited all the top reptile wholesalers ‘to see for ourselves the source of many of the animals that we all keep and now we can order, secure in the knowledge of the quality of our stock’.

Of his seven staff, six are reptile keepers and include specialists in snakes and lizards. Having this interest and speciality is crucial in an aquatics and reptile environment, he says, as the customer is always looking for information. Staff also need to be able to spend time with customers if they have queries.

Having a wide range of fish, good staff and advice, and keeping prices keen are the secrets of success, he says. It is due to his ‘massive buying power’ that he is able to give better deals to everyone, he says. For example, stocking over 100 vivariums at all times, in wooden and glass, means he has better buying power and so can offer permanent discounts. Trimar also offers a price match promise within 40 miles. “People come to us from all over Devon and Cornwall,” he says.



With livestock, there will always be a place for the local aquatics store, but with dry goods, you have no choice but to compete with Internet prices. “You cannot always match, but many times we are close enough, maybe a quid or two off so it does not seem worth the hassle.” And yes, sometimes he cuts margins to keep prices down.

He’s had customers come in with their smartphones and call up Internet prices to see if he can match them. “I tell them, we have been here for 40-odd years, and we will still be here tomorrow. We give back-up service, and if something goes wrong, we’re here. If something goes wrong with your online order, what will you do?”



Which really is about good customer service. “You’ve got to deal with your customer fairly. If something goes wrong, you have to try and see it from their side of the fence. You have to be able to deal efficiently with any problems.”

Trimar for examples offers an immediate replacement for any dry goods which prove to be of faulty manufacture within the guarantee period. If not in stock, which is unlikely, it will look for an alternative or order another in.

“If you can be efficient like this, you will be around (in the future). Smaller shops could struggle,” he says.