Lake in the Hills, Ill.
At a Glance
Size: 1,500 square feet of retail space
Years in Business: 22
Owner: Jeff Renfroe
Distinguishing Characteristics: A family business, Exotic
Aquatics also offers tank installation and maintenance services, as
well as fish care for out-of-town customers.
Exotic Aquatics is, first and foremost, a family business. Owned by Jeff Renfroe and managed by his daughter, Elise Marsh, the store has seen its ups and downs over the past 22 years,
including moves between multiple locations.
Some of the struggles have been constant, including the difficulty
terms of product prices. “It’s a race to
the bottom for pricing. People sacrifice
service for value.”
Instead, he feels that retailers should
focus on providing personalized service
and knowledge in order to build customer
loyalty and increase store traffic.
“Don’t chase internet pricing. Support
yourself. Sell yourself and make people
spend a few extra dollars coming in,”
says Ross. “Make people realize the
value of a local store. Find vendors that
will support you and then support them.”
Ross has expanded his store
services to include tank installation
and maintenance for both homes and
offices, further increasing his value as
a local business. He also engages with
the community through sponsorship
of a local club, the Canton Regional
Saltwater Addicts. Club members
receive discounts at the store.
Ross also holds exciting events at the store, including a Holiday
Glow Party, in which the tanks were decorated with Christmas lights.
He also held a Summer Frag Swap Raffle that raised over $3,000
for charity. The retailer also engages in year-round fundraising for
a North Canton-based nonprofit called Wishes Can Happen, which
provides fun experiences for children with life-threatening illnesses.
There’s a Wish Tank where customers can donate their lose change
to benefit the organization.
This kind of philanthropy is a matter of civic responsibility as well
as a way to build an invaluable connection between Ocean Rift
Aquatics and the community.
“If you can ask a local community to
support you, you have to support the
local community,” Ross says.
By being so embedded within the
community, it’s no surprise that Ross
counts many of his loyal customers
as friends. Though much of his
business comes from word-of-mouth
recommendations, he does invest time
in online marketing and advertising
“I spend a lot of time branding the
store,” says Ross. His marketing
strategy includes ensuring that the
By devoting such time and energy to marketing, Ross treats
Ocean Rift Aquatics like his business, not his hobby, which he says
is essential to an aquatics retailer’s success. Not taking your store
seriously and only spending time on it when it’s convenient is one
of the many ways in which an aquatics retailer can fail, he says.
Ocean Rift Aquatics is doing just the opposite of failing. Current
plans include hiring more staff and steady growth. Down the line,
Ross hopes to open a second or third store, showing that optimism
can still be found in aquatics retail.