Accuracy In Information - Help a good cause!

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JP

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I'm new to this forum but like what I see. I'm an admin at Badman's Tropical Fish and wanted to spread the word about something.

I have an issue - it is incorrect, species-specific information being delivered to hobbyists by retailers. Information typically provided by retailers that should know better to hobbyists that don't. It is information delivered to hobbyists that rely on retailers to provide honest, accurate information about the fish they sell.

I wander a number of forums. I see, like most of us do from time to time, the endless discussions that get into LFS or mass merchandiser bashing. Over the years I began to tune them out - even avoid them altogether. I always thought if it bugs you that much - do something productive - let's not just complain to ourselves.

I recently stumbled into a couple of those discussions elsewhere by accident. I am a long time member at one of the sites where I saw the bashing. I knew the person bashing well enough that I shared a letter I had sent to PetSmart a couple of days earlier. Only the second time in my life I had penned that type of letter - the first time dealing with the fish-keeping hobby.

The response was interesting. Never really expected it. As I said to an online friend, had I expected the letter to be anything other than a single "angry man" letter that mass merchandisers receive I would have written it in an entirely different fashion and with an entirely different style. But, since it was a single "angry man" letter it is what was sent.

It turns out that a number of fish-keepers from a number of other sites liked what they saw. And thought they too could do the same. I guess it turns out that fish folk do want better.

Here is that letter:

Mr. Kenneth T. Hall
Sr. Vice President, Merchandising
PetSmart, Inc.
19601 North 27th Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85027

Dear Mr. Hall,

I visited one of your locations yesterday. I was looking for an iron supplement for a planted aquarium as well as a water conditioner. While in your store I looked at many of the fish that PetSmart sells. I was generally impressed with the quality of the tanks and the apparent health of the specimens in Petsmart tanks.

I do, however, take serious exception to the blatant misinformation evidenced on the in-store advertising. POP signage. It could be construed as misinformation designed as a cross merchandising technique to sell other product to the fish buyer. Probably simple mistakes.

Let’s take two of the signs; found on the tank to describe the species therein - if you want I would be willing to address many, many more.

Leporinus fasciatus:

In store sign says max length is 7”. This fish grows to nearly 12” (30cm).

POP signage says a 10-gallon tank will suffice. A 12” fish in a 10-gallon tank? Is the staff at PetSmart familiar with what is commonly called “stunting”? A documented anatomical and physiological occurrence resulting in deformities and often times disease and death.

The signage also calls out the requirement for Aquarium Salt. Why? The fish is found in fast moving waters of the Amazon River basin. One of the last areas you will find concentrations of Sodium Chloride remotely approximating what will happen if a fishkeeper follows your directions and adds “Aquarium Salt”. You may find mineral salts, darn few and certainly of a different nature. And, interestingly, the concentrations of the mineral salts found in the natural environment will typically be far exceeded in many of the water supplies across North America. Is Sodium chloride really “required”?

Clown Loach (Botia macracanthus/Cobitis macracanthus):

Another 7” fish if Petsmart is to be believed. And, once again they should not be. Commonly thought of as a 12”+ species this fish has proven to grow much larger in favorable environments.

A 10-gallon tank is called out on the POP signage. Most respected sources say something along the lines of a tank with the minimum of 36” length for smaller specimens (the ones you sell) and substantially larger for older fish.

Thankfully the myth of aquarium salt was not perpetuated with this species.

Mr. Hall, I guess my concern is that Petsmart postures itself, in so many ways, as to be interested and concerned for and about the life forms it sells to the public. To see such a blatant disregard for a non-mammal line of livestock is disconcerting.

Your company periodically receives a bashing on-line by the “new” fish-keepers. People that discover so much of what they were doing was not really a good approach to promoting fish health and longevity. A bashing delivered to relieve some of their own internal pressure when discovering that fish deaths can be avoided with appropriate care and housing. Call it “responsible husbandry”.

Does Petsmart engage in providing misleading information by design, or are the incredible number of errors in the information provided just simple mistakes? Maybe an error at the printer? Or, even the result of overzealousness by a copywriter attempting to promote cross merchandising without adequate knowledge of the fish he or she is describing?

I am not an ichthyologist, a chemist, a biologist, or a scientist of any kind. I am just a simple fishkeeper that has managed to do the research (utilizing legitimate scientific resources) to gain an understanding of what I need to do in order to avoid the easy art of killing fish. I am a fishkeeper that believes it incumbent upon retailers of your stature to do the same.

Heck, have John Gerstenberger, or the copywriters, simply go on-line to www.fishbase.org. They will find an amazing amount of scientifically based, species specific, information which may help them understand the fish you sell just a bit better. From there it is rather simple to find the competent PhD’s in the biochemistry and fish fields that will more completely fill out the knowledge base required. The legitimate information is out there with just a few clicks of the mouse. The information at the sites for many of the well recognized and respected Universities in the United States (and internationally) provides a plethora of data that discusses many of the issues you could take a leadership position with as a responsible “Pet” retailer.

Hopefully the next visit to a Petsmart will be less insulting to the senses. And, since I do enjoy Petsmart, hopefully the next visit will not be the last. Or, even the beginning of a different approach to promoting accuracy in information.

Respectfully,
It seems a number of people scattered about the country, members of several other sites, have decided they dislike wrong info and are writing letters (even stealing the one you just read, which is no problem at all). Don't know that using what I wrote is best, though. Usually letters like that are best when someone speaks from their hearts, in their own style.

POP signage is such a routine thing. So easy to update - and frequently updated and reprinted anyway.

I just want accurate information about species provided.

All the stuff with pH Up and Down, Bacteria in a bottle, aquarium salt...is incidental. If consumers start getting basic, accurate, information I will feel like a victory has been achieved. Stores have to make money. As long as they do not harm fish with products that they do not need or lie to a consumer.

I found the address and names contained in the letter on the PetSmart website. If you don't want to use snail mail here is an e-mail address.

corpcommunications@ssg.petsmart.com

Hopefully you feel as strongly as many others do and participate in sharing your thoughts about misleading in-store signage.

Let me stress that this is not about bashing. In fact we frown upon that. This is getting something done in a respectable and sincere way. Please help.

Further notes:

Several domain names have been registered for this endeavor. A couple of them were the simple .com and .org variations of the .net name. And web hosting has been setup for the next three years. The loach lovers out there should appreciate the sentiment in the name:

"No Clowns In A Cube"

The site will not be working for a while. Some others and myself have to sit down and design something. It's easy to make a page and even more difficult to make a useful site. If anyone has any ideas let me know.

When it is up and running it will be www.noclownsinacube.net. The .com and .org extensions will forward to the site.

This is not a quick, easy thing. But, I think it is important that people get the appropriate information and that the species we all enjoy are treated in a humane way. Send those letters and e-mails. And yes, you may be thinking that letters and e-mails will not accomplish anything and by sending them you are wasting your time. When it is a random person sending something you may be right. At this time what I am trying to do is create traffic and perhaps get PetSmart’s attention with a sudden increase of letters and e-mails.

One last thought: the above letter has been posted or linked to at over a dozen different sites. More than a thousand hits so far between the various forums. Hopefully the numbers grow. Hopefully there is a big percentage of people that take the extra step to mail letters and send e-mails or even both.

Thank you.
 

Butterfly

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Re: Help a good cause...

THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH!!!! I had stopped shopping at Petsmart because I would invarably go in to get something and hear one of their sales people tell somebody, "sure you can keep that in a 10 gallon tank!" and it would be a clown loach, angelfish, a common plec etc. so not only do their signs need to be updated but their aquatic staff needs to be trained to take care of their animals.
Yes love the name!! I have two clowns in a 75 gallon and will go to a bigger one when needed. Again Thank you.
Carol
 

Marc

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Re: Help a good cause...

I'd like to volunteer my services for the website, if you'd like the help. I do PHP, HTML (and XHTML), CSS (stylesheets), JavaScript, and good ole' image editing, basically the whole nine yards. I'll do what I can, I really respect you for the effort and the fact that you're not going around screaming about their mistakes.

Keep up the good work - spread the word!
 
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JP

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Re: Help a good cause...

Marc, I may take you up on that offer if I find out we need another set of hands.

Don't forget to send those letters/e-mails. That's the best thing any of us can do right now.
 

Isabella

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Re: Help a good cause...

JP, THANK YOU for your input. I absolutely agree with you, we need to spread the word and make people aware. We also need more people like you!
 
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JP

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Re: Help a good cause...

Thanks for the kind words.

I know it may not seem like much, but this campaign can raise awareness to this problem and hopefully someday get things changed. It won't happen without everyone's help, though. Please take the time to send something, either a letter or an e-mail.
 

Isabella

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I actually should send letters to all the local fish stores that I've been to. None of them has staff qualified enough to sell fish. None of them ever tells buyers about the cycle prior to getting fish. Hardly any of them ever gives the correct information with regards to tank size and adult fish size, as well as with regards to various species' compatibility, not to mention the issue of overstocking. It's really depressing just going to such stores. So, it's not only at PetsMart or other large pet chain-stores, that have these problems. We definitely need to mobilize people to act and complain until something is done to help this hopeless situation.
 
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Anything helps. It's a good cause. I'm going to post a copy of a message I've posted at several other sites with members that have been a bit more skeptical (and maybe help clear up any concerns people who haven't spoken up yet may have). Some of this is repetive (it was copy/pasted together after all). Here goes:

Right now the only retailer we as a group are focused on is PetSmart. There has to be a starting point. Don't want to get things out of hand right off the bat.

There is a group of about 15 people working on getting some activities planned and organized. Members of the group come from several of the on-line forums. I am sure some of the people here have seen the topic posted elsewhere.

A fairly typical set of questions have been:

"Why PetSmart?" Because they are obviously a company that cares. They are obviously a company that strives to keep tanks clean and livestock as healthy as possible in the store environment. They are obviously a company committed to promoting responsible pet husbandry (90% of their charity dollars are directly returned to pet welfare). They are a national presence. They are a leader in the market.

I have been reminded of one of PetSmart's competitors making a comment years ago along the lines of "we are here to sell pets, not cure them" (not an exact quote). PetSmart obviously realizes the need for the opposite approach. Just look at the Banefield brand of vets in their stores.

"Why not all retailers?" If you get a leader to embrace the concept others will follow. There is a competetive advantage for PetSmart to set the pace. And, from a pragmatic view they are convenient. It is far easier to effect a change with a single retailer than it is to effect an industry wide change. It is the simple one-step-at-time philosophy. Basically crawl, walk, run. A lot of energy and effort can be expended chasing after all the national, regional, and local stores. Flailing madly about will be a waste of much of that. Focused effort and energy holds a better chance of positive results.

And, since responsible husbandry starts with the aquarium we have and how it is stocked POP information is the baseline for all the other issues. Basically it is an approach that starts with step one of fish care.

At the same time it recognizes that every one of us will make the choice on how to stock a tank. We have responsibilities of our own as fish-keepers practicing responsible husbandry. The only way people can learn to be responsible is through the use of accurate information. Some of which is the responsibility of a company to provide. Some of which is the responsibility of fish-keepers to seek out.

"What can sending letters accomplish?" Letters are a first step, and a tiny step. A small group of fish-keepers has assembled on a very private forum to discuss the best ways to attack the issue. It will expand significantly beyond the few forums where the letters are being shared (and whose members are probably already getting bored with me) in an attempt to engage clubs, organizations, and the hobby media in the discussion.

Some interesting offers to help out have been received. Hopefully they pan out. Our three biggest problems right now:

- Assembling a panel of volunteer experts to review signage (the content or actual photos of which are being assembled from cities across the country). I can use fishbase as my touchstone. I don't have the credentials though to actually endorse or condemn any changes which may occur. I have just kept fish for a while.

- Letters. As many as possible. They serve to get attention. and they will serve to keep the issue alive for at least one retailer (have to take it a step at a time) as a complement to other publicity tools.

- Additional visiblity. Next week (hopefully) we will begin to work the media side of the hobby. At least pet media from the industry and consumer side. It is a slow process, being taken an element at a time.

This is getting long winded, as many of my posts do. Like I said, about 15 people are planing and organizing several areas of activity that are required to give this effort a realistic chance of success. We will keep people informed. But, nothing we do will work without your support and help.

All we ask is you take a few minutes to send an e-mail or snail mail. Write a letter (even copy one of the above). We want to keep the message on target. We hope you agree with the message and the approach.

Remember PetSmart is an excellent organization. Trying to do what is right. We are just trying to nicely help them realize something needs a change.
 

sully

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Have you written letters yet?

Here is a file you can place in the letters to let PetSmart know that it is a growing group of hobbyists speaking with a more unified voice.

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sully

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Just a quick note to let everyone know that while we have not been as visible we have been active.

For those of you that have been curious about revisions made by PETsMART the new signage should have begun to show up in some stores. How they are rolling it out is a different discussion, which will be talked about soon.

Here is a link to a quick and dirty spreadsheet presentation at No Clowns In A Cube.net. We have been playing with a database presentation of the data--it will be neat and it will be soon.



There are two types of PETsMART entries. One is simply PETsMART Revision. In instances the PETsMART line is indeed a Revision. Our data was sufficiently incomplete--or absent--that we utilized the most recent data without differentiating between the previous and current iterations.

You will also notice the inclusion of data from a couple of the web based and catalog retailers. At the same time you will also see the beginnings of the inclusion of data from "Pet Connection Mfg". Pet Connection Mfg is the company that provides those incredibly incomplete--and often inaccurate signs for the lfs market.

We have significantly more species form both the retailers and Pet Connection Mfg to add. We want to be as accurate and thorough as possible so it will take another 30-60 days to get a more comprehensive look at the retail market. It is a great beginning.

We will be resuming web-based efforts asking for letters very soon. We needed to back-up a bit and get better organized. Thanks for all your support so far--we will need much more in the future.

sully

PS. Sorry for the link. There is just no other way for the information to be easily presented. Site admins/mods please send us a 468 x 60 banner for inclusion in our banner program—it is free—lol.
 

sully

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An update –it seems to be the week for those.

We tried a slightly different approach with PETCO. We combined the public letter writing campaign, which so many of you participated in, with behind the scenes letter writing, phone calls and e.mails. In part a different tactic to make sure everyone does not burn out sending letters, in part to accommodate the schedules of people atNCIAC.net (all volunteer groups are tough—lol).

We received an e.mail from PETCO today that is very encouraging. Here is the PETCO response.

Tom,

We would be glad to work with you. What do you have in mind?

Thanks,

Tom

Thomas M. Edling, DVM, MSpVM
Director, Veterinary Medicine
PETCO Animal Supplies, Inc.

"At PETCO Animals Always Come First, and Our People Make it Happen" Happen"

Nominal editing of phones numbers has occurred.

The information is not changed yet. Yet, it is an indication of openness and willingness to examine change. As always, we will keep the hobbyists that have supported our efforts up to date.

PETCO is to be commended for their response. All of you should be commended for your support. Nothing happens without the fishkeepers that make this hobby such a great pursuit.

Thanks!

sully
 

Marc

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Always glad to see that there are positive changes and developments. ;D
 
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