Questions to assess the knowledge of the Shopkeeper?

Bruce Leyland-Jones

Fish Aficionado
Joined
Jul 1, 2021
Messages
3,559
Reaction score
3,046
Location
Cleator Moor, Cumbria
Time and time again we hear of inaccurate, misleading and sometimes downright cruel advice being given by those who work in fish shops. This misinformation is usually given to people relatively new to the hobby, who then appear in here, trying desperately to resolve an emergency that should never have happened in the first place.
That said, it would be wrong to tar all fish shop staff with the same brush, suggesting that they're all evil, with only profit and the exploitation of customers in their minds.
Some staff can be really knowledgeable and helpful, not only answering questions asked of them, but also being able to ask the right questions of the potential customer.

So how can we tell them apart?

I believe I know enough about the hobby to distinguish between genuine new info and total bull. I'm also blessed with an ability to ask pertinent questions, especially when face to face. When talking to staff, I know what to ask in order to suss out their credibility and am well capable of recognising when someone is being evasive, or defensive. (Running for the Manager is always a good clue :D ).

So what questions could someone new to the hobby ask, in order to know whether or not the shop will be good to buy fish from, or not?

My favourite opening is "Do you keep fish yourself?"
If the answer's a yes, then I find that they'll be quite happy to talk about their tanks, (just as we do in here). Keeping their own fish does not necessarily ean that they know what they're doing, but if they can tell me about their sensible stocking levels, fish types, water pH and hardness, I'm encouraged. I'm even happier if they show enthusiasm for the hobby, right there and then.

Another basic question is to ask them to describe to me this Nitrogen Cycle thing I keep on hearing about.
Some haven't got a clue. Some obviously know off by heart, having learned it in a Training Module, but then struggle when presented with questions about possible issues. Those who really know their stuff aren't phased by any of these questions and can even give reasoned arguments for different cycling methods.

My third question revolves around stocking levels, fish sizes and compatability, including minimum numbers of particular fish to group together, for them to thrive. Some appear to have learned the 1"per Gallon Rule, without understanding it, or being able to grasp it's inadequacies/limitations. Others have said that I could have four tetras in my tank and that that would be fine, without telling me that the tetra in question needs to be in a group of at least six.

A final indicator of a knowledgeable fishkeeper would be their readiness to talk fish until the cows came home.

So what questions could/should you ask?
Obviously, you'd need to know the answers yourselves, to see whether or not the staff do know what they're talking about, but if you know what you're going to ask, you could easily have done your homework beforehand.

It might even be useful to compile a crib sheet, so new fishkeepers can properly check out the knowledge and awareness of their local fish sellers.
 

PheonixKingZ

Fish Guru
Tank of the Month!
Pet of the Month!
Fish of the Month!
Joined
May 8, 2019
Messages
17,422
Reaction score
11,039
Location
Lawrenceburg, KY
Usually if they are knowledgeable, they will ask you questions. (Like how big of tank do you have, what’s already in there, etc)

Or they will make small talk about whatever you’re buying.

Whenever I buy coral from my LFS, this one LFS worker shows me cool stuff I never knew about some of the frags and talks about reefing as a whole. It’s pretty cool. :)
 

seangee

Fish Aficionado
Joined
Feb 16, 2008
Messages
4,512
Reaction score
3,646
Location
Berks
I just ask if they have any poecilia reticulata. The answer (or response) is usually enough.
 

Sgooosh

Fish Connoisseur
Fish of the Month!
Joined
Dec 3, 2020
Messages
6,202
Reaction score
2,661
Location
United States
Easy question. I'm looking at buying that fish. What is that tanks pH ?.
Second question. How long has that fish been in that tank for?.

I love the silence,
my lfs employees all seem to understand
"my ph is 7 is that good enough?
my gh is over 200 is that too much?
what is a good kh level for starting a tank?"
they are all fishkeepers too!
 

JemZ

Fish Crazy
Joined
Oct 1, 2020
Messages
355
Reaction score
217
Location
Florida
Usually if they are knowledgeable, they will ask you questions. (Like how big of tank do you have, what’s already in there, etc)
They will ask that but some of them are ready to give the green light on a fish you want to buy without further info for a couple of reasons: A. To get a sale (not always the case) B. They don't really know if it's a good fit but it will probably work, right? Wrong.

I've only found a couple of good, knowledgeable people in places such as Petco, and if you can find that, then good, but you are better off going to a dedicated fish store where they sell fish and only fish where you have a much better chance of finding someone with aquatic knowledge.
 

Sgooosh

Fish Connoisseur
Fish of the Month!
Joined
Dec 3, 2020
Messages
6,202
Reaction score
2,661
Location
United States
They will ask that but some of them are ready to give the green light on a fish you want to buy without further info for a couple of reasons: A. To get a sale (not always the case) B. They don't really know if it's a good fit but it will probably work, right? Wrong.

I've only found a couple of good, knowledgeable people in places such as Petco, and if you can find that, then good, but you are better off going to a dedicated fish store where they sell fish and only fish where you have a much better chance of finding someone with aquatic knowledge.
yes!
i like the fish stores where they advise you, and not try to sell things and get money

if i ask them about (for example) shrimps, they will determine if its ok for my tank!
i feel that is really helpful and not just trying to get you to buy them
 

PheonixKingZ

Fish Guru
Tank of the Month!
Pet of the Month!
Fish of the Month!
Joined
May 8, 2019
Messages
17,422
Reaction score
11,039
Location
Lawrenceburg, KY
They will ask that but some of them are ready to give the green light on a fish you want to buy without further info for a couple of reasons: A. To get a sale (not always the case) B. They don't really know if it's a good fit but it will probably work, right? Wrong.

I've only found a couple of good, knowledgeable people in places such as Petco, and if you can find that, then good, but you are better off going to a dedicated fish store where they sell fish and only fish where you have a much better chance of finding someone with aquatic knowledge.
This does happen from time to time. But you can usually tell if someone is asking questions and they are truly interested in hearing the answer, or if they are just asking a hollow question.
 

itiwhetu

Naturally First
Pet of the Month!
Joined
Apr 29, 2012
Messages
8,825
Reaction score
6,402
Location
Hokitika, New Zealand
I used to walk into Fish shops with a book so I could look things up. Now it is easier than that, just do a google search and then make up your own mind. I always think that it is good to walk away, go have a cup of coffee and then go back if you decide to purchase any fish, that gives you time to assess what you should do.
 

JemZ

Fish Crazy
Joined
Oct 1, 2020
Messages
355
Reaction score
217
Location
Florida
I used to walk into Fish shops with a book so I could look things up. Now it is easier than that, just do a google search and then make up your own mind. I always think that it is good to walk away, go have a cup of coffee and then go back if you decide to purchase any fish, that gives you time to assess what you should do.
Love this. How many fish lives could've been saved over the years if it wasn't for impulsive buying!

It is never a good idea to buy what looks cool or might work in your tank, please everyone, do your research!
 

Naterjm

Fishaholic
Tank of the Month!
Joined
Oct 29, 2020
Messages
565
Reaction score
586
Location
Canada
I would start with the basics.

remember that most of these shop keepers are not getting experienced or knowledgeable customers walking through their doors all day long.

Quiz them on the most “popular” fish for newbies to buy and keep.

how big do they get, will they be alright in a community tank? Asking how big an Oscar get and whether or not you can keep them with other community fish would surely signal a new person to the hobby. If they try to sell you that fish, they either a: don’t know what they’re doing or b: know what they’re doing and trying to make a sale.

any responsible LFS operator with know right away that if you’re asking about keeping oscars, you shouldn’t be keeping oscars.

basic questions like that, and I think you can find out all you need. If they can’t tell you how big certain species are going to get, I doubt that can tell you about ph levels unless it’s on their cue cards.
 

JemZ

Fish Crazy
Joined
Oct 1, 2020
Messages
355
Reaction score
217
Location
Florida
Don't blame the shop staff. You wouldn't buy a Great Dane for your apartment just because the part shop person said it was a good idea.

That's true, but I feel it is a bit of an apples to oranges comparison.

Fish are a great deal more complicated in terms of knowing who to buy with who in general (especially for beginners), and most of the fish in the pet shops "fit" in a 10 or 20-gallon tank.

For beginners in particular, most that go to the store staff see them as a good source of information since they are working in the fish department so thus seem like reliable people to go to.
 

itiwhetu

Naturally First
Pet of the Month!
Joined
Apr 29, 2012
Messages
8,825
Reaction score
6,402
Location
Hokitika, New Zealand
I've added a couple of things here. One more thing. Select your fish yourself, say "I want that fish there". Not I want one of those. If they chase the fish around the tank say " No thanks I will Leave it" .
I have been known to say I would like 6 of those or 10 of those and then say "I will catch them it's fine". Especially if you have seen the shop person chasing fish around a tank for the customer before you.
 

Most reactions

Top