New hobbyists seldom realize how valuable a good pet store is to their success in fishkeeping. Value, in this case, has nothing to do with the lowest prices or shortest driving distance.
When determining where to shop for aquariums, what you want is a store that can offer good advice, provide solutions to problems, recommend products that will best serve your needs, and handle warranties or repairs for equipment.
If you live in an urban area, you probably have dozens of pet and aquarium stores to choose from. The smaller the city or the more rural your area is, the fewer shops there will be.
One of your first goals is to visit as many aquarium dealers as are convenient before you purchase anything. As you visit each store, there are certain things to look for. The shop should have a clean appearance. The floors should be swept and the carpets vacuumed.
Shelves should be stocked with a variety of merchandise. Dust, particularly on containers of food, means a low turnover of goods, increasing the likelihood of old or outdated products.
The tanks themselves should look well kept. The water should be clear and the front glass clean -- no water spots on the outside or algae on the inside. The tanks should be clearly labeled with the names and prices of the fish contained within them.
The fish should be healthy and active; that is, individual fish should display color and behavior that is typical of the species. In a large store with many tanks, the occasional dead fish in a tank can happen. However, if many of the tanks contain dead fish, or if the employees seem uninterested when a dead fish is pointed out to them, you'll want to take your business elsewhere.
If the fish aren't healthy when you buy them, they are unlikely to become healthy in your own aquarium, and they could be carrying disease that will affect your other fish.
Note whether the dealer has a good selection of nice-looking live plants. Even if you end up using artificial plants, a store that stocks specialty items like good-quality live plants is much more likely to serve the needs of hobbyists at all levels.
Also look for a display of aquarium books. A large and varied number of titles indicates a dealer who knows how important reading about the hobby is for aquarists -- particularly beginners.
The quality of the sales staff is also important. They should be knowledgeable about the hobby in general and interested in your questions. They don't have to know the answer to every question, but they should be willing to find out what the answers are.
Do not simply patronize the shop with the lowest prices. As often as not, the shop with the lowest prices has the least knowledgeable staff, the poorest selection of merchandise, and the least healthy fish. It is always better to pay a little more to a reliable dealer who will support you and help you grow in the hobby.
After you've purchased your aquarium, you'll want to put it in the most optimal spot in your home. Learn about choosing an aquarium location on the next page.