View Full Version : Builders/Sellers wanted

11-05-2008, 10:16 PM
Call For Builders/Sellers

Here's a note to anyone who would like to start building and selling scrubbers. I think there are plenty of people who would like to buy one, but they don't have the time or ability to build them (there are several of these on every thread I'm on, who have asked me to build one for them), or they don't even know scrubbers exist but could use one. And currently there's no place to buy scrubbers. So it's a good time for you to put some buckets, acrylics, or sump screens together and offer them for sale, starting out by advertising on this forum.

I recommend that you start out selling buckets or sump screens, instead of acrylic units. The price of an acrylic unit is going to be much higher, and most beginners are not going to jump in and pay the extra money for one. Keep in mind that most folks buy small less-costly tanks first, and move up from there. That makes them feel safer, since they have less to lose when starting. Once they become comfortable with their small tanks, they get bigger ones for more money. This is how you shoud approach scrubber sales; small and cheap first, and then go from there if they are happy.

Since the bucket version is not very beautiful, it will just be a product for people who have nuisance algae problems in their tanks and they just want to try anything to get the algae out. They might even view the buckets as temporary; they can use it until the algae is gone, then put it in the closet or lend it to a friend.

The bucket version is certainly a good version for you to start with, especially by mail order, since it's self-contained and does not need elaborate installation at the customer's house (they just drop the pump in the tank/sump, and go.) And very important: The bucket can be used as its own shipping container, with it's own lid. And you almost certainly would want to include a pump with it (with an adjustable flow), so there would be no guessing on the customer's part as to what pump they should get. Something like a Hydor L40 Pump (740 gph), with a built-in flow adjust.

Adjustable flow is important, because you don't know how high up (head) the pump will have to push when the customer starts using it. Or, they may have a long run from the bucket to the tank. Also, the pump may get weaker (or the pipe slot may get clogged) with time, so being able to turn it up is a plus.

If you decide to sell locally, and install the scrubbers yourself, then you can also consider selling in-sump or above-sump screens. Since these are very custom installations, you can't expect a customer to figure it out for themselves. The light placement and water flow need to be setup by someone who's done it before.

As for a wavetimer, I'd recommend not putting one in. It's not proven yet just how effective it might be. What is proven is that it adds power cords and complexity, and decisions about what time to set it to (customers don't like making decisions.) Plus, wavemaker timers are not cheap; the one I used cost $50. That's a large portion of the total cost of a scrubber.

Also, I'd hold off on offering or even mentioning a fan. There is not much room on a bucket to easily clip on a fan, and it's just extra noise; it might even be viewed as a danger for families with kids. Remember, a fan is also not proven how effective it might help the scrubbing process. Plus, a fan will really chill the water; some reefkeepers want this, but some beginners will not. Only mention a fan if they are having heat issues with their tank, or if they currently use a chiller. Since fans are so cheap and easy to get, they can always buy and use one later.

Although you may have built your first scrubber with parts you already had, if you are going to be building several of these to sell, you'll be needing to buy everything new. A basic bucket-build includes the bucket, waterfall pipe, vinyl tubing, pump, screen, clips to hold the pipe to the bucket, lights, light timer (set to 18 hours ON), and the drain for the bucket. I'd probably include about as much vinyl tubing as you can fit into the bucket for shipping. (Customers are much happier when they don't have to make an unplanned trip to the store for tubing.)

My first tally came up to about $60 for the parts; then you need to add the pump. The one linked above is $80, for a total of $140. So you could sell the whole thing for $199, which would be fair for the amount of work you put in to make it (mostly, cutting the slot). Just print up an instruction sheet for the customer to read, and you are done! Now I'm sure if you searched around, or bought in bulk, you could cut the cost in half. But as far as the customer's cost is concerned, I think something like $199 is a good deal to wipe out algae in their tanks. But you can set your own price.

So making the scrubbers is easy enough. Where do you market and sell them? The obvious place to start is by letting people on the forums know you have them, starting with forums that have current scrubber threads like this one. Most forums also have a buy/sell section, which is a good place. The next step might be a banner ad on these forums, and then maybe you could buy a whole sponsor-forum. Next I'd target the LFS: Let them use a bucket for one of their problem tanks (of proper size) to prove the bucket works, then work out a deal whereby he buys from you and resells, or he holds them in consignment and gives you the money after he sells them. You set the price, of course.

You could also do a "loan-to-buy" offer, where you let a customer use a demonstration bucket of yours for free for maybe 2 weeks, and when you go to pick it up (when their N and P are reduced), they'll want to buy a new one from you in order to keep their N and P from going back up.

Ebay might be an option later on, when people know what these things are. Also you could always do a litte site of your own. And don't forget Craigslist. But people have to be already looking for scrubbers for these online places to work, unless you advertise it as a "mega powerful algae remover" :) Then there are the traditional magazines that you could advertise in. They get expensive fast, but the reach a lot of people. You'll probably want to get some sales going with the above efforts first.

Basically, you are trying to reach beginners. The types with FO, FOWLR, or softie/LPS reefs, who are on their first or second tank, are your best customers. They spend money (sometimes lots of) on something if it makes their tank the way they want it, especially if it does so without them having to expend any effort. 9 out of 10 people who walk into a LFS are this type of person. So getting familiar with your LFS(s) will be very important.

Guarantees: Although most everyone on these forums that has set up a scrubber properly has seen great results (and possibly even eliminated all their nuisance algae) within 8 weeks, you can't make a guarantee of the same to a customer, because you have no control over how they will use it. So by saying something like the scrubber "usually" clears out algae within 8 weeks, you will be covered in case they mis-use it. Now, if you are hired to build and install it yourself, and maybe even to do weekly cleanings of it, you might be able to promise more.

Size: Most customers will be beginners, using FW or SW fish setups under 100 gallons. For these folks, a standard 5 gallon bucket with 144 square inches of screen should be fine. If you find that they have a very heavily stocked FO tank, or a tank of 150+ gallons, you may recommend to them that they get two buckets (hooked up in series or parallel). Or at least to start with one, and then add another later if they like the results. But building a "bigger" bucket is not a good idea for now. Keep everything to one size.

Support: Once a customer has purchased from you, you'll want to remain in contact with them afterwards in case they have questions. Most of them will have their questions immediately after purchasing, which is when they are trying to get it hooked up and working. After that, you probably will never hear from them again, except for a few that think that it's your fault that their tank is dying from some bad-husbandry issue of theirs. This is when you rely on your no-refunds policy.

Installation: Many customers are only interested in the final look of their tank; they don't want anything to do with understanding how it works or how to install anything. For these folks, you offer (local) installation of the scrubber for an additional cost. If all you have to do is put the pump in their sump, set the bucket up, and run the drain line back to the sump, you might charge $150 service charge to go to their location and do it. That would include driving, setting up the bucket, taking N and P measurements, answering their questions, watching the setup for problems/leaks, showing them how to clean weekly and scrape perodically, etc. If you are installing a custom in-sump or above-sump design, maybe an extra $250 would cover the extra time.

Refunds: This will be the toughest area for you to deal with. Basically, you should guarantee that everything will ship to the customer without breaking (especially the lights) and that it will be in working condition. Other than that, once they start using it, there are no refunds. Let them know this upfront, in your invoice. And there are certainly no refunds if they are "not happy" with the nitrate, phosphate, or nuisance algae issues. Basically you just want to guarantee that the pump and lights work, since they are the only mechanical parts.

Tie-ins With Maintenance: Many guys, maybe you, are currently servicing tanks. So of course new accounts are always being sought to service. One thing you can do is to offer a free scrubber to a customer that purchases maintenance from you. So if you are a maintenance guy, you can use the scrubber to get new business. If you are not a maintenance guy, you can offer an actual maintenance guy a deal if he includes your scrubber in with his new clients.

Business cards: These are a must. Go online an set up an account with a printer who lets you design business cards from their site. BusinessCards.com is one (though I have not used them). You'll be making changes to your cards, so it good to have an account that you can go and make changes and make new prints. Here is an example of what your card could look like:


Pre-grown screens: While the pre-grown screens from Inland Aquatics really helps speed up results by weeks, I would not recommend including one in your scrubbers for customers. It's too much reliance on a third party for delivery, plus it introduces delays. Besides, everyone has been able to get desired nutrient removal from their tanks within eight weeks by starting with a blank screen. So why introduce a possible delay/problem. I would only consider a pre-grown screen if you were hired as a full-service person to fix nutrient problems on a large system, and they needed big results in a hurry, and you had complete control over everything.

Name: Refer to a scrubber as an "algae filter", not a scrubber. To a beginner, a "scrubber" is a scrub pad they clean the glass with. By referring to scrubbers as "algae filters" you do two positive things. First, you make it very clear to the customer what it does: It filters algae, which is exactly why they are talking to you in the first place. Second, if they ever become more involved in reefs, then they will come to appreciate that "algae filter" really means that the algae on the screen is doing the filtering. So the name really has two meanings.

LFS Referrals: Maintenance guys do this all the time. First you convince the LFS that the scrubber works by loaning him a bucket for a problem tank of appropriate size. After he's conviced, give him your business card so he can refer you customers. Hey may ask you for a referral fee, so you'll have to negotiate with him how much. I'd say $10 per person that calls you is fair, whether or not they buy.

Details: When explaing a bucket to a potential customer, you have to keep it simple. All they care about is removing the ugly green stuff from their rocks and glass. Some of these folks don't even know which fish are SW and which are FW. So talk about the bucket in terms of doing what they want: Removing the algae from their tanks. Don't even mention nitrate or phosphate unless they ask. Make it easy to understand, i.e., "All the algae filter does is make the algae grow on the screen instead of in your tank; then you just clean it away!" That's all they really need or want to know. If they get into wanting detailed explanations and case histories, they they are not going to be buying your scrubber. But they will talk forever. In sales, these people are called "talkers", and will waste most of your time, and buy the least amounts of your product. The people who do buy most of your product will be the ones who ask the least questions and then buy the quickest. Again, all they care about is: Will it get the green off the rocks and glass? How often does it need to be cleaned?, What is the cost?, and Is there an algae guarantee?. All are easy answers (the last one being "no").

Anyways, hope to see some of you becoming mini scrubber manufacturers!

11-10-2008, 08:57 PM
Here's an idea: How about a directory of scrubber builders, with the following info on each builder:



Material that the builder knows how to use:


Components that the builder knows how to build:

Frame for floppy screens
Bucket for screen
Box for screen
Sumps/Fuges with Scrubbers
HOB Scrubbers
HOT Scrubbers
LED Scrubbers


Price range
Experience (number of scrubbers built)
Guarantees (if any)
Customer help after the sale
Misc items available (pump, timer, fan, unions, clips, etc)
Example drawings available?
How large/small can builder handle?

One problem with posting a directory is that it will need constant updating and re-posting. Would there be a better way to do it than posting in a thread? I could host it on my site where I put all the pics, or I could put it on the algae scrubber site. But ideal would be being able to post it here, and be able to edit it here.