Aquarium Technologies offers unique option for Midlanders
MRT Interview

Posted: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 3:19 pm

For Midland biologist Craig Bill, designing aquariums has always been about more than simply housing fish.

Having started Aquarium Technologies about 17 years ago, Craig said he hopes the aquariums they design, sell, rent and provide maintenance for each year provide individuals a way to experience, and in turn appreciate, wildlife in a way that otherwise wouldn't be possible.

"We're an eco-wise company," Craig said.

Walking through the showroom one recent afternoon, Craig pointed out popular freshwater fish, an open-air turtle display and circular glass aquariums he said aren't sold anywhere else in the state. One such glass aquarium sits in the center of their space off of Highway 191, stretching from floor to ceiling and giving shoppers a view of fish and greenery from every angle.

Craig said they're working to offer more showroom hours in the coming months in hopes of giving those who don't have experience with aquariums a chance to see the displays firsthand before deciding if they want to invest.

"You can tell real quick if it's something they want to be a part of their families like a real pet," Craig said.

Having started by working in a pet store years ago, Craig said he opened his own aquarium design business mostly because of his fascination with biology. Plus, he said, by giving people an opportunity to see wildlife they otherwise wouldn't encounter, it hopefully will increase awareness for the need to protect and preserve these species.

With a staff of about three, Craig said he spends much of his time designing the aquariums they have built for clients including individuals as well as businesses. His aquariums sit in places throughout Midland-Odessa including Zucchi's, Pioneer Natural Resources, Allison Cancer Center and Medical Spa of Midland.

Larry Burdette at Zucchi's in Odessa said Craig put their tank in for free when he was starting Aquarium Technologies in hopes the display would drive business. Burdette said the tank was supposed to stay put for a year, but that after the 12 months were up he realized the restaurant couldn't be without the tank so they became a paying client and have had the aquarium ever since.

"We always tease with the moms (that) our fish tank is more popular than the golden arches," Burdette said, of the mothers who come in with children. "They'd rather look at our fish tank then play on the slide at Micky D's."

In designing, Craig said, they consider how an aquarium will fit into its surroundings, much like any other piece of furniture should, and then look at the lighting, utility support, filter type and other details. They do still sell some basic aquariums that don't mesh with the look of a home or business. But, he said, typically they try to make the aquarium part of the decor, meaning if a dentist's office is all dark wood the aquarium will follow suit and either mimic its surroundings or even be designed into the wall.

Most frames, he said, can be constructed within four weeks, though the whole process can take closer to three months.

Generally, Craig said, clients come in with some idea of what they want and then work with him to develop something from there. Most go with freshwater aquariums as it requires prior knowledge of the species to successfully keep a saltwater tank, he said.

Fish are flown in from 100 different vendors across the U.S., Craig said, and are sold in the showroom or along with the aquariums they sell and rent.

African Cichlids, he said, gesturing toward a tank, are among the most popular. The large and colorful fish are a tough species, he said, and often are mistaken for saltwater fish because of their bold-colored bodies.

Most of the aquariums they sell they also perform maintenance on, Craig said, with some clients sticking with them for the entire 17 years they've been open.

Dr. Mohsin Syed at Medical Spa of Midland said with the 650 gallon tank they had designed about six years ago they were grateful to know Aquarium Technologies would take care of it since the job is a bigger one than they could handle alone. Burdette said Craig's staff works on their aquarium about every 10 days, taking rocks back to the shop to be cleaned and replacing them with new ones so the tank always has a fresh look.

"All we do is feed 'em, which is the fun part," Burdette said of the fish.

Most of Craig's staff have some expertise in the field, whether it be a degree in biology, zoology or certification as a veterinarian technician.

For businesses, Craig said, it sometimes makes more sense to rent or lease an aquarium because the price will remain steady each month regardless of what kind of maintenance is required. When a tank is owned, he said, the price can fluctuate depending on what's needed for upkeep in any given month.

Some of their fish are of the variety Midlanders can purchase at any pet shop, Craig said. But, he added, they pride themselves on offering unique species and notice most customers comment quickly they're surprised at what they find inside the showroom.