SPRING HILL — As kids, neither was allowed to have pets. So, Jennifer and Tim Clair now are sating their animal appetites at Get Tanked Salt Water Aquariums & Supplys, an independent pet shop the couple bought this month, replete with saltwater and freshwater fish, corals, crustaceans, reptiles, birds and other small animals.
They're as happy as a pair of bugs in a rug.
Jennifer chirps describing subjects from the finning to flitting to slithering environs. Tim waxes forth on the genetics and breeding of lizards and snakes.
But, how do they expect to compete against the area's bigger chain pet stores?
"I think it's all about the customer," replies Jennifer, 32, "having a relationship with the customer, which I don't think the big stores have."
The couple brings to the enterprise seven years of experience interacting with customers in their aquarium maintenance business. They serve commercial and residential tank owners from Citrus County to Sarasota.
That experience ties into operating a pet store, where cleanliness and a fresh-smelling atmosphere are paramount, Jennifer said. "Displaying, too," she said.
Pointing to a dry aquarium featuring rosy rock, light sand and a weather-worn branch, she noted that the couple built the "rockscape," a reptile tank, a sample of do-it-yourself seminars that the store is planning to help expand customers' pet-owning experiences.
Reptiles are popular, the couple said.
"They go out almost as fast as they come in," said Tim, 34.
In stock: a $150 male lemon blast snake — "People tell us that's cheap," said Jennifer — along with a 6-week-old $40 ball python and a couple of chameleons with "sold" tags on their tanks, at $50 and $60.
Local breeders, Florida distributors and offspring of the Clairs' own planned breedings provide the stock. Among fish choices, the first decision must be whether the person wants to maintain a freshwater or saltwater tank. Different varieties inhabit each, Jennifer pointed out.
About 200 varieties of each type are sold at the shop — rainbow-hued, spotted, striped, lacy-finned; more are available on order. Prices start at $3 for a freshwater fantail gold and range to $40 for a multi-colored saltwater tang.
Also offered: moon crabs in their natural Halloween colors, a hairy-legged tarantula the size of a golf ball, pastel-hued parakeets and pick-me-up-friendly ferrets.
Jennifer noted: "We try to play with the animals, so when you take them home they're not spazzy (as in spastic). We came in here knowing we wanted to be hands-on."
Caregiver employee Katie Mazza, 25, stepped up with an artfully arranged platter of chopped romaine, collards and apples, dressed with bing cherries, for shop mascot Wizard, a 17-year-old female iguana, commonly recognized as a mini-dinosaur.
Speaking of lunch, the Clairs said crickets and mice are popular as food for pets higher on nature's food chain.
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]