So, you’ve committed to being a ‘wet vendor’ at your local koi show. Congratulations! Now the real work begins. The key to a successful tradeshow outcome is to provide the best quality koi possible. Start with fish purchased from a reputable koi breeder. You should rely on one who is knowledgeable about koi health practices and maintaining optimal koi quality… not a hobby farm. Know your limits and only take the number of fish that you feel comfortable transporting and handling at one time.
Plan ahead. Determine how much room you’ll be allowed for your booth space. Generally, tradeshows booths are 10’ x 10’ size, and can be reserved in multiples if needed. Make a sketch of your booth. If you’re going to showcase pond equipment along with the koi fish it’s best to have a plan for your space before you arrive at the show venue. You will also need a sign for your booth. If you don’t already have some type of sign or banner display you’ll need to get one ordered ASAP! Next, create a flyer or hand-out to gain exposure. Many times potential clients will call on you months after the event. Make sure you have plenty of business cards on hand, too. Tradeshow attendees like to pick up the free flyers from vendor booths. Provide them plenty of opportunities to come to you for their pond needs.
Organize your koi equipment. Plan to take everything that you’ll need to take care of your koi and ensure their health and well being. Koi tank, aeration device, water pump and hose, nets, koi viewing bowls, poly bags, ringing pliers with rubber bands and rings are some of the items you’ll need to pack and take along to the show venue. Don’t forget to take your water test kits and plenty of chlorine remover products. It’s best to have all of your own equipment and supplies. Since you’ll be transporting and selling fish you will also need to take oxygen along to the show. First you’ll need to contact local authorities to determine the safest way to travel with an oxygen cylinder. There are regulations pertaining to oxygen cylinders and usage at a public event such as a koi show. You may need bungee cords, straps or tie-downs, cart, etc. in order to comply with regulations.
Preparing your koi. Koi should be purged for at least one week prior to transportation. The practice of withholding feed proceeding travel greatly reduces ammonia build-up once the koi are bagged for transport to the show. It also aides in maintaining good water quality of show tanks. Ammonia build-up can also occur after the koi are bagged for the customer and taken to their new home.
In the 24 hours leading up to the show you should reduce the temperature of your fish’s holding water by 10-15 degrees. This will slow the breathing and activity of the koi slightly, and having a calming effect on them. It is also a good idea to add salt to the water to increase the koi’s slime-coat, which will help to protect them during handling and jostling to the show site. Dissolve 3 lbs of pure salt for every 50 gallons of water and add to holding tanks before you start the bagging process.
Bagging your koi. Finally, on the day you’ve set to travel you should have all items and equipment loaded prior to packaging your koi. The fish should be the last thing you load in order to reduce the time spent in the bags. You will need to drain the koi tank water to a level that will facilitate the ease of capturing your fish. Be sure to maintain aeration at all times. The capture, netting and bagging process will be stressful for the koi, so the more you can do to reduce the stress for them, the better they will cope with the whole ordeal. Prepare the poly bags with well oxygenated water that is the same temperature as the holding tank water, and add a water treatment. Begin netting the koi by using a pan net to capture one fish at a time. Do not lift the fish out of the water as damage to the scales or fins may occur. Use a sock net in your other hand and scoop the koi into the sock net. Quickly transfer the fish to the prepared bag, trying to get little or no fouled water into the bag. Continue collecting the koi and fill bags to an appropriate quantity of fish in each. If you are transporting koi of 12” it is suggested to put a maximum of 4 fish per bag. Smaller fish can be packaged at a rate of 25 per bag. An adequate water level is an amount to cover the fish gills, add more water if necessary. Inflate poly bag with pure oxygen, secure with rubber rings. You should have 4-5 times the amount of oxygen to the amount of water inside the bags. Double bags are preferred. Carefully place the bags of koi into coolers or shipping boxes for the trip. (A 1lb. or 2 lb. ice pack can be added to the coolers to help maintain the temperature.)
Set up and unloading your koi. You need to release your koi as soon as possible, so when you arrive at the show site locate your booth and immediately set up and fill your fish tanks. Treat the water with a chlorine remover and start your aeration pump immediately in the show tanks. Many koi clubs will offer to rent show tanks to the wet vendors. If you have rented a show tank you need to find out if the water has been pre-treated with a de-chlorinator product. It is always a good idea to test for chlorine and chloramines, regardless. Many municipal water supplies are very heavily chlorinated! Use a good quality de-chlorinator product. Float the sealed koi bags in the show tank to equalize the water temperature. A minimum of 15 minutes should be expected. When the temperature equalizes it is finally time to release your fish. Here are two methods for fish release:
- Float an empty koi bowl or tub in the show tank. Open bag and pour fish and water into the tub. Carefully lift each fish out of the bowl and release into tank. Remove tub and dispose of fouled transport water.
- While floating bag in show tank, grasp bag end and remove rubber bands, setting bag upright in the tank. Fold or roll excess bag down until you can easily reach inside and lift each koi out of bag. Gently release fish into show tank. Remove bag and fouled transport water, dispose of properly.
Selling to the customer. When presenting koi to consumers do so with grace and confidence. Do not chase the fish, ease it into a net or show bowl for viewing. Realize that the oxygen level can drop very quickly in a show bowl so do not leave fish in a bowl for an extended time. Replenish the water if necessary. Use a sock net when handling a koi for your customer to avoid accidently damaging their new pet.
Remember to cover the show tanks with a net when unattended as koi tend to jump in new surroundings.
And lastly, always maintain good water quality during a koi show, and don’t overload the tanks. Daily water changes are expected as proper koi show etiquette. Nothing is a bigger turn-off to consumers as a tank of dirty, smelly fish water.
Koi shows are a great opportunity to gain exposure for your business and increase awareness of what you have to offer. The key to a successful tradeshow is to start with a high quality product and maintain its value through to the end. If you do this then you will have a great koi show experience.