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Meet Roger Ma of Pet Zone Tropical Fish in Convoy District

Today we’d like to introduce you to Roger Ma.

Roger, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My family and I have always kept pets. Our house was literally a zoo. First thing you’d encounter would be the dogs that greet you at the door (though our cats would come and say hi as well if they weren’t sleeping). As you step into our home, you’d see two large tanks with all sorts of fish greeting you (and begging for food of course). There would be a couple parrots roaming around and dancing (we owned a ton of lovebirds, cocktails, parakeets, Major Mitchell Cockatoo, African Grey) once you get into the living room. But it doesn’t end there. Once you walk into the backyard, there were two large bird aviaries full of finches along with free-range chickens roaming all over the place. Once you walk further back into the yard, there would be two koi ponds full of turtles and dozens of Japanese Koi.

Growing up with all these pets really gave me a spot in my heart for animals. When the opportunity came around for us to start a local fish store, we jumped onto it fast. We were long-time customers of a family-owned pet store/tropical fish shop and the owner had to move out of state and asked if we were interested in taking over the store. We immediately took the opportunity and learned all the ropes of every aspect of the business over the course of the first few months. Fast forward to a decade later and here we are today running our second storefront on one of the busiest plazas on Convoy.

We are passionate about fish keeping and have always passed along our love for the hobby to everyone who walks into our store and without the support of these loyal customers and fellow hobbyists, we wouldn’t be where we are now.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Running a business is never a smooth road but the challenges we go through our experiences we are grateful for. Without going through these struggles, we wouldn’t be able to learn how to make our store fully functional and welcoming for people who walk through our doors.

We got started during the period right before the recession. We got into this business during the beginning of 2007 and by early 2008, the economy had taken a hit and people were spending a lot less on fish and supplies overall. We managed to get through it and noticed our business actually increased a bit by 2009 as we started having an online presence for our store and opened a new sales channel. This created more recognition for us as a whole both locally and nationally.

When there are big box stores in almost every major part of town and a dozen other local competitors, it is tough to go on a price war as it does nothing but make margins thin. We simply could not compete with the low pricing from others but we did focus on was the quality of our fish and products. We made sure everything we carried was high quality and quarantined all fish to ensure they are healthy and something we’d personally keep ourselves. We’ve strived to carry rare fish (along with seldom-seen oddballs) that you would never see in other stores and have built a niche for ourselves and that was one of the reasons we made ourselves stand out compared to other stores that only carry the “bread and butter” species.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Pet Zone Tropical Fish – what should we know?
We are the only local fish store in the San Diego area that specializes in just freshwater fish. Other stores carry both salt and fresh but we always wanted to be an expert in just one thing and have focused on only freshwater since the very beginning. This allows all of us to be on top of our game and be more effective in maintaining the fish tanks and giving fellow hobbyists who visit our store the utmost attention and knowledge.

We’ve been known for carrying the rarest and most sought-after monster fish that aren’t found at any other store. A lot of these fish do require special water parameters and/or diets, making them much more finicky compared to the average fish. We have built a lot of connections over the years with fish exporters and importers and are able to obtain these rare gems and have built a following for this niche.

Discus fish are another demanding fish that isn’t meant for the novice fish keeper but a lot of stores do not properly quarantine and maintain them so it isn’t easy to find healthy quality Discus. We’ve put in the extra work on making sure they are stable and free of health issues before they are put into our show tanks.

Giving the right knowledge is key to keeping our customers happy. We make sure everyone knows exactly what they are signing themselves up for and have the proper steps in keeping specific fish. We’d rather not make a sale to ensure the long-term happiness of a customer as we want to ensure they have the capability to take care of a particular fish. If the fish they have at home isn’t compatible with what they would like to purchase, we tell them right away and give other options. This is what has kept everyone coming back to us. We instill honesty in our entire team here at Pet Zone.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Being humble! Regardless of how much success our business has, we believe that being humble is the key to keeping each person happy regardless of whether they are a team member or a customer. We are happy to go above and beyond for each person to be sure they can leave with a smile on their face. It brings us joy to see a family go home and come back to us over and over again because we went the extra mile. Many businesses start to treat everyone as just another number when they see success. This is not the way a business should function and will simply turn away even the most loyal customer once they start feeling like they are just another face.

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Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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