How Innovation Turns Hobby into a Thriving Biz
There’s magic behind moving water and fish, explains Kurt “The Fish Guy” Harrington at his Warwick aquarium showroom and retail store.“It’s the colors, the energy, the allure of the whole exhibit as a piece of art,” says a clearly passionate Harrington, CEO of Something Fishy. “A fish tank in any space will add an element to either calm or energize, and it can motivate or increase morale in a company.”
Harrington’s business specializes in all aspects of aquarium design, installation and maintenance for corporate as well as residential customers.
He started the company as a fish tank cleaning business in 1993 at the age of 15 as a way to earn money for college. But with some early success, Harrington envisioned something more, much more.
When he made $50,000 for school, Harrington realized his hobby and side job had the potential to evolve into a full-fledged business. So he continued cleaning tanks as he earned his degree in business administration from the University of Rhode Island. Eventually, he added design and installation to his menu of services and now has 15 full-time employees.
Finding a niche in the corporate space, Something Fishy has worked with clients ranging from Google – on an aquarium for its Cambridge office – to hotels such as the boutique The Break Hotel in Narragansett to nursing homes and hospitals, including Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Doing Good and Doing Good Business
Continually seeking new opportunities to expand his market and enrich people’s lives, Harrington seized on the growing trend of a holistic approach to healthcare. Creating aquariums or “healing environments” for the healthcare industry has become an important focus for Something Fishy.
“We want to be part of the healing process,” Harrington says. “For instance, if you walk into a radiology reception area and see a fish tank, it gets your mind off why you’re really there and that in itself calms you down.”
He also points to studies that show that wheelchair-bound nursing home residents who have a fish tank within view have less anxiety, and are therefore not as likely to try to get up and possibly suffer from an injurious fall. Similarly, Alzheimer’s patients are likely to have greater food intake when an aquarium is placed in their dining area, Harrington says.
Other types of aquariums, such as the one Harrington was commissioned by Google to create, can be designed to have more of an energizing effect. “A nice environment makes people want to be at work, and be OK with staying late and coming in early,” he says.
Adding the 'Wow' Factor
They can also add a wow factor to a home dining or living space. Something Fishy works with residential clients to design and install custom aquariums and then can help the owner maintain it or take care of all maintenance. He and his employees also help clients select fish that will coexist well together and design salt or freshwater environments that mimic natural habitats.
The company, which also works with Mystic Aquarium as an advisor on exhibit maintenance and visitor experience, currently does about 100 service calls to homes and businesses every week.
“Heresay about aquariums being difficult are actually a result of them not being properly set up,” Harrington says. “A typical residential sized of 55 gallons or so would only take 30-45 minutes every two weeks to maintain.”
Filling the Void
While Something Fishy caterers to high-end clientele – creating custom projects that can cost upwards of $50,000 – Harrington recently saw an opening to fill a void in the market by creating more affordable but well-designed systems integrated into wooden furniture such as bookshelves and cabinets.
His line, ranging in price from $2,000-$10,000, is currently sold at Jordan’s Furniture locations in Reading, Mass. and New Haven, Conn. Harrington also recently debuted Plakat, a new collection of artful table-top aquariums that can be used as centerpieces of in lieu of flowers on a coffee- or dining room table.
And to think, all of this started with a goldfish Harrington’s mom gave him for Christmas when he was 8.
Something Fishy, 1185 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick. For more information, go to somethingfishyinc.com or call (401) 732-9970.
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