Jun 13, 2009

Interview with Dan Underwood of SeahorseSource.com

I've been a member of the seahorse community for a few years now, and it's been blatantly obvious which seahorse retailer stands out among all the others. No matter which seahorse forum you visit, you'll notice that the vast majority of posters recommend buying from SeahorseSource.com.

Unlike many Asia-based seahorse breeders that mass produce seahorses and offer no customer service, the Underwoods are active in the seahorse and aquarium community. Dan and his wife, Abby, are active posters on Seahorse.org, answering questions and giving expert advice to seahorse keepers, customers or not. I also had the pleasure of meeting Dan and his daughters at IMAC last year.

As you can imagine, Dan U. is a very busy guy, but he graciously accepted when I asked him to do an interview for Aquarium Adventures.

FM: First of all, why seahorses? What (or who) was your inspiration?

DU: A few years ago, I was involved in a startup business in New England. I knew the company was to be sold soon and was looking for another venture to be involved in. While on a business trip, I stayed with my sister who was working with seahorses and she told me about seahorses and that there were only a handful of successful breeders worldwide and how difficult they were.
After several conversations with my sister, my wife and I decided that we wanted to be involved. A few months later the company sold, we sold our house and sailed to Florida. We spent a couple of years studying, keeping and observing seahorses. After figuring out how to successfully rear them, we started Seahorse Source.

FM: How many different species do you breed?

DU:Currently 6 species. H. erectus, H. zosterae, H. barbouri, H. fuscus, H. kuda & H. reidi.

FM: That sounds like a lot, is your whole family involved in caring for the seahorses?

DU: Yes. Originally it was a 2 person partnership with my wife & myself. Now both of our daughters are involved.

FM: Do you have any other pets or animals at home?

DU: Yes. 3 dogs and a rabbit.

FM: When you're not taking care of seahorses, do you have any other hobbies?

DU: Yes. Boating. We love sailing, but due to time restraints with the seahorses, that is temporarily on hold. We sold our sailboat and bought a power boat for exploring the estuaries and studying the seahorses and their natural habitats. We do sneak in a little play and chill time on the water as well.

FM: I noticed that you sometimes sell seahorses from other breeders. What do you do to ensure their health and quality?

DU: We would prefer to breed all of our horses that we sell. Space and time constraints prevent us from doing so. Also, sometimes it is more profitable for us to resell than to breed. First we take a look at the breeder and learn everything we can about them. What is their track record, what do others think about them (both professionals within the industry and their customers), what we learn from a personal interview and how well they will stand behind their product. Next
we order a sampling of their specimens. After we have observed a sampling and are satisfied, we do a trial order. From there it is based on consistency with their livestock. As long as we feel we would be personally happy with their livestock, we are willing to continue with them. We have had breeders that we have dropped due to deterioration in quality.

FM: What temperature would you recommend for most tropical seahorse species in your customers' home aquariums?

DU: 72 to 74 degrees F. This is not always possible though. Especially during the peaks of summer and winter. We consider 77 to 78 degrees the high for summer and 68 to 69 degrees the low for winter. Generally we have found that customers that maintain temperatures in the mid to low 70's have a much higher success rate in keeping seahorses long term.

FM: I've never heard of a customer giving you negative feedback. What's your customer service secret?

DU: I have a very strong sales and customer service background. I did very well in this area in previous businesses. It is more or less a carry over in philosophy. I believe if you understand what your customer wants and deliver or exceed upon those expectations, you will have a satisfied customer. We are not perfect though. It is when you make an error or fail to deliver that your true customer service shows. We admit when we have goofed or were wrong, and fix it. We are one of the few companies that if we fail to deliver what we promised, will replace our products at no charge, including shipping, instead of issuing a credit towards the next order.

FM: What do you think makes Seahorsesource.com's pet seahorses higher quality than other live seahorses on the market?

DU: First, because we are a small Mom & Pop Operation with very high standards. Our focus is on quality. Being small and hands on we have direct control over this. Secondly, unlike many of the seahorses sold today, all of our seahorses are true Captive Bred specimens from closely monitored recirculating systems.

FM: Other retailers sell their "colored" seahorses for a higher price. Why do you choose not to sort yours by color?

DU: Quite simply, because it is impossible to stand behind the product when selling by color. Seahorses can and do change colors. It is part of their defense mechanism to blend into the environment. We have no control on the d├ęcor of the customer's tank which will be the largest determining factor in their color. Selling seahorses by color is like offering green chameleons at a higher price than say brown chameleons.

FM: What do you think the future holds for the live seahorse industry?

DU: Seahorse husbandry is still very much in its infancy. There is still a ton to be learned. Presently the biggest challenge for breeders is how to become more consistent in production and how to be profitable. The profitability end is an issue for USA breeders who have to compete against foreign breeders with low over head, very little regulatory control in aquaculture and inconsistencies in defining how seahorses are bred.

FM: Do you think seahorses will continue to be popular aquarium pets ten years from now?

DU: Yes! Maybe, even more so, than now.

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