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 trade show 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.
Determine how much room you’ll be allowed for your booth space. Generally, trade show’s booths are 10 feet by 10 feet in 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 flier or handout 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. Trade show attendees like to pick up the free fliers 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 and ringing pliers with rubber bands and rings are just 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 public events such as koi shows. You may need bungee cords, straps or tie- downs, a cart or other items 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 buildup once the koi are bagged for transport to the show. It also aids in maintaining good water quality in the show tanks. Ammonia buildup can also occur after the koi are bagged for the customers and taken to their new homes.
In the 24 hours leading up to the show you should reduce the temperature of your fish’s holding water by 10 to 15 degrees. This will slow the breathing and activity of the koi slightly, 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 three pounds of pure salt for every 50 gallons of water and add it to the 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 they spend in the bags. You will need to drain the koi tank water to a level that will facilitate easy capturing of 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 inches it is suggested to put a maximum of four fish in each bag. Smaller fish can be packaged 20 per bag. An adequate water level is an amount to cover the fish gills, so add more water if necessary.
Inflate the poly bag with pure oxygen and secure it with rubber rings. You should have four to five times more oxygen than water inside the bags. Double bags are preferred. Carefully place the bags of koi into coolers or shipping boxes for the trip. (A one- or two-pound ice pack can be added to the coolers to help maintain the temperature.)
**Setting 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 imme- diately set up and fill your fish tanks. Treat the water with a chlorine remover and start your aeration pump in the
show tanks immediately. 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 pretreated with a dechlorinator product. It is always a good idea to test for chlo- rine and chloramines, regardless. Many municipal water supplies are very heavily chlorinated! Use a good quality dechlori- nator 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:
1. Float an empty koi bowl or tub in the show tank. Open the bag and pour the fish and water into the tub. Then, carefully lift each fish out of the bowl and release it into the tank. Remove the tub and dispose of the fouled transport water.
2. While floating a bag in the show tank, grasp the bag’s end and remove the rubber bands, setting the bag upright in the tank. Fold or roll any excess bag down until you can easily reach inside and lift each koi out of the bag. Gently release the fish into the show tank. Remove the bag and fouled transport water and dispose of them properly.
**Selling to the customer**
When presenting koi to consumers, do so with grace and confidence. Do not chase the fish. Instead, ease them 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 koi for your customers to avoid accidentally damaging their new pets.
Remember to cover the show tanks with a net when unattended, as koi tend to jump in new surroundings.
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 turnoff to consumers than 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 trade show 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.