Something fishy is happening in Warwick, and it’s gotten the attention of a national television network.
The “something fishy” is literally just that – Something Fishy Inc. Aquarium and Waterscape Design.
Twin brothers Kurt and Donnie Harrington founded the company, which today boasts clients like Mohegan Sun and Mystic Aquarium.
But a recent call from the producers of Animal Planet’s reality show, “Tanked,” really had the twins excited.
“Tanked” follows the story of a Las Vegas aquarium manufacturing company, the largest in the nation, and showcases their trials and tribulations. Due to the show’s success, this year the show’s producers were sent out into the field to find another aquatic company to add to the show. They found 20 companies nationwide and interviewed them via Skype; Something Fishy was one of the 20. Then the search was narrowed down to four companies, and Something Fishy made the cut.
“It was really awesome,” said Kurt.
On July 12, “Tanked” producers came to Rhode Island to film the brothers for a full day to create a “sizzle reel.” They followed the two to Mystic Aquarium, where Donnie works on a regular basis. That day, he had to jump into the shark tank.
“It was a very good educational piece,” said Donnie. “People misjudge sharks based on ‘Shark Week.’”
But their notoriety, and the possibility that they will make a splash on national television, all stem from their common love of aquatic life – a love that started early on in both of their lives.
It was a Christmas gift that spurred the brothers to get into the aquatic industry. The boys’ mother gave Kurt a goldfish in a one-gallon tank when he was about 8 years old. The pair became fascinated with the fish, and by the time they were 14, they had four or five fish tanks in their room. Their step-sister was working at a local pet store, and the two would often go on weekends and work for free just to get experience with the fish and other animals.
It was around the time they were 14 that Donnie suggested they begin cleaning tanks for money. They first started with their local dentist in Westerly, and then gradually began branching out. Kurt became a sort of marketing and business manager for the pair, making calls and promoting their services.
By the time they were 16, they already had a thriving business, and made their first installation sale to a Best Western Hotel in Groton, Conn. The sale was for a $1,000 installation, and Kurt said he had to borrow the money from his father to buy the materials.
“But I paid it right back,” he said with a smile.
By the time they were 18, they made their next biggest sale – a 250-gallon, $10,000 tank for Mystic Pizza. By the time they graduated from high school in 1997, the pair was grossing $50,000 in sales.
In 1999, when they graduated college, they grossed $150,000.
Today, 13 years later, Kurt said he expects they will do between $1.3 and $1.8 million in sales. On average, the store takes about 400 service calls per month. They’re also open for retail customers seven days a week.
“But 70 percent of our business happens outside this store,” said Kurt.
What started as a couple of teenagers cleaning fish tanks has grown into a booming installation, service and retail business. The pair originally worked from their parents’ home, then from a warehouse space in Charleston. It was in 2006 that they moved to their current Jefferson Boulevard location in Warwick.
“We wanted to be close to the airport because we receive tropical fish from all over the world,” said Donnie. Kurt said fish come in plastic bags, much the way one would take them home from the local pet store.
They also knew they’d be conveniently located between major hubs like Boston, New York and Mystic.
To date, the biggest installation they’ve done on their own rang in at $150,000; the biggest installation they’ve partnered on had a price tag of $3 million.
“It was for Mohegan Sun,” said Kurt, who explained that $3 million got the casino several aquariums and a walk-through tunnel.
In today’s aquatic industry there are many technological advances available to consumers: LED aquarium lights that can replicate sunrise, sunset and lightening storms; remote monitoring systems that can text you the water conditions and even man-made fish species.
On Tuesday morning, Kurt walked through the back of Something Fishy, pointing out the various fish species in a cool, blue-lit room. Three bright orange fish swam around a tank, bobbing calmly around their temporary abode.
“Those are fresh water blood parrots,” said Kurt, who said they’re commonly used in nursing homes because of their large size and flashy color. “They always look like they’re smiling.”
When he couldn’t remember what country they were indigenous to, he looked to a staff member.
“They’re a hybrid,” she said. “Man-made.”
In addition to an array of fresh and saltwater fish, Something Fishy also sells live corals. They grow them too, waiting until they’re large enough to subdivide (a practice called “fragging”) and start the process all over again. Growing corals in captivity, something known as aquaculture, is preferred to harvesting more corals from the ocean floor.
“Coral reef tanks are the best you can have,” said Kurt, who pointed out a large tank bursting with corals valued at $30,000. “They’re dynamic and unique.”
While Kurt was busy in the store on Tuesday, Donnie was at the Mystic Aquarium, where Something Fishy has had a work-partnership for more than four years.
“Today we had to move bonnethead sharks,” said Donnie over the phone. The four-foot long sharks that resemble hammerheads were outgrowing their 38,000-gallon tank and had to be moved elsewhere in the aquarium. Later that afternoon they would move three-foot-long barracudas into the shark tank, since they, too, were outgrowing their 8,000-gallon tank.
“Sharks are pretty easy [to move,]” said Donnie, who explained they are netted and put on stretchers to be transported.
“Barracudas are more challenging than sharks because they’re a bit more high-strung.”
The twins say their expertise in the field, paired with their highly trained staff, makes them able to tend to any size need.
“Our basic company philosophy is simplicity in aquarium ownership,” said Kurt. Something Fishy tries to provide clients with hands-off aquatic installations that impress.
“Most clients aren’t looking for a chore, they just want a beautiful piece of art work,” he said.
So while they’re waiting to hear from Animal Planet, which they said could take anywhere from a week to a year, they’ll continue business as usual. And for the Harrington brothers, things seem to be going swimmingly.