For the month of February, DELUX Magazine will be highlighting black businesses that have been around for a while and even some that have paved the way for businesses that are relevant now.
One unique business that has been around for a while is Malawi Aquatics, which is owned by Lynn Wheeler and operated and owned by William “Billy” Tyler. DELUX took a visit to aquarium shop to speak with one of the owners Billy Tyler, to find out the history and future of the business.
DELUX: How long has Malawi Aquatics been in business?
Billy Tyler: We first opened up in December of 1998, so we just celebrated our 20-year anniversary.
DELUX: How and what made you want to get into this type of business during that time?
Billy Tyler: My brother Buddy Tyler was always into fish and he would get them from Africa and sell them out of his basement. When the opportunity came to open a shop, I initially started out as just an investor in the company, as well as my friend Lynn Wheeler. All 3 of us had a certain percentage of share in the business. When my brother Buddy decided to leave Malawi Aquatics, the shares were split between me and Wheeler and it was up to us to keep the family and friend business going. Ever since then, we’ve been successful. We get a lot of returning customers from when we first started and that alone means a lot.
DELUX: What makes your shop different from the fish at Walmart?
Billy Tyler: Well, we get our fish from Florida and they come from all over like our cichlids that come from South and Central America. We have more of a variety and way more knowledge about fishes. The people at Walmart, Pet Smart and Pet Co. send their customers to us. We’ve gotten a lot of customers who’ve said that those stores sent them to our shop.
DELUX: How does it feel to be the only black owned aquatic business in St. Louis?
Billy Tyler: It feels good! What has kept us going and continues to keep us going is our specialty fishes and giving customers knowledge on how to take care of their fishes and aquariums.
DELUX: What are the unique kinds of fishes that you sell in your shop?
Billy Tyler: We range from South American cichlids to African cichlids and community fish like silver dollar fish and tetris fish.
DELUX: Do you have more business with doing installations of tanks or customers just buying fishes?
Billy Tyler: Maintenance really brings in business, which is really cleaning the tanks, which needs to get done often, like every three months or if a customer moves to a different house, we have to move the aquarium set up.
DELUX: Have you installed any tanks in homes of customers who are well-known?
Billy Tyler: We’ve done installs in people houses such as Ozzie Smith and Dennis Edwards. We’ve done businesses like Stanfords off the Riverview Circle, Club Illusions on the East Side, Spectrum in Earth City and even a few doctor’s offices. Also, we’ve done aquariums in schools like Gateway Elementary, Compton Drew, and a school in Moline Acres, so it’s safe to say we’ve installed aquariums everywhere.
DELUX: Would you consider expanding your business?
Billy Tyler: Because of my age, I am content with where I am. I’ve had customers suggest me to come out to west county and other areas, but maybe when I retire and someone else takes over, they may expand the business.
DELUX: Would you pass down the business to your children or sell it off to someone?
Billy Tyler: Since I own and operate, I still only have a 50% share in it, but I would love to pass down my share to my sons.
Make sure you come visit Malawi Aquatics on 11619 W. Florissant Ave. Florissant, Mo 63033
Like their Facebook Page @MalawiAquatics