Where It All Started - Giles Barlow
Where it all began.
Almost too long ago to remember, Giles Barlow began keeping fish at a very early age. Seven Years Old to be precise, and that was back in 1975!
Very quickly, fish-keeping became an obsession with Giles, and he became involved with the late Accrington and District Aquarist Society, when they held their monthly meetings at The Blockade Hotel in the town.
Learning from "the old boys" (many of whom have now sadly passed away), Giles began showing fish which as he learnt, required the aquariums in his bedroom to be in tip-top condition regarding water quality - something which has stayed close to his heart for all these years.
With the forming of the Catfish Association of Great Britain, back in the early eighties, Giles' passion for fish-keeping grew and headed down the catfish route. He gained a vast knowledge in many families of these interesting bottom dwelling scavengers.
By the age of 12, he was working after school and weekends for the fledgling Cascade Water Gardens, helping in their very initial venture, alongside Barry and Linda Price's Valley Aquatics (now closed down in recent years)
In time, Giles was showing and breeding many types of fish and becoming more and more experienced in the "hobby" side, but even more so in the Trading side and the business end of it all.
A chance meeting with the late Bryan Dainton of L.M.B Aquatics in around 1983, somewhat changed Giles' fish-keeping and future. New avenues opened up with the exciting new imports of South American Catfish (including Horace - one of the first ever red-tailed catfish ever imported)! Giles soon became one of the team, helping as he remembers, on very early mornings bagging up stock to take to many of the fish-keeping festivals up and down the country, from Sandown Park to Doncaster, Belle View and Motherwell, to name but a few.
It was in the time that Giles struck up many, many friendships with some fantastic characters and superb fish-keepers across the U.K. and beyond, not least of all Chris Ralph - Author Aquatic, and Robin Warne (Loricaridae Wholestates) remaining the best of friends with them, to this day.
The experience gained in all of these adventure (not to mention a love of hard work from an early age) proved invaluable. However, upon leaving college in 1986, Giles tried spreading his wings and became a laboratory technician and then a retail manager for a large sports chain, whilst keeping his hand in with the trade and hobby in his spare time.
In the early 1990's, Giles struck out and was appointed General Manager of Aquatop, a Manchester based Aquarium and Lid Manufacturer owned by Bryan Dainton and gained new skills in manufacturing, meeting new contacts along the way.
From here, in 1994, he became store manager at the opening of the new Cascade Water Gardens in Bury, yet again expanding his knowledge.
Contacts and Experience
In the late spring of 1996, it was time for Giles to fly the nest so to speak, and he set up the first of Barlow's Aquatic Trading Stores.
"Everything I had went into that first small shop. On opening day, I had a wife, two small children, a mortgage, a family loan and a clapped out old van, which had been swapped for fish tanks and 76p to my name!"
Opening day was make or break and thankfully, it made money from the start - basing his new business on the vast "Proper Fishkeeping" experience he had and fantastic customer service knocked into him over his years dealing with the public, Giles also knew what it felt like to be the customer from his years of being a hobbyist, so giving bad advice was a serious No! No!
"I would rather lose a sale and the customer get the correct and proper advice than make a quick dollar - shops who give naff advice and think of their pockets first should be shut down - we are dealing with livestock and that is what matters".
With Barlow's Aquatic Trading soon beginning to flourish, Giles branched out into many areas, noteably Aquarium Manufacturing. From buying glass on a tank, to over 40,000kg of stock - all top quality plate glass from Saint Gobain and "As quality goes - this glass is a little better in my opinion, to Pilkington's - clearer and nicer to cut".
Ever eager to learn more and fulfill his ambition, it was in 2000 and again in 2001 that Giles, along with friends Robin Warne and Chris Ralph (together with Jules Dignall - Planet Catfish founder and Alan James - Scotcat founder amongst others), travelled the Peruvian Amazon on fish collecting expeditions.
Collecting Stations, exporters, fish markets, were all visited, but most importantly, the wild habitat of the fishes themselves were explored (mosquito's permitting)!!
The experience of a lifetime helped everyone on those trips to become better fish-keepers.
On the second trip in 2001, Giles and Robin Warne were pitching camp on a sandbank of the Nanay River and the conversation turned to aquarium substrates and why no-one was selling decent sand for the base of aquariums instead of the usual awful gravel.
It was obvious that so many of the Amazonian fish depended on a sand layer to live on, in and feed from. Many of the catfish had barbels evolved to delicately sift through the Amazonian sand, making perfect sense why so many imported specimens perished on a gravel substrate due to it being too sharp and coarse for delicate mouths.
One other interesting feature that night on the sand bank was that there was no compaction even up to a metre depth (this was as far as they could dig with their hands).
Samples were taken home to the U.K. and Giles set about sourcing a comparable sand for aquarium use.
After arduous sourcing and long field trials, B.D. Aquarium Sand was born, "B.D." being a new sister business Giles now owned.
"Looking back to 2001/2002, we started B.D. on a shoe string, just like Barlow's Aquatic Traduing - self belief, hard work and confidence in a superb product bore it's fruit".
B.D. Aquarium Sand is now the market leader and has been endorsed by some truly great names, Ian Fuller - he of Colydoras fame and Sparsholt College, not least on that list.
Weekly sales of upto 38 tonnes to most major wholesalers in the U.K. and a stockholding of upto 90 tonnes at any one time is a hell of a successful product.
Giles maintains that B.D. Sand is by far the best product he sells (other than aquariums) - "it is exactly like the original river sample I brought back from Peru - superb for all fish and helps them to thrive"!
In late 2006, the original shop had become too small, so Giles moved lock, stock and water barrel to a some-what larger site on Mount Street in Accrington - 95,000 sqft from less than 1000 sqft in fact.
The B.D. Sand arm of the business is now housed in one side of the converted cotton mill, whilst the dry goods and tropicals were moved into a large display area, the tropical livestock being housed in a purpose built self water changing fish house - built by Giles using his years of experience.
The following Spring, the coldwater and pond section opened with great success - now housing larger Koi, together with pond fish and fancy goldfish.
Customers visiting the new Mount Street Store can see for themselves the vast glass stock from which their tank can be made by Gies himself. With the ability to cut out the middle man and by keeping overheads low, YOU, the Customer save £££'s on aquariums.
Over the last 4 or 5 years, sump filtration has become more and more popular - "we use them on our own systems and recommend that most of our customers use them too.... they are everything a filter should be..... large enough to cope, unobstructive and flexible in what can be used with regards media and pump flow rates..... they obey my fundimental principals of fish-keeping, by keeping it simple - with sump filtration - customers can see the massive difference in health, vitality and growth of their fish..... we carry a good few sumps of 3 standard designs, freshwater, marine and refugium at 30 inches in stock as they are ever popular, but one-off sizes and customers designs and tweaks can be made easily on site".
Looking forwards, the future construction is well underway on a state of the art, Hi-Grade Koi and Pond construction department - this is a separate business which is owned and run by Matt Cameron.
Matt and Giles worked together at Cascade in the mid '90's and he followed Giles to the first Barlow's Aquatic Trading, before working for Peter Waddington - Koi guru of infiltration, and has worked on some of the biggest Koi Ponds in the world, still project managing for Peter Waddington's new "ERIC" Koi Filters - which will soon be available together with Japanese sourced hi Grade Koi, all under one roof on Mount Street.
A Word From Giles Barlow!
Finally, a word from Giles Barlow, owner and founder of Barlow's Aquatic Trading and B.D. Trading:
"When I started off fish-keeping over 35 years ago, I was fortunate to be amongst some of the best fish-keepers in the U.K. and they have greatly influenced everything I do. I want my customers to experience REAL FISH-KEEPING where their chosen fish can grow and show their true potential as they are in the wild. I want them to enjoy their fish, observe them and admire their beauty - not just plug 'n' play aquatics. I suppose it has it's place, but thankfully not in my store! We endeavour to make our customers totally satisfied with their purchases and our service and long may this continue.
For those of you reading that are already seasoned hobbyists, I will list some names I am proud to have met along the way - I hope you will stop and remember someone and smile - I for one am proud to have met them all (sincere apologies for anyone who I have missed, but the list is too long and I have tried to make it as comprehensive as I can);
Chris Ralph (author), Robin Warne (Loricoridae Wholesales), Jules Dignall, David Sands, Di David Ford, Pete Moye, Terru & Doris Cruikshank, Dave Dyson, Bryan Dainton, Steve Spencer, Peter O'Connor, Des Perry, John Grizzi, Ian Fuller, Brian Walsh, John Wren, Charly Whitsy, Stan Walsh, Cyril Waldbank, Fred Foot, Alan Radcliffe, George Candler, Richard Hardwick, Peter Waddington, Merve, John Cruz, Joan Davidson, Alan Waterhouse, Alan James, Mark Bootes, Jack Irish, Trevor Morris, Matt Cameron, John Hall, Ray & Sandra Stansfield, Paul James, Norrie Hearty (Cichlid expert), George Reckloss, David King, Norman Dickenson, Tim Schofield, Ged, Jim Rushton, John Turner, Lorraine Hickson, Trevor & Eddie (OASIS), Steve Carney, Steve & Jim Thompson, Paul Ryan, Alan & Dot Hodges, Ted Derrick, Roy, Bob Barnes, Derek & Marie Harrop, Devon Malcombe, Alan Vas, Andrew Bartyla, Phyllis Willis, Keith Barraclough, Derek Lambert, Danny Blundel, Dr Peter Burgess, Hans-George-Evers