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Aquarium business continues on swimmingly

ALLISON MILES

By ALLISON MILES
July 16, 2011 at 2:16 a.m.

Victoria resident Jaime Valdivia is the owner of Blue Lagoon Aquariums. The local company cares for about 150 aquariums a month, which are mostly located in local offices such as the tank in Crossroads Title Company seen here. Valdivia, who has owned the company for about 10 years, said the company maintains tanks in a 100-mile radius of Victoria.

Jaime Valdivia climbed a stepladder inside Crossroads Title Company, peering down at the excitable fish that zoomed to greet him at the top of the tank.

"I think they think it's feeding time," he said from his perch. "They're going to be disappointed."

As owner of Blue Lagoon Aquariums, Valdivia fills his days visiting homes and businesses, installing fishy environments and looking after the pre-existing ones.

The young entrepreneur got his start in the aquarium world shortly after graduating from Southwest Texas State University. Although always interested in marine biology, he opted for a business degree instead.

"I couldn't pass chemistry," Valdivia, 32, said with a laugh. "So I did this."

Once he completed school, Valdivia got a job with Houston's Aquarium Environments, handling installations and maintenance. The Victoria native worked there about a year-and-a-half before returning home to the Crossroads.

"I thought there might be a niche market here for something like this," he said. "I wanted to give it a shot."

Valdivia opened his business 10 years ago, but admitted it took time to get it off the ground. He worked two jobs at first, both his aquarium position and at the Citizens HealthPlex, but eventually worked his business up to where he could focus full-time on the fish.

Today, he maintains about 150 aquariums a month, spanning about a 100-mile radius around Victoria. He does so with help from Alfred Vallejo, the business' service manager.

Valdivia's friend Eric Grones said he was impressed by the business owner's story.

"He started it all from scratch and built it up to a pretty good business," he said of the man he described as a laid-back person who works hard. "He has aquariums all over towns, in doctor offices, hospitals, schools. His hard work paid off."

Although some might consider the business a small fish in a big pond - at least compared to chain stores - Valdivia said he doesn't view them as direct competition.

Blue Lagoon offers the equipment and fish like other stores do, but also assists in setting up the aquariums, designing new looks and assisting if problems arise. The company can also overhaul an existing tank for a new look, he said, and most customers also opt for maintenance plans, where Blue Lagoon cleans the tank every month or so.

"That way, it becomes something they can sit back and enjoy, rather than a headache," he said. "All they really have to do is feed the fish."

Cindy Hawkins is vice president of Crossroads Title Company and said Valdivia has maintained the tanks at the business' two Victoria locations about 10 years.

The tanks are nice to look at, she said, and also relax clients who might feel somewhat nervous as they visit the office to close on their houses.

"It just makes everyone a little more comfortable," she said, adding that she's had an aquarium at home since about age 18. "They appreciate them."

Not all of Valdivia's job revolves around fish tanks. Although not a huge fan of public speaking, he sometimes finds himself discussing aquatic life with area schoolchildren.

When schools do ask him to speak, he said he tries to make his presentations something the children can understand.

"I realized every kid had seen the movie 'Finding Nemo,'" he said of a recent presentation. "I related everything back to that, and the kids were just kind of enthralled. The movie introduced them to the fish and I kind of gave them the science behind it."

Looking ahead, Valdivia said he plans to continue running the Blue Lagoon Aquariums business as usual.

He hopes to introduce new tank sizes and designs to the region, and also grow the business.

Just ... not too much.

"I enjoy what I'm doing," he said. "I don't want to get to a size where I get away from that. I don't want to get overwhelmed."

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