From Passion to Entrepreneurship
My name is Alex Werries, and I’m the owner of Derby City Aquatics in Louisville, KY. My passion for the aquarium hobby goes back to when I was a child. When I was 10, my mother had a fish only saltwater aquarium and a cichlid aquarium. My grandfather also had a freshwater aquarium (which I eventually inherited when I was 14). These were some of my first memories into the aquatic world, and I immediately fell in love.
Back in 2010 my children wanted an animal, and my wife and I definitely did not want to spend our days picking up poo. We had to do that enough with our three kids! So, we decided it would be best to get a basic community aquarium. From the start, we went to pet stores weekly and always found something to add, which everyone enjoyed as a family. After a few months we were ready for an upgrade, so we “dove” into the world of cichlids, which of course meant a bigger aquarium. After a while, we decided to expand and look into saltwater, which I knew absolutely nothing about. I watched hours and hours of videos on YouTube and immediately became obsessed! Around this time, we went on vacation, and I had the opportunity to explore the ocean. We also went to some of the local aquariums and everyone in my family was excited to add to our growing hobby.
After a few months of learning and lots of trial and error, our home saltwater aquarium started finally becoming stable and mature. The most exciting part? It was growing!!!!! I so vividly remember when I first fell in love with saltwater ecosystems. I was sitting in front of our aquarium one night, and I truly gave myself time to notice all the microorganisms, copepods, bristle worms, micro brittle stars, Astrea stars, and everything in between. At that moment, I realized I wasn’t just caring for fish and corals. I was actually caring for my little piece of the ocean and the micro biome they lived within.
Shortly after that, I went to a local frag swap in Louisville Ky sponsored by LMAS. While walking around and discovering new things within each vendor’s set up, I realized if these hobbyists and enthusiasts can grow and sell corals, then so could I. After all, why should they have all the fun? I needed funds to supply my reef addiction! Starting in 2011, I fragged corals like crazy and sold/traded with my local fish stores for credit. A few years later, my wife and I bought our first home. She allowed me to have full control over the basement, and that’s when the reefing addiction really took off. First, I had a 125g reef and a 75g predator aquarium. That quickly changed to a sump room with frag tanks, and before we knew it I was traveling to frag swaps and aquarium festivals every weekend. I quickly got very involved in the reefing community.
The basement operation quickly grew out of hand. Total combined water volume of all systems was over 3000 gallons! We even had a small selection of dry goods and supplies; I was already becoming an in-home store that could fuel my dream and growing passion. At the time I was buying wholesale from all over the world, but some of the best corals came from Whitlyn Aquatics in Evansville. My customers noticed the difference in quality I was bringing in. In June of 2019, I saw a Facebook post from a local aquarium store called Aquatica. The business was shutting down, so I went to the store one afternoon and spoke with the owner and offered him a buyout. After speaking to the owner of Whitlyn Aquatics, we decided to team up and expand his brand. After 3 and a half months of remodeling, rebranding, and restocking the newly acquired store, we opened our location in Louisville. I was out of the basement and really “getting my feet wet” in the business world!
After a few years, the Evansville location and I decided to go our separate ways, and Whitlyn Aquatics of Louisville became Derby City Aquatics. Just like that, my pipe dream was finally a reality; I finally had the opportunity to own my store. Through drive, passion, and some serious dedication, one of my most sought-after dreams had come true. Throughout this entire venture, I’ve moved from amateur to owner, and from just an employee to a boss. I’ve learned to fix plumbing, deal with electrical problems, service aquariums, and problem solve. All through my personal anecdotal experiences, I am so blessed to be able to say that my childhood dream is alive, well, and continuing to grow.