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The Full Interview with the Stars of Tanked

by TFH Magazine on August 16, 2011 at 6:48 am

The cast of the reality TV show Tanked from left to right: Robert "Redneck" Christlieb, Wayde King, Heather King, Brett Raymer, Agnes Wilczynski and Erwin "The General" Raymer.

All photographs courtesy of Animal Planet.

Tropical Fish Hobbyist: How did you get started in the aquarium manufacturing business?

Wayde King: I started with aquariums as a little boy with my family. We had fish tanks in our house and then my parents got divorced and remarried. When she remarried, the man’s name was Shelly and he had the only [aquarium] service going on in New York City at the time. I used to go out and service with him and clean the aquariums and set them all up, and then we moved into designing. His business continued to grow and he became friends with the manufacturer. As I got a little older I moved out to San Diego to start with the manufacturing. Then they moved to Las Vegas. That’s where it all started.

I’ve been doing this for pretty much my whole life. But I went to school and I was in active service. I had some jobs in between and I was doing things and going back and forth until we started the company.

It took five years for us to become #1 in the world in custom shapes. At the time there were companies building some tanks—custom glass tanks and little tanks here and there. We have an oven so we actually molded the acryllic—we do thermal forming, which actually bends the acrylic and it shapes it to whatever is in your house: For example, if you have a little cove in your house and you wanted to match the radius we can do that.

We started doing more of that than anybody in the world and we became #1 in custom shapes in a very short period of time. All the fish stores said “Hey, I’ve got a company that can do it,” and they kept calling us. We’re out in the factory, we’re sanding, we’re polishing, we’re learning. We make mistakes and we fix them and we kind of mastered it and we became #1. It did very, very well over that short period of time.


The guys at Acrylic Tank Manufacturing create custom-shaped aquariums.

TFH: What inspired you to create these monster tanks?

Wayde: A lot of people just approached us and asked, “can you do this?” A lot of people said things couldn’t be done and we felt differently and we decided to go for it. Some of the hotels called us and said they wanted this or they wanted that, and by with the years of experience and just us being the shop and the practice and bending of the material I just kind of said, “yeah, we can definitely build it.”

So Brett went out and started selling. He says he can sell anything and I told him I can build anything. It was like a match made in heaven. He sold something and I said alright I can build it. It fit like a glove.

TFH: What is the largest tank you’ve ever created?

Wayde: That’s hard to decide because there are so many different tanks. Let me explain: You can have a huge cement tank and put panels in it. Then you can have a huge FRP [fiberglass reinforced plastic] tank and put panels in it. And then you can have a solid, all acrylic tank.

It’s very hard to move a tank say from here to Michigan. That’s a wide load and then you have to get permits and it’s called tracking. So that means the truck is so big that it can’t go down the highway without a permit or a wide load. It would have to get off the off-ramp and then back on the off ramp, it’s done during late hours, and each state has their own permits and travel times.

We’ve done a pool down in Florida that was about a million-gallon dolphin pool that had a bunch of panels in it all the way through. We still do, and we let people know that we still do a 50-gallon tank up to whatever size they want. If it’s the size of a Costco building and they want us to put panels in it, we do it, and then we put in the life support.

Let’s say you were in Connecticut or New York and you wanted an aquarium and you call your local pet store. Your pet store guy would say, “Okay, how big of a tank do you want? Do you want glass or acrylic?” And the customer sometimes really didn’t know what he needed for the tank. We were the only manufacturer at the time that did the tank, the stand, all the woodwork, the façade, the pumps, the filters, the coral inserts that go in the aquarium, and the fish. Then we set it up and installed it anywhere in the world.

We travelled everywhere, and we did what we call a turnkey system: We do A through Z. And then we call the local service guy that takes care of it in the local area. Over the years we’ve met hundreds of them and we’ve become good friends with a lot of them, and they actually take the aquarium from that point on and service it for the client.

Acrylic Tank Manufacturing creates everything for an aquarium, including custom-made inserts to go in the tank.

So let’s say Kobe Bryant wanted an aquarium. Our local guy would call us or he would call us directly. We would build the aquarium, set it all up in his house—and we do everything, we do pumps, stands, filters, coral, sand, fish, everything—and when it’s done and up and running we would hand the keys over to the local service guy and he would take the service over. He would feed the fish and take care of it and charge a monthly service fee.

A lot of doctors and homeowners and all these people, they didn’t want to deal with buying a tank from somebody and then the stand from somebody else and the pump from here or mail order this, they wanted to have a system done. We feel we’re the only ones in the world now that actually can do that. “One stop shopping” Brett calls it.

Wayde is helping Brett get into a monster tank.

TFH: What is your favorite tank that you’ve created?

Brett Raymer: The favorite one I’ve created is one we actually happened to do over in Scotland. I flew there a few times and it’s 32 feet tall and it’s 11 feet in diameter. It was on the Gleneagles Estate and it was a big hotel where people went golfing.

Wayde: They sold plots on the golf course.

Brett: They sold like 11 plots and people built 11 homes on them. One of the homes is four stories tall and has this aquarium in the center of the house. It was fun building it and it was fun seeing it and it’s beautiful.

Wayde: They built the house around the aquarium.

Brett: It was pretty interesting because in Scotland, at the time, they didn’t have a crane that could actually lift it, so they had one come in from London. It was 11½ hours of travel time for us to actually put the tank in so it was pretty interesting. It was the middle of winter, it was raining, very cold over there, and we finally got it done and it was unbelievable.

Wayde: You know, one of the things that Wayde and I really enjoy doing is aquariums or windows for conservatories, nature centers—and we do a lot of work for those types of facilities. We are doing the Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium in Fort Myers, Florida right now; we did the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, and we’re getting ready to do Gumbo Limbo Nature Center’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center in Boca Raton, Florida. We also did the California Academy of Sciences, which is more of a science building,”

We’re big fish lovers. We have a huge retail store here in Las Vegas. The reason we got into aquarium building is because we’re big fish nuts, and we want to give people a great, exotic aquarium where they can house fish as opposed to making those small, little 20-gallon or 30-gallon tanks. We want to make exotic stuff people can use to hold animals

TFH: What are your favorite fish?

Brett: I like the clown trigger. It kind of reminds me of myself because I can be a clown sometimes but I can be very aggressive. That’s the personality of the clown trigger; they’re really colorful, they have a very colorful personality, but—like I said—they can be aggressive at some times.

TFH: What celebrity tanks have you worked on?

Wayde: We’ve done Dr. Dre, Kobe Bryant, David Wright from the New York Mets, Jorge Posada from the New York Yankees, Barry White, Chad Ochocinco from the Cincinnati Bengals. We did a tank for Usher’s car—Usher had a car and we put an aquarium in it for MTV. We’ve done a couple of the Real World seasons, we did the Real World Vegas. We’ve done Monster Garage, Extreme Home Makeover, and Man Cave.

Brett: There are a lot of celebrities that we’ve done where we really don’t know who they are. We’ve done so many tanks, but when you’re dealing with celebrities it’s very rare that you deal with the celebrity directly. The ones we mentioned will call us up and are part of the sale. They’re into fish.

TFH: Do you ever include live coral in the tanks?

Brett: We design live reefs all the time.

Wayde: There are basically four types of aquariums: terrarium, freshwater, coral reef, and saltwater. And then you can get into like snake terrariums, bird cages, planted tanks, and stuff like that. The real main one to us is a saltwater aquarium.

Brett: Remember, we build aquariums for everybody. We don’t do full setups all the time, but if we have a freshwater guy in South Carolina that orders a 1000-gallon tank from us, and he’s going to do piranha, pacu, or Jack Dempseys, we’ll make it. We do make all the things that we were saying.

We like to call ourselves saltwater specialists, that’s what we specialize in whether it be reef or just fish only. But we do everything.

TFH: How much can some of these tanks cost?

Wayde: $200 all the way up to a few hundred thousand dollars, into the millions. The one we did in Scotland was $1.6 million—and that was for his home.

Brett: There was about $200,000 worth of fish—every kind you can imagine.

Wayde: All different species from all over the world.

Brett: From puffers to triggers to angels to sharks to butterflies and stingrays.

TFH: What made you decide to participate in a reality TV show?

Brett: About 5½ years ago we sat in our old building, where we had a big group office and five or six of us sat in one office. People used to walk in and say, “You guys are great, you guys are awesome, you guys build crazy stuff—you guys should be on TV!” Not one person, but 50 or 100 people used to say it regularly.

I said, “Wayde, everybody is saying that we have to run with it.” We came up with this crazy idea to formulate a show. Orange County Choppers was pretty huge at the time, and we said we could do the same thing that those guys do but with aquariums. We had a company out in LA come and film it and they pitched, but it didn’t go anywhere for like 1½ years. Then we got a hold of my friend Mike Scores from New York, and he got a hold of the production company, and the production company sold it to Animal Planet.”

TFH: What happens when you and your family see the show, complete with the comments made solely to the camera? For example, what happened when your wife/sister found out the “shark sticks” were only mop handles? Has Heather forgiven you yet? Check out the video where Heather jumps in a shark tank.

Wayde: Well, the funny thing is, at the time she thought they were real shark sticks. We had to tell her that to get her in the tank. But after the fact, after she stepped out of the aquarium, we kind of filled her in that they weren’t. So it didn’t wait until we actually saw it on TV. She knew at that point and she wasn’t happy

Brett: We will never live that down. Wayde is still on the couch!

TFH: Are there any other surprises that she is going to find out about this season?

Wayde: There are surprises every day. This is the funny thing— Brett starts this stuff, then when he calls her in to discuss it he says, “Wayde, you tell her.” So he puts me on the spot and gets me in trouble all the time.

Brett: It’s different when you’re not married to her. When she’s your sister, you can do whatever you want. I don’t have to go home with her, I don’t have to sleep next to her, and I don’t even have to see her. But she can take care of herself; don’t worry. She might be little, but you know what they say about dynamite…

TFH: What is your advice for someone setting up their own saltwater tank?

Wayde: I always tell this to people. After someone is done they always want to go a little bigger, so if you have the space to go bigger, do it now because you’re going to want it later.

Brett: Wayde and I also, being in the industry for so long and seeing everything that has come about, we have five products that are going to tap into the marketplace within the next few weeks.

The bottom line is Wayde and I love the aquarium business. We’re both scuba certified, we’re divers, we love to be in the industry, we love fish, we take our fishkeeping very seriously. We don’t want people to think that we’re just these aquarium builders and we don’t care about the fish. It’s very important that everybody knows that we love fish, we’re knowledgeable, we have a huge, huge retail store in Las Vegas that’s probably one of the best stores on the west coast, and it opens up soon. I want people to understand that not only are we aquarium builders, that we are fish enthusiasts, hobbyists, and we want to do whatever is in the best interest for the animals.

TFH: Speaking of the animals, how do you care for some of the more exotic and difficult-to-keep species, such as the parrotfish in the Mob Experience tank in the Tropicana?

Wayde stands in front of the "Mob Experience" tank at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino.

Brett: Parrotfish, what they do is they like to spin a cocoon and hibernate at night. They have a beak, so they like to chew on corals. When you put clams in and hard-shelled foods they’re actually very comfortable with that.

Wayde: We make sure any of the fish that we’re going to get are eating and are in good shape and condition. Reality TV is reality TV; most of the time everything looks like it’s done overnight. We don’t want people to think that it’s being done overnight—people need to understand that all the builds and everything that we do, they don’t happen instantaneously; it takes time. We do whatever we can to ensure the proper environment for the fish, whether it be food, feeding, so forth and so on.

For the full article about Animal Planet’s new reality TV show Tanked  visit

And to see highlights from the show click here.

Posted in Shari Horowitz and TFH Extras by TFH Magazine on August 16th, 2011 at 6:48 am.

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