Behind the Scenes: Python Products
Python aquarium-maintenance tools have gone from being carried in a few Midwest pet stores to being sold throughout the U.S., shipped to 23 other countries and sold online, but what the company is most proud of is its American roots.
Lance Reyniers, a lifelong aquarist, has two freshwater planted tanks: a 75-gallon with angels and Synodontis, and a 60-gallon cube with cichlids and Synodontis. But he never relished the weekly water changes crucial to fish and tank plant health.
Lugging buckets, slopping water every which way, wet towels on the floor—there had to be a better way, thought Reyniers, a self-described tinkerer.
So he put his mind to work, and the Python No Spill, Clean and Fill System was born more than 30 years ago.
Today, Milwaukee-based Python Products Inc. employs 16, and its products—all U.S. made and assembled—are found in aquarium stores throughout the U.S. and in 23 other countries, and they are sold online through Petco and Amazon.
Pet Product News: How did the No Spill Clean & Fill Gravel Cleaner come about?
Lance Reyniers: A friend of mine saw mine and said, “Make one for me.” I did, and then … people said, “You really should sell this.”
So we test marketed three states (Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois), and I personally went to all the pet stores in those areas. I had a 95 percent acceptance on it—everybody wanted to buy it, and Python Products was started. The year was 1984.
PPN: When did you believe you could build a company around your gravel cleaner?
LR: I had a truck, I filled it with product, I drove to Florida, and I stopped at every pet store I could along the way; everybody bought product and wanted more.
My first show was in New York, and right there, I picked up Royal Pet Supplies (a distributor). My second trade show was in Florida—the Pet Industry Distributors Association show when H.H. Backer ran it.
Every place I’ve shown the product through the years, people have wanted it and reordered it. Our motto is “When quality counts, count on Python Products.”
PPN: What makes your siphon different?
LR: It doesn’t matter where the tank is. Back in the day, many people had stacked tanks. So you’d have a 55-gallon tank and underneath it you’d have a 40-gallon breeder. That 40-gallon breeder on the bottom was 6 inches off the floor—you can’t start a siphon down there. The Python No Spill, Clean and Fill system isn’t smart—it doesn’t know the difference, so it will pull water uphill.
In a second step, you can refill the tank.
In the third and final step, it cleans itself up and is ready to put away. You reverse [the siphon] back again, and as you coil it up, it sucks up all the water [and muck] back out of the unit.
PPN: How has the Python revolutionized keeping aquariums?
LR: I joke about how before I invented the Python, I did water changes, and that’s why I’ve got one arm longer than the other, from lugging the buckets.
You can’t move water in buckets without slopping some of it; it’s just a messy job. It’s also very time-consuming.
With Python, we’ve made it easy enough that people as they are getting older are capable of still maintaining their own aquariums. If they’ve got a disability, people are still able to maintain their aquariums.
PPN: How did the pond model come about?
LR: Many people were using [Python] for ponds. But it would clog. So I invented the Ulti-Vac, which has an internal filter that determines whether the stuff stays in the bucket or goes on through.
People asked for it. [Python] would work for ponds, but you had to lie down to work on [ponds], or you had to use long ground tubes. And then when people started sucking up the muck, we had to come up with a better way, so we did.
PPN: Guess there aren’t going to be any copycats anytime soon?
LR: When the patent ran out a few years ago, we were hit with Chinese knockoffs. We are the only company that makes—and always has made—our product 100 percent in the U.S. Every part is sourced in the USA. No one else can say that. All of our plastic parts are bisphenol A (BPA), arsenic and lead free. We do not leach out anything into the aquarium. All of our tubing is FDA-approved nontoxic.
Dealing with the Chinese and overseas knockoffs have been the biggest challenge for us.
PPN: How do you meet this challenge?
LR: Quality, quality, quality. Quite honestly, the Internet did a lot of it for us. People went out and bought the products because they could save some money, and they turned around and said, “No, they’re inferior. We want Python.”
PPN: How do you market your company?
LR: We do the major trade shows, and we spend a lot of time at the local aquarium clubs. When I say local, I don’t mean just [in Milwaukee]. We travel all over the country to support local aquarium clubs. If they have a show, we attend a lot of them. We give up a lot of weekends to go to the aquarium shows.
PPN: Do you agree that the aquarium hobby has seemed flat over the past decade?
LR: I see the hobby and the [number of] aquarists growing. I’ll give some credit to WWPSA, which is now WPA (World Pet Association), for some of the programs we started when I was there, such as Pets in the Classroom and getting kids indoctrinated early. The aquarium is the only place you can look into another world every day.
PPN: Please discuss your new products.
LR: Anyone who knows us knows the new Python Hook. Our tagline for it is “Are you tired of holding your Python,” hesitate, “while filling your tank?” It goes on the end of the Python system and can be hooked over the tank for the filling process. We introduced it at SuperZoo, and it’s going crazy. We’ll be demonstrating it at Aquatic Experience. The New York Aquarium was the first to test the Python Hook.
PPN: Does Python Products give back?
LR: We spend a lot of time supporting aquarium clubs because they’re the backbone of the hobby. Clubs like the Brooklyn Aquarium Society and Ohio Cichlids.
Sometimes I’ll talk at an [aquarium club] show; mainly we set up displays, show our products, answer any questions and teach people right on the spot.
Not all clubs have shows, and in those cases, we send [product] donations to be auctioned off. We donate product to hospitals and nursing homes, too, where people are maintaining aquariums.
PPN: Where are Python products sold?
LR: Worldwide in pet stores everywhere. We are in Petco online right now. We are the No. 1 cleaning product on Amazon. I like to see my products preferably sold in brick-and-mortar stores, but a lot of us aren’t going to brick and mortar. We are a firm believer in MAP (minimum advertised pricing), so we do that to protect the brick-and-mortar stores, too.
One country we’d like to expand to is Australia. We get a lot of calls [from there] and are actively looking for a distributor.
PPN: What’s your proudest accomplishment as far as your company is concerned?
LR: Made in America from day one. Our products are made on both coasts, and a lot of it is made in Wisconsin. We’re running our own molds everywhere.
This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Pet Product News.