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Herp Marketplace: Reptile & Amphibian Climate Control Technology Advances

Posted: Sept. 26, 2012, 3:30 p.m. EDT


Reptile and amphibian hobbyists seek advanced monitoring devices that more precisely control conditions inside the tank.
By Cheryl Reeves

Properly monitoring temperature, humidity and UVB is critical to keeping herps active, resistant to disease and breeding successfully. As technology in this product sector evolves to offer hobbyists greater control and precision, tech savvy retailers who promote the newest devices on the market can see higher sales as a result.

“There’s definitely a migration toward the more sophisticated products,” reported Bob Smith, owner of Jungle Bob’s Reptile World in Centereach, N.Y. “Over the past year, I’ve seen an increase in customers opting for digital products, especially those featuring a probe that can monitor various parts of a cage.”

However, retailers also reported that while consumers desire the best new products, price remains a top issue.

Digital climate control product
Digital is in when it comes to satisfying hobbyist demand for control products. Photo by John Virata/Bowtie Inc.
“Affordability is just as important as innovation,” said Tracey Methot, assistant manager at Oceans of Pets in Woonsocket, R.I.

For example, she named combo products such as the Exo Terra Digital Thermo-Hygrometer and Zilla’s Humidity and Temperature Gauge as her store’s top sellers because of the two-in-one deal appeal.

In addition, just stocking a wide range of products—from low- to high-end—is not enough, Methot said. A creative marketing plan also must be employed to reach more customers.

“There’s a big advantage in offering things such as membership loyalty programs and online couponing,” she said. “These days, promotion is a must.”

Promoting Quality Control
Retailers should promote higher-quality cage monitoring products as “cheap insurance” for the health and safety of pets as well as for the pet owner’s home, advised Mike Magaletti, head of customer service for Hydor USA Inc. in Sacramento, Calif.

“A tank that overheats is a danger to the animal and can also cause a fire,” he said. “Promoting safety motivates people.”

Hydor’s Hydroset Thermostat regulates the temperature of terrariums in combination with an appropriate heating device, Magaletti said. In this way, the device works as a “second brain” to automatically trigger a heater to turn off if the temperature does not agree with the Hydroset program, he added.

“This product is a tool that makes sure a heater is in top working condition,” he said. “Because when heaters go bad they either don’t heat or they can cook the tank. Make certain your customers understand the critical importance of investing in trustworthy monitoring devices.”

There’s been a significant increase in consumers choosing anything digital over the older dial models, noted Kevin Coram, animal care attendant at Port Credit Pet Centre in Port Credit, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

“It’s a digital age,” Coram said. “They want digital products. The more accurate readings take the guesswork out of habitat monitoring, and people feel more in control of their pet’s well-being.”

Reptile habitats with climate control devices
Using monitoring devices in store setups can elicit customer interest and sales. Photo Courtesy of California Pets of Orange
When customers at Jungle Bob’s seek advice about a sick or stressed out pet, Smith first inquires about the temperature in the tank—and how it is being monitored, he said.

“Nine times out of 10, the customer has an unreliable temperature gauge, so I help them replace that with a quality probe,” Smith said. “The result is that they come back filled with gratitude because they are more in control and the pet is thriving again.”

Customers should understand the importance of monitoring lamps as well, according to Steve Mackin, the president of Solartech Inc., a Harrison Township, Mich.-based manufacturer. His company’s product, the Solarmeter UVB Meter Model 6.2, is an instrument designed to accurately make sure lamps are emitting the correct levels of UVB.

“Retailers can impress upon consumers the importance of monitoring a lamp’s intensity, especially as lamps age,” he noted.

At Uncle Bill’s Pet Center in Fishers, Ind., customers must ask for a sales associate’s assistance before they can purchase habitat monitoring products.

“To encourage communication, we lock our display case,” said Chris Lanman, the store’s fish and reptile expert. “Since so many people really don’t know what they want, this is our opportunity to guide them toward making the right purchase.”

Offer More, Sell More
Retailers will do best to offer customers options ranging from low end to high-end products noted Josh Panos, national sales director of Zoo Med Labs Inc., in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

“We offer a variety of different products, from the simple and affordable Precision Analog Thermometer and Humidity Gauge to Digital Thermometers and Humidity-Temperature Controllers,” he said, adding that the company’s newest device, the Repti-Temp Digital Infrared Thermometer, can measure any one area of a tank by just pointing and clicking.

Industry Voices
What are your some of your best-selling digital cage monitoring devices?

“Fluker’s Digital Thermometer/Hygrometer Combo pack that precisely measures humidity and temperature. It’s also affordable and helps create a safe, comfortable environment for pets. Another top seller is Zilla’s Digital Thermometer. Still another is Exo Terra’s Digital Thermometer and Hygrometer that comes with a remote sensor for accurate measurement. This can be used in a variety of ways: with a suction cup, screwed in or it can slide into place by using Exo Terra’s Compact Top or Dual Top.”
Bob Smith, owner of Jungle Bob’s Reptile World in Centereach, N.Y.

“Zilla has a great kits that are habitat and species-specific that include digital thermometers perfect for bearded dragons or climates such as desert or tropical. We also sell a lot of Zoo Med’s Digital Thermometers and Humidity Temperature Controllers as well as their ReptiTemp Rheostats.”
Chris Lanman, fish and reptile expert at Uncle Bill’s Pet Centers in Fishers, Ind.

“Combo control products are hugely popular. The Exo Terra Digital Thermometer and Hygrometer with remote sensors are big sellers here.”
Tracey Methot, assistant manager at Oceans of Pets in Woonsocket, R.I.

The Zoo Med Repti-Temp point and click gun has been a steady and growing seller among customers who have multiple cages, Smith said.

“We also promote this gun as a fast and easy way to spot check hot and cool spots in a cage, especially during a change of seasons,” he added.

To encourage more customers to purchase higher-tech monitoring products, Bob Pound, president of Pro-Products in Mahopac, N.Y., said retailers can promote the fact that needle dials will go out of calibration at some point, but digital devices will not.

“Discuss the long-term savings a higher-quality product represents,” Pound said.

Other features of the bestselling monitoring devices are energy efficiency and the ability to keep a consistent, steady environment via automatic on/off timers, according to industry participants.

Pro-Products’ Pro-Mist, for example, is a plug-in wall timer that can be programmed to turn off at sunrise and sunset, and its built-in memory maintains the pre-set program in the event of a power outage, according to the company.

Another product, Zoo Med’s Repti-Temp 500R remote sensor thermostat, automatically adjusts the heat levels of up to two heating devices in a setup, the company reported.

Offering a selection of good, better, best devices from a variety of manufacturers is the norm for appealing to all types of shoppers, and kits have their place in the mix, too, retailers reported.

“Beginner hobbyists represent a big chunk of business so kits are perfect for these customers,” Lanman of Uncle Bill’s noted. “It’s a great way to ease into the hobby at an affordable price. Later, we can introduce them to the more high-end products to outfit their habitats.”

By stocking everything from kits to combo products to high-end digital devices, retailers can meet all customer levels of expertise and needs, Oceans of Pets’ Methot said.

Making the Customer Connection
From bundling products to brand spotlighting to creative couponing, there are myriad ways for retailers to compete for business in-store and online.

“In addition to displaying products in habitats and having well-educated employees, another tool I highly recommend is bundling,” Panos said.

Zoo Med makes a variety of products that can complement monitoring devices, from Repticare Terrarium Timers to the ReptiCare Terrarium Controller, all of which are designed to control the runtime of light fixtures, heating devices and humidifying products. An effective sales strategy is having specials or package deals at the store level, Panos said.

“For example, buy a Zoo Med ReptiCare Day/Night Timer and receive a Precision Analog Reptile Thermometer & Humidity Gauge at 50 percent off,” he added.

For those customers enrolled in Uncle Bill’s Pet Centers’ membership program, every $200 a customer spends gets them a $5-off coupon.

“Another way we keep shoppers coming back is with our ‘We Miss You” $5 coupon,’” Lanman said. “We keep a detailed database, and when someone hasn’t made a purchase in 90 days, we send them the ‘We Miss You’ coupon.”

As a multi-brand store, Jungle Bob’s Reptile World runs special promotions that places a big focus on one manufacturer at a time, Smith said.

“We’ve got a selection of digital monitors from all the manufacturers we sell,” he said. “So in August, we did a special called Fluker Day. Another month, we do a Zoo Med Day. October will be Zilla Day. These special promotions involve displays, discounts and out-of-box demonstrations of each product, so customers can clearly learn how to use them properly.”

The biggest upside is that more consumers are eager to embrace the newest innovations to enhance their pet-keeping experience, Smith noted.

“We’re big computer hounds here, really into keeping databases,” he said. “We also text message, hold educational events, do signage and bulletin boards featuring new products and trends, and also invest in big postcard mailings. We’re always looking for opportunities to introduce our customers to what’s new and exciting. This puts life in the store–and into sales.”

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