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Herp Marketplace: Dive Into the Aquatic Herp Market

Posted: June 20, 2012, 5:30 p.m. EDT

Stocking innovative and convenient essentials can turn a pet store into a one-stop destination for owners of frogs, turtles and other water-loving species.
By Cheryl Reeves

Captive aquatic herps such as turtles, frogs, salamanders and newts can benefit from an ever-expanding plethora of products designed to meet their every need. By offering everything from habitats and food to lighting and plants, retailers can ring up more profits by stocking and promoting new lines and proven sellers.
“Because semiaquatic habitats need to be split between water and land, it’s crucial to the life of these pets to educate new hobbyists on how to build a proper living environment,” noted Lisa Alexander, the reptile, bird and small mammal expert at Brooklyn Zoo & Aquarium in New York City.

Learning whether a customer has done any research is imperative, Alexander said. If they haven’t, she educates them on the spot.

Aquatic herp habitat
To appeal to beginner, intermediate and advanced hobbyists, retailers can offer aquatic herp displays in a range of price points. Photo Courtesy of Zoo Med
“We stock everything these pets require, in a selection that is affordable, convenient and innovative,” she said. “This in turn keeps our customers coming back for all their supplies.”

Pet stores should stock and display aquatic herp products that offer functionality, convenience and affordability, reported Nick Kornblith, senior brand manager for United Pet Group’s Blacksburg, Va.-based Tetra brand.
“To maximize sales and get the customer from the beginning carry the livestock,” Kornblith said. “And then stock your displays with supplies that look really attractive, to engage your shoppers.

“We’ve found that retailers who featured our Show & Sell Terrarium display promotions tripled product sales,” he added. “Remember: Customers want direction.”

Home Improvements
Many herp owners are looking for habitat accessories that look natural and are convenient to maintain, industry participants agreed.

Indeed, providing a species-specific environment that sets up in a snap was the inspiration behind Atlantis Underwater Islands habitats, said Jim Youngstrom, owner of the Rigby, Idaho-based company. The Underwater Islands kits contain everything a hobbyist needs to easily create a healthy home for a pet, including extras such as a feeder tube, coconut trees, plants and rainbow pebbles, he reported.

“These setups offer a dry land area, and the filtration system keeps the water clean and moving to prevent skim line buildup,” Youngstrom stated.

Industry Voices
How can retailers become leaders in the aquatic herp sector?

“It’s very important to establish honesty and make people aware of what they are getting into before they buy a type of pet. For example, I tell people asking about a baby red-eared slider turtle that it’s the size of a quarter right now but it will soon be the size of a dinner plate. This is why I only sell turtles that stay small, because most people don’t have the resources to accommodate larger species.”
Liam Grin, reptile sales expert at Menagerie Pet Shop in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

“Keeping adult turtles on display is a great way to inform people about size and habitat requirements. This way, they know what they’re getting into. Showing all the supplies that the turtle needs instantly educates customers on what proper husbandry practices will entail.”
John Stolz, co-owner of Tails & Scales in Derby, Kan.

“We display a lot of salamander and frog habitats to instantly communicate visually how these animals need both water and land habitats. It’s amazing how so many people don’t understand that these semiaquatic animals need a place to crawl out of the water. Customers are very grateful when you, as a retailer, help them understand how to be a better pet owner.”
Greg Mull, owner of Exotic Birds & Pets in Ceres, Calif.

“Tell customers what they need to provide a quality life for the animal. If the customer doesn’t want to invest in a pet, let them walk. Basically, put the animal’s welfare first over the sale. You can’t put a price on integrity, and you will win in the long run with attracting the best, most responsible customers.”
Jim Youngstrom, owner of Atlantis Underwater Islands in Rigby, Idaho

The company also offers Cove and Lagoon kits, and other species-specific models are expected to be launched later this year, he added.

At Blazin’ Reptiles, a store in Jacksonville, Fla., the Tetra Tetrafauna Viquarium is a popular habitat choice among hobbyists.

“This is a very realistic-looking habitat featuring a waterfall and riverbed basking area that divides land and water,” noted the store’s co-owner, Steve Brezil.

The wilder a habitat looks, the more attractive the product becomes to consumers, retailers reported.

When Greg Mull, owner of Exotic Birds & Pets in Ceres, Calif., set up a Zoo Med Naturalistic Terrarium, the habitat was a big hit with customers and sales of the product increased significantly.

“Not only is the habitat beautiful, it offers the security of a lockable front glass door and great ventilation,” Mull pointed out.

To appeal to every level of owner, he routinely features three aquatic herp displays—good, better and best options that range in price from about $140 to $250.

Zoo Med’s Turtle Tub is a steady seller at Menagerie Pet Shop in Toronto, said the store’s reptile sales expert, Liam Grin.

“Turtles need a lot of space to climb and crawl around, and the Turtle Tub’s large land area allows natural basking and egg-laying behavior,” Grin stated.

Exo Terra’s Turtle Bank, a flotation basking area for aquatic turtles that also accommodates the needs of salamanders and newts, is an innovative product that Grin recommends to customers. Instead of suction cups to anchor it, the platform features easier-to-manage magnets that can be adjusted for all water levels, he said.

Fast Food Trends
When selecting food, more herp owners hunt for products that feature fresh whole ingredients and less filler, retailers reported. What’s more, the quickest and easiest meals can win the sale.

“The top selling turtle food here is Omega One,” Grin reported. “It’s made with halibut and salmon as well as the right amount of calcium to promote healthy shell growth. You can also feed Omega One to young newts and frogs.”

Zoo Med’s canned freshwater shrimp and snails are successful sellers at Blazin’ Reptiles because they can be fed to a variety of herps, Brezil said. Another appeal is that the product line makes feeding fast and easy, and offers the appropriate nutritional values.

“While kids like to see their pets eat live crickets and other animals, parents want convenience and simplicity,” he said. “So parents ultimately opt for high-quality canned foods.”

Partly because of their entertainment value, Zilla Turtle Chasers Treats are in big demand at Tails & Scales in Derby, Kan., said the store’s co-owner, John Stolz.

“The treats float and turtles chase after them, so this is fun for kids to watch,” he said, adding that the nutritious treats contain real shrimp and clams.

Exotic Birds & Pets posts strong sales of Zoo Med’s Aquatic Turtle Banquet Block, which offers both food and supplemental calcium, Mull reported.

“Turtles can just nibble away at the block, and it also helps beak maintenance,” he said. “Plus, the product lasts a long time and customers feel they are getting their money’s worth.”

Don’t Forget Lights and Plants
While Zoo Med lighting products remain top sellers at Brooklyn Zoo & Aquarium, customers have taken a shine lately to Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp.’s LED lights, Alexander said.

Musk turtle
“The glow these lights give to a tank is incredible,” she said. “You see a stunning moonlight effect.”

Tails & Scales’ Stolz noticed a big difference when he switched from basic fluorescent tubes to Zoo Med’s PowerSun, a self-ballasted mercury vapor lamp that emits UVA, UVB and heat all in one.

“My turtles became so much more active and their appetite increased,” he said. “So I promote the PowerSun and my customers tell me that they also really see the big difference the product makes in behavior. Now everyone wants a PowerSun because of the word-of-mouth endorsement. Sales of this product just keep growing because it really works.”

Zoo Med’s Frog Moss is another product climbing off the shelves at Tails & Scales, Stolz continued. The moss’ appeal is that it’s alive and grows, and it adds a natural look to a habitat, he said.

“The convenience selling point is that the moss can be washed and reused several times before needing to be replaced,” Stolz reported. “Another plus is that this moss isn’t dyed like a lot of other mosses on the market.”

Penn-Plax’s Reptology line of Aqua Plants is the choice of customers who want artificial plants that look natural, Alexander said.

“The Club Moss is great because it comes in a variety of sizes and looks highly realistic, right down to the roots,” she said.

“The bottom line at our store, to successfully sell every type of product for semiaquatics, is it’s all about making sure our busy customers know they can come in and get whatever they need right here and right now,” Alexander added.

“Nobody has time anymore to drive to a few different stores to stock up,” she concluded. “So consumers reward a store like ours that has it all by coming in for repeat purchases. And then they tell their friends. There’s no more powerful promotion than that kind of endorsement.”


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