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Herp Marketplace: Litter, Please

Posted: July 19, 2013, 1:30 p.m. EDT

From bark and kiln-dried wood to sand and crinkle paper, pet owners seek safe, natural and eco-friendly substrate for their lizards.

By Portia Stewart

When you hear the name John Ratzenberger, you probably think of Cliff Clavin from "Cheers” or maybe the actor’s voice work in such Pixar films as "Finding Nemo” and "Toy Story.” As it turns out, you should think eco-friendly pet litter, too.

In the early 1990s, Ratzenberger launched Eco-Pak, an ecology-focused packaging firm that produced a packaging alternative to Styrofoam peanuts. When he sold the company, a distributor saw applications for the product in the pet world and created Eco-Bedding. In 2005, FiberCore purchased the product line, said Brian Wood, owner of Cleveland-based FiberCore. It initially was used for lab animals and now is used in small animal, reptile and amphibian habitats as well.

Even amphibians crave sand beneath their toes. Mila Semenova/Shutterstock

All-natural litter and substrate options for reptiles and amphibians include fibers from kiln-dried wood, bark and specialty paper produced by American Wood Fibers.

"We designed these to be in keeping with our position as a company that makes a positive contribution to the environment through the use of secondary wood wastes and other fibers, and to give pets the safest, most effective products available,” said Rich Whiting, vice president of equine, pet and pellet sales and marketing at the Columbia, Md.-based company. "Pet owners appreciate the natural qualities, eco-friendly value points and consistent high quality.”

For reptile and amphibian owners looking for sand material, Jurassic Sand by Jurassic Reptile Sands in Salt Lake City offers smooth, soft and clean red sand for indoor use. The company also sells QuickSand, a tan-colored sand that’s soft to the touch, and Knot Sand, which is lightweight and golden in color.

Pet owners are looking for safe and healthy options, Whiting said, adding that they also want products that give their pets’ habitats the most natural, realistic appearances.

Creating a Community
Online communities and social media offer opportunities to start conversations with customers, said Rich Whiting, vice president of equine, pet and pellet sales and marketing at American Wood Fibers in Columbia, Md.
"Obviously, good package design is a primary opportunity to communicate product benefits, but over the last few years, social media has become more of the go-to medium that enables a two-way conversation with our customers,” he said. "Our Facebook page has more than 21,500 followers, and it launched only a little more than one year ago. Through Facebook friends and their contacts, we reach literally millions of pet owners every month for a fraction of what we used to spend on print media.”
Brian Wood, owner of FiberCore LLC, said it’s also helpful when market leaders blog about products. He said word-of-mouth and leveraging the Internet have been his company’s most effective marketing tools. He has focused on a couple key websites to help spread his message. —PS

"Educated consumers are the best customers, so helping them ask the right questions is the key,” he said.

For example, Whiting said, a good customer query includes questions regarding where the product comes from, what its ingredients are, whether it has been tested for toxins and how long the manufacturer has been in business.

"Answers to all these [questions] will help consumers make decisions that are in the best interest of their family and pets,” Whiting said.

Wood said the feedback he’s received from the reptile industry about Eco-Bedding is evenly split between two opinions: Customers love the product because it hides the poop, or they don’t like the product because it hides the poop and they can’t see it. Customers also love the product because if a reptile eats the litter, it can pass through the digestive system, he said.

"All animals, whether they’re hamsters or reptiles, explore their world through their mouths,” Wood said.

The paper used in Eco-Bedding comes from a mill that only makes recycled paper. It’s also cost effective because a little of the litter goes a long way, Wood said, adding that placing litter and using it in pet stores has been effective in demonstrating its value and enrichment benefits.

"You want to be the in-store product for as many stores as you can,” Wood said, adding that educating employees about the products helps improve marketing, because they can offer recommendations to pet owners and discuss the benefits the products offer. 

Jerry Bergosh, owner of Jurassic Reptile Sands, said breeders spread the word most about his Jurassic Sand, rather than pet shop sales.

Important to communicate to pet owners, Wood said, is that the cheapest item on the shelf isn’t always the most economical choice. Some products are inexpensive, but they don’t last long.

Offering free product is another way to reach pet owners, he said, adding that it gives people a chance to try the product and decide whether or not they like it. Many people are cost conscious, Wood said, so discounts might motivate pet owners to try products that they might like and stick with.

"It’s been a rough couple of years for a lot of people, but they’ve got to take care of their animals,” Wood said. "We need to think about what we can do to entice them to take their hard-earned dollars and spend them.” <HOME>


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