Thoughtful marketing and merchandising can boost sales of herp products
By Karen Shugart
By several measures, the skills involved in marketing and promoting herp products mirror those needed for any category: expertise, customer service and winning promotions. But the herp category has an advantage over the others in that it can build on its still-exotic nature, retailers and manufacturers said.
“Whether people love or dislike reptiles and amphibians, chances are they find some level of fascination with these animals,” said Andrew Quinn, education coordinator and national sales assistant for Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Go Beyond What’s Expected
Retailers must remember the basics as well as branch out beyond the ordinary, experts said. That often means setting up naturalistic, creative displays housing well-cared-for livestock.
Customers who see a product in use are more inclined to buy it, said Paul Demas, project manager at Penn-Plax Inc. in Hauppauge, N.Y.
“If you are trying to sell a habitat for a chameleon, then by all means set one up with a chameleon inside and include all the bells and whistles that the customer can add on, for example vines, misters, drippers, lights, etc.,” Demas said.
Displays help demonstrate why the contents are needed, Quinn said.
“Products such as a thermostat can be an essential piece of equipment that can be easily overlooked if pet stores are not using the item themselves,” he said.
Alan Botterman, president of T-Rex in Chula Vista, Calif., recommended that retailers make certain to carry high-quality, well-cared-for livestock. The retailer then can sell both the animal and the products needed to maintain it.
Use Layouts to Generate Results
Displays should be part of a store design that is inviting, clean and well-considered, insiders said.
“Wandering around a pet store is a wonderful adventure,” Quinn said. “The sights and sounds of the animals make this a truly unique shopping experience. We need to remember that this attribute of a pet store and capitalize on it.”
Coral Reef Pet Center in Norridge, Ill., has a separate room for live herps, co-owner Frank Schmidt said. He noted that grouping products by type helps hobbyists.
“That way the customer can choose,” Schmidt said.
Jeff Washburn, owner of Helix Control Systems in Vista, Calif., advised that organization should not be overlooked.
“If I’m looking for water bowls, I don’t want to have to search every end of the store for the right size,” Washburn said.
Tomi Takemoto, owner of Animal Lovers Pet Shop in Torrance, Calif., recommended that retailers shake up their layout occasionally, as her store did not long ago.
“People could not believe that it was the same store,” Takemoto said. “It got them excited.”
Botterman warned that laying out a store based on operational needs may shortchange sales.
“I’ve seen a lot of stores that will move their crickets up to the front counter area or have them pre-bagged,” Botterman said. “Yes, it’s convenient, but if you have your crickets in the back, the customer has to walk through the store. Maybe they’re going to see something they like. If you just get them to the front of the store and you just give them their bag, that’s a lost opportunity.”
Hire the Right People
Employing knowledgeable staff who can help customers understand the nuances of herp care is important, experts said.
“ It is also extremely important to educate consumers on the physical and nutritional needs of these unique pets,” said Damian Hall, marketing and events manager for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass.
Zoo Med’s Quinn pointed out that reptiles and amphibians are “critically dependent on environmental variables to survive.” Caring for herps can be more difficult than most pets, he said, because of the diets and the need to fine-tune a cage’s temperature, humidity and UVB lighting.
Steve Higgins, manager of the Pet Stop in Missoula, Mont., said he considers such factors in deciding which animals to stock.
“We don’t carry anything that is very difficult to care for,” Higgins said. “That way, novice people can easily care for them. We don’t carry things that would get too large for people to handle.”
Quinn said many manufacturers, including Zoo Med, offer planograms that show how products should be displayed to best increase sales.
“End-cap planograms can change with the season and offer fresh merchandising opportunities that continue to hold customers’ attention,” Quinn said.
Zoo Med also offers a Flipbook Care Guide, an informative resource that helps drive customers to the appropriate products needed for their species.
Explore the Internet
Social media tools are great ways to interact with customers for both manufacturers and retailers, Demas said. Penn-Plax’s Reptology page includes photos of herps as well as contests and other information.
“We introduce new products to them way before they would ever see it in a store,” Demas said. “Stores can do something similar--make announcements of new product and animal arrivals. Post items that will draw customers into your store.”
He recommended that retailer websites include links to manufacturers of the items sold in store.
“The more they learn about specific products, the more inclined they will be to come in and purchase them,” he noted.
David West, owner of LB Reptiles Only in Long Beach, Calif., said retailers need to be flexible with their marketing. He tried signing up customers for early notification of sales. Though it got customer attention, he said he abandoned the effort because it more trouble than it was worth.
Ultimately, he learned something experts said anyone trying to market herp products should remember: “You have to live and learn.”
Industry Professional Site: Comments from non-industry professionals will be removed.