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Herp Marketplace: Habitat Upgrades Attract Attention

Posted: March 28, 2012, 5:30 p.m. EST


Affordable kits can help complete an appealing set-up as hobbyists give more attention to how an enclosure looks in the home.
By Lizett Bond

An evolution is occurring in the reptile world as enclosures and their inhabitants emerge from the basement, garage or bedroom to take their place in mainstream family life. The transformation includes incorporating the vivarium into the home décor and creating a decorating scheme for the habitat itself.

As such, customers are looking for products that create the appearance of a natural-looking environment for the pets and complement the ambience of the home, according to industry participants.

“There has been a surge in the popularity of herptiles as people realize that they are easier than dogs and cats and take up less space,” said Billy Leonard, retail manager at Ben Siegel Reptiles, a store in Deerfield, Fla.

With customers becoming more familiar with herp keeping, visiting specialty reptile stores, participating in online forums and viewing YouTube examples, it follows that they desire beautiful vivarium setups, Leonard pointed out.

“Enclosures are becoming more mainstream and more acceptable and coming into the living room,” he noted. “Customers can create a very naturalistic environment within the home, their own little slice of rainforest.”

Alongside catering to customers’ décor preferences is the need to help new herp owners establish a complete setup with minimal effort and at a reasonable cost, said Steven Spitz, CEO of Big Apple Pet Supply in Hauppauge, N.Y. 

reptile habitat
Selling kits that include a cage, bedding, lighting and other accessories can make herpkeeping easy and affordable for pet owners. Katie Ingmire/BowTie Inc. at Reptile Island 

To meet this need, Big Apple developed an entire section of kits and will continue adding to the selection. By providing kits to complement front-opening enclosures, such as the Big Apple Pro Series Acrylic Cage, herp keeping becomes easy and affordable for consumers, Spitz said.

“Kits are a great way to attract new customers to the hobby since it takes much of the guess work out of choosing the correct lighting, heating accessories, etc.,” he said. “Ultimately, this provides the customer with savings in time and money.”

Conversely, helping hobbyists convert an existing tank into an attractive enclosure can be a good option for retailers. For example, Tetrafauna’s Viquarium kit allows consumers to create a land and water habitat without the help of an expert, reported Nick Kornblith, senior brand manager at United Pet Group in Blacksburg, Va.

“It is like a miniature world with a little waterfall, a little river, a place for a fog machine or mister, and people often put in special lighting,” he said. “It’s fun to imagine being a little animal in there.”

For consumers who want enclosures in shapes and dimensions that harmonize with the architecture of their home, custom tank offerings can be a viable alternative. Eric Haug, owner of The Ultimate Reptile Shop in Hockley, Texas, noticed an increase in customer requests and responded by manufacturing such units.

“Customers are not going for the standard ‘four glass walls and a screened top’ anymore,” he said. “We can drill holes where needed for misting systems and foggers, and place drains in the bottom.”

At the same time, Haug has seen growing interest in the reptile category and attributes the increase to reptiles being viewed more as household pets, not just as animals in a cage. Many people are choosing reptiles over fish, partially due to the cost of setting up and maintaining an aquarium and because cash-crunched consumers are spending more time at home, he added.

“I think a lot of our customers look at the cost of setting up a 75-gallon saltwater tank and realize they can set up a 75-gallon tree frog habitat with live plants for a little over half the cost,” he said.

To keep up with consumers’ growing interest and knowledge on proper herpkeeping practices, manufacturers are creating and promoting products to match that awareness.

Charm a Potential Snake Owner
Kids are captivated by reptiles, and especially so by snakes.

“There is a cool factor with snakes,” said Paul Demas, project manager at Penn-Plax Inc. in Hauppauge, N.Y.

The hard part isn’t persuading the kids to become snake owners. It’s the squeamish or fearful parents. Education plays a key role in easing parents’ minds, said Steven Spitz, CEO of Big Apple Pet Supply in Hauppauge, N.Y.

With that in mind, Spitz created a YouTube video, “My Child Wants A Snake: A Mom’s Guide To Easy Care, Set Up And More,” to help demystify the process.

Becoming acquainted with the creatures up close makes children and parents more likely to consider keeping them as pets, said Eric Haug, owner of The Ultimate Reptile Shop in Hockley, Texas.

“Parents and their children can read about reptiles all they want, but until they can touch it and see it, they don’t know how they will react,” Haug noted. “It’s amazing how their eyes light up.”

Parents who think of a snake as a notorious escape artist may be hesitant to allow one into their home.
Manufacturers are answering the concern with stronger security measures. The Penn-Plax Snake Habitat 2 features a front-side metal lock similar to those found on a jeweler’s case. Multiple locks across the top screen foster parental comfort, too.

Tetrafauna’s Deluxe Sliding Door ReptoHabitat has multiple means of securing a pet snake, said Nick Kornblith, senior project manager at United Pet Group in Blacksburg, Va.

The new enclosure features a  heavy-duty screen with three cam locks and a full-length back lip to prevent escape. This extra security makes it ideal for nonaquatic setups, he said.

“It’s locked up like Fort Knox,” Kornblith commented. “A lot of kids keep snakes, and you don’t want one getting away or lost.” —LB

“It’s definitely larger units now as hobbyists recognize that these animals need a larger area to live in to meet their needs and to regulate their temperatures,” said Paul Demas, project manager at Penn-Plax Inc. in Hauppauge, N.Y.

Along these lines, Penn-Plax developed the new Tortoise Palace Combo Terrarium and Stand. The terrarium features moisture-resistant, medium-density fiberboard, a hide/sleep box and a front glass viewing area as well as a wire top with locking hinges and an adjustable light stand. A matching designer stand is sold separately.

“For people that want to display their animals, this piece would look good in the living room,” Demas said.

In addition to the popularity of stylish habitats, accessory items—such as misting systems, submersible filters and foggers—also remain in demand, particularly for managing the microhabitats of higher-needs animals such as chameleons and certain salamanders, according to Leonard.

“We are seeing customers going toward the specialty market with animals like amphibians with more specialized needs, and some companies are catering more toward the combination environment,” he pointed out.

The Ultimate Reptile Shop’s Haug noted an increase in requests for programmable misting systems for amphibians, arboreal snakes and tropical animals.

“We have had a big surge in requests for that feature, and the most popular is the Exo Terra Monsoon RS400 by Hagen,” he said, adding that it is quiet, holds a larger volume of water and operates on a timer, which reassures busy customers that their animals are being misted regularly.

“It has really boosted our chameleon and amphibian sales,” he noted.

The convenience of a watering system is important, said Steve Sotelo, the Exo Terra division manager at Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass.

“Providing proper hydration for regions or homes that experience high temperatures and low humidity levels is an essential element in keeping tropical species happy and healthy,” he stated.

As more consumers consider reptiles as pets, Haug is a firm believer in displaying animals as marketing emissaries, noting that sales often soar when children and parents are permitted to interact with animals.

“I have a 7-foot water monitor in the store, and when kids get to hug him and play with him, parents understand that it’s not something that has to stay locked up in a cage,” he noted.“It’s great advertisement, and we are able to dispel a lot of untruths.”

Demas agreed, noting that retailers setting up his company’s Tortoise Palace in-store report increased sales because customers are able to interact with the animals.

“Tortoises have a lot of personality,” Haug added. “When customers are up close, they can see that.”

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