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Herp Marketplace: Outdoor Reptile Enclosures Make Sales Shine

Posted: July 13, 2012, 1:45 p.m. EDT

Retailers can promote the benefits of a herp basking in natural sunlight to help energize business.
By Cheryl Reeves

While most pet reptiles are kept indoors, summertime offers an opportunity for them to soak in the natural benefits of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Retailers in warm-weather states can profit best in this sector, yet stores in multiseasonal climes can add sizzle to their summer sales by stocking all the products that provide a safe outdoor oasis.

Moving herps into the yard demands an escape-proof and predator-thwarting habitat above all, according to industry participants. Moreover, pet stores that actively educate their customers on outdoor herp dos and don’ts can build knowledge, confidence and sales.

“Educating pet keepers on the needs of their animals and how the product should be properly used is very important,” said Ashley Rademacher, the animal care and education coordinator at Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. in San Luis Obispo, Calif. “It’s also another way of promoting a product.”

Tout Basking Benefits
The science that supports how herps benefit from basking in the sun is indisputable.

Keeping turtles outside
“There are excellent artificial sources of UVB and UVA available, but nothing can beat natural sunlight,” Rademacher said. “By allowing animals exposure to light outdoors, they can receive natural UVB for vitamin D synthesis and UVA to promote natural behaviors.”

Once people grasp how healthy unfiltered sunlight is, the more they are inclined to give pets some outdoor time, said Jonathan Rheims, manager of LLL Reptiles’ Escondido, Calif., store. “Then they need to get proper housing.”

Retailers can encourage outdoor time by promoting the fact that household glass filters out UVB from sunlight, Rademacher said.

“I always have to tell people that moving a cage in front of a window is not equal to an outdoor experience,” Rheims noted.

To further stimulate outside habitat sales, Rademacher recommended telling customers that “allowing outdoor time can be just as rewarding for pet keepers as some animals will display behaviors outdoors that they do not while inside.”

Spotlight Outdoor Housing
Retailers who do a good job selling outdoor habitats also need to be a responsible source of advice, said Joshua Sukenick, owner of Turtle Towns, an online store and Waterland Tubs distributor based in Spring City, Pa.

“Have care sheets available, know the names of the best online forums and be honest with people who want to buy a reptile,” Sukenick said. “It’s vital for customers to understand there are a lot of supplies that go with a reptile. I tell people, ‘This is not an impulse buy, this is a commitment.’ So far I’ve only experienced increased sales by doing the right thing.”

The Waterland Tubs enclosures he sells are offered in sizes ranging from small to 200 gallons.
“These tubs are popular because they’re designed to be a complete, self-contained enclosure,” Sukenick added.

Rheims also does brisk business selling Waterland Tubs for turtles, especially in the small and medium sizes. Displaying them so customers can envision how the tub works is one strategy he uses. Another is posting husbandry advice on his store’s website.

Customers on a budget like Apogee Reptarium screen cages made of fiberglass mesh, Rheims added.

“However,” he said, “since this cage is designed primarily for indoor use and is only good for a brief time outside, animals should not be left alone in it.”

For advanced hobbyists, Eric Haug, owner of Pets A Plenty, a store in Hockley, Texas, reported steady demand for the customized habitats he creates through his design company, Ocean Aquatics.

“I also sell these to local pet stores in the Houston area,” Haug said. “If your store can offer customized enclosures, make sure you advertise that service. Retailers should always ask a customer whether the animal is going to be outside for an extended or short period of time. A cage on wheels is usually popular for the ease of rolling it inside and out.”

Zoo Med’s Tortoise House is a top seller for its versatility as an indoor/outdoor enclosure as well as for its spaciousness and locked, escape-proof wire cover, retailers reported. The habitat features a modular design that allows two houses to be placed end to end to increase space for basking and a private sleeping area, according to the company.

Another outdoor habit from Zoo Med is the Tortoise Play Pen, which is designed to promote natural grazing behaviors by allowing safe access to grass.

“This enclosure is not designed as a permanent enclosure as it does not have a floor,” said Zoo Med’s national sales director, Joshua Panos. “It’s important to be certain that no herbicides, pesticides or other chemicals have been used in the area where the Play Pen is to be used.”

Zoo Med’s ReptiBreeze line of habitats is also in demand among reptile keepers because the enclosures are lightweight and easy to assemble, he added.

Products that ensure a reptile’s safety outdoors cannot be overemphasized, Haug said.

“I heard a heartbreaking story recently about a juvenile tortoise that was snatched by a hawk because there was no protective top on the animal’s habitat,” he said.

To help prevent such occurrences, Haug puts up signage that forces customers to ask questions.

“I don’t display outdoor habitats because I don’t want customers to take one to the register without talking to me,” he said. “The signage tells them I have the stock, but then they have to ask for it. We are then able to find out what species they have, if it’s a temporary or permanent outdoor situation, and all the rest.”

Educating and Bundling
If a store’s location allows, an outdoor exhibit is a great way to show the right way to set one up, said Paul Demas, project manager for Penn-Plax Pet Products in Hauppauge, N.Y.

“A well-thought-out outdoor enclosure will inspire consumers to replicate what they see in the store in their own backyards,” Demas reported. “Signage explaining the benefits of real sun can be both educational and promotional.”

He also suggested that stores employ a reptile mascot outside when possible to greet customers as they walk into the store.

“Use that meet-and-greet time to explain the benefits of the animal getting some ‘fun in the sun’ and encourage customers to give their own reptiles a summer vacation, too,” Demas said.

Zoo Med’s Panos recommended setting up an enclosure outside the store with a reptile in it.

“Not only does this bring more customers into the store, people are very intrigued and start asking questions,” he said.

Another strategy to spark sales is offering specials and kits.

“One example would be if a customer buys an enclosure, they get the animal at a discount or vice versa,” Panos said. “Package deals are always nice, and bundling is not only a great way to sell products, it also shows the consumer what items are necessary for maintaining a pet animal, depending on species, indoors and out.”

At Turtle Towns, kits are a hit with price-conscious customers.

“We do the whole thing customized by turtle type and size—for instance, a Waterland Tub, filtration device, food and other accessories,” Sukenick said.

A retailer can employ every type of promotion under the sun, but an informed sales staff is necessary to optimize effectiveness, said Pete Jansema, owner of Waterland Tubs in Orange, Calif.

“If you hire teens, educate and train them,” Jansema said. “Customers want information they can trust. In the summer, anyone can take an animal outdoors. A retailer’s job is to make sure that it’s done right because an animal’s life depends on it.”


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