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Herp Marketplace: Safety First

Posted: Dec. 19, 2011, 5:20 p.m. EST


Innovative, reliable products count for a lot in the herp heating category, but educating pet owners is just as important.
By Cheryl Reeves

As an increasing number of bulbs and mats enter the herp market, owners have more choices than ever when it comes to warming and protecting their cold-blooded pets. For retailers, the key to keeping herp owners happy and capturing a larger share of the critically important heating category is to understand the trends.

Industry insiders reported a growing emphasis on quality construction and durability. Stocking well-tested and researched products, as well as promoting their proper usage among consumers, will give an animal the best quality of life and assure buyers their purchases are the safest possible choices.

herp heating

“A number of companies are making strides in approving their heating products, but we also see a number of new entries [whose] integrity and safety I question,” said Steven Spitz, CEO and founder of Big Apple Pet Supply in Hauppauge, N.Y. “Heating a reptile’s home is the most critical part of keeping your new scaly friend safe, and it is up to each person to make sure the equipment they are buying is well-tested and perfected.”

Big Apple’s newest product, the Adjust-A-Temp Reptile Heat Mat, offers a built-in controller that features low-, medium- and high-temperature settings for more accurate control, Spitz pointed out.

“We decided that a heat mat with a built-in controller was needed in the industry,” Spitz said. “Not every animal requires the same temperature.”

Mats often generate too much heat for certain species, he noted, yet consumers tend not to purchase separate controllers that modify the temperature. With a built-in controller, pet owners can easily select a temperature that meets the herp’s requirements.

Fluker Farm bulbs are strong, consistent sellers at Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash. Store manager Starla Morton attributed the success of the Port Allen, La., company’s bulb line to both quality and packaging.

“People are reassured by the user-friendly guide on the package that species-specifically illustrates how far the bulb should be placed from the animal and what the wattage requirements are,” Morton said. “I’d love to see more packaging like that because it helps cut down on confusion.”

Another welcome trend, Morton reported, is manufacturers’ introducing more bulb styles to create a one-stop shopping experience.

“Recently we’ve seen Rolf C. Hagen expanding on its line of bulbs,” Morton said. “The halogens are very effective as well as more energy efficient.”

Wayne Howell, a Houston snake breeder and the owner of Wayne’s World of Snakes, is very selective when choosing heating products.

“The manufacturer is very important,” Howell said. “I only use products that handle wear and tear well so there’s decreased worry about electrical shorts.”

Safety Tips
Retailers can guide new herp hobbyists in setting up a safe habitat for their pets. Wayne Howell, a snake breeder and the owner of Wayne’s World of Snakes in Houston, offered these tips:

• Carefully read and follow the directions on a heating device’s packaging.

• Place heating mats under the enclosure instead of inside it to prevent the animal from getting burned.

• Don’t overload electrical power strips with too much wattage.

• Make sure a reptile cannot touch or get too close to a bulb. Again, placement outside the tank is advisable.

• Regularly monitor tank temperatures to prevent overheating.

• Invest in a quality rheostat to control temperatures with greater precision.

• Make sure all flammable household materials, including curtains and furniture, are kept away from heat bulbs and emitters.

• Use bulbs specifically made for herp habitats. —CR

Zoo Med and Helix controllers are examples of products that are well made, accurate and durable, he stated.

Heating is among the herp categories that retailers need to understand well, said Andrew Quinn, the education coordinator and national sales assistant at Zoo Med Labs Inc. in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

“We rely on some heating devices to maintain proper ambient levels of heat, whereas other heating sources are for specific times or specific functions,” he said. “Understanding the differences of these products will help retailers outfit their customers with the appropriate devices and drive sales in the category.”

The innovation behind Zoo Med’s new ReptiCare Day/Night Timer was to provide a means for herp owners to rotate power at a preset time in the morning and at night, Quinn stated.

“This establishes a photoperiod and/or a night drop in temperature that is similar to that found in nature,” he added.

Customers at the Las Vegas store Exotic Pets like combination heat and light products such as Exo Terra’s Solar Glo, Zoo Med’s PowerSun UV Mercury Vapor and the Combo Deep Dome Lamp Fixture.

“Even in the recession, I’m getting lots of new customers,” Exotic Pets owner Ken Foose said. “These are mostly parents coming in with their child, who is ready for a first reptile pet. They’re looking for affordability, ease of use and, above all, safety.”

To make starter setups a more attractive, uncomplicated purchase, especially for young hobbyists, Foose customizes kits by manufacturer.

“For example, when I sell an Exo Terra cage, I fill it with Exo Terra products,” he noted. “When I sell a Zoo Med cage, everything inside is from Zoo Med. That way, everything fits right and looks good, too.”

Spitz, of Big Apple Pet Supply, noted that heating and thermostat sales go hand in hand. Herp owners can’t expect to achieve an exact cage temperature based only on wattage or the size of a heat mat.

“That’s the same thing as expecting your home heating system to heat your house to a comfortable temperature without a controller,” Spitz pointed out. “That’s simply not going to happen.”

The reptile expert at Uncle Bill’s Pet Center in Fishers, Ind., Nick Billingsley, tells his customers to use their imagination when designing a habitat.

“We’ve got a lot of customers who are into making the most naturalistic environment possible,” Billingsley said. “Heating is key, and I always get a lot of questions on how to perfect the climate for each animal’s needs. Then they build around the basics with appropriate plants, waterfalls and other creative, natural touches.”

Another recent addition to the market is Penn-Plax’s Reptology Vivarium Heat Lamp, an addition to its Reptology Decorator Habitats line. Paul Demas, the Hauppauge, N.Y., company’s project manager, said the product’s inspiration sprung from increased demand among hobbyists who custom-design their terrariums using a lot of creativity.

“Our new heating/lighting lamp offers an easier way for customers to install the device internally,” Demas said. “It’s as simple as installing the two screws included, and it features an off/on switch and a safety grid.”

With all the choices in the herp heating sector, one of the most powerful ways to ramp up sales is by having well-trained employees.

“Temperature is affected by many variables,” Zoo Med’s Quinn said. “Educating sales staff of these differences can turn into add-on sales with each reptile customer.”

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