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Herp Marketplace: Tips for Selling Reptile Skin Care Products

Posted: Sept. 18, 2012, 6:45 p.m. EDT


Good communication skills help customers find the herp skin maintenance products they need.
By Karen Shugart

For many herpkeepers, products that maintain and improve skin health are not essentials. With the right environment, the correct humidity and the proper care, many reptiles and amphibians can get by without a lot of skin maintenance, several retailers reported.

For some species, however, skin health products are important purchases. For others, they’re ideal tools to keep a herp looking good.

“It seems to be the type of thing that someone’s only looking for when there’s a problem,” said Vince Lombardi, co-owner of Reptile World in Manhattan, Kan. “It’s not something people go out and specifically look for as much as it is something that comes up.”

Few skin care purchases result in repeat buys, he said, unless the issue arises again.

“You might see some repeat on the anti-mite products, but for the most part, it’s something people buy hoping to get rid of a problem,” Lombardi said.

Herp skin care
Helping herp owners manage their pet's environment can go a long way toward solving skin care issues. Photo Courtesy of Zoo Med Labs Inc.
Dave Yao, owner of Dave’s Dragons in Manchester, N.H., recommends skin health products for species with special needs, such as silk back bearded dragons. Other species only need the products if they have problems, such as trouble shedding. Still, the products can be an important part of a store’s stock, he added.

“They definitely have a place in the reptile hobby, but it’s not something we would recommend on a casual basis,” Yao said.

The key to growing product sales is talking with hobbyists and finding out about their concerns, retailers said.

“We try and spent a lot of time with each customer and make sure to educate them on the care of the animal,” Yao said.

Most customers need guidance, said Carlos Haslam, facility manager of East Bay Vivarium in Berkeley, Calif.

“Realistically most people are naïve about the needs of their creatures,” Haslam said. “They have a good understanding of the general care of the animal, but when it comes to things like vitamins or eye care, it’s kind of blind territory for them.”

That’s where retailer knowledge comes in, he said.

“They walk in and look for the expertise of the people who are here in our store to guide them to products that will help with whatever they’re dealing with,” Haslam said.

At Twin City Reptiles in St. Paul, Minn., manager Pia Siehndel said she talks with customers about many of their needs. What’s the herp’s current environment like? What’s the owner’s budget like? How much room do they have?

Timesaving tips also build a rapport with customers, Siehndel said, and its pays off at the register.

“Sometimes you don’t really market the product; you just tell people to buy it,” Haslam said. “If they trust you, they will buy it.”

Often, the key to solving a customer’s problem lies within the setup, he said.

Industry Voices
Where do you recommend stocking skin health products?

“We keep them next to vitamin supplements and calcium supplements.”
Pia Siehndel, a manager at Twin City Reptiles in St. Paul, Minn.

“We have them where we have the vitamins and items of similar ilk. We have them right at the front counter so that whenever we’re doing our animal sales or working with people, we can quickly grab them and put them right in their hands. They’re almost point-of-sale for us.”
Carlos Haslam, facility manager for East Bay Vivarium in Berkeley, Calif.

“I keep them by the register with my medicinal stuff. [That way] I can point right to them. I’d say it’s maybe 25 percent of my medicinal section.”
Vince Lombardi, co-owner of Reptile World in Manhattan, Kan.

“There’s a little bit of thought that goes into it, but I don’t know how much of it has to do with marketing. We’ll move things around every once in a while. We tend to keep littler things away from the front door.”
Tim Criswell, owner of House of Reptiles in Tigard, Ore.

“If retailers help customers re-examine their husbandry and find the correct way to manage the herp’s environment, it can go a long way toward solving the pet’s skin care issue,” Haslam added.

Even though such behavior might not immediately generate a product sale, it builds a relationship that pays off future dividends.

“It comes down to that trust,” Haslam said.

While most popular skin care products have been on the market for years, Zoo Med’s ReptiRain, a programmable misting unit, features new technology that allows for a stronger and quieter pump, according to the company. The product allows hobbyists to mist up to two tanks at once, noted Josh Panos, national sales director for the manufacturer in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

“For most species, moisture is very important and is much needed when they are going through ecdysis,” Panos said.

In-store setups can include skin care products, too. They give customers ideas of what products they can use at home, Siehndel said.

Good communication, whether it’s advising customers on managing the moisture in their pets’ environment or managing shedding problems, does not, however, just come through in-store conversations.

“Nothing beats word-of-mouth, so we do everything we can to support that kind of organic process,” said Tim Criswell, owner of House of Reptiles in Tigard, Ore.

One of the most visible and contemporary ways of encouraging that process is by exploring social media, he noted. Criswell’s store posts frequently on its Facebook page.

“It’s a really easy way of building a community or making use of a community,” he said. “You get one person talking about it, and they might not put it on their own Facebook page, but they might tell a neighbor.”

House of Reptiles also generates buzz by making local appearances at farmers’ markets; however, Criswell reported that Facebook has been the store’s most successful outside marketing tool.

“We gave up on our newsletter because it was so much more work than Facebook and it reached fewer people,” he said. “We’ve tried [advertisements on] newspaper, radio and TV as well as some oddball things like on the back of a bus or on the cash register receipt at a local supermarket. We were at a local movie theater for a while, but it’s word of mouth, social media and a combination of the two that has had any success for us.”

Not that Internet-driven communication is without its downside. Years ago, information about the hobby often came from standard pet care guides, Haslam said. Now the web has provided a forum for both the informed and ill-informed.

“We end up with a lot of misinformation that we have to correct,” he said. “Customers come in all the time not having done any research except looking at the Internet. It is a hobby and not a science, but there’s a science to the hobby.”

The goal is helping customers raise healthy herps, Yao of Dave’s Dragons said. Even though skin care products might not be on every hobbyist’s shopping list, they can be useful tools in a retailers’ arsenal.

“Our focus is one the care of the reptile more than making a sale,” he said. “We want to make sure that the animal is going to be cared for properly.”

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