The manufacturer reports three priorities: fish, its customers and the United States of America.
By Jaime McLendon-Boyer
U.S. veteran Lance Reyniers, president and owner of Python Products Inc., is dedicated to his country. From charitable 9/11 efforts to the manufacturing of products he pledges “always have” and “always will be” made in America, he strives to create an American Dream of sorts for fish and water-gardening enthusiasts everywhere.
|According to Lance Reyniers, president of Python Products, the 7:1 suction ratio of the No Spill Clean and Fill aquarium-maintenance system uses about the same amount of water as flushing a toilet.
This dream—supported largely by the Python line of aquarium- and pond-maintenance products, brings the promise, he says, of equal opportunity to hobbyists of all levels; an opportunity to perform smaller, more frequent water changes; to clean without mess or stress; to perform standard maintenance in half the time.
Reyniers founded Milwaukee-based Python in 1983 after suffering interminable difficulty changing the water in his freshwater aquariums. With a 55-gallon tank shelved atop a 40-gallon tank, water changes were tedious, messy, dreaded. He knew there had to be an easier way, and it wasn’t long before he sought a better solution.
“I went to the waterbed industry,” Reyniers said. “They had a pump but it just wasn’t strong enough.”
Unwilling to compromise his goal of making water-spill cleanups and lugging around heavy buckets a thing of the past, Reyniers took matters into his own hands—literally. With the aid of his mechanical and military medical backgrounds, he sat down, assessed the pump, and made it stronger—strong enough, he said, to suck water uphill from his 40-gallon aquarium.
“I changed the way the pump was made,” Reyniers said, adding that he improved the waterbed pump’s suction ratio from 3:1 to 7:1. “The original waterbed pump is still out there. I have competitors that use it, that try to copy me with it. That’s why theirs doesn’t work.”
According to Reyniers, others were so impressed with his development that he began to make what is now known as the original No Spill Clean and Fill aquarium-maintenance system for friends.
“In the beginning I used 5,000 feet of tubing in six months. Today we use that before lunch in one day.”
–Lance Reyniers, on Python’s 26-year growth.
“Everybody kept telling me that I really needed to market it,” he said. “So I did a three-state test market and had a 90-percent acceptance ratio. Everybody loved it and wanted it. So I made the decision to go into debt and start the company.”
For a year-long trial-and-error period he tested different parts, different tubing, and quickly learned that compromising quality only hurt his No. 1 priority: the fish.
“I tried imported and cheaper products to keep the cost lower but ended up killing a lot of my fish,” he said.
AT A GLANCE
Python Products Inc.
Location: 15,000-square-foot facility in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Owner: Lance Reyniers
Employees: 9 to 10 full time
Years in Business: 26
Areas of distribution: Worldwide
Annual Revenues: Undisclosed
Company Mission: To produce quality, American-made products, and never compromise.
Product Categories: Aquarium and pond maintenance
Flagship Product: No Spill Clean & Fill aquarium-maintenance system
Now, Python uses its own formulas, and backs all products with an unlimited one-year warranty. And instead of working out of his home, Reyniers now has an entire building, as well as a 10-person staff.
“We outgrew [the basement] relatively quickly and ended up renting out one floor of a building,” Reyniers said. “Eventually we got all three floors. We tried to buy the building but we ended up building the building we have now.”
The 15,000-square-foot building in downtown Milwaukee is now home to not only the No Spill Clean and Fill system, but a full line of aquarium- and pond-maintenance equipment as well. Reyniers said numerous requests from hobbyists prompted the line extension.
“With every unit we send out, there’s a return slip for a warranty, and on it we ask for suggestions,” Reyniers said. “I also spend a lot of time going to consumer shows. Hobbyists started asking, ‘If you can make this tubing so good, that lasts, why can’t you make airline tubing out of it?’”
The requests didn’t stop there. For consumers needing to change larger volumes of water, the standard (several models are available) No Spill Clean and Fill unit with 10-inch gravel tube didn’t quite fit the bill. And the more custom orders Reyniers filled, the more evident it became that a larger system was needed.
“Some people have really deep tanks,” Reyniers said. “We do ship gravel tubes up to 12-feet long. And yes, our system will work it. But people started using those for ponds. And what happened was it would start pulling up bigger chunks, and it would plug it up.”
After some rough sketches, Reyniers was quick to find a solution.
“On a trip back from California, I drew [my ideas] out on a napkin on the airplane,” he said. “And today we have the Ulti-Vac.”
The Ulti-Vac is designed to suck out rotting, decayed matter from difficult-to-reach pond bottoms, corners and dead spots. Other Python products include a selection of sack, skimmer and inspection Ulti-Net nets for both aquariums and ponds; the liner-friendly Hand, designed to rake pond-bottom debris and reposition floating pond accessories; a pond fogger; Pro-Clean siphons; a siphon starter kit; and an aquarium-maintenance kit. Also available is the Python Porter, to keep tubing coiled properly when not in use; airline tubing; glass cleaner, heavy-duty aquarium cleaner for empty tanks; water and lime-scale remover; extended-length gravel tubes; and hardware.
Reyniers said he believes his manufacturing philosophy is different than that of most, if not all, aquatic-product manufacturers.
“When you come right down to it, my first concern is the fish,” he said. “My second concern is the consumer, who’s using it for his fish. And we listen to them extensively. After that, of course, you have the retailer and the distributor. If there’s anything left after that, I get it.”
|Python products are assembled at its Milwaukee, Wis., plant and manufactured by various—local, when possible—United States vendors.|
To continue serving his customers, Reyniers make it a point to attend industry shows. And though he said he finds value in some trade shows, such as SuperZoo, he prefers to attend the consumer, or “fish geek,” shows.
“We go to shows—quite a few a year—to talk to the consumer,” he said. “We want to hear what they’ve got to say. If they have any criticisms or complaints about the product, I want to know about it. If they have ideas, comments, things they’d like to see us change…that’s the way some of our stuff came about. But we want to be there to support the hobbyist—the backbone of this industry.”
Reynier also supports the United States. He said from day one, supporting his country has been at the forefront of his business plan.
“For  years Python has made everything in America, proudly,” he said, adding that after the tragedy of 9/11, Python donated a portion of every sale to a 9/11 fund. “There are many companies out there today that claim they make stuff in America and they’re not. Because they have an office sitting somewhere in L.A. or somewhere out on the coast, they claim to be an American company when it’s all coming over the pond. They all think they’re saving so much money by going overseas, but they’re not getting a quality product.”
Some of Python’s vendors have had financial problems in the current economy, but Reyniers said his made-in-the-U.S. model helps trim his overhead.
“Because we are using all made-in-the-USA components, we have not had to pay exorbitant transportation and import fees as our competitors do,” he said.
Despite Python’s consumer focus and respect for its distributors, it does offer a dealer-direct program—a program Reyniers said puts his products at a “decent price to the retailer.”
“We’re not trying to compete with the distributor, but in areas where distributors don’t have a lot of good coverage, the dealer-direct program works very well,” he said. “In areas where some of the distributors don’t have time to call in the stores and get product when they need it, the program works very well. The program can also work well for retailers who don’t like dealing with a certain distributor.”
In addition, Python recently revamped its website to accommodate orders. The site also has a banner that informs visitors to the site of Python’s latest news, such as when it discontinued its line in Walmart—a decision Python made, Reyniers said, because lowering the price would mean compromising quality.
“I’m just a good old American veteran that owns a company that makes 100-percent American-made products,” Reyniers said. “We’re proud of what we make. We’ve never cut our quality on anything. We improve. Anything we can ever do to upgrade our products, we do.” <HOME>
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