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Herp Marketplace: Heat Up Sales Opportunities

Posted: March 19, 2013, 5:45 p.m. EST


Herp heating is necessary for the pet's health and brings occasions for upselling and building relationships.
By Lindsey Getz

Heating products are a necessity for reptile and amphibian enclosures, and there is tremendous opportunity for those who understand they are selling much more than a bulb and a lamp stand, according to industry insiders. Retailers who report success with the herp category said that not giving heating attention is a big mistake because this section provides stores with the opportunity to build customer loyalty and upsell.

“Successful retailers know this is an expanding category that deserves attention,” said Damian Hall, marketing and communication manager for Exo Terra in Mansfield, Mass. “Consumers are showing a lot more interest. As the knowledge base of various reptiles grows, so does the product development.”

Educational Opportunities
The best tool in the retailer's arsenal for selling herp heating is knowledge, sources agreed. With such a large variety of reptiles and amphibians available, the category can become complex, so knowing exactly what each animal needs is a big selling point.

There's much more to herp heating than simply a bulb and a lamp stand.
There's much more to herp heating than simply a bulb and a lamp stand. Sherri L. Collins/I-5 Publishing LLC at Nature Pet Centre in Montreal
“Knowledgeable sales staff is the key to herp heating sales,” said Bill Chappell, president of Bill's Wonderland of Pets in Magnolia, N.J. “Your sales staff needs to show confidence in what they're recommending so the customer doesn't even question it—they know that they need it, and they know you are steering them in the right direction. It's all about how you present it. A teenage salesperson who doesn't really know the market isn't the right person to be selling herp heating supplies.”

For Steven Spitz, founder and CEO of Big Apple Pet Supply in Hauppauge, N.Y., herp heating is the lead-in for tremendous opportunity.

“Here's the great news. If you have a reptile department, heating is not a choice—it's a necessity,” he said. “That means there's a big opportunity for selling, but it definitely starts with education. There are so many ways to heat, and it's all dependent on the animal, so it's often more complex than people think; there's a lot to it.”

The confusion that can stem from matching products to animal needs prompted Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. of San Luis Obispo, Calif., to change its product packaging. In the current catalog, retailers can find an updated Animal Care and Product Guide that uses icons to explain the needs of animals.

“These same icons will be used on future packaging to depict the benefits and features of each item,” said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator for Zoo Med. “These icons will show if a product provides heat, is meant for daytime or night time use, if lights provide UVB, if they are designed for a tropical or desert enclosure, and more.”

Rapid growth in this category made it necessary for Exo Terra to simplify things as well, the company reported.

“If you look at the earlier years of this hobby, you had a light bulb and some heat,” Hall said. “But as the hobby has evolved, so has the product. There are a lot of bulbs out there and it can be very confusing for the consumer to understand the differences. For instance, the heat intensity is more important than knowing the wattage, so we're using the packaging to make it easier for consumers to find what they need and for retailers to better serve those needs.”

Product Talk
While there hasn't been a tremendous amount of new products in this category, there are some noteworthy ones. Zilla recently released the Mini Halogen Dome designed to supplies both heat and light. The Mini Halogen bulbs' light and heat output equal two- to three-times that of comparable incandescent bulbs, the company reports.

Herp heating
“The product saves space on the enclosure and comes with a spring mounting clip that fastens the dome to the screen,” said Pam Morisse, associate brand manager with Central Garden & Pet's aquatics and reptile division in Franklin, Wis. “This helps to avoid unnecessarily jostling the dome around.”

Zilla's mini domes have sold well at Barrier Island Pet Supply LLC in Cocoa Beach, Fla., according to owner Suzanne Rios.

“The dome is smaller and clips right to the screen, so that really keeps it in place,” she said. “It's very compact and produces great deal of heating, using minimal energy. The fact it doesn't take up a lot of space also is important to our customers as we're on the beach and many of our customers live in condos where space is critical.”

Zoo Med recently introduced the Moonlite bulb, which is designed to provide heat in a diffused manner with very little visible light so it's appropriate for use at night or 24 hours a day.

“It is made of a true deep blue glass—not painted or coated—for better heat transfer,” Rademacher said.

Industry Voices
What's your best marketing tip or upsell opportunity?

“With a mercury bulb, you only need that one bulb, but if you have a 75-gallon tank and mercury vapor on only one side, it's not giving you output across the whole tank. A nice little upsell is talking to the customer about adding LEDs and long fluorescent bulbs. A lot of companies are coming out with their own combination bulbs, but the key is always to make sure you're covering the entire spectrum.”
--Joe Ellis, reptile manager for Animal Jungle in Virginia Beach, Va.

“With herps, it all has to do with proper environment. You start with a basic necessity, such as heating, and upsell from there. You get to upsell all the way through a conversation with your customer that starts out with the basic animal needs and then gets into creating a truly optimal environment. It goes way beyond heating and thermostats, but you have to start the foundation there. Once your customers realize how knowledgeable you are, they will stick with you.”
--Steven Spitz, founder and CEO of Big Apple Pet Supply in Hauppauge, N.Y.

“If our customers buy a reptile from us and need the full setup, we cut them a deal on the package. That's pretty standard, but it's a great selling tactic. We've even had some customers that want everything set up. At Christmastime we had a grandmother purchase a bearded dragon for her grandson and she didn't want to have anything to do with the setup. She picked out all the products and then we put it together for her—the sand, the lights, everything—and it was a complete out-the-door package.”
--Suzanne Rios, owner of Barrier Island Pet Supply LLC in Cocoa Beach, Fla.

At The Reptile Zone in Bend, Ore., owner Jeff Jensen is a fan of products that make the environment as natural as possible. He said Zoo Med heat emitters are a non-light-emitting heat source that is more natural for nocturnal animals.

“It's very important that the heat and the light work hand in hand,” Jensen said. “I don't do a lot of fluorescents because they don't produce heat, and the set-up also would need a heat emitter. I push for halogen or mercury vapor lights, especially Zoo Med PowerSun.”

Once retailers start the conversation about basking light, it opens the door for other selling opportunities.

“I look at heating as the first step in setting up the enclosure, and that leads to everything else,” Spitz said. “Now that you have the heat source tackled, you have to talk about setting up a basking site. You can show them a great rock that not only looks nice in their enclosure but offers a great basking site.”

There even are upsell opportunities, sources said. Once retailers sell the heating and lighting, there are products that help organize those products, such as lamp stands. People often overlooked helpful items such as thermometers to monitor actual temperatures and timers to provide proper photoperiods, Rademacher said.

Selling a thermostat control is a great upsell opportunity, retailers reported.

“If you're not upselling a thermostat, you're certainly not doing your customer or your cash register any favors,” Spitz said. “Customers love the idea of ‘set it and forget it,' and a thermostat allows for that convenience.”

Top-Notch Customer Service
Most retailers said when it comes to heating, most of their customers are uneducated. This can be a chance for staff and clients to build a trusting and long-lasting relationship.

Matching bulbs with fixtures is an area where some go awry, Spits said, adding that it creates the opportunity to step in and say: “You picked up the wrong unit,” or “This is what you really need.”

“They'll often buy right then and there,” he said. “Plus, now you have the customer's trust, and that's a very valuable thing.”

Even if customers didn't buy their animal from her store—or they ultimately go somewhere else—Rios said she still takes the time to educate them.

“I make sure every customer that comes into my store knows how to set up the herp environment, regardless of whether or not they're buying from me that day,” she said. “Oftentimes, as we start having that conversation, we find that they already have a pet and the setup is not what the animal really needs. We take the time with them and find that ultimately pays off; they return because we've built their trust.”

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