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Supplemental Sales

Posted: Oct. 31, 2011, 3:05 p.m. EDT

Tucking supplements into herp starter kits helps new hobbyists remember these important health care products.
By Cheryl Reeves

Adding a multivitamin or calcium to a herp’s dietary regimen is a critical step in avoiding potentially serious health problems. On the other hand, over-supplementation poses a threat, too. Thus, it is hardly surprising that the dispensing of supplements can be confusing to herp owners, especially new hobbyists.

In this product sector, retailers who can expertly inform customers about supplements can sell more of them. Further, industry insiders stated, putting a strong focus on species-specific dietary education during the first sale of an animal and kit will keep the pet healthier and nourish a retailer’s bottom line.

“Because we cannot provide the variety of feed items available in nature, we must supplement reptile diets for insectivores, herbivores and carnivores that do not eat whole prey,” pointed out Allen Repashy, president of Repashy Ventures Inc., a manufacturer in San Marcos, Calif. “Every reptile sale should include a mention of the need for supplementation and the suggestion of an applicable product such as vitamin/mineral dust for insectivores.”

Eric Haug, owner of Pets-A-Plenty in Hockley, Texas, creates species-specific setups that include the appropriate supplements for each type of animal.
 
“Basically, we don’t give customers a choice,” Haug said. “If they want to purchase that iguana or crested gekko, they have to start off right with what the animal needs, and that definitely includes supplements.”

When it comes to customers worried about the declining health of an animal bought elsewhere, Haug reported that the root of the problem is supplement related about 70 percent of the time.

“A lot of these customers will tell me that the store they bought their animal from never discussed supplements with them,” Haug said.

At Aquariums West in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, reptile manager Kreig Leblanc also said he has to educate bewildered herp owners who seek advice about sick animals because other stores did not recommend supplements. Many times, Leblanc added, the animals are in such poor shape that they need to see a veterinarian.

“Not only do we outfit all our setups with the appropriate supplements, we also take the extra step of giving the customer a specific regimen to follow,” Leblanc said. “For example, we’ll recommend that a leopard gecko get a standard multivitamin and then every two weeks get a calcium supplement.

“It’s important to educate customers on the importance of balance and timing so they don’t overdo it to the point of causing a mineral-related illness,” he continued.

Verbal recommendations may be easily forgotten, so retailers should offer written instructions regarding more complicated supplement regimens, such as one for a bearded dragon.

“First we explain that these animals are getting a narrower field of food in captivity than they would in the wild,” said John Brophy, store manager at Arizona Reptile Center in Mesa, Ariz. “Then, in addition to adding the proper supplements to each starter kit, we also write out the procedure on a label so new pet owners will have that to refer to in case they forget.”

Species is not the only factor to consider when determining dietary needs. Store owners and their employees should take into account the animal’s gender and age.

“A young adult can need supplements at every feeding, but once adulthood is reached, growth slows down, so not as much supplementing is necessary,” noted Linda J. Davison, owner of Sticky Tongue Farms, a chameleon breeder and supplement maker in Sun City, Calif.

“It’s also important to know that calcium is a slippery slope,” Davison continued. “Not enough can cause metabolic bone disease. Too much, and you can find yourself with problems such as ossification of soft tissue.”

What are your top-selling herp supplements?

“I minimize brand options so as not to confuse customers. Rep-Cal has been the No. 1 product at my store for many years. They put a lot of research into products before putting them out on the market. We also sell a lot of Zoo Med and the T-Rex powdered supplement for crested geckos.”
Eric Haug, owner of Pets-A-Plenty in Hockley, Texas

“Sticky Tongue Farms’ indoor and outdoor Miner-All is really popular and a consistent best-seller. Other top-performing products are Exo Terra’s calcium supplements and Zoo Med’s ReptiVite with or without D3 formulations.”
John Brophy, store manager at Arizona Reptile Center in Mesa, Ariz.

“We recommend three companies that make supplements: Rep-Cal, Exo Terra and Repashy. Our current favorite, because it targets specific things, is Repashy. These supplements are high end, but people don’t mind spending a bit more for the quality.”
Kreig Leblanc, reptile manager at Aquariums West in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Pet Supplies Plus, a chain with locations in 22 states, emphasizes educating not only customers but employees as well. Staff members must pass every class in the company’s online training program, said Paul Corchado, the Dallas store’s solution specialist.

“The classes are presented in a series of modules,” he said. “There’s a class on dogs, another on cats, and so on, including herps, birds and small mammals.”
 
Further, Corchado added that a veterinarian visits the store every month to teach employees about proper animal husbandry.

Leblanc said his Vancouver store also offers employee education and that subjects such as supplements are covered comprehensively.

“We love animals and want to make sure we know our stuff so customers do right by their pets,” he said. “Our Facebook page and website draw a big following. I think that shows the positive impact of education.”

Indeed, many retailers reported that creatively utilizing the Internet is imperative to maximize a connection with the community and to grow profits.

Corchado said online coupons effectively reap more sales. Moreover, he pointed out that retailers can use technology to reach out and give customers the personal touch.

“We find out when a pet’s birthday is and store that information,” he noted. “On that day, a Happy Birthday discount coupon is emailed to a customer.”

Other promotional strategies include posting pictures of customers’ pets on the store’s website as well as announcing contests and events.

Haug said that after he hired a computer whiz, he was shocked by the uplift in sales that his Facebook page generated.

“The Internet has been a fantastic tool for promoting animals and products,” he commented. “We received over two dozen calls soon after posting about incoming snakes. Another time, threatened by an approaching wildfire, a lot of our Facebook friends offered to come and help us with the difficult task of evacuating snakes. Fortunately, we never had to evacuate, but it was great to know how much support is out there.”

Retailers would be wise to check out what manufacturers have to offer to ignite sales, industry insiders suggested.

“We are a young, small and dedicated company,” Repashy said of Repashy Ventures. “Because we sell direct to stores, we have a direct line of communication with our retailers.”

Repashy said dealers are instructed about the company’s supplements and what to recommend.

“We also have nutritional articles, descriptive laminated line sheets and even in-store banners available for promotion,” he said. “And now that we have officially launched our retail line, we are in the process of following up with more printed material to support the products. For example, a line sheet for each product includes species-specific recommendations.”

Haug advised fellow retailers to take advantage of every sales strategy possible, from manufacturer displays to talking to customers both in-store and online via social media.

“I’m very pleased with supplement sales,” Haug said. “Not only those products, but overall, business is fantastic. Once someone comes in and gets their new pet, plus a great kit to go with it, the repeat purchases just keep coming.”

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