The COVID-19 pandemic has caused havoc in all areas of the pet industry, and particularly for retailers. Independent retailers have been faced with changing business practices, devising new measures in which to retain customers and, last but not least, making sure they have products available. PPN got in touch with several industry insiders in the exotics segment to see how they are fairing with dry goods availability.
Chris Giacoletti, owner of Reptile Island, which has stores in Southern California
Claudia Hunka, owner of Your Basic Bird in Berkeley, Calif.
Stacy M. Davis, purchasing director for That Fish Place/That Pet Place in Lancaster, Pa.
Jim Seidewand, owner of Pet World and the Aqua Shoppe in Rochester, N.Y., and board member of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC)
Pet Product News: How have challenges with dry goods availability impacted your business, and what do you think is likely to happen in 2021?
Chris Giacoletti: I am hoping everything will be corrected. I have had to buy truckloads of product in order to get what I need. I certainly don’t prefer that, but I am grateful that we are able to afford it to get the products we need.
Claudia Hunka: Fortunately, we have not experienced a challenge in dry goods availability. However, we have seen price increases in Nyjer and millet sprays. When the shelter-in-place order began, we continued to sell what our customers needed to prevent panic buying or stockpiling purchases. I am hopeful that if we maintain social distancing, this will prevent further shutdowns in production.
Stacy M. Davis: I think the shortages are going to continue into 2021. Some of my vendors are finding other sources for their raw materials, but this takes time.
Some vendors are offering different products that they normally do not offer. … Everyone is trying to do their best in order to survive. We switched to buying more from vendors that we previously only bought small quantities from. Our plan is to continue doing more business with these vendors, as many of them really helped us keep some key items in stock.
Jim Seidewand: We are scrambling to maintain inventories in many areas. Wire cages have been a major supply problem. Glass terrariums, screen covers and reptile products in general have seen severe shortages. We’ve certainly lost some sales due to shortages, but sales are strong in general, led by reptile products, which have nearly doubled in recent months. I’m sure the manufacturers will respond, but supply changes don’t happen as fast as needed. Hopefully, they’ll rebound in early 2021.
PPN: If you were to make a prediction about the future of the exotics segment, what would it be? How will business models, customer bases and growth prospects change in 2021 and beyond?
Giacoletti: To me, the future of the industry should remain strong. I went through the 2008 recession and saw the reptile and amphibian segments bounce back stronger than before. People will always be attached to their pets, and there will always be a need to feed and maintain them.
People are also realizing that reptiles do not take up as much space and time as, for example, cats and dogs. We have way more animals and knowledge [than big-box retailers do], but for the online side of things we can’t compete with businesses willing to lose money on products just to make a sale.
Hunka: The interest and compassion for aviculture is strong. We have seen a greater availability in green-cheeked conures, ringneck parakeets and parrotlets. However, there are many species of birds that are no longer as readily available. The medium- and larger-size species, as babies, are more rare. The price increase for those that are available makes them less affordable for beginner aviculturists. Due to life changes, poor health, moving [and] deaths, we are seeing more birds needing a second home; this is a role that an independent store could consider being involved with.
Direct emails to customers, social media, Facebook and Instagram are critical tools to increase and maintain our customer base.
Davis: I predict we’ll continue to see growth in all exotic pet segments. People are looking for pets that are unique and need a different level of care. … My hope is that the industry as a whole works to provide healthier animals, selective breeding for the best characteristics and more widely available information on how to properly care for these animals to allow them to thrive in captivity. We need dry goods production to catch up with demand so that newly purchased exotics can be housed and cared for properly.
Seidewand: I hope we see continued strong demand, though I suspect we’ll see a bit of retreat from recent record levels as people return to work and school.
I do see the many proposed new restrictions on the sale of animals as a major threat. Rabbits are already being added to most proposed dog and cat bans, and that may just be the first step towards banning sales of most other small animals. Reptile ownership and sales bans have been a long-standing problem. Many people in the general public don’t understand why people would want them, making this an easy target for animal rights groups. It’s important we contribute to PIJAC and USARK [United States Association of Reptile Keepers] to help fight these where they aren’t warranted, and that we follow their pleas to get involved ourselves as politicians respond best to their local residents.