The herp category continues to be popular even through the COVID-19 pandemic as hobbyists—beginners and experienced—are at home more and are enjoying quality time with their pets. Manufacturers of herp food and products report that interest in the category is robust and sales for livestock are up, leading to increased opportunity for retailers to move food, habitats and accessories.
Brandon Armstrong, operations manager at Armstrong’s Cricket Farm in West Monroe, La., and Ryan McVeigh, marketing brand manager at Zilla, a brand of Franklin, Wis.-based Central Garden & Pet, offered their insight on herp ownership and product trends, challenges the category faces and how retailers can better educate customers.
Owners Go Online
What ownership trends are you noticing in the herp category? How are these trends impacting consumers’ purchasing habits?
Ryan McVeigh: New changes in our world are causing more people to be at home with their pets. Consumers are buying more décor and other upgrades to their pet’s habitat. Enriching products and products that promote pet parent interactions are also selling much better than before. With most consumer reptile shows cancelled for the year and stores having limited hours, consumers are also spending much more time buying online. Both pet products and live animal sales have increased substantially.
Brandon Armstrong: With recent events, we have seen a huge increase in customers purchasing their feeder insect needs online. This has given Armstrong’s Cricket Farm a chance to prove our capabilities in providing the best feeder insects on the market to an entirely new set of customers.
Slowing Down Shortages
In what ways has the category evolved? Do you foresee any new challenges ahead for the category?
McVeigh: With restrictions in people’s ability to head to their local pet store, online sales of both reptile products and food and live pet sales have increased substantially. Live pet sales have increased so much that it has caused a live animal shortage. While looking for a new perfect pet for their family, consumers may see delays in store stock. This is a great opportunity for education on care and husbandry, as well as habitat sales, while consumers wait for the perfect animal to arrive. With an increase in reptile pets in homes, it will be imperative for live food producers and food manufacturers to be ready for the expanding market.
Armstrong: In recent years at Armstrong’s Cricket Farm, we have been less concerned about evolving and bringing new products to market and more concerned with ensuring that we are bringing the best product and customer service in the industry to our customers. Whether it is an individual, a small store or a large chain store, they can be sure that Armstrong’s Cricket Farm is going to supply them with the best live feeder insect products on the market without interruption 52 weeks a year. We have proven ourselves with the recent events of the world, and we will continue to serve our customers with the same dedication in the future.
Habitats and Feeder Insects Are In Demand
What product trends are developing in the herp category right now? What are you hearing from retailers and distributors about the category?
McVeigh: Nearly all categories are up. Habitat sales have increased, showing that we are seeing many more newcomers to the category as well as current reptile owners expanding and upgrading their enclosures. Along with new habitats comes new sales of bedding, heating, lighting and foods.
Armstrong: Quality and reliability have been huge concerns that have been brought to our attention in recent years. These concerns have only been magnified in recent months, and we have proven ourselves to have the highest quality and most reliable supply of feeder insects on the market.
Industry Players Are Innovating
How is your company responding to these trends, and what are some new products you’ve recently brought to market?
Armstrong: At Armstrong’s Cricket Farm, we plan on continuing to dependably serve our customers the best crickets and feeder insects in the industry.
McVeigh: Changes in the market have happened in a very short period of time. While we are adjusting to the trends, it’s exciting to see how these trends will play out over the next year. Innovation and creative solutions for reptile keepers are still the focus for Zilla, which is something that won’t change no matter what happens in the market. With a focus on smaller invertebrate pets and small herptiles, Zilla recently launched the line of Zilla Micro Habitats. These acrylic enclosures provide a clear 360-degree view of your pet while providing a secure and safe habitat. They break down easily to be stored when not in use and are an amazing gift for kids that love finding the creatures in their backyard.
Customers Need to Know Basic Care
What are some business strategies retailers should keep in mind when it comes to educating customers and selling products in the category?
Armstrong: Customers need to know some basic care for their feeder insects, but for the most part, if the retail store is getting a high-quality product, then they should have repeat business with highly satisfied customers.
McVeigh: The reptile category is growing faster than any other pet segment. The busy lives of consumers along with the reduced stigma around keeping reptiles have helped make these pets an amazing solution for any family. While these animals gain popularity at an incredible rate, it is imperative to the success of new owners that we provide them with the best information possible. Keeping in-depth care guides and species-specific books available for new owners will be incredibly helpful. We need to understand that if left to find their own info online, it’s nearly impossible to ensure they get concise and helpful information, let alone correct information, to keep their pet healthy and happy. Information and education are going to continue to be a key to success in reptile keeping for consumers, and it’s imperative now more than ever to put that focus at the center of all sales.