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Nearly every segment of the reptile and amphibian industry is growing, and enclosure sales are no exception, according to retailers and manufacturers.

“I sell a lot of enclosures for reptiles,” said John Fisher, owner of J&F Aquatics & Exotics, a pet store in Terrytown, La. “I’ve seen my sales grow a lot in the last couple of months. It’s been busy, but it’s a good thing for us.”

Beginners are definitely impacting terrarium sales, industry insiders stated.

“Everyone’s been stuck at home, and they need something to do,” said Fred Boseman, owner of Jurassic Aquatics & Pets, a pet store in Cleveland. “They have more time, and they have been turning to reptile and amphibian setups.”

In general, retailers are seeing their herp customer base grow across the board, with increased demand from experienced hobbyists keeping pace with new demand from beginners.

“We do see some first-time herp owners, and that’s where some of my enclosure sales come from,” Fisher said. “However, I also have some customers that have something like 20 or 30 enclosures.”

More advanced setups and hobbyist groups encourage those with experience to expand and upgrade their existing setups.

“The big trend is to create environments with water and dry ground in the vivarium system,” said Robert Potts, owner of Herp Hobby Shop Reptile Breeding Center, a pet store in Oldsmar, Fla. “That trend is also driving interest in isopods. Bioactive substrate is a game changer.”

Bioactive substrates are seeing substantial gains in popularity, retailers reported. In turn, some retailers offer live plants in-store to support this interest, though not all retailers have chosen to deal with selling live plants themselves.

“We carry live plants in-store,” said Kaitlin Helm, sales associate at S&S Exotic Animals, a pet store in Houston. “For retailers who have a good bioactive supplier nearby, this can really help. We work with [a local company], and we have a lot of the plants in stock, and we can always recommend [that company] if there’s something we don’t have on hand.”

Bioactive systems offer retailers several new sales opportunities.

“‘Bioactive’ seems to be the buzzword these days,” said Rita Zarate, vice president of sales and marketing for Zoo Med Laboratories, a manufacturer in San Luis Obispo, Calif. “With that comes a host of new factors to consider. … Customers will likely begin considering how to streamline and automate all the devices these habitats need.”

Zoo Med’s Environmental Control Center is designed to help manage these devices, Zarate added, and allows for six different pieces of heating, lighting and humidity equipment to be controlled at one time.

Supporting sales

Although enclosures and associated products are selling well right now, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re selling themselves.

“I’ve seen substantial sales growth in terrariums and vivariums,” Potts said. “We’re up across the board. We are selling so many vivariums, it’s really quite amazing. But you have to support those sales. You can’t just put [enclosures] out on the floor. You have to display the systems, you have to use talking points to explain what these enclosures are for. You have to make it clear that you are offering quality product in a way customers can understand. We try to set enclosures up to give customers ideas about what they can do.”

Equipment and consumables that are often sold in enclosure kits—such as dietary supplements—are also surging in sales.

“We have seen unprecedented sales increases for all the herptile items we offer, with no decline in sight,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA, a manufacturer in Hayward, Calif. “Reptile consumers are always on the lookout for products that can help them reduce their maintenance chores so they can spend more time enjoying their pets.”

The cancellations of many local hobbyist events over the course of the past year combined with a drop in reptile availability has had an interesting effect on retailers and sales.

“The lack of live reptile events [has] been a big help to brick-and-mortar reptile retailers,” Clevers noted. “There are a lot of changes stores implement to make the shopping experience enjoyable and keep customers coming back for more. The lack of reptiles available in the marketplace has tempered the sales increase, but we see most reporting sales increases they have not seen ever, or at least for many years.”

Many retailers are making things easy for customers by building their own kits in-store.

“We tend to put kits together for customers,” Helm said. “I don’t add supplements until I know what species a customer is purchasing. At that point, I do tend to make sure that supplementation is part of their kit so that they’re not having to sit there and grab other things later on. It also helps establish in the minds of customers that they need to provide supplementation later on.”

Retailers reported putting together kits designed to meet the needs of specific species.

“We put together our own kits set up for different species,” Potts said. “I try not to pad sales by putting in useless stuff. We work to be very honest with customers.”

What’s New, What’s Selling

Smaller Herp Housing Is In

Bioactive setups are garnering attention, and new enclosure options are also appearing on the market, industry insiders reported.

“We just released a 25-gallon double-door terrarium,” said Rita Zarate, vice president of sales and marketing for Zoo Med Laboratories, a manufacturer in San Luis Obispo, Calif. “We’re excited about this because it’s not a terrarium size we made previously. We were able to bring the idea to life quickly because all our terrariums are made in the USA, just down the road from our main office in California.”

Smaller setups are increasingly sought out, retailers reported, especially as interest in smaller herp pets increases, along with demand for spiders and scorpions.

“Some customers are using interesting housing options for their arachnids and frog species, such as nano-style enclosures from Exo Terra,” said Kaitlin Helm, sales associate at S&S Exotic Animals, a pet store in Houston. “These are really popular. We’ve been getting in a lot more of the acrylic setups. There’s a micro habitat from Zilla that customers are using for small species. Those have been massive sellers in the last six months. People are really starting to get into a lot of the tarantulas and scorpions. Those smaller setups are visually appealing, but are also efficient housing options.”

Many customers are purchasing less-advanced enclosures, and demand for these is up as well.

“Most of my customers want simple enclosures,” said John Fisher, owner of J&F Aquatics & Exotics, a pet store in Terrytown, La. “Usually, if they want to add bells and whistles or change things up, they do that after they buy them from me.”

Bioactive setups are an area to watch.

“We haven’t seen sales growth with bioactive substrates yet, but I think it’s coming,” said Fred Boseman, owner of Jurassic Aquatics & Pets, a pet store in Cleveland. “It’s still new for people, and we have to help them put it together.”

Steering customers toward setups appropriate for their skill level is an important part of helping them achieve success.

“We have a lot of long-term customers who come in and want us to set them up with all the bells and whistles for paludariums and bioactive setups, but a big chunk of our business is newer hobbyists,” Helm said. “More experienced keepers are gearing themselves towards bioactive setups and paludariums. However, we don’t encourage beginners to try more advanced setups until they know their animal’s care needs better. In terms of enclosures, newer hobbyists do better with traditional terrariums or open-front terrariums.”

Enclosures as Décor

Many herp hobbyists are treating their pets’ enclosures as more than just housing. Increasingly, they’re thinking of terrariums, paludariums and vivariums as display items.

“The Europeans have been leading the industry as far as vivariums, and we’re starting to see a lot of the décor trends coming over here,” said Robert Potts, owner of the Herp Hobby Shop Reptile Breeding Center, a pet store in Oldsmar, Fla. “Vivariums aren’t just enclosures to house pets in. They’re actually a piece of furniture, almost a living work of art. It’s more advanced, but hobbyists definitely enjoy that aspect of it.”

Every customer is different, retailers said, but many now see their terrariums as pieces of furniture that complement domestic interiors.

“Many of our newer clientele like to see what they can do to make really awesome, good-looking enclosures or furniture pieces to showcase in their homes,” said Kaitlin Helm, sales associate at S&S Exotic Animals, a pet store in Houston. “Some customers just want to be hobbyists and enjoy their animals. They’re not thinking about breeding [herps] or anything like that. They put together these extravagant enclosures, not as much because they want to show them off to others, but because it’s making them feel like the space they’re confined in is something beautiful and amazing.”