When it comes to reptile habitats, the industry continues to trend toward products that replicate an animal’s natural habitat as closely as possible while also taking into consideration the pet owner’s experience.
"Today’s enclosures feature tiny frames to make for expansive viewing areas, and an interior that can easily be decorated to replicate the animal’s natural habitat," said Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager for Penn-Plax Pet Products in Hauppauge, N.Y.
Steve Sotelo, Exo Terra division manager for Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass., said the company continues to see growth in natural habitats—commonly known as terrariums with ventilation and front-opening doors—as consumers are spending more time and money creating environments that incorporate live plants and realistic décor.
"More importantly, substrates have begun to catch up with terrarium design, where multiple layers are used for drainage and bio-active properties," he said. "This has allowed consumers and hobbyists to create incredible landscapes and live displays."
Taylor Roush, manager of LLLReptile & Supply Co. in Oceanside, Calif., said glass enclosures sell the best, as most keepers only have a few animals.
"The differences concern what customers are using it for and price," he said. "Anything other than glass is usually more expensive."
Owen Maercks, owner of East Bay Vivarium in Berkeley, Calif., sells an equal amount of glass and wooden cages, and utilizes some local builders to create the wooden enclosures.
"We always tell the customer to choose the animals first and design the habitat around them," he said. "The animal determines what cage is appropriate, what size to get and whether it needs heating."
Adam Marietta, owner of Aquatic Environments in Davenport, Iowa, said one product trending is an enclosure that offers sliding doors in the front and access on top, allowing for better control of the animal. He’s also finding success with boxed kits.
Steve Sotelo, Exo Terra division manager for Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass., said the brand has pushed the boundaries in terrarium innovation and has been able to respond to emerging trends with new products on a quarterly basis.
"We have a handful of new kits launching in 2018, which all revolve around our yearly research expeditions," he said. "There will be two tiki-themed kits and décor launching in early Q2, along with care-related material."
Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education director for Zoo Med Laboratories in San Luis Obispo, Calif., said the company has introduced several products based on the growing interest of people keeping many different small species.
Its Creatures Den Low Profile Starter Kit includes a glass terrarium that measures 10.5-inches by 20.5-inches by 8-inches, a thermometer, a natural cork piece, a rock dish and soil substrate, ideal for a variety of ground-dwelling tarantulas, insects and other invertebrates. And the company’s popular ReptiBreeze screen enclosure is now available in a nano size, she said.
"This habitat is made of corrosion-resistant, anodized aluminum screen and has a clear, full acrylic front door for optimum viewing pleasure," Rademacher said. "It works great with our new Nano Dome or Nano Combo Dome Fixture and is just the right size for keeping many different small species including dwarf geckos, tarantulas, insects and other invertebrates."
Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager for Penn-Plax Pet Products in Hauppauge, N.Y., said the company continues to produce products that are in line with the needs of its customers.
"While we focus primarily on accessories for herp habitats, we’re also working on developing an exciting new line of habitats that will be hitting the market in Q4 2018," he said. "We’re also continuing to expand our accessory line. For example, we’ll be releasing even more sizes and shapes of our Lizard Loungers and Reptile Rock Plants for 2018."
Last year, Zilla introduced its line of Front-Opening Terrariums, which added some novel aspects to pet keeping such as removable doors and a plastic insert to hold in humidity for tropical species.
"This year, we are working on unique décor pieces to help create more natural habitats in this type of enclosure," said Ryan McVeigh, Zilla brand manager for Franklin, Wis.-based Central Garden & Pet Co.
Pet specialty retailers should aim to leverage eye-catching product packaging when merchandising herp habitats, and also look for opportunities to display full-blown setups, industry experts said.
Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager for Penn-Plax Pet Products in Hauppauge, N.Y., said the company prides itself on producing beautiful and interactive packaging that helps tell the story of a product without the item even being removed from the box.
Still, he said the best way to market these products is to display them wherever possible, as there’s nothing like seeing and touching the product.
"By housing the animals available for sale in enclosures that are also for sale, it’s easier for the customer to get a better idea of what to expect when they bring the product home," he said. "The same goes for accessories as well."
At East Bay Vivarium in Berkeley, Calif., a large percentage of floor space is taken up by live animals so customers see the numerous cage possibilities.
"About 30 percent of my sales floor is glass and wooden cages, and they can see animals in appropriate caging and decide what’s best for them," said Owen Maercks, owner of the store.
LLLReptile & Supply Co. in Oceanside, Calif., stacks the habitats on the shelves and can show photos of some of the more popular ones so customers get a better idea of what they look like.
With only 3,000 square feet in the store, and a reptile section that is barely 12 by 24, Adam Marietta, owner of Aquatic Environments in Davenport, Iowa, noted he packs his habitats from top to bottom.
"We stack them everywhere I can, as high as I can," he said. "I try to carry everything, and I can special order products for customers if they know what they want, having seen them on the internet beforehand."
Steve Sotelo, Exo Terra division manager for Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass., said stores need to take the time to display products in a functional environment.
"As attention spans continue to shrink, we have to be diligent in creating content that gauges all of the consumers’ interests and attention," he said.
Knowledge Is Power
Fortunately, the reptile community is very welcoming, and it’s easy for new hobbyists to get all of the information they need quickly and easily. Still, when it comes to educating consumers, it takes a village, said Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager for Penn-Plax Pet Products in Hauppauge, N.Y.
"On the retail side of things, a knowledgeable and helpful staff is critically important," he said. "By making it easy for people to come into your store and get the information and products they need, you’re able to position your store as a resource for the community, and that’s something that many online retailers continue to have trouble with. So it’s a great way for brick-and-mortar stores to differentiate themselves from the other retail options."
Adam Marietta, owner of Aquatic Environments in Davenport, Iowa, said not all customers need help, but he and his team are ready to educate when needed.
"When people come to the store—especially the younger ones—most of them already know what they need and want because of the internet," he said. "Those who need help are more of the 40-year-old moms who come in looking for gifts, so we talk to them about what they need to get going and spend time showing them exactly what they need to do."