Enclosures are selling well for herps, even as price increases and availability issues pose some challenges. In addition, the accompanying accessories needed to care for these pets are also in high demand.

“Cage furniture is flying off the shelves,” said Robert Potts, co-owner of Herp Hobby Shop Reptile Breeding Center, a pet store in Oldsmar, Fla. “Sales on other dry goods are strong. We’re still making good money on that stuff. It’s all through the roof.”

Stocking terrariums and other types of enclosures for exotics is essential for retailers that sell livestock, independent retailers reported.

“We definitely need to carry terrariums and paludariums to sell livestock,” said Megan Zayat, general manager of NJ Exotic Pets, a pet store in Lodi, N.J. “Everything has to be here because people buy the animal from us and they need the setup. A lot of customers come from far away, too. Some people come from other states, so they’re not going to go buy a tank somewhere else. They’re going to get everything all in one shot.”

Conditions for a perfect storm of increased demand and reduced supply hit the herp industry, as customers wanted reptiles and amphibians—and terrariums to house them in—but shipping issues, labor shortages and the deterioration of the supply chain limited what retailers could stock.

“This business has seen an unexpected increase during the pandemic that would have been better had enclosures been readily available,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA, a manufacturer in Hayward, Calif. “Lack of supply due to supply chain issues and increasing [demand] tempered the sales increase.”

Despite these pressures, retailers have found ways to support their businesses and their customers, and various other trends are flourishing at the hobby level. Many new reptile keepers are interested in bioactive substrates and isopods, retailers reported.

“A lot of first-time keepers are coming in with bioactive substrates being the standard that they know,” said Riley Jimison, manager of Gx3 Reptiles and Exotic Pets, a pet store in Sacramento, Calif. “A lot of the folks who have been keeping herps for years might explore it a little bit, but the folks coming into the hobby now are thinking of [bioactive] as the standard. A lot of people come in with a desire to do everything bioactive as much as possible.”

Meredith Elrich, social media administrator for Zoo Med Laboratories, a manufacturer based in San Luis Obispo, Calif., also noted more interest in bioactive setups.

“The trend towards more natural and bioactive habitats is on the rise for both desert and tropical habitats,” Elrich noted.

Increasingly, these types of naturalist setups are the primary focus of a terrarium’s environment, rather than something that is only meant to serve the needs of the enclosure’s reptile inhabitant.

“A lot of the bioactive stuff has taken off,” said Rick Bell, owner of Rick’s Fish & Pet Supply in Frederick, Md. “I have two people who are raising [isopods and springtails] and bringing them in. … Customers are diving deeper into bioactive stuff and all the other stuff they’re doing. It’s pretty intense. The variety of food has exploded. It used to be just crickets and mealworms, and now it’s all the sizes of crickets, all the sizes of mealworms, superworms.”

All aspects of the herp hobby are seeing changes, as consumers are looking for bigger, better setups, more food choices and options to establish environments to help their pets thrive.

“Just like every other category, consumers are becoming more interested in nutritional components in their food choices along with a desire to get the best foods for their herps,” Clevers said. “Retailers should be focused on offering a good, better and best option in the herp foods they stock to address this consumer focus. This allows them to easily move folks from lower-quality foods to higher quality easily. This will translate to happier consumers with healthier herps and allow retailers to become elevated experts in the eyes of their customers.”

Shipping Issues

Although the exotics category is doing well, terrarium availability has been a challenge recently, some retailers reported.

“I can’t get anything in stock,” Zayat said. “Often, when it comes in, it’s broken, and there’s very little supply. That’s why I changed my brand. I’m carrying Reptizoo because it’s local and I get it driven here.”

Issues with glass terrariums breaking during shipping are widespread, retailers reported.

“It’s just a nightmare,” Potts said. “Having anything shipped is a massive challenge. Right now, 90 percent of [glass terrariums] arrive busted. ... The only reason I do well is because I order 10 pallets, and they pack it tight and they put braces on it. If you just get one tank shipped from one of these internet suppliers, there’s a good chance it’s going to arrive smashed.”

Concern is growing that terrarium pricing may be reaching the upper limit of what consumers are willing to pay.

“You can double your money on bedding and caves, and stuff like that,” Potts said. “But when it comes to terrariums and glass, it’s not that you’re competing with any other retailer. It’s about the price point people will pay. The 30-gallon breeder front opener goes for $150, and the 40-gallon breeder goes for $200. That’s the top end of the price point. That’s what customers are willing to spend. That $200 price point is a psychological barrier for a lot of people. If you try to get more than that, those enclosures just sit.”

There is potential for price pressures to harm the industry in the long run, industry experts reported.

“Supply chain issues and costs have definitely impacted consumer cost,” Clevers said. “I have a real concern that we are going to price ourselves out of business in some categories and temper new hobbyist inflow going forward. When the cost of entry moves up so rapidly and in such a big way, it starts to shock new potential hobbyists, and they take their money to another hobby or save it. This was a common theme in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which caused even the pet industry to be impacted. Stagflation is a real concern here, we fear, if we’re not already there. When retailers are seeing increased sales but decreasing unit sales, this is an ominous trend.”

New and Trending

Bigger and Better

Several types of terrariums for exotic pets, including more sizable enclosures, are in high demand, industry experts reported, even as these have become harder to find.

“Larger, more involved layouts seem to be on the rise,” said Meredith Elrich, social media administrator for Zoo Med Laboratories, a manufacturer in San Luis Obispo, Calif. “A few years ago, we released our Double Door Paludarium, which is a 36-by-18-by-36-inch glass enclosure, and this habitat has become very popular. Wooden décor like [our] Talawa Mangrove Root and Spider Wood can be used to look like tree roots and lead to some very creative ‘sunken forest’ designs.”

Customers want larger enclosures, retailers agreed, and several specific models are desirable.

“The 75-gallon Tetrafauna Deluxe ReptoHabitat with the slide front, measuring 48-by-18-by-21 inches, is a really cool terrarium,” said Rick Bell, owner of Rick’s Fish & Pet Supply in Frederick, Md. “We’re doing well with that. I primarily sell Zoo Med [enclosures]. The big Zoo Med paludarium, the 36-by-18-by-36 inch, is doing really well. I find it interesting that I’m selling more of the big terrariums than I am the smaller terrariums.”

Floor space is a concern for some hobbyists.

“A lot of customers are looking for stacking terrarium systems,” said Riley Jimison, manager of Gx3 Reptiles and Exotic Pets, a pet store in Sacramento, Calif. “The biggest constraint that most people find once they start getting into these nice enclosures is they quickly use up all their available floor space. And the next way to go is up.”

The general trend is for consumers to purchase larger enclosures, and spend more on décor and setup than they have in the recent past, retailers reported.

“Everyone wants to give their animal the best,” Jimison said. “A lot of people are going bigger and better when it comes to terrariums. They want a setup that is as elaborate as possible, which is great. I don’t see any real downside to that, but it means that people are maybe buying fewer animals and spending more on the animals that they do have.”

With demand high and availability creating challenges, some retailers have turned to new manufacturer sources to meet their customers’ needs.

“We’re actually carrying a line called Reptizoo, and you can stack these terrariums,” said Megan Zayat, general manager of NJ Exotic Pets, a pet store in Lodi, N.J. “They have glass terrariums. Their screens do not rust, and their screens are super thick and hard, so if your cat jumps on it, they’re not jumping through. I like them a lot. The glass is just one door instead of two. So you can see in the terrarium much better. They also have something called a knockdown. So there are these tanks that you can stack with stacking posts. … When there’s no more room, you just stack upwards, three or four cages high. It actually helps a lot with people who own multiple pets.”

Manufacturers are introducing products to support the hobby in general, as well, with dietary products and décor on the list of new offerings.

“Mulberific Delite will be released at SuperZoo 2022,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA, a manufacturer in Hayward, Calif. “This … diet for tortoises offers a high concentration of mulberry leaf, which our testing has shown offers superior nutritional benefits. It is a scientifically developed pellet that rapidly absorbs water and thereby helps eliminate dehydration issues common with other foods. Dehydration and lack of nutrients consistent with wild grass intake can cause permanent and dramatic development issues for many tortoise varieties.”

Mulberific Delite also includes the company’s proprietary Hikari-Germ, Clevers added, which is formulated to improve nutrient utilization while reducing waste and smell.

New artificial plant décor is now available from Zoo Med.

“We recently released our Naturalistic Desert Flora, which are perfect for building desert landscapes for animals like leopard geckos and bearded dragons,” Elrich said. “While natural habitats are rising in popularity, living plants are not easy to maintain for every species. Heavy-bodied animals will trample plants, and the high heat requirement of desert species makes it easy for plants to desiccate. Our Desert Flora provide the look and feel of living plants, and are durable for large heat-loving reptiles.”

The Growing Interest in PVC

While inflation and lack of availability have hampered glass terrarium sales somewhat, some hobbyists and retailers are going back to enclosure builds that rely on a material that has long been used in the herp hobby but that is currently enjoying a surge in popularity.

“There’s a lot of innovation with companies getting into PVC enclosures,” said Riley Jimison, manager of Gx3 Reptiles and Exotic Pets, a pet store in Sacramento, Calif. “We’ve even been manufacturing our own PVC enclosures. We purchased a CNC [computer numerical control] machine last year so we could make our own. The biggest innovation in enclosures is the trend toward PVC builds.”

Robert Potts, co-owner of Herp Hobby Shop Reptile Breeding Center, a pet store in Oldsmar, Fla., said he is thinking about making his own PVC enclosures too, given the demand.

“What we need more of are these PVC plastic cages,” Potts said. “I’ve actually inquired with PVC plastic companies that have the stuff precut just to start making my own cages, because I think there’s such an untapped market for it. I get more requests for those than anything else. These 4-foot black PVC cages for larger boas and larger lizards that are usually made out of a dark black plastic are very popular.”

Several companies have started producing enclosures with these materials, retailers reported.

“One of the players in [PVC enclosures] is Boaphile Plastics,” Potts said. “I direct everybody to a company call Animal Plastics.”

These manufacturers are small, but with growing demand, the industry may see more PVC in the future.

“A lot of people are sick of being limited to the few overpriced, hard-to-get enclosures,” Jimison said. “Smaller companies are popping up. Focus Cubed Habitats and BlackBox Cages have been getting a lot of attention in the reptile world lately.”

PVC enclosures are less expensive to manufacture and offer various benefits over some traditional terrarium enclosure materials.

“This composite hard material is lightweight and can be cut super easily,” Jimison said. “The entire enclosure is made of basically 8-foot-by-4-foot sheets cut into whatever sizes of expanded PVC. It’s basically like an extruded hollow core PVC with lots of tiny little air holes layered together. Usually, these enclosures have sliding or swing-open glass, polycarbonate or acrylic doors. There’s an endless amount of potential for customization because the material is so easy to work with. It’s not [poorly made], it is very resistant to all of the issues that wood enclosures have, such as molding and warping, and these enclosures are lightweight. They literally last forever, as long as you maintain them.”