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Manufacturers are seeing a number of trends in the herp substrate, lighting and heating categories, all driven by the growing knowledge of consumers who keep reptiles and amphibians as pets.

In substrate, Steve Sotelo, Exo Terra division manager and reptile specialist for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass., points out that one of the company’s recent product launches was a response to a trend in what hobbyists refer to as "bioactive substrates."

"The goal is to create a ‘living’ substrate, an ecosystem that not only maintains itself, but also metabolizes waste and can improve reptile and amphibian health," he said. "It is important to understand that creating a visually authentic substrate is only the start, as a number of other ‘ingredients’ need to be added—like microfauna, carbon, healthy bacteria and—most importantly—time."

As part of a trend toward a more natural environment for these pets, Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager for Penn-Plax in Hauppauge, N.Y., sees a movement toward products that integrate well into the habitat.

"The less obtrusive a piece of lighting or heating equipment is, the better," he said. "With substrates, natural materials will always be important, but now manufacturers are able to better engineer those materials to provide a better experience for herps and their keepers."   

In the area of lighting and heat, Ryan McVeigh, marketing brand manager for Zilla, a brand of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Central Garden & Pet Co., noted a trend in providing new and efficient technologies that advance keeping herps in captivity.

"By providing better outputs in both UVA/UVB and heat while reducing energy consumption, you’re able to provide better alternatives for consumers," he said.

Showing Customers the Light

"Consumer education is particularly important within this category because you’re talking about aspects of the hobby that are critical to the survival and happiness of the animal," said Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager for Penn-Plax in Hauppauge, N.Y. "As with most other categories, the best way for retailers to educate their customers is by having knowledgeable, courteous members of their staff available to educate customers and guide them through the purchasing process."

Consumer education only comes when employee education is properly executed, said Steve Sotelo, Exo Terra division manager and reptile specialist for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass.  

"We rely on our Exo Terra representatives to provide as much material as possible to our retailers," he said. "This includes steering them toward our website and Facebook pages, and reviewing our sales sheets. Packaging can only provide so much info. The reptile industry is fortunate enough to have tech-savvy consumers who eat up new information."

According to Luciano Moralez, store operations manager for Clarks Pet Emporium in Albuquerque, N.M., customer education is the lifeblood of a store.

"We want to see passion from our staff," he said. "We take pride in the fact that we can fix any problem people come to us with. We do what’s right for the buyer’s budget and unique tastes."

Bob Potts, owner of Herp Hobby Shop in Oldsmar, Fla., places an emphasis on herp care when educating customers.

"Keep ’em healthy and keep ’em alive. That’s our motto," he said. "We do a lot of educational outreach at schools, Repticons and reptile swaps. We are attuned to what people need to know to be excellent pet owners, and we deliver the information to them, as well as the goods."

Display to Highlight Choice

Displaying and marketing herp substrate, lighting and heating products in a way that makes it easier for consumers to make a choice is the best way to handle this category, according to manufacturers.

"Lighting is one of the most confusing and intimidating categories to the new hobbyist," said Ryan McVeigh, marketing brand manager for Zilla, a brand of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Central Garden & Pet Co. "There are many different bulbs with different styles, wattages, outputs and wavelengths. Some give off UVA, some don’t. Some give off UVB, and others are heat only. With all of the choices, it’s important to display these bulbs in a way that allows the consumer to differentiate between all of the options. By separating heat only from UVA/UVB bulbs, and having knowledgeable staff to help guide them, it can make the task of choosing lighting much easier."

According to Steve Sotelo, Exo Terra division manager and reptile specialist for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass., using displays to grab shoppers’ attention is vital when it comes to this category.

"In an ever-evolving and progressing sales world, creating ‘theater’ is very important," he said. "Catching the attention of our consumers can be challenging, but we should understand one of the biggest reasons reptiles and fish are so attractive to consumers is because they are visually stunning. So it should stand to reason that the products that revolve around these pets should also be visually impactful. Having some fixtures and new types of bulbs on display can help show how herp-keeping has become much more streamlined, with fewer cords and fixtures."

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Innovation for Better Care, Natural Habitat

Several new products have been released that are designed to help herpkeepers take better care of their pets.

Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. in San Luis Obispo, Calif., recently released the PowerSun High Intensity Discharge Metal Halide UVB Lamp and Fixture, which emits UVA, UVB and heat, all from one lamp, said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator.

"This High Output UVB lamp is perfect for large habitats," Rademacher said. "The lamp construction creates a true flood-lamp effect, eliminating dangerous UV hotspots common to other metal halide reptile lamps."

Zoo Med also recently introduced new substrate for reptiles.  

"Zoo Med’s new ReptiSoil is perfect for creating tropical habitats and supports growth in terrarium plants such as ferns, bromeliads, miniature orchids, succulents and carnivorous plants," Rademacher said. "This substrate is a special blend of peat moss, sand, soil and carbon. Together, these components create a perfect substrate for retaining humidity, burrowing, nesting and egg laying. The added carbon helps to aerate the soil and improve drainage to create a perfect tropical habitat."

Exo Terra has used data collected during global research expeditions to develop new products in the substrate, and heating and lighting categories, said Steve Sotelo, Exo Terra division manager and reptile specialist for Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass.  

"After years of engineering, we were finally able to launch a self-ballasted mercury vapor all-in-one UVB bulb under 100W," he said. "The 80W Solar Glo

has quickly turned into one of our bestselling SKUs in a short span of a

few months. The public has requested—and to a certain degree, needed—

a lower-wattage alternative for smaller enclosures and a wider variety

of reptiles."

Exo Terra also recently relaunched and rebranded its bedding line.  

"We now use a variety of barks sourced in Europe, and every single type is thoroughly sifted and heat treated for herp health," Sotelo said.